News about security forces mowing down several dozen “drug dealers” in the last two weeks has got many of us writhing in moral agony over “shootouts” happening on an increasing tempo. True, drug abuse is highly detrimental to our youth and surely drug dealers need to be checked vigorously, but committing the state-sanctioned “ultimate sin” to rid ourselves of some low-level operatives is quite disturbing, to say the least.
In the last two decades, drug abuse has risen sharply to the point where one out of every 15 adults are thought to be addicted. How did it reach such epidemic proportions right under our nose? According to anti-narcotic social activists, drug kingpins have resorted to a proven distribution model where the purveyors remain imperceptible until the distribution network grows geometrically to a point where its tentacles reach every nook and cranny of our society. Yes, I am talking about multi-level marketing or MLM in short—a marketing and distribution system in which the consumers are also the sellers, the sellers are also the recruiters, and the recruiters are also the distributors. With a product that preys on the vilest instincts of addictive dependencies, drug peddlers have spread across the whole gamut of our society via MLM.
These drug addicts—no matter how reprehensible their acts are—happen to be ordinary people who are among our family, friends or acquaintances and are certainly not hardened criminals. Yes, using and distributing addictive drugs destroys the prospects of a healthy life but subjecting them to extrajudicial execution is really pushing the moral envelope too far. Besides, killing off a handful of such dealers is like playing whack-a-mole—liquidating a few perpetrators simply replaces them with others only too eager to take their place. In other words, our law enforcement agencies are soiling their name for virtually nothing.
The law enforcement functionaries are servants of the republic, employed by the government with taxpayers' money to provide security to the lives and properties of the very same taxpayers—citizens to whom all government service holders are pledge-bound to uphold the supremacy of the rule of law. The paradoxical situation surrounding police “shootouts” with drug dealers versus upholding the rule of law reminds me of another paradox, though fictional, that emanated from Isaac Asimov's moral code for robots. Asimov, the Russian science-fiction writer, gave robots a simple moral code known as The Three Laws of Robotics, which are: 1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
In many of Asimov's science-fiction novels, the paradox stems from what makes us humans and robots not humans. There is a similar moral paradox in sanctioning the law enforcers to play judge and executioner at the same time when dealing with the very citizens they are pledge-bound to protect.
Despite paradoxical scenarios in exceptional situations for Asimov's robots, at least they are guided by a set of explicit moral codes. When it comes to “shootouts”, can the law enforcers cite any legal or moral codes that precipitate their irreversible actions? Many people, including some in high places, often display cavalier attitude when it comes to dealing with criminality in society, not realising that criminals are never born but are products of the society in which they live and as such we all share a collective responsibility to dig a little deeper than just scratching the surface and jumping to draconian conclusions that simply do not solve anything but rather destroy the very fabric of our moral standing as a nation. The Three Laws of Robotics can be an excellent starting point when revisiting our own moral code for state functionaries.
Drug dealers and distributors cause tremendous harm to society and destroy the productive capacity of a large section of the population. Drug abuse certainly must be contained and gradually eradicated. But playing whack-a-mole with petty drug pushers is not the way. We need to cut off the transit routes from the source of all hard drugs, educate our youngsters everywhere on the evils of drug abuse and rehabilitate those that have gone astray. These measures require meticulous planning and diligent execution, not the kind you carry out with bullets but with a lot of care and compassion. Our citizens deserve no less.
Habibullah N Karim is an author, policy activist, investor and serial entrepreneur. He is a founder and former president of BASIS and founder/CEO of Technohaven Company Ltd.