Understanding Harm Minimization
As much as Safety might wish it, the real world is not binary black and white. Sometimes the most caring thing to do in a fallible world with fallible people is simply keep harm to a minimum. Harm minimization is the course of action that puts care at the centre of intelligent ethical decision making. This means that sometimes the lesser of two evils is better than sitting on some sanctimonious horse hoping that it won’t bolt.
The Chief Minister Andrew Barr in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) came out today and suggested that the Australian states would do well to observe the effectiveness of pill testing in our jurisdiction (https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/andrew-barr-gives-pill-testing-trial-the-green-light-20190218-p50ync.html). This will be the second time that the ACT has undertaking pill testing at a music festival (https://ama.com.au/ausmed/nation-first-pill-testing-trial-canberra-music-festival).
Of course, the binary mindset interprets harm minimization under its binary logic as the approval of substance abuse. The binary view holds to the fact that many substances are declared illegal and so any form of compromise is determined as approval of substance abuse. The same binary logic of ‘what is the only acceptable goal?’ drives Safety to its nonsense language of zero harm.
When humans are faced with highly complex situations where zero actually makes things worse then, harm minimization is the best approach. The Australian Department of Health and all the helping professions take such an approach: (http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/drugtreat-pubs-front5-fa-toc~drugtreat-pubs-front5-fa-secb~drugtreat-pubs-front5-fa-secb-6~drugtreat-pubs-front5-fa-secb-6-1).
I have witnessed the harm and suffering of substance abuse for many years and have never advocated for any form of substance use. Indeed, I have studied, experienced first hand and researched the issue and all of its suffering. It is not a pretty sector to work in.
There are many problems with the zero view but let me just highlight one. The first and most important delusion of Zero is that it doesn’t understand the nature nor causes of addiction. Standing in front of a locomotive at full boar and wishing it would stop makes just about as much sense. Having worked for years in the areas of addictions, mental health, community services and social work I can tell you, no one in those sectors believes in zero. To better understand addictions I suggest you read Gabor Mate or Johann Hari.
At the foundation of the zero view is the delusion of behaviourism that is, that humans behave according to some mechanical idea according to inputs and outputs. Of course the curse of behaviourism is Safety’s addiction (https://safetyrisk.net/the-curse-of-behaviourism/). When one understands the complexities of human motivation (read Higgins Beyond Pleasure and Pain) one sees how this tired old 1930s theory doesn’t work.
When it comes to harm minimization professions (founded on the principles of helping and care) like the AMA fully support drug injecting rooms and pill testing (https://ama.com.au/gp-network-news/ama-backs-pill-testing-festivals). Anyone who claims the title of ‘professional’ should understand the complexities of human anthropology and the nature of the real world. Real professions would never back zero (https://www.socialworker.com/extras/social-work-month-2015/when-just-say-no-is-not-enough-teaching-harm-reduction/).
The strange thing about all the grandstanding on zero and the pill testing debate is that the greatest level of harm and death in our society doesn’t come from illicit drug use (https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/34569d3a-e8f6-4c20-aa6d-e1554401ff24/aihw-bod-19.pdf.aspx?inline=true ). It comes from a legal source – alcohol. And there is no greater demonstrated failure of zero in history than the efforts made to ban and outlaw alcohol.