Some Troublesome Implications of Ethical Sobriety

A friend and fellow anarchist posted a piece on his tumblr yesterday defending what he calls “Radical Sobriety.” A committed straight edge vegan and feminist, he is part of a community of individualist anarchists in the Norman, OK area who have gained a reputation in the libertarian movement for developing, practicing and defending a thorough and consistent anarchism that synthesizes all the best elements of anarcho-capitalist, individualist, feminist and generally anti-authoritarian thought (which of course includes skimming out the latent orthodoxy and lazy assumptions of every named position).

For those unfamiliar, radical ethical sobriety has a few important distinctions from most reasons people choose to avoid drugs and alcohol. oneunaccountedfor lists an approximation of them at the beginning of the piece:

  • It places sobriety at the center of ethical action and discourse.
  • It addresses inebriation as a root of social problems, especially in a drug culture (a concept which is itself sure to be controversial).
  • It is about a principled commitment to sobriety and teetotalism, in contrast to the timid, highly personalized reasons often given by those who abstain but do not challenge the drug culture or drug use.
  • It is part of a larger radical critique of the status quo characterized by fierce opposition to confinement, limitation, subordination, and deceit, and respect for human dignity, justice, and reason.

It’s difficult not to admire the virtue and steadfastness required to challenge our pervasive drug culture. Excessive drug and alcohol consumption in America is so ubiquitous it permeates the social circles of virtually every young demographic I can think of (with exception to certain religious groups). It’s good to see that the radical left – which is already infamous for critiquing everything that moves – is incorporating it into critiques of domination and oppression.

However, some of the points brought up by oneunaccountedfor and Craig don’t sit well with me. Craig’s quote specifically lends itself to rationalizations for abuse and harm:

The foundational ability that is necessary for humans, and indeed any creatures, to have rights and moral standing is self-reflection. Those who cannot even recognize their own existence and are not aware of their ability to impact the world do not have moral responsibilities and cannot have rights. To remove or hamper the ability to reflect on one’s own actions and thoughts is to abdicate the responsibilities inherent in being a living individual. Any drugs that, for any length of time, impair cognition so much as to impair one’s ability to reflect on the morality of one’s actions strip their users of their humanity.

If drug use strips or even weakens us of our rights and responsibilities, then a lot of the most prevalent kind of abuse is justified. I could see a person argue that because he was sufficiently drunk, he wasn’t really responsible for his abusive actions in the moment. On the flip side, I could see that same person argue that if a girl they took advantage of was inebriated, she didn’t really have the same rights as if she were sober. I don’t doubt that the author of the article is totally, unwaveringly opposed to both of those claims, but they still seem to flow logically from the central points of the article. I’ve brought up this concern with him and he might address it in a later post.

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