Drugs and rhetoric, together at last

Drugs, ho noes!
Massey’s 2007 Illicit Drug Monitoring System report came out this week:
http://www.shore.ac.nz/projects/idms_study.htm

And there’s a fundamental problem with it – it’s a survey of people who are identified frequent drug users. People get included in the survey if they respond to flyers and posters about the survey, or if they are suggested by users already in the survey. So the survey is looking at caners.

The compensation for a hour-long interview is a $20 music voucher. I’d expect this survey to under-represent coke-sniffing lawyers who normally charge several hundred per hour, so the survey is looking at poor caners.

It’s also a survey of key experts who have professional contact with frequent drug users, including people from needle exchanges, the Prostitutes Collective and so on, so the survey is looking at screwed-up, poor caners.

As you might expect, the survey reports that the majority of drug users in the survey have difficulties with health, the law, and money. What a surprise!

The people involved in the survey are thoroughly unrepresentative of the general population, and of most drug users. And that’s fine, coz this isn’t a survey of most drug users, just of the worst. I can see why it’s done this way, coz trying to survey the average person in the street, who may or may not be using drugs but wouldn’t admit to it if they did, would be a fairly fruitless task.

However, the problem arises when this information is used to inform the more general discussion on drugs and society. How we could get better information about the vast majority of drug users in society, that’s a tricky question.

Snark as a rhetorical tool
I’ve found someone who’s written style I love, mainly because his use of a particular rhetorical device, the concise and accurate snark. It’s Karl Polanyi, who’s book on finance and politics in the 19th Century I’m currently digging through. For example:

[On economists of the Austrian school]
“Vienna became the Mecca of liberal economists on account of a brilliantly successful operation on Austria’s Krone which the patient, unfortunately, did not survive.”

[On the effort to re-establish the Gold Standard]
“The effort, which failed, was the most comprehensive the world had ever seen.”

For the classical rhetoricians amongst you, would this device count as anacoluthon? Or is there a better term for spending most of a sentence in describing a thing, only to cut the ground from under that thing with a short, incidental clause?

8 thoughts on “Drugs and rhetoric, together at last

  1. I participated in that survey, and refused the voucher. However, I think you’re right, the majority of people who are normal, functioning members of society and also use recreational substances regularly, either feel they have too much to lose and don’t volunteer, or don’t come into contact with the fliers on bus stop walls and in back alleys that are used to drum up participants.

    I feel like a drip in the ocean sometimes, but without that drip, the stats would be even worse.

  2. Not a classical rhetorician, nor do I play one on the net

    In some ways I see it as a sort of “visible irony” – the thrust of the sentence is saying one thing thing while the sub-clause reverses/undermines it.

    But I’d be very careful saying it because the Irony Police are everywhere.

  3. Tired of the rigours of academia?
    Does the need to find representative samples no longer thrill?
    No longer care that your results might be unrepresentative to the point of meaningless?

    Join the Drug Policy Academics! Just ensure your conclusions more or less support prohibition, and you can be free of all that scientific niggling. Call 0800-DRGS-R-BAD-MMK today!

    1. Well, to be fair, this is a useful study, and a reasonably well-designed one, coz it’s the screwed-up, poor, caned wasters that cause the majority of problems for police and health services. They need this kind of info.

      The problem is that it’s the only kind of info that’s out there, so by default, it ends up influencing the rest of the debate.

    1. Yup, I just checked our strategic plan and it does indeed say that we’re here to implement a return to the Dark Ages.

      The “harem of whores” you’ll find just down the corridor on the left, and “substituting politically correct theology for science” is pretty much what I do all day, with scissors and tipex in a Mao-Lenninist fashion.

  4. hmm, I also contemplated the survey but don’t really classify my usage as ‘frequent’- does 3 times a year count? So I failed to represent the enormous class of non-problematic recreational users. Props to for that one.

    oooo have I got that soundtrack?

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