Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What Lies Beneath

Observing the social media reaction-fest over what appear to be extra-judicial killings of suspected drug users and pushers here in the Philippines has, arguably, brought out the best and the worst in many people.

On one side, some people are simply reacting by saying that the ends do justify the means. On the other hand, you also have many people screaming bloody murder, particularly since due process isn’t being observed.

Behind all this, I feel, is a basic misunderstanding of the problem. It’s not about drugs. It’s about why people need drugs in the first place.

Needs and wants, supply and demand
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of bringing the issue down to poverty, for the reason that poverty is also seen as a convenient excuse for committing crimes. However, that’s just one side of the coin. It’s also true that poverty can drive one to desperate measures – such as crime.

And that interminable daily grind, that constant battle for survival, it serves as an open door to drug use. With little or no “good things” in life, it isn't surprising many of the poor decide to use illegal drugs, if only to escape their dreary life.

It does not excuse, however, their eventual giving in to the addiction, the eventual descent into crime and violence that many of them go through to feed their habit.

And as for the rich who are hooked on drugs, it’s even more complicated, and less of a sympathetic issue; after all, it is much harder to understand despair and ennui when the person suffering it is, essentially, well-off.

Whatever the case may be, the point is: something is wrong, and it isn’t just about illegal drugs or the people who are part of the criminal ecosystem for it.

It’s about addressing poverty, job opportunities, and fostering a culture where illegal drug use can be seen as a symptom of larger issues. It’s about seeing drug users not as victims, but as people who need to be rehabilitated, rather than jailed or killed (of course, this assumes that they have not done any crime that is beyond redemption).

The challenge, the real outrage is not only that extrajudicial killings are happening, but that we have to fix the very roots of our society. And even if it sounds impossible to do, we have to try. Otherwise, the divide between “bleeding hearts” and “pragmatists” will grow ever wider, and the chasm in between will be filled with dead bodies.

Before anyone asks: I am myself overwhelmed with the enormity of the idea of where to begin. But we have to stop arguing on the level of the drug trade. We must start doing something about the human condition that allows such a thing to exist.


Photo originally from this image