Once a student of mine was writing an opinion piece about the drug problem. She was expressing rather simplistic solutions about how to solve it which basically involved performing unspeakable acts on people convicted of drug dealing.
Now, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for anyone using illicit drugs. All this talk of pill testing confuses young people and it would make them think that society actually cares about keeping them alive, but I did understand where she was coming from. However, I sensed that by attacking the dealers she was showing the sort of socialist tendencies that youth often exhibit. Of course, as a teacher, I shouldn’t be pushing my politics on students… Unless, of course, they’re not standing up for “Advance Australia Fair”. Anyway, I decided to play devil’s advocate and challenge her. After all, the popular view of the dealer pushing drugs on young children in order to get them hooked isn’t really the way most of the drug trade works. Most dealers can sell as much as they can lay their hands on and don’t need to go searching for new markets.
“Mm,” I said to her, “why are you so hostile to the dealers?”
“Well, there the ones who are responsible for the drugs,” she replied.
“Not really, the addicts are the ones responsible for the drugs. It’s all the fault of the addicts. If there were no market, there’d be no dealers.”
“The addicts are victims!” she insisted.
“Well, many dealers are addicts too. Are they victims or villains?”
She thought for a moment. “Both!”
“So, why are you hostile to one group of victims and not to the other?”
“Because the dealers are making a profit at other people’s expense.”
“Ok then, what do you think the dealers should do to make enough to feed their habit?”
“They should do what the other addicts do?”
“What? Break into people’s houses or rob grandmothers at the ATM?”
“You’re confusing me,” she said.
“Good,” I replied.
“What do you mean?”
“If you’re confused, you won’t write as though the solution is simply punishing people. We’ve been punishing drug users for years and has that solved the problem?”
“Maybe we just need to make the punishments harsher.”
At this point, I decided to quit the conversation. At least, I thought, I’d made her think a bit. Maybe she’d realise that punishment has just led to fuller jails, corruption and deaths and that treating addiction as a health problem might have better results for everyone. Except those who benefit from fuller jails and corruption.
Earlier this week, I was reminded of this conversation when I read a tweet from the Honorable Tony Abbott which said:
“People on unemployment benefits are supposed to be looking for work. Applying for one job a day is hardly unreasonable. These proposed changes show Labor is now the welfare class party not the working class one.”
Of course, this is one of those things- like harsher punishments for drug dealers – that sounds reasonable, untill you think abou it. People are meant to be looking for work and so applying for one job a day that’s a good thing, right?
Now let’s move it from the general to the particular. At various times over the past few years, I’ve been looking for work as a teacher. When I looked at the jobs available, there were sometimes jobs that I’m qualified for, but sometimes there weren’t. Using Abbott logic, should I apply for the Physics teacher job just so I’m applying for one job a day? Or should I just wait until there’s a suitable job?
I’m sure most people would think that it was wasting everyone’s time to be sending off applications for jobs that one wasn’t capable of doing. People would find it strange if I’d spent an hour or so a day preparing an application for a job that I wouldn’t be considered for, even if I were the only applicant. Yet the idea that the unemployed should be spending every single day searching for work, no matter how depressing that is, still seems to be prevalent. Ok, there aren’t enough jobs to go around, but we don’t want you to actually be ok with your unemployment. You need to face rejection every day or else you don’t deserve our support.
I wonder if we all sent our resumes to Abbott’s office, asking whether he had any jobs available, whether he’d be so sure that one application a day was such a good idea.
Interestingly he also tweeted: “Good to see more funds for youth mental health including
@headspace_aus at Brookvale. Governments can only spend more on services if the economy is being well managed.”
There’s always been an interesting disconnect between the balancing of budgets with services that are “welfare” and those which are “punitive”. For example, we may not have enough money to provide education, hospital beds, mental health support, drug rehab, safe houses for people fleeing domestic violence and so on. However, I’m yet to hear a politician say that we’re can’t afford the exorbitant cost of holding people in jail so we’re cutting everyone’s sentence by ten percent.
Of course, it’s always been an interesting contradiction in the Liberal rhetoric. It’s best to leave things to the invisible hand of the market, so we’re better not to do anything. However, when things are going well, it’s all thanks to their “management”.