Video: Russell Debates Drug Policy on Newsnight

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Tonight, Russell Brand was a guest on BBC’s Newsnight, discussing the issue of drug addiction in the UK.

Joining Russell in talking about this issue were Chip Somers of Focus 12, Daily Mail journalist Peter Hitchens, and Conservative MP David Burrowes.

See also: Russell Brand urges move away from methadone clinics to treat addicts (Guardian).

Russell’s documentary “Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery” will air on BBC3 on August 16 at 9pm.

(You can expect clips or the entire program to be posted here as well.)

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21 Responses to “Video: Russell Debates Drug Policy on Newsnight”

  1. Danielle says:

    I find Hitchens’s view on human behavior incredibly outdated and misinformed, especially for a journalist. I’ve seen him in a few debates with Russell and remain confused as to why HE has any say in the issue of substance abuse and the best way to handle it. Anyone who is making the same rigid conclusions about human nature as Ivan Pavlov made about dogs roughly a century ago should consider a)reading a book on contemporary theories or b)accounting. I’m concerned for this man and the enormous existential crisis he’s bound to face.
    That said, he is inferring what a lot of people do—man is unconditionally rational, self-preserving and thus quantifiable (predictable). In the world of ration, his argument is infallible: If you create an undesirable consequence (prison) to an action (substance abuse), he will avoid prison by avoiding drugs. He feels the flaw is that the consequence is not being enforced and, when substance abuse is not paired with a consequence, people will do it. In a sterile world this obviously makes sense, and no one could really argue otherwise.
    However, the reality is not a sterile world. The reality is that a HUGE part of the human experience is totally unquantifiable and, what’s more, defies logic, especially when you’re dealing with mind altering substance. Which is another reason I would think it’s apparent that you can’t use hard logic with this—there is nothing rational or self-preserving about drug abuse. It’s slow self-capitulation, like suicide as a drift instead of a leap. There’s an illness before the addiction, and prison is totally useless.
    People are people, not logarithms, and their lives and decisions are way more complex than cause and effect. People become addicted to drugs because there’s something else going on. To treat the one (effectively), we have to support programs that treat a person and his problems holistically, otherwise nothing has really healed and therefore it is less likely to be long-term. That’s the flaw that Russell points out with methadone…it’s not really helping people transcend the difficulties that fueled their substance abuse in the first place. Science continues to disappoint me with how enamored it is with convenience.
    I really appreciate that Russell is standing up for comprehensive treatment and admire how seriously he takes his own spiritual and psychological growth. He’s an incredibly courageous person.

    • starleigh says:

      Bravo, Danielle! You just said, better than I ever could, exactly what’s wrong with Peter Hitchens’ view of humanity and his argument on this issue.

      And I always wonder the same thing, about why Hitchens continues to be asked over and over to participate in these debates. He poses that question about Russell, asking why “a comedian” is asked to participate and why he gets to do a documentary on the BBC. To me it is obvious why Russell is there, but why is Peter there? He is not a political or social leader, he’s not a medical expert or addiction specialist, and he’s not an ordinary citizen who happens to have personal experience in this matter, either. What is he? A journalist. Journalists are supposed to report the news, not try to influence public opinion according to their own personal biases. In fact it almost seems directly opposed to the remit of a journalist.

      Based on the above, I’m actually quite troubled by the fact that Newsnight and so many other outlets continue to choose Hitchens, of all people, to participate in debates on this issue. It makes me think that the sole reason he keeps getting included is because he has such an extreme opposite viewpoint to what Russell and others are trying to achieve in addiction treatment reform. Hitchens makes for good TV because his statements are so completely outrageous and unapologetically rigid. He’s there to stoke outrage in that portion of the British public who just irrationally hates anyone who doesn’t fall into a narrow, prescriptive definition of “proper society.” And I question the validity of giving that viewpoint such a prominent voice.

      He may claim that Russell is included simply because he’s a celebrity, but it doesn’t matter because it is an indisputable fact that Russell has acres more knowledge about this subject than Hitchens does. He spent 10 years actively addicted to drugs and has now spent 10 years recovering, so he has a wealth of personal understanding about the topic. On top of that, he has spent countless hours visiting people in rehab facilities, talking with medical experts about addiction, and working with addiction specialists like Chip. He’s given so much of his own time and money to this cause. Has Hitchens done anything like that? I highly doubt it.

  2. Frances says:

    If only Russell could resist the impulse to insult Peter, he might get a better result. It’s like he is actively undermining himself…frustrating…IT IS A CRIMINAL PROBLEM AND A HEALTH PROBLEM. FGS enforce the law but provide rehab, and maybe have the addicts in rehab doing community service to get credit for work experience. RUSSELL: MAKE ALLIES, NOT ENEMIES. You are hurting the addicts you are trying to help

    • starleigh says:

      Frances – Really? I think Russell tried admirably to be not only civil to Peter but to reach out and find some common ground. He tried to appeal to Peter’s better nature by saying “Look mate, we really want the same thing” and saying he thought Peter was a good guy deep down. I am actually a little amazed that Peter never shows any sign of relenting to Russell’s attempt to break through to him, because most people do. Russell is a master of winning people over. Ok, yes, Russell did say a couple things about Peter’s bigotry and homophobia, but those were more digs at the Daily Mail than Peter as a person, which Russell even said himself after he made the (half-joking) insults. And those little insults were not the bulk of his argument by any means — they only happened after Peter showed no signs whatsoever of understanding or acknowledging anything Russell had said up to that point.

      In short, I don’t think Russell is the problem here. I’m kind of surprised that anyone would watch this video and take away from it the idea that the main thing preventing any progress or consensus was Russell not being serious or sincere enough!

  3. Frances says:

    Addicts must see that being clean has benefits. Rehab, then community service work credits then real job with real potential for betterment. Dangle the carrot…

    • Alice Tracey says:

      Of course addicts ‘see the benefits’ of being ‘clean’. No one wants to be in that hell!
      However, it involves a lot more than ‘dangling the carrot’: We’re not speaking about donkeys here!
      I know a rock musician who was a heroin addict & alcoholic; if he hadn’t have had the love & support of his band members & rehab…he’d have been dead by now. He does still take morphine (not methadone) prescribed by a psychiatrist whom he sees every fortnight & told me he will have to do so for the rest of his life.
      I don’t know if abstinence-based recovery would be better for him (what RB is advocating).
      On Hitchens’s assertion that addicts need to be criminalized & locked up, however,……my musician friend knew two lads-addicts like him- who both killed themselves rather than face a prison sentence for possession.
      Peter Hitchens really is, as Russell pointed out, a “peculiar child” in his naivety. He can’t conceal those tantrums either!

  4. patzin says:

    Interesting following Russell’s progression from out-of-control addict/comedian, to a respected person, grounded, & willing/able to contribute to the real conversations of such issues. He takes his recovery seriously and contributes to the greater good. This is part of his ‘revolution’ I believe.

  5. patzin says:

    May I say that Peter Hitchins is an idiot. He is giving part & parcel of someone who knows nothing about the situation/illness and accordingly has a biased perception of what is going on and how to fix it. You treat the cause not the symptoms.

  6. patzin says:

    It is an issue of supply and demand. Cut the demand and it doesn’t matter about the supply side of the equation.

  7. Frances says:

    Star, I did not say Russell was insincere or not serious. And, despite what you think of him, Peter Hitchens is well-respected in many circles worldwide. Is he narrow-minded? Of course, but the challenge here is to find common ground, as you say, and not to belittle one another. As you also know, Russell and Peter have a history, and memories like elephants. Peter is intelligent and sensitive enough to know when Russell is provoking him and then he lets go with both barrels. Things progress badly from that point on in the debate, ending in childish name-calling. For real debate to happen, EGOS must be put aside-which is not a little feat for either of these two giants. They have to realize they are both trying to solve the same problem and to try to work together. As tempting as it may be to make that jab, they must refrain or nothing will get done. Go back and watch this interview for the first provocation-it comes from Russell. (You know I love him too)

    • Alice Tracey says:

      You refer to ‘the first provocation’ coming from Russell. What was that please, Frances?

  8. Frances says:

    And also, I think Russell deserves to be called something other than “Comedian”. He does some valuable social commentary (along with the cheesy stuff) and would be taken more seriously if he didn’t have that “comedian” tag along with “former drug addict” and “shagger of the year” monikers. He has great ideas for self-improvement that everyone can use, not just addicts, and wants to make the world a better place, not just use people for profit. Gads..

  9. Mun says:

    Yeah I noticed that too, unfortunately Russell did kind of make the first provocative comment, though it was subtle it was enough to provoke a ripost and no debate could really happen from that point on. A shame because I feel like Russell is skillful enough to show how outdated Peter’s views are through pure debate without resorting to tit for tat abuse, which of course he will win at!

  10. Alice Tracey says:

    I agree with all of the eloquent arguments put forward in defence of Russell here.
    I’d just like to point out, however, that Hitchens is a columnist for The Mail On Sunday, therefore propogating his personal opinions is within his remit. :)
    Looking forward to seeing Russell’s contribution to the Olympic Closing Ceremony, later today!!!

  11. ashley says:

    just a quick comment this time, but i loved when hitchens showed his whole philosophy toward russell is just about being butthurt. “i can’t believe they allow you, a comedian, to have a documentary on the bbc about addiction and not me”. if i may speak in internet lingo – u mad bro? agree agree agree with all russ’ points and thought he expressed himself and his ideals very well.

  12. Danny Almonte says:

    I agree with Peter Hitchens that buying drugs is a crime that needs to be punished. Unfortunately, harsh penalties don’t prevent crimes. The existence of three strikes laws or the death penalty hasn’t deterred serious crime. He seems to have his blinders on. I had to laugh when he complained about Russell having a show on drugs instead of him.

    Addicts need to be locked away from society and treated for their addiction. A psychiatric facility might be a better destination for addicts rather than prison.

  13. Frances says:

    Thanks to Star :)

  14. Frances says:

    Whoops, sorry Alice-his statement that PH looks at addicts with aggression rather than compassion made PH look very small and uncaring, which made him angry. Again, there has been much unpleasantness between these two in the past, and it is just reignited sooner or later whenever they meet. I don’t know if they can get past it, because on some level they must enjoy it.

    • Alice Tracey says:

      No, I certainly disagree with your conjecture that Russell “must enjoy it”. He wants to be liked very much, by everyone.
      Hitchens does indeed adopt an uncompassionate stance when addressing many social/political/moral issues. His anger towards people who are attempting to love, rather than to judge victims of all societal evils, is sad & tiresome for someone who professes to be a Christian. Hasn’t he read the parable of the Good Samaritan?
      I’m not being biased: Hitchens has been in the past & was once more the one throwing stones. Russell put up a defence of reason & humour.
      I know how it feels to be in that situation, where you are trying to see the good in someone and make some kind of positive connection with them, but they constantly deflect your endeavours & peace offerings. Russell could have become agressive but he wasn’t going to rise to the bait; he responded with humour, not real insults. The crass abuse issued from Hitchens. The vast majority of Britons watching the programme expressed their admiration for Russell that night.

  15. Jennifer says:

    Key quote of the interview for me was when Russell said, “I don’t even think you’re a real person.” I think that gets to the heart of what everyone is exasperated about.

    Hitchens main tactic was to go on the offensive and ask precisely the questions that should be asked of him. He’s definitely one of those ‘if I say something enough times, people will start to think it’s true’ schools of thought. But on that night, he really hadn’t been prepared for Russell, who was calm, relaxed and Russell’s offhand comments were just enough to show Peter up. If Peter had a valid viewpoint, he wouldn’t constantly interject other’s comments to cry he was being interrupted. I think Russell’s seeming amusement was not a sign that he wasn’t taking things seriously, it was more of a, ‘really? It’s a Dickensian two dimensional stock character come to lifeless life’, sort of astonishment.

    A common strategy of Hitchens type voices, and hypocrites more generally, is that they accuse others of what they are themselves guilty of. In his case, it’s having a silly argument. It’s been proven over and over again that treatment programs are more cost effective than incarceration and as for steep criminal sentences for possession, and not the crimes they supposedly lead to, acting as a deterrent, or the ‘making an example of a few scapegoats’ idea, well, it’s the same argument he has for abstinence education. He said, “Sex education is propaganda for promiscuity”. Now, honestly, only profoundly insulated, uneducated people believe that idea. Hitchens wrote an article a month ago about problems with prescription antidepressants and yet he seems to think people take street drugs as a lark. It’s like a different person wrote that article. Everything he says is illogical or self-contradictory.

    I think Russell focusing on the lack of social responsibility and community that Peter has is really key. There’s no point in rehearsing studies of Europe vs. USA crime rates or other cold statistical data, and that’s because Peter isn’t a real person. He will never change his viewpoint because it is a constructed part of his public persona. He makes his money reaffirming a specific worldview to people that want to remain naive and self-righteously shirk their duties as citizens. And the prison system is big business. I think it’s good Russell ‘debated’ him because it really showed a stark contrast between their ideas and it raised more awareness due to the almost burlesque incompetence of Hitchens. However, the question is what is Hitchens even on the BBC for? If it’s to show him up for what he is, fine, but his presence and the whole debate versus discussion format of news programs really serve to simplify and dumb down public discourse. That Russell got a coherent relevant argument in, along with a few good jokes, is nothing short of amazing.

  16. Jennifer says:

    This is sort of an irrelevant footnote to the entire discussion, but Hitchens actually wrote a stroppy little self-defence on his blog a few days ago and in a strange turn of last-ditch elitism masquerading as downtrodden marginalization, he mentioned how no one reads Shelley in school anymore. So bizarre and funny since Shelley is widely known to have used opiates when he wrote, probably the exact poem Peter cited, along with his wife (& most of the Romantic generation) and particularly Coleridge who had a nasty addiction to to them after they were initially administered to him by a doctor for chronic illness problems, and were purchased at his local chemist. Coleridge also famously sought assistance to get off them. In Hitchens’ nasty little world I suppose they would have all best sat in a prison. In any case, all the more reason for why Russell’s documentary, which really serves to educate people that wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to this information, is so important so they don’t fall prey to such cheap rhetorical tricks and damaging ideologies.

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