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Is consistency a virtue?

Among the useful tasks accomplished on the Christmas visit to my mother’s house was dealing with (i.e. disposing of) most of my old correspondence. They say that the difference between a radical and a conservative is 20 years. So what should I make of this?

Saxmundham, Suffolk. 14th March 1987

The Editor
The Independent


If, as your profile today suggests, the tabloid papers have rehabilitated Boy George as a symbolic “victim of the pushers” then they do drug-users, and the rest of us, who have to support the costs of drug abuse, a great wrong. For they hold out to the user the most powerful and deceptive of excuses: “It isn’t my fault; he made me do it.”

Pushers only supply someone’s demand, and taking a new drug is still a positive decision, even if the first one is free. Continuing a habit requires a long series of decisions to take one’s poison rather than to do other things with one’s time and money. It may feel like a forced choice, but the first step to freedom is to recognise that there is a choice involved. [We might elevate that to a general principle – GH, 2006]

The child’s excuse can still apply: “But I didn’t know… He lied to me. He made me do it.” No pusher is under an obligation to be honest, no in-crowd to evaluate and announce the risks of an essentially exciting-because-surreptitious activity – why believe the authorities about this when it is palpably part of their desire to control you, and they lie about everything?

The greater the repression of drug-use, the more ruthless and dishonest will be the surviving suppliers. (Far from being the Mafia’s enemy, the Drug Squad is its greatest friend, cutting down the competition and making control easier.)

No, the Great and the Good (and the tabloids) have it wrong. The cycle, of horror stories leading to unjustified fears, leading to repression, to ignorance, to gangsterism, more horrors, fears… obscures the relatively simple danger for the user, and vastly inflates the problem for everyone.

There is a step – and a difficult, but the only one – which can reduce in the long run the ignorant bravado, addiction, mess, disease, expense, accidental poisoning, purposeful deception, and organised crime stemming from heroin; the one which throws back all responsibility to the user, who must be able to say, “my decision,” and “I made a mistake.” Legalise it.

Yours truly,

Guy Herbert

Though there are some ways my opinions have evolved (I no longer accept, even for rhetorical purposes the mirror-magic conception of “organised crime”, for example), I am still making the same point to a deaf establishment 20 years later. So, very nearly, is George.

Is there no mellowing path for a libertarian? Am I a singualar case of arrested development? Or is the generational reversal thesis sense when applied to musical and fashion-sense, nonsense on social and political questions?

The OR may not be exclusive, folks.

14 comments to Is consistency a virtue?

  • Is there no mellowing path for a libertarian?

    No. Not considering what those-who-think-they-are-our-Lords-and-masters, those who forget-they-work-for-us, are doing.

    I think it is a credit to you that you have stayed, for wont of a better word, angry. And a discredit on the rest of us that you still have to be angry. Or on those who don’t vote/won’t listen/can’t hear.

  • I think being cranky about things is part of being a libertarian. I think there is nothing wrong with being consistent in this way. I certainly have not changed on that tact that is for sure.

  • David Roberts

    No, consistency is not a virtue, if it is another form of bigotry or prejudice. This human trait is only useful when information is not available.

    In the case of drugs in our society a vast array of information is, and was, available. So if, 20 years ago, your conclusion was that the best option was legality; and now, you arrive at the same conclusion, this is no surprise since the information on which you based your conclusion has not changed.

    You do however demonstrate consistency in your method of arriving at conclusions. I wish more people used this method, but then I am bigoted about this.

  • Freeman

    Oscar Wilde had a cynical answer before you even asked the question:

    “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

  • RAB

    Dear Oscar had a merry quip for most occasions didn’t he. Dreadfully shallow man in many respects.
    Why would you change your mind on that particular point Guy?
    Nothing on earth is going to switch you over to the All drug dealers should get a bullet in the back of the head camp, now is it?
    More worrying is that you were writing to the Independent !

  • Jacob

    “Is consistency a virtue?”

    No. Truth is.

    But if you are inconsistent it proves you were wrong at some time.

  • guy herbert


    The Independent of 1987 was a different beast to today’s paper. It was much more liberal (european sense) in outlook, and was standing in for The Times (also then more liberal) which had suspended publication in an argument with the print unions. I’ll write to any publication, however, if my point can be well made there. (I’m quite proud of The Morning Star quoting me this year calling the PM “a twerp, a born-again technophile”.)


    Not quite. You could be partly right or wrong both times. (See Mr Blair for examples.) Less likely, the facts might have changed and you be right both times.

  • RAB

    Yes Guy, well forgive me my own little quip.
    Of course it was.
    I remember the launch. It had a different size and a different feel and the best pics in Fleet Street. Genuinely promising.
    Now all it remains of that promise are the Pics.
    Also I thought after posting (as you always do), that talking to the “Enemy” so to speak, is more productive than preaching to the converted. So, Ahem, apologies.

    As to consistency , which is the point, I am remarkably consistent. Hopefully because before reaching an opinion, I have examined the evidence from all angles.
    Also having played sports has something to do with that, because sport is all about consistency.
    Perhaps what I’m saying is that having a map helps.
    Most of us have them.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    The only “mellowing” path for an individualist is to accept collectivism in some form. It’s not mellowing, in any case–it’s resignation. And I refuse.

  • Freeman

    So, Hazel Blears supported NHS hospital closures in cabinet and now she joins in protest against a Salford hospital closure, her constituency.

    How’s that for consistency?

  • Ms Blears would seem to be someone with the strength of her beliefs.

    Best regards

  • In support of Guy (with help from RAB, eventually): consistency is one of the symptoms of engaging brain before opening mouth.

    Best regards

  • Cardenio

    The truth is the truth whether you are 5 or 50. An unchanged mind only shows one thing, that you have not yet been proven wrong.

  • Consistency when you have a sound position is not wrong. In fact those that have been eurosceptic since the early 90s (or before) are now seeing most people in the UK come their way of thinking.