No Zero – A Bitter Pill to Swallow
Despite all the nonsense speak of ‘zero tolerance’ and ‘war on drugs’ it is clear that such strategies cost a fortune and don’t work. Here are some reasons why:
· Humans can be perfect
· Drug addiction is not complicated
· Drugs are a ‘choice’ and,
· Punitive action ‘works’
Of course we know none of this is works and the more people talk s%#t to others about ‘choice’ and ‘zero’, more young people die.
Unfortunately, the ideology of zero, binary intolerance and simplistic understandings of humans leads to brutalism (https://www.news.com.au/national/crime/they-deserve-to-die-we-dont-care-callous-messages-in-the-wake-of-music-festival-drug-deaths/news-story/b2598d2071686d14e7417b7d3f48eaa6). Those who would like to stand back and cast sanctimonious judgment on others as if prevention was simple, have no idea what the problem is. Intolerance is a vice, tolerance is a virtue.
The best way to practice safety is not through brutalism but rather harm reduction (https://www.harmreductionaustralia.org.au/people/news/). This is consistent with the WHS Act and Regulation that proposes that risks can only be managed to As Low as Reasonably Practicable (ALARP) (https://vimeo.com/162637292 ). ALARP is a virtuous strategy, zero is a vice.
The ideology of zero is a contraction of the WHS Act and Regulation in safety. The Act and Regulation don’t expect zero indeed, any projection of zero creates very dangerous by-products and trade-offs that we see evident in the debate on deaths at music festivals. Some recent research actually shows that the ideology and discourse of zero actually increases injuries (Sheratt, F., & Dainty, A. R. J. (2017). UK construction safety: A zero paradox. Policy and practice in health and safety, 15(2), 1-9.).
The binary opposition thinking common to zero ideology proposes that any tolerance of drugs is ‘giving in’ and ‘agreement’ with illegal drug activity (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/oct/23/nsw-premier-says-drug-dealers-could-be-jailed-for-25-years-after-music-festival-deaths ). What this leads to is more vigilance, more cost, more brutalism and it doesn’t work. This is the problem with dumb down safety, somehow something will change if we keep doing more of the same. The silly argument that pill testing is giving in to ‘drugs’ is a naïve and childish way of thinking. We already know that drug injecting rooms work and that pill testing works (https://www.harmreductionaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Pill-Testing-Pilot-ACT-June-2018-Final-Report.pdf; https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2018-12-21/guide-to-pill-testing-at-australian-music-festivals/10638732).
All this talk about being ‘tough on drugs’ or having a ‘war on drugs’ is just propaganda. This is not war on drugs but in reality the ‘war on people’.
How strange is this zero ideology, the drug that kills far more people than any illicit drug is alcohol, yet we have a tolerant approach to it.
The thing about zero ideology is that it is never zero. You can never have zero in a random world, with fallible people, uncertainty and complexity. Zero ideology is never zero, it is always selective zero. A war on MDMA but tolerance for alcohol is an example. Counting band-aid cuts vs mental health harm is another. Poor old calculative safety, as long as we get to zero everything is somehow safe.
When I worked in Government in Youth and Community Services I was on the Inter-Governmental Committee set up by the Howard Government’s ‘get tough on drugs’ and ‘war on drugs’ campaign (https://csrh.arts.unsw.edu.au/media/CSRHFile/SRB07.pdf ). Everyone who was on the committee including Police, Salvos, Lifeline, Medical services, Paramedics, Social Workers, D&A workers knows that zero tolerance doesn’t work. So whilst Howard was preaching zero we on the ground were practicing harm minimization. Zero is ‘noise’ for the dumb but those who know the realities of addictions and fallibility, know that zero is nonsense.
Doctors know zero doesn’t work (https://ama.com.au/ausmed/ama-would-see-pill-testing-festivals) yet the Government still keeps up the mindset of zero despite all the evidence to the contrary. Sound familiar? This war on drugs has been going on unsuccessfully for years.
I know lets just do more of the same with greater vigilance and bigger budget (https://eprints.qut.edu.au/3442/1/3442.pdf) and see if it works again! We have been at this failed strategy now for more than 30 years!
Most experts back pill testing (https://tendaily.com.au/news/australia/a190101wth/here-are-just-some-of-the-experts-who-back-pill-testing-20190102) yet the Government in its blind superior expertise practices an ideology of ignorance that can’t admit that their drug policy actually increases deaths at music festivals. Sound familiar?
Zero is not a target. Zero is not a goal. Zero is not a principle or concept (https://eprints.qut.edu.au/109906/2/Keith_Butler_Thesis.pdf). Zero is not some by-line in a discussion on safety (https://safetyrisk.net/sia-has-a-bet-each-way-on-zero/). Zero is a language that promotes brutalism and sustains an ideology that is at ‘war’ with fallible humans in a world of complexity and uncertainty (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/). Zero is a dangerous ideology (https://vimeo.com/230093823).
Yet – Safety knows best. The Global mantra for safety is zero (https://safetyrisk.net/no-evidence-for-the-religion-of-zero/ ). The National mantra for safety is zero. Most regulators, peak bodies and agencies in safety in Australia are now fully committed to the global ideology of zero!
Well done. I wonder how many years of sunk cost it will take before Safety can swallow the pill and get rid of this insidious ideology that doesn’t work.