The FDA, Opioids and Altruism

An opioid pill (Opana ER) that successfully relieves pain is being removed from the market by the FDA—not because of any claims of unsafety or inefficacy, but because people have found a way to pulverize the drug and inject it to get “high.” Since such people risk contracting HIV or hepatitis C through the sharing of needles, no one—the FDA declares—should be allowed to take the medication: “We will continue to take regulatory steps when we see situations where an opioid product’s risks outweigh its benefits, not only for its intended patient population but also in regard to its potential for misuse and abuse.”

Obviously, this action is another demonstration that the purpose of the government’s regulatory apparatus is not to keep people from being defrauded, but to prevent them from exercising their own judgment about what is good for them.

More broadly, though, this is a demonstration of the power of the altruist creed. When the desperate sufferer of pain is to be sacrificed to the mindless drug addict—when a productive pharmaceutical manufacturer is to be sacrificed in order to keep people from indulging in self-destructive behavior—when the rational are to be sacrificed for the sake of the irrational—what could possibly underlie such injustice except a code that preaches self-sacrifice as everyone’s moral duty?

As I wrote in IN DEFENSE OF SELFISHNESS:

“If the FDA were worried that people lacked accurate information about a drug, it would simply publicize its own findings and allow patients and their doctors to make an informed judgment about whether to use the medicine. But the doctrine of altruism does not permit this. After all, if people are merely provided with medical information, the demands of the needy are not being fully met. The FDA can describe what a particular drug is and is not supposed to do, it can present the consequences of misuse, it can explain the need to consult a physician—but what if people refuse to listen? What if they ignore the evidence? . . . As long as people are allowed any freedom to make their own choices, there will always be some unmet needs—i.e., the needs of those who do not wish to make rational choices. . . .

“This argument can be made, of course, not just about medications but about everything—which is precisely what the collectivist does. Any product, from mousetraps to mutual funds, can be improperly used, particularly by those who do not care to acquire the requisite knowledge. Nothing, therefore, is exempt from the tentacles of the regulatory state. To protect the ‘needy,’ the government must control everyone’s actions.”

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Saudi’s “Legalized Jihad” Is Still Jihad

President Trump has embraced Saudi Arabia, praising it as an ally in the battle against Islamic jihadists. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explains this new relationship: “The president clearly was extending a hand and understanding that only together can we address the threat of terrorism.”

This is a decision, however, that will only advance the jihadists’ cause.

What is the nature, and the evil, of Islamic jihad? The essence is the attempt to establish religious values by force. Rejecting the individual’s right—as recognized by free, secular nations—to practice or not practice religion, jihadism seeks to impose religious precepts upon unwilling targets. It is an effort to create a system under which everyone is ruled by the tenets of Islam. The bombings, the shootings, the beheadings are all attacks against those who do not obey Islamic law. They all rest on the premise that non-believers are not to be tolerated.

But isn’t this the premise espoused by the Saudi state as well? Consider its penal code. Among the “crimes” for which the death penalty is allowed are: blasphemy, apostasy, adultery and homosexuality—all supposedly sins against Allah.

Under Saudi law, prohibited acts of terrorism include: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

The primary legal document serving as Saudi Arabia’s official “Constitution” is . . . the Koran.

In other words, Allah’s commandments must be forcibly implemented and its violators punished. This is all simply “legalized jihad”—a holy war waged domestically under sanction of law.

And just as the Saudi population must be made to comply with the dictates of Islam, so must the rest of the world. The Saudi government advocates and finances the international spread of its particular version of Islam—Wahhabism—through what a N.Y. Times story describes as a “system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe.” That article demonstrates, for example, how the nation of Kosovo, which “not long ago was among the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world,” has been transformed, largely because of Saudi efforts, into “a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for Islamic jihadists.” Today Kosovo has the highest per-capita rate in Europe of citizens going abroad to join ISIS.

In its words and its actions, Saudi Arabia nourishes the growing scourge of terrorism. If there is any difference between its policies and those of ISIS, it is merely a matter of degree. Yet our president tells us that the Saudis are enemies of Islamic jihadism and will work with us to eliminate it. And to compound this obscenity, he helps celebrate the opening, in Riyadh, of an institution the Saudis have named the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology.

Whitewashing the Saudis and evading the pernicious nature of their philosophy serve only to facilitate the work of the jihadists.

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Trump’s Bombing of Syria:
Self-Interest or Self-Sacrifice?

Here are some belated observations on President Trump’s recent decision to launch cruise missiles against Syria in retaliation for its use of a deadly gas against its own citizens:

Americans generally applaud the decision. And it’s an understandable, and laudable, response. It’s a reaction to years of a foreign policy that dealt with our enemies by means of conciliation, apology and appeasement. So people are heartened when a president seems to be acting resolutely in confronting a loathsome tyrant. Attacking Syria’s Assad is interpreted as a sign of strength, as a welcome act of American self-assertiveness. Trump is seen as forcefully defending America’s interests.

But this is a serious misinterpretation. Bombing Syria is actually detrimental to our interests. Not because it upsets our relationship with Russia. Not because there was no prior approval from the United Nations. And not because of the shibboleth that “force is not a solution to global problems.” Rather, it’s because of the standard by which Trump chose to justify the use of force.

Trump took military action against the Assad government, despite often stating that he wouldn’t, because he was distraught over pictures of the victims of the chemical weapons, particularly children. Trump did not suddenly determine that U.S. interests were being jeopardized; he simply felt a duty to alleviate the Syrians’ suffering. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained several days after the attack: “We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”

In other words, if there is a conflict somewhere in the world, if warring factions are trying to impose their respective brands of oppression and are crushing innocent victims in the process, we will mitigate the destruction. This means that the basis for American involvement is not our self-interest, but the needs of others. It means that American wealth and America lives will be sacrificed for the sake of those in need. Plainly, this is not self-assertiveness, but selfless-assertiveness.

Syria poses little danger to the United States. But there are demonstrable threats to us elsewhere, such as from North Korea and Iran. A genuine act of self-assertiveness would be to eliminate those threats, which for a long time we have not only tolerated but actively abetted.

When a country’s foreign policy rests on no clear principles—when it’s an unpredictable and indecipherable hash of emotionalism, altruism and ad hoc machinations—when no firm guidelines exist to determine when we will or won’t use force—then “red lines” sprout up everywhere. And if America has an obligation to take action against “any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” then any failure to do so becomes evidence of weakness. If every evil committed by some vicious dictator is an assault against “America’s interests,” then inaction against such dictators shows a lack of will to uphold those “interests.”

If, however, we had a principled foreign policy, our government would understand that politically Americans have only one fundamental interest: their freedom—and that our policymakers’ sole task is to protect that freedom. When facing a situation like the one in Syria, therefore, they would morally condemn Assad’s tyranny while remaining true to the principle that we use force only when the liberty of Americans is threatened. They would refuse to treat Americans as selfless servants to the needs of the world. And they would make sure to employ force decisively against those who actually threaten us.

For a full explication of a proper foreign policy and of the meaning of a free country’s interests, see The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America

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