Harm Reduction has Captured the US! (And the cost to everyone is mounting)
Harm reduction promises reasonableness. Rather than trying to eradicate drug use, the public-health framework, which has been embraced by the White House and cities across America, works to reduce risks by prioritising the safety of individuals over curing social ills. The point is to “meet people where they are”, according to advocates, not to change them. Its appeal is that it is humane and takes the opposite approach of the failed war on drugs. But that’s only part of the story.
Look through the harm-reduction telescope and you glimpse the grand project of the therapeutic society that animates modern progressivism. At one end the individual is seen in minimalist terms, powerless to control their own desires, a victim of systemic forces far beyond their ability to resist. Look through the other end, and you find a maximalist view of the state in which a vast apparatus of administrators surveil and treat citizen-patients based on vague definitions of “wellness” and “harm”.
The essential alchemy of progressivism is performed by converting drug addiction from a vice afflicting individuals, which they have the power to change, into the basis of an identity group with a claim to government services. The collective grievances relating to the social and economic policies that might have pushed hundreds of thousands of people into drug dependency are first privatised through addiction and then bureaucratised so they can be managed by a class of appointed supervisors. In turn, the power of the bureaucracy is redirected from enforcing behavioural norms to overseeing the consequences of their dismantling.
Instead of fostering the behaviour necessary to give someone a genuine sense of self-worth – a project that may well be beyond the power of anyone but the individual and their maker – harm reduction converts the bare physicality of “safety” into the cheap currency of empowerment. The message presumes that addicts would not and should not feel shame for their dependency absent external judgements. It minimises the ravages attendant to drug addiction – such as criminality, homelessness, despair and decay – by framing them as the consequences of “unsafe” practices, without any connection to the spiritual poverty of dependency. In the religious and humanistic view, shame is the voice of the individual’s conscience. Others may seek to shame us, but true shame arises only when the individual has transgressed against their own innate sense of decency. But the conscience has no place in the maximalist world view of the harm reductionists, except as a relic of the retrograde morality that prevents addicts from experiencing empowerment.