A big dust-up about marijuana between Maajid Nawaz and Peter Hitchens, with a note on free will

UPDATE: Note that Peter Hitchens himself has responded to this post, somewhat acrimoniously, at this link in the comments below. He’s not banned or anything, so feel free to address his remarks. Maybe he’ll respond; who knows?


Here’s an interesting—and acrimonious—conversation between Maajid Nawaz, who apparently has a program on Britain’s LBC Radio, and journalist Peter Hitchens (brother of You Know Who). Go to the link to hear the 9 minutes of bluster and yelling—almost all of it from Hitchens—or hear it on YouTube, without only the audio, here.) The topic is marijuana, and before Hitchens and Nawaz got into the fracas, Nawaz had expressed the opinion that marijuana should be legalized (see video at bottom of the page at the first link).

I didn’t know that Peter Hitchens was stringently against drugs, including marijuana, which he says in this interview is clearly connected with mental illness and should remain illegal. He calls it a “legal poison”—just like alcohol and tobacco.

Nawaz then asks him the obvious question, “In your opinion, how do you distinguish the health risks that are related to alcohol, and the social costs of alcohol consumption, versus marijuana?” For it’s clear that whatever “damage” marijuana does (and I don’t know about the clear connection to mental illness asserted by Hitchens), the social and medical consequences of alcohol use are much more severe. Hitchens’s response is that once the genie is out of the bottle—once alcohol is legal, as it is—then you can’t ban it any more. Hitchens says as well that if alcohol hadn’t been legalized, he would have banned that as well! Imagine, no pubs and no pints! What a dour and unempathic killjoy!

To that statement I would have replied (and maybe Nawaz doesn’t know this), that the U.S. did ban alcohol after it had been in use for several centuries: the Prohibition experiment that lasted from 1920-1933. It was a dismal failure, and perhaps Hitchens would argue that it was doomed to fail because people already were aware of the benefits of alcohol. But we also know about the benefits of marijuana, and prohibition hasn’t worked there, either. That’s why it will gradually become legal all over America. If Hitchens is right, on the other hand, we can expect an epidemic of mental illness in Colorado and Oregon, two states where public purchase of marijuana for recreational use is legal.

Nawaz, who (in contrast to Hitchens) keeps his cool, finally loses it at about 7:30 when Hitchens says that “cynical businessmen” who market alcohol and tobacco are even worse than gangsters. That’s simple hyperbole.

I have a few points to make about Peter Hitchens. The first is that there’s a remarkable similarity between his voice and his style of rhetoric and those of his late brother Christopher. I don’t know if this reflects genetics, a common environment (likely both, since they’re brothers), or Peter’s conscious adoption of his brother’s style. Regardless, it’s a bit eerie to hear crazy conservative sentiments being expressed in a voice we’re used to for touting atheism, rationality, and, of course, Mr. Walker’s amber restorative.

Second, digging a bit deeper into Peter Hitchens and drugs (he’s apparently written a book I’ve not read), I found out that he and Russell Brand used to have very similar dustups (see here, for instance). Brand sees abuse as a form of illness that shouldn’t be criminalized. Peter Hitchens sees it as a “crime”, something that people do voluntarily, and that users should simply be clapped in jail. In fact, Hitchens says at 8:35 in the interview, “The very word ‘addiction’ assumes that the person involved has no no free will.” But he thinks people have free will, so “addiction” isn’t a real phenomenon. Hitchens clearly has no idea about the physiological and psychological bases of addiction.

Now think about the “free will” argument against addiction and for jailing.  Hitchens isn’t espousing “compatibilist” free will here; he’s espousing a purely dualistic and libertarian free will. And if you think that those who believe in libertarian free will do no harm to society, there’s your counterexample.

Hitchens sees drug use as a “bad choice” that someone makes, and instead of being treated, they should go straight to jail.  A determinist would argue against that, taking Brand’s side of the debate, and I think Brand is clearly right. Nobody makes a libertarian “choice” to use drugs, and recognizing that it’s the consequence of one’s genes and one’s environment breeds a lot more sympathy than Hitchens has.

It’s also clear that Hitchens’s view of punishing drug abusers is based on retribution: they made the wrong choice and should be punished for it, not treated! (To be fair, also sees incarceration for drug use as a deterrent, something that a determinist might contemplate—though I think a strong argument can be made for rehabilitation, perhaps in a locked hospital setting.)

Decca Aitkenhead, reviewing Hitchens’s drug book (The War We Never Fought) in the Guardian, and criticized it severely, also emphasizes the fallacy of Hitchens’s free-will argument:

Hitchens thinks there is no such thing as addiction? “No, it’s just laughable. I believe in free will. People take drugs because they enjoy it.” I agree that many people take drugs such as cannabis because they like it – but doesn’t he wonder why those same people would never dream of touching heroin? Happy, successful, stable people seldom inject smack, whereas most junkies suffered catastrophic childhoods, often in care and often abused. Doesn’t that tell us something critically important about the difference between drugs?

When I saw Hitchens’s view of free will and retribution, I immediately guessed that he was religious. And I was right about that, as I discovered from this video (I really don’t know much about Peter Hitchens except that he has a column in the Sunday Mail):

I still maintain that a). most people who believe in free will, as surveys show, are pure dualists, who think people “could have done otherwise”; and b). emphasizing determinism over dualism will have far more beneficial consequences for society than emphasizing that we have a form of free will compatible with determinism. Peter Hitchens’s vindictiveness shows that pretty clearly.

Finally, it’s clear that Peter Hitchens, besides being vindictive, is petty and jealous, perhaps because he was always in the shadow of his more famous—and more rational—older brother. Even after the exchange with Nawaz above, he couldn’t resist tw**ting at Nawaz, who immediately made him look petty.


After all, who listens to LBC, while Hitchens has a weekly column in Britain’s most widely-read newspaper. It’s still very strange that two brothers, both having British University educations, wound up so differently. Peter was even a Trotskyite Socialist at one point, and a member of the Labour Party at another. I’m curious whether any of his conservatism is simply a form of contrarianism—a reaction to Christopher’s views and success.

h/t: Barry


  1. Christopher
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    “…it’s clear that Peter Hitchens, besides being vindictive, is petty and jealous, perhaps because he was always in the shadow of his more famous—and more rational—older brother.”

    Absolutely this! It gnaws away at Peter more than you could know.

  2. GBJames
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I do miss Hitch. We lost the wrong one.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      Note that Peter Hitchens has commented on this thread, and could have seen your comment. But even if he didn’t, I don’t think it’s good to say that one wishes that person Y had died instead of person X. That’s really a wish that person Y would die.

      • GBJames
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        Yes. I’ve been regretting my comment since I hit “submit” for the reasons you mention.

        A measure of my exasperation, but that’s no excuse.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Screw the bluenoses like P. Hitchens, trying to control what other people do with their bodies. Chrissakes, dude, it’s weed, a little bit of herb. Never been much of a dope-smoker myself, but why begrudge anybody else if they dig it?

    Humans’ve been smoking or chewing or drinking some kind of intoxicant that they grew or found or brewed since our species was hacking out a living on the veldt. Prohibition’s never worked for any substance anywhere, in the long run.

    • Alastair Haigh
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 4:26 am | Permalink

      Not to mention that it turns millions of perfectly moral, otherwise law-abiding people into criminals and gives them a reason to fear the police. I don’t want to fear the police.

      For this reason and many more, prohibition is a monstrous policy and I’m sure it’ll be one of those things people in the future will look back on and wonder what the hell everyone was thinking.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:27 am | Permalink

      Exactly. Absolutely exactly.

      I imagine this point will be made again, it was the first thing I thought.

      People enjoy recreation in any number of ways, some with risk some without.

      And the comment below adds another significant negative implication for criminalizing reasonable behavior.
      It is a big component of the resentments against the police going on at the moment.

      There is a right side and a wrong side in this and Hitchen’s is the wrong side, as the religious moralizing judgmental types usually are.

      These tell others how to be moral have been at it since before “marijuana madness”.
      Take one of the more absurd frenetic crazed scenes from that movie and you will have an apt description of the mental processes of those like Hitchens.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:39 am | Permalink

        I absolutely agree.

        Well put.


  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    It is likely on YouTube but I’m sure that I saw a debate about g*d between Hitch and his brother. As I recall it wasn’t much of a debate, but then most of Hitch’s debates were kind of one sided as he mopped the floor.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I’ve seen it, too. With his plummy accent and posh vocabulary, P. Hitchens faired all right on style (although, even there, he’s his brother’s pale epigone). On substance, however, Peter took the pipe.

  5. Jan Looman
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    The “clear link to mental illness” is that cannabis use in someone prone to psychosis can trigger a psychotic episode and onset of schizophrenia. It’s not known (obviously) whether or not these people would never have developed schizophrenia had they not used pot mind you.

    This is becoming more evident in the past decade or so as more potent strains of marijuana are being developed.

    However, this affects a very small proportion of the population and would hardly be a justification to not legalize pot.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes. That link is there, and it’s concerning. As you say it only effects a tiny proportion of people though. However, it’s getting better understood precisely because of a more open attitude to marijuana use. I suspect that it will help people in that situation if marijuana is legalized.

  6. Historian
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I watched the Peter Hitchens video in which he claimed that without God (the Christian one, of course) there would be no law, morality, or justice. And, he continues, that atheists would like such a world. The issue of the need for religion to maintain morality has been discussed many times on this site and has been successfully repudiated. If somebody were to take the time to review the transcript of his talk, I think almost every line could be debunked. Christopher Hitchens would have made mincemeat of Peter.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      He’s also claimed that without the Royal family the UK would decend into fascism.

      You know, like all those other countries without a Royal family.

      • Peter Hitchens
        Posted August 31, 2016 at 4:34 am | Permalink

        I have never said that either, or anything remotely resembling it, and challenge this poster to provide referenced quotations in support of his claim.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      I wonder, has he missed high school? It teaches about societies with law, morality and justice that existed centuries before Christ. Not perfect societies, indeed, but some seemed better than the early Christian societies that replaced them.

    • Peter Hitchens
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 4:33 am | Permalink

      I didn’t actually say this. A morality of sorts, based upon common decency and mutuality, is perfectly possible without God. It is inferior, that’s all.

  7. tubby
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Will Peter give up that cup of coffee or tea when he learns caffeine is a psychoactive drug?

  8. Kevin
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Peter’s argument is uneducated and borders on being indistinguishable to a personal homeopathy argument: I think it’s bad therefore it’s bad for everyone.

    It will not be long before many states start to have legalized marijuana and people like Peter will vanish into a puff of carefree smoke.

  9. Peter Hitchens
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Readers are advised to check the actual recording, as some of Mr Coyne’s accounts (and the presenter’s accounts) of what I said are not wholly accurate.

    I am amused to find him and LBC’s presenter both on the side of Big Tobacco(the cynical businessmen of whom I was thinking) while I am against it. In a competition against the drug cartels for the amount of needless death, pain and misery on their consciences, which would win? It must be because I was once a Trotskyist that i think this way.

    AS for ‘perhaps Hitchens would argue that it was doomed to fail because people already were aware of the benefits of alcohol.’, this is not my argument, which can be found in my book on the subject ‘the War We Never Fought’, Bloomsbury, London 2013. Alcohol prohibition in the USA (like that currently being attempted in Iran) was doomed to failure because it is impossible to ban by law any substance which has been, for many centuries, both legal and in mass use. This is why I favour stringent bar licensing laws, such as those that existed in England between 1915 and 1985, as a more effective response to the scourge of alcohol.

    It is also true that alcohol prohibition was fairly feebly enforced. As with marijuana in the de facto decriminalised western world, possession was not punished. That is about the only major similarity between the two different issues. Interdiction of supply without interdiction of demand will never work. Japan, which does punish possession of drugs, is much more successful than Britain or the USA at discouraging their use.

    I’d add that it is logically satisfying to find atheist fanatics such as Mr Coyne on the side of the wider use of a pleasure drug (even though its use is increasingly correlated with severe mental illness). Pleasure is all, isn’t i? Or is it?

    Oh, and I did not go to Oxford University. Easily checked, but anyway, there it is.

    • Jan
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Actually in much of the US possession is criminalized and, at least until lately, enforced. Which is why the US has the highest per capita prison population in the world.

      • Peter Hitchens
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 2:59 am | Permalink

        Major countries such as the USA are bound by international treaties to maintain laws banning possession and sale of certain drugs. What they are *not* bound to do is to enforce them. We should not mistake these dead-letter, unenforced laws for the real thing. Even ‘Rolling Stone’ has dismissed as a myth the claim that the USA’s prisons are full of people convicted for simple possession of marijuana. They aren’t. The successful pretence of ‘medical marijuana’ achieved widespread de facto decriminalisation many years ago, as it was intended to do. In Britain, the process, described in my book mentioned above, was different but had the same effect.

        • Justin Seabury
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think that any of the drug users I have known since childhood to the age I am now (46) ever thought “I might go to jail for this, maybe I shouldn’t do it”, and I have known a fair amount of them. That is anecdotal evidence to be sure, and it is possible that some of the non drug users in my life said to themselves “man, I would sure smoke some of that crack, if it weren’t for the law” but I guess that they probably don’t because they don’t want to be addicted and have their lives ruined by hard drugs. Which Marijuana is not. More anecdotal evidence here – but in Japan, they are pretty accepting of alcohol, between one person mentioning that when on a trip to Tokyo he had street vendors offering Sake and Soju, and another who mentioned that beer is sold in vending machines, so their relaxed attitude in drinking makes up for their harder line on drug use. It should be obvious to all at this point that the War on Drugs is not fixing anything, or really even stemming the tide of drugs. All it does is make it more expensive to get the drugs, and then to get the treatment people need to get off of them. That and make hard criminals out of people who would not be after sent through our justice system. Patience, compassion and understanding is the answer to this problem, not criminalization.

    • Cameron
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      “It is true that alcohol prohibition was fairly feebly enforced” – how do you define feebly enforced? Have you checked incarceration records during the era, or how about police spending federally, state, and municipally? Facts and data sir.
      Marijuana enforcement is punished severely in many states in the US and Canada. A significant number of people incarcerated are in there for simple possession.
      Correlation does not imply causation. The direction of causation has not been established in the literature…if you’ve read it. So, it is just plain stupid to say that marijuana use leads to mental illness.
      Lastly, why are you against pleasure anyway? Do you enjoy tea or an occasional pint? Or what about some ibuprofen to ease some pain. If you, you’re a junkie just like every other human being.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        The religiosi know that if you don’t nip pleasure in the bud, pretty soon people will be … touching themselves. From there, it’s a short jaunt on the tube to Sodom & Gomorrah.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          Mornington Crescent

          (Clearly P.Hitchins is playing “in Nidd”.)

        • Michael Waterhouse
          Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:34 am | Permalink

          Got it again.

          Gotta stay pure so god will like me. (Or something?)

      • Peter hitchens
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 3:04 am | Permalink

        Correlation does not axiomatically imply causation. But it can do so, and is for thst reason the basis of epidemiology. See the famous case of John Snow and cholera. If he’ll tell m how many people in the USA and Canada are incarcerated for simple marijuana possession, and nothing else, I’m willing to go into the details of alcohol prohibition enforcement.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      The costs of pot criminalization is enormous. And there are plenty of examples that demonstrate the benefits of reducing criminalization. Here’s one: a comparison of two states, next door to each other. Here in Wisconsin we have paid a huge economic and social price compared to our neighbors in Minnesota.

    • Stephen
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      “As with marijuana in the de facto decriminalised western world, possession was not punished.”

      Mr Hitchens, it is astonishing that this statement can be made with a straight face. I simply suggest you educate yourself about the history of the War on Drugs in the USA since the Nixon administration.

      I support legalization not because I favor marijuana use; the pothead is just as obnoxious as the drunk. But because the social policy that criminalized drug use has undermined our civil liberties, militarized and frequently corrupted our police forces, masked organized attempts at racial and class discrimination; all while making not a dent in the availability of drugs.

      All drug use is not drug abuse but drug abuse is a MEDICAL issue.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        That is why I support legalization too. Also, I think overuse should be treated as a medical issue.

        I also think it has its place medicinally and that should be further researched.

        Personally, I have no use for it. That gives me no right to judge others for doing something that gives them pleasure and usually hurts no one else.

        Most of the harm that comes from marijuana is because its sale is controlled by gangs and other criminals. To take them out of the equation would be a big benefit to society as a whole.

      • Alastair Haigh
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 4:41 am | Permalink

        “The pothead is just as obnoxious as the drunk”

        It’s not a binary thing though, is it? Just as someone who consumes alcohol isn’t automatically a “drunk”, neither is someone who consumes marijuana automatically a “pothead”. That just seems to me like lazy stereotyping; unfair and unkind. Why not criticise people for their obnoxiousness itself (whether or not they’re intoxicated) rather than what they consume?

        Otherwise I entirely agree with you!

        • GBJames
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:21 am | Permalink

          As you point out yourself, “pothead” and “drunk” are the extremes on the consumption scales. To call the extremes obnoxious does not impugn those who are not on the obnoxious extreme.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:27 am | Permalink

            I think there is a problem in that ‘drunk’ is not commonly an accusation levelled at anyone who just has a couple of beers, whereas ‘pothead’ is frequently used to impugn anyone who smokes marijuana regardless of the quantity.


            • GBJames
              Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:34 am | Permalink

              I don’t know. Maybe “dope-head” would be better?

              I say this as one who would have qualified for the extreme “pothead” label for a number of years in my youth.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

                Well, possibly.

                What would be better would be, if moderate or occasional users of marijuana weren’t singled out as ‘potheads’, as if that were their defining characteristic.


      • Peter Hitchens
        Posted August 31, 2016 at 4:38 am | Permalink

        Don’t argue with me. Argue with ‘Rolling Stone’ – see ‘Myth No. 8’, here http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/lists/top-10-marijuana-myths-and-facts-20120822/myth-holland-and-portugal-have-legalized-marijuana-19691231

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      The criminal justice system is an inutile tool for giving effect to socio-medical policy. Nice of you, though, to care so deeply for the user you wanna toss him in the clink.

    • Taz
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      You can try to portray yourself as against the “powers that be” all you want, but the fact is that yours is the authoritarian position.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      Re Mr. Hitchens’s comment: it appears that after secondary school he went to the City of Oxford College, which is distinct from Oxford University, and that confused me. His main degree, I see, is from York University, and I’ve made the corrections above.

      As for the rest, I stand by what I said.

    • Zado
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      …even though its use is increasingly correlated with severe mental illness.

      Correlation =/= causation. Keep grasping at straws to justify your retrograde, anti-liberal puritanism.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      I wonder by what criterion you define Prof. Coyne as “fanatic”, but even if you consider him such, it is hardly productive to call him names on his own blog.

      • Peter Hitchens
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 3:12 am | Permalink

        I based this factual statement on previous exchanges with him. I have nothing against fanatics as such.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 31, 2016 at 5:50 am | Permalink

          I don’t think anyone here would regard your ‘factual’ statement on Dr Coyne with anything but derisive laughter.

          And as for “I have nothing against fanatics as such” – what an incredible statement. Can we quote you?

          We* have extreme prejudice against fanatics, for about the same reasons we have against psycopaths.

          (*I think I probably speak for everyone here)


    • Roger
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

      Typing causes carpal tunnel syndrome and yet there you are doing all that excessive typing, which amounts to little more than legalized neurological disorder.

  10. James Walker
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    You didn’t know Peter Hitchens was religious before this? This is the guy who wrote a booked called “The Rage Against God”. Which is ironic because every time I’ve seen or heard him he’s seemed to be angry (and wrong).

  11. Paul Beard
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Peter Hitchens is also a regular writer for that great source of reason and undisputable facts the Daily Mail. Hardly good practice for rational debate.

    • Peter Hitchens
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 3:10 am | Permalink

      As it happens I have never written so much as a comma for the Daily Mail, as anyone truly concerned with facts and accuracy would know. But leaving aside that detail, the fact that you disagree with a newspaper’s politics is not a sufficient reason to dismiss everything in it. The New York Times, though sometimes mistaken and heavily biased towards a liberal view of the world, is often very useful as a source of information.

      • Shea B
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 5:41 am | Permalink

        For the sake of accuracy: You have written regular columns for The Mail on Sunday, a sister publication of The Daily Mail. Your articles have often been republished in The Daily Mail (at least on their website). So, it seems a bit disingenuous to act as though you’ve never had anything remotely to do with The Daily Mail…

  12. Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    If you want to make any sense of Peter Hitchens, take a Christopher Hitchens opinion and just reverse it. He’s a tedious controversialist living forever in his brother’s shadow.

  13. darrelle
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Definitely fits with a Christian worldview. You have a choice to sin or not to sin. Peter comes off as a caricature of a sanctimonious and supercilious English gentleman.

    It is fairly easy to gain insight into how involuntary addiction can be just by taking a look at your own behavior, even for people who don’t have any troublesome addictions, like to drugs. Do you have any habitual behaviors? If you are alive, you do. Have you ever tried to change any of your habitual behaviors? Diet? Exercise? Spending some time with your children? Breaking your indignation addiction? Stop being a full time asshole?

    Habitual behaviors can be hard to change, even without the serious physical aspects that accompany serious drug addictions. Understanding that we are not conscious of much of what results in our state of mind and behavior seems like it should lead people to think of addiction as an illness to be treated rather than a crime to be punished. The problem seems to me to be the same problem at the root of the atheist vs theist problem. Reason doesn’t work when people have already reached their conclusion and are devising reasons to support it rather than using reason to determine what their conclusion should be. Peter has long since decided that addiction is a sin. I think it is unlikely that he could be convinced by reason and evidence that determinism reigns and therefore addiction is not a sin.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:42 am | Permalink

      I would disagree with your use of the word ‘gentleman’. Not even a caricature of. A gentleman would conduct himself with more decorum.


  14. Cameron
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Peter Hitchen’s utter misunderstanding of basic science and evidence is appalling for someone so educated. He, and many others, don’t understand that correlation is not causation. One can read the correlation between mental illness as a cause or a result. Additionally, when people say that marijuana can “trigger” psychosis do they know what they are saying? Psychosis and the etiology of development, like many mental illnesses are so poorly understood at this point that speaking in such simplistic ways does little to provide any actionable social prescriptions. Furthermore, I’d love to know if Peter is a Tea drinker. I’m guessing so since nearly all English people are. I wonder what he thinks about the addictiveness of caffeine and the environmental and social damage large plantations have caused and still cause…probably not, because that’s his drug of choice.

  15. Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I think the “gangster” charge applies best to bootleggers during Prohibition (both here and in the US). But it does fairly accurately describe those who attempted to squeltch the science and clinical work which showed the dangers of smoking. The same people (or rather their firms) are involved in the astroturf movement against accepting climate change, etc.

  16. p. puk
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Prohibition is more harmful than marijuana.

    That’s the long and the short of it.

  17. Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I might add also that addictions were an interesting component of the discussions in the FW&D seminar I took years ago. Even one of the strongest of the libertarians seemed in agreement that addictions showed up a problem the libertarian would have to answer: why they seem to exist. (The classmate in question himself was at the time addicted to nicotine!)

  18. Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Peter was asked by the wonderful Ruth and Martin’s Album Club to review The Kinks’ album, The Village Green Preservation Society. The RAM Album club asks moderately famous people (maybe they’re more well know in Britain; I didn’t recognize I lot of them) to listen three times to an acclaimed rock album that they had never heard before and then review it. Then Ruth and Martin publish their own review of the album (always very interesting, funny, and well written) and the guest’s review.

    Peter, of course, didn’t much like The Village Green Preservation Society and wrote a short review to that effect. Ruth and Martin thought it was too short and asked him to expand on it. The follow up dealt with issues far beyond music and it is an interesting read. Peter appears to have had something of a “road to Damascus” moment after a serious motorcycle accident. He found god and became “very serious.” It’s worth reading Peter’s and many of the others’ reviews.


    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      If they were gonna have Pete review a Kink’s album, it should’ve probably been “Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire).” Always been one of my favorite outings from the brothers Davies.

    • aalcock
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 2:57 am | Permalink

      When I read the URL, it jumped into my brain as the “Ramal Bum Club dot com”, which put quite a different spin on things for a minute. You have to be careful when setting up your web sites!

  19. Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Whereas Christopher could be a sublime smart ass; Peter is just an ass.

  20. garthdaisy
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    One major problem here is the use of the word “drugs.” Marijuana is a plant. It grows from the ground naturally. Same for psilocybin mushrooms. These are not drugs. They are plants that have psychoactive effects on humans, and perhaps animals as well. Horses and cows chow down psilocybin mushrooms by the mouthful as they graze in pastures where liberty caps like to grow. Didn’t God legalize these plants by willing them into existence? Who is man to make illegal what God has ordained.

    But yes, Nancy Regan and Peter Hitchens types would definitely call them “drugs” complete with scare quotes and all. Life is a drug. Staying at home is dangerous. Desiring a successful career can be extremely harmful to the mental health of humans and has caused many people to leap from tall buildings to their death.

    Peter Hitchens is talking like an ignorant child on this one, and on other topics too it seems.

    • Posted August 30, 2016 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      They are drugs in the same sense anything made exclusively by humans is a drug: compounds or systems of compounds that have biochemical effects on living things that are not related to food qualities. (Vitamins, minerals, fats, etc.)

      Should we do anything about this rather large class as a whole? Arguably not, and in many places that’s true. Some of the items are legal, some are prescription only, and some are illegal. We can change which items go in which (even reduce a category to empty) – but that’s a policy (technology, IOW) decision, not a scientific one, which the characterization as drug is.

  21. Claudia Baker
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Peter Hitchens believes in capital punishment, thinks one should be put in jail for simple possession, likes the idea of marriage with the man at the head of the family as authoritative figure, and thinks that atheists want to lead depraved, licentious lives.

    Maybe he just needs to smoke a dube and relax a little ffs.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      The way he was screaming at Maajid Nawaz, Hitchens might have to be dosed by suppository — you know, to mellow out the bug up his ass.

  22. Malcolm Morrison
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Peter Hitchens is very active on Twitter these days and the last time I came across him was in the middle of July when he was engaging lots of people and trying to persuade them that the Nice attacks and others in Europe were caused by cannabis and that religion was not a factor. In fact he believes that cannabis is the cause of lot of violent crime (see this link).


    • John Taylor
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      That’s all very scientific. I bet all those murders also wore socks! I bet sock wearing leads one to be a murderer!

      I smoked a little marijuana during my misguided youth and have never murdered a single person. Not even a single little old defenseless lady. Mr Hitchens needs to add that data point to his very scientific survey.

  23. Michael Ball
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Peter Hitchins went to York University not Oxford.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I note that above and have changed the post. According to Wikipedia he did go to a “City of Oxford College” (not Oxford, apparently) for a while after secondary school, which confused me.

  24. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Attempting to regulate behavior, and that is what Prohibition was, is simply a proven failure. The criminals loved it, the church caused it and many people died drinking homemade stuff. Yeah, lets bring that one back. The only constitutional amendment that was reversed and for good reason. Oh yes, and what the criminals are doing due to legalization of weed in some states is pushing more heroin to make up for loss of sales. Meanwhile, the states that have legalized, just like with liquor, are bringing in lots of revenue in taxes.

  25. Susan Campbell
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    What Jerry writes in his 6th paragraph about Christopher is so true. I hate hearing Peter’s voice which is so similar to his brother’s yet the words are empty and shallow, there is nothing exciting or deeply satisfying about them. They are pale and mocking shadows of the fire in Christopher’s words. I wonder if he knows he will never bbe missed as his brother is.

  26. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I just read an article that someone foisted on me … well, I read enough – where the author equates – equstes! – addiction to drugs with addiction to … you guessed it … iPhones, and all manner of “screens”. What’s more, is the “junkies” (author’s word!) are … wait for it … children (as in, very young – not high school or above…)… It’d be fun to see if anyone can name th article or the author…. oops, hijacking PCC(E)’s post again….

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      Yes, they are considered addictions, though not identical with drug addictions.

  27. Dimitris Klaras
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    About “couldn’t have done otherwise” that has become a cornerstone of thought. Really? Is this so magical to imagine? In “determinism” (let’s say of an “incobatibilist”) the future, will learn, is “predictable”. I would prefer the word “predetermined” as it has a more consequential effect and is more accurate. “Predictable” is not the correct word a determinist can use. “Predictable” means something that is not certain to become true and many times it is proven false. Like weather predictions! A strange avoidance to use… correct words! Freud would have say something here!

    It is obvious that this view of the world is not compatible with human experience. I would prefer to say, alternatively, that the future is probable: That there are many possible routs to follow and we have a level of freedom to try to choose one of them. We can fail or succeed in this endeavor. This looks much more compatible with human experience. But probably includes some level of “could have done otherwise”. At this point I cannot describe this better. So it seems that this adds a bit of “magic”. But still is so a serious problem to accept? A little bit of… “magic” in our lives? I don’t think so. As far as I understand the phenomenon of conscience is fully accepted as real even from “incobatibilists”. “How conscience appeared to the universe!” etc, etc, etc. Looks like a much bigger problem from a level of “could have done otherwise” freedom in our choice system. If a bit of magic is needed to have a whatever level of freedom in our decision making how much magic is needed to imagine configurations of atoms (yes, I read now Sean Carrol’s “Big Picture”) not just as living creatures but able to have conscience, that is the ability to reflect about ourselves and the whole universe and then produce science and technology? Tremendous more magic I must say!

    But strangely, under some kind of blindness, all the fuss is about a bit “could have done otherwise”. Why? How a… “couldn’t have done” accepts conscience as true? Just think now how it is to speak about… “conscience language”. I propose to go for the real thing. “Free will” is a joke in comparison. It doesn’t deserve all the tears!

    Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Having been an addict–alcohol–,addictive behavior is an argument against free will. Ask any addict whether there were times that that they were free to choose not to indulge in their drug of choice and almost all will say no. Addictive behavior changes the brain and removes ones free will toward this behavior despite the obvious negative consequences imposed by society. The fact addictions are extremely hard to
    extinguish is evidenced by the high relapse rate, especially among neuromimetic drugs like opiates. To my knowledge, pleasurable associations to altered mental states is learned behavior and the only way to break the addition cycle is to reprogram the brain, a fraught and difficult task. Hitchens and the like with their moralistic approach do a great disservice to solving the problem

    • Posted August 30, 2016 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      It doesn’t remove free will. Free will was never the to begin with.

  29. Christopher
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Considering the opioid addiction that’s running rampant in many parts of the country and quite directly leading people towards the much cheaper heroine, ex-hippies and other potheads are the least of our worries. And even more worrisome is that the statement about happy people seldom injecting smack is no longer quite to true. Legal medications are leading people toward illegal drugs when the addiction becomes so great and the money starts to run out. (and yes, that even goes for the lily-white kids in Maine, for those of you who’ve been following THAT little dust-up with the Republican Governor).

  30. charlize
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Smarts genes appear not to be equitably distributed in siblings.

  31. Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  32. Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    I just finished reading “Hitch-22”. The early chapters shed some light by inference on the Hitchen’s brothers beginnings, and one by inference might guess why Peter acts the way he does and holds the views he promotes.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

      The thing about anger and resentment? It’s like taking arsenic and expecting someone else will die.

      I’d love to see Peter make his own mark by being himself, not an anti-Christopher. I’m sure he’s every bit as keen an intellect and capable of joie de vivre in areas he finds of interest.

      • charlize
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

        “I’m sure he’s every bit as keen an intellect”

        To quote the brother:
        “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

        • Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

          BAM! Buh dump tssh. 🙂
          Good one.
          I had an uncle who was socially inept. Couldn’t drive a car. He *could* replicate music without error after hearing it once.
          All I’m saying is we all have areas of strength, Peters are obviously not the same as Christophers.
          Fair enough?

          • charlize
            Posted August 30, 2016 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

            I am truly impressed by (truth be told – jealous of) your uncle’s Mozartian prowess.

            Fair enough. Peter’s unmatched gift is broad-spectrum windbaggery. Where, say, religious apologists ( also a prominent sideline of Peter’s) might possess this gift in their relatively narrow field, Mr. Hitchens visits his gift upon a wide range of topics his shallow and tendentious understanding of which he will not allow facts and empirical evidence intrude upon.

            Oh, wait, so perhaps that’s what you meant by keen intellect: his ability to recognize and then selectively ignore the facts and empirical evidence that would undermine his positions.

            • Posted August 30, 2016 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

              Wait, what are you saying exactly? You’re somewhat ambiguous in your characterizations..
              I think he may be hiding his candle under a bushel. As odious as I find his opinions, I’d like to give him some benefit of the doubt.

  33. Christopher Bonds
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    You are SO right about the similarity of delivery–it’s freaking uncanny. And so opposite!

  34. Christopher Bonds
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Just out of curiosity, has any society in Earth history successfully banned alcohol? Its ability to affect the brain and fuel conviviality has been known and appreciated for thousands of years, whereas its potential for brain damage and other bodily harm is a recent awareness.

  35. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Peter Hitchens comes off as so grouchy in the interview with Nawaz, and so puffy in the embedded video, that his own drug-of-choice should be Extra-Strength Midol®.

  36. keith cook +/-
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    I would put it to Peter Hitchens that there are millions walking around in a balanced state or thereabouts simply by use of pharmaceutical drugs and have no choice about popping them, either that, or be dead, in pain or on some other planet.
    For whatever reason, genetic or environment they art using drugs while they drive, work or in R&R pursuits and, lots of money is being made.
    The so called illegal drugs should also be under the umbrella of the above array of legal drugs administered and regulated by the government, doctors and health agencies where it is applicable and desired.
    Register addicts if it helps, know what quality is being used and where it is being sourced. Benefits: less over dose and death rates, burden on hospitals, lower petty crime, people having lives instead of jail time and associated costs. Less competitive drug peddler shoot outs and possibly two bit TV productions on heists gone wrong.. ok that’s pushing it (pun intended)
    I make no distinction between the two categories, illegal / legal.
    See Portugal for a little daylight on the subject.
    Alcohol and cigarettes have had there free ride, fortunes have been made and lives destroyed but funk it! war business does the same.. obesity promoting fast foods and drinks where is it we actually stop? i would ask for a little sanity and less ranting when drugs in the form/category we are discussing are in question.
    “Do try it.” Dilmah Tea adv.
    you may like it..

  37. Pier Bove
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I respect Peter Hitchens quite a bit even though I disagree with most of what he says. I’ve watched many CSPAN videos where he was a guest along with his brother. Like his brother it strikes me that Peter is a man of principle except that, while Christopher had a libertine streak to him, Peter is very severe/conservative, and sure, a bit of a killjoy sometimes. This spat made me want to read his book about the Drug War (or lack thereof) in Britain. Very interested in finding out more about his point of view.

    Having said all this, when Peter Hitchens says he sees not much difference between cynical businessmen and gangsters… well he’s dead wrong.

    I was born and raised in Colombia in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Let me assure you we would have taken a dozen RJR Nabiscos and Phillip Morrisses over one Pablo Escobar. Big Tobacco CEO’s perjured themselves in front of congress. Big Tobacco advertisements targeted teens. The list of unethical acts is very long.

    But here’s what Pablo Escobar did. He killed, kidnapped, and tortured thousands of people. He blew up a 727 (!!!) out of the air, killing 100 people. He targeted Presidential candidates. Killed judges. He kept a country of 40 million in terror for years. Imagine if Al Capone instead of terrorizing one city were terrorizing the entire MidWest.

    So yeah, like Nawaz I would have lost my patience at such a false equivalence. If there are good arguments for making drugs illegal I’m all ears. But gangster are WAY WAY worse than cynical businessmen. It’s not even close.

    • Peter Hitchens
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 4:45 am | Permalink

      My question, misrepresented by the radio presenter as a statement I did not make, was to ask whether cynical businessmen are necessarily any better than gangsters. How many people have died, often very painfully m, thanks to Big Tobacco’s refusal to recognise the dangers of its product. How many families have been robbed on members? How much pain and misery has been caused? And it was of course done legally, as the drug liberalisers want cannabis and heroin and cocaine to be sold legally, advertised, promoted and distributed regardless of known dangers. I think it is *comparable’ to that done by gangsters, not identical. Killing someone slowly, at a distance, through persuasion and misinformation, or suppression of information, does not seem to em to be morally superior to doing it directly. I am at a loss to understand why contributors to this site take the side of Big Tobacco against me, unless it is personal spite.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 31, 2016 at 5:59 am | Permalink

        “I am at a loss to understand why contributors to this site take the side of Big Tobacco against me, unless it is personal spite.”

        That is blatant misrepresentation and your invocation of Big Tobacco is a strawman argument anyway.

        I can’t see *any* comment that takes the side of Big Tobacco. It is perfectly possible and consistent to detest the tobacco companies while also detesting and deriding your opinions.


      • Pier Bove
        Posted August 31, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for your response Mr. Hitchens. I assure you of two things:

        1. I am not “taking the side of Big Tobacco” against you.
        2. I don’t feel any spite against you. As I said I have utmost respect for you as a man of principle. Always have.

        As to whether you can compare an unethical corporation with a gangster like Escobar, why, you sure can. I’m sure there will be similarities in some aspects.

        But comparing civilians blown up in a passenger plane with smoker dying of cancer is not quite right. We agree it’s not identical. That’s fairly obvious. But there is a crucial moral difference. Smokers choose to smoke. And by now most smokers know what that choice entails. When I board an airplane I’m not expecting to be blown up by a gangster because he wants to kill a presidential candidate. If these things were the comparable Big Tobacco CEOs should be in jail for murder. I haven’t read your book yet (I will in a couple of months) but find it hard to believe you’d send Big Tobacco CEOs to jail for murder. Perjury? Yes. Fraud? Perhaps? But murder?

        If you would though then your position would be consistent and I would stand corrected. But we do as a society consider murder more morally repugnant than fraud and lying. And note that when we make that distinction we’re not “taking the side” of frauds and liars.

        -Pier Bove
        PS. We exchanged some words on Twitter on this topic before. Looking forward to reading your book.

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