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Monday, 15 June 2009

When your government knows what's best for you...

Why is it that governments always seem to know what's best for the populace? When they get elected, they seem to think that they have some moral mandate to clean up all our lives? As if we couldn't possibly exist without Big Brother looking over our shoulders watching out for us?

I read with interest recently the interesting article entitled "Cocaine study that got up the nose of the US" by Ben Goldacre. In it, he charges the US government with at best exaggeration, at worst downright lying. One example is the way in which the government tried to prove that new forms of cannabis e.g. skunk, are twenty-five times stronger than they were in the heady days of the 1960s with flower power and the hippy revolution. This was tested and found to be patently false.

As he says,

"In areas of moral and political conflict people will always behave badly with evidence, so the war on drugs is a consistent source of entertainment. We have already seen how cannabis being "25 times stronger" was a fantasy, how drugs-­related deaths were quietly dropped from the measures for drugs policy, and how a trivial pile of poppies was presented by the government as a serious dent in the Taliban's heroin revenue."

Why is it then that governments so feel the need to exaggerate these kinds of statistics? In fact there's little evidence to suggest that soft drugs, and by this I mean class B or C drugs, lead to long terms health problems at all. This leads me to question why governments, which are inherently right wing if not politically, then certainly socially and morally, resort to this kind of false reporting which at times borders on propaganda? Is it because a lot of revenue is spent on these kinds of recreational drugs which doesn't find its way into state coffers in the form of VAT and other direct or indirect taxes? Surely it must be for another reason for we have come a long way from the 1970s and 1980s when any form of drug taking was frowned upon and lengthy jail sentences routinely handed out.

Quoting from a report by World Health Organisation (WHO) which was ignored, repudiated by respected bodies, and left unpublished,

"Such programmes rely on sensationalised, exaggerated statements about cocaine which misinform about patterns of use, stigmatise users, and destroy the educator's credibility."

As Ben Goldacre continues,

"Health problems from the use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater than health problems from cocaine use," they said. "Cocaine-related problems are widely perceived to be more common and more severe for intensive, high-dosage users and very rare and much less severe for occasional, low-dosage users."

We see this dynamic play itself out in other areas where government control is routinely exercised albeit in an unwanted, unwarranted, and heavy-handed way. For example, after 9-11, we were treated to scary movies about perceived terrorist threats which probably came straight out of the Bush family homegrown terrorist factory, edited by Dick Cheney, with special effects from Donald Rumsfeld, and special lighting from Russ Limbaugh. All the interviews, videos, banners, ads, billboards were designed with one purpose in mind - to scare the living bejesus out of all of us and hand control back to our paternal brothers in The Whitehouse, Downing Street, The Reichschtag, The Elysee Palace (or wherever the French government convenes) and elsewhere.

We were scared into thinking that we were in mortal danger because of the 9-11 attacks when in fact only about 3,500 people died. Instead of us being victims of an outside terrorist group we were in fact terrorised by our own governments with the advent of the Patriot Act, where civil liberties went out the window along with the proverbial bathwater and the baby, so again we had a complete exaggeration of the dangers to us as a populace.

The most recent of these exaggerations came about with the advent of the Swine Flu. As I said in another entry, we have more chance of being struck by a meteorite than contracting the Swine Flu, yet if you read the propaganda coming out of government offices and subsequent press releases, you'd think the world was in imminent danger of a total collapse like it was during the Spanish Flu pandemic in the last century, in 1918. This is patently absurd and the virus is nowhere as potent as government agencies would have us think.

This is the Politics of Fear which we must all be on our guard against! The kind of dystopia that George Orwell talked about half a century ago in his novel 1984 is now coming to pass. It's a sad day when, as the American interviewed in his new home in Paris admits in Michael Moore's video Sicko, when asked why he didn't live the US any more - "I can't live there any more because the government scares me."

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