Brother Dave and Immanuel Kant


I first met “Brother Dave” when he was the case agent for an informant on a cocaine case I was trying. It was a state-court case, but the witness against my client had worked off a federal beef in part by making the case against my client, so Special Agent Brother Dave of the DEA held his hand through my interview of him, and then testified at trial.

Brother Dave is a very devout Christian who loves everyone. He testified against my client without rancor, I cross-examined him and his snitch without ill will, and my client was acquitted (proof that cross-examination does not have to be angry examination).

Brother Dave and I have run into each other a few times since then; I cherish the thought that I may be able to bring him around to my way of thinking on the matter of our shared expertise — the War on Drugs — and I expect that he has the same delusive belief about me.

Frustrated that there’s more cocaine on the streets at lower prices than there was when he started fighting the WOD thirty years ago, Brother Dave favors adopting the Singaporean approach to drugs: capital punishment for small quantities.

So it surprised me when Brother Dave shared with me this quote from Immanuel Kant:

“Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.”

We might say that we’re punishing people for their own good, but almost universally we’re not. Brother Dave favors executing drug traffickers not for their own sake but for the sake of everyone else — to deliver others from temptation. Whether we’re hanging people at Changi Prison at dawn, caning them, or “just” locking them up, the WOD is all about using people as a means to an end.

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0 responses to “Brother Dave and Immanuel Kant”

  1. Wow a devout Christian!

    A ballpark estimate is that there are 280,000 persons in state and federal prisons serving a sentence for drug trafficking. Executing them would be equivalent to nuking a medium sized city.

    When will this stop?

    • In fairness to Brother Dave, his philosophy is internally consistent. He doesn’t favor ex post facto capital punishment for traffickers, but he thinks that we won’t need to execute many traffickers to persuade most people not to deal dope (a proposition that is, as Joe demonstrates, not universally accepted).

      • He’s probably right. Not in his implicit argument that it would be good public policy — it would be horrible public policy, in my opinion — but in what I take is his claim that it would drive supply down and prices up, if it were enforced in a draconic manner.

  2. The fact remains that as long as drug trafficking is profitable, there will be people (in every country around the world) who will do it. Stiffer penalties do not seem to deter anyone.

  3. Our pious Brother Dave apparently missed the subtle sarcasm when Dylan said: “But you don’t count the dead when God’s on your side”

  4. It’s very easy to simplify drug convictions and say that people are just a means to an end (I suppose that end is the complete end of drug trade) but it is not nearly that simple. That would be like saying that the accused whom you defend are a means to an end (in this case financial security). While you definitely are a defense attorney to ensure your financial security I am sure you receive some intangible benefits as well, which may be a greater motivation (but not the sole motivation). Drug trafficking and usage CAN be dangerous to the community and users alike and CAN lead to more dangerous/violent criminal activity. Stopping drug trade is an end – and drug convictions are a means to that end but people are convicted of drug crimes for other reasons as well (e.g. that drugs are inherently dangerous to users / and whatever your belief as to why drugs are illegal, when you break the law you are held responsible for your actions). Simplification of issues is an easy was to sensationalism. Drug laws serve an important purpose, their execution may not be perfect but that’s why you are around right?

      • In all humility and seriousness maybe I didn’t understand the blog. I thought you were stating that drug laws and convictions (or the War on Drugs) are using people as a means to an end. I was stating that it’s not that simple – it’s a multi-faceted beast. Your argument may be an effect sometimes but you have to at least pay homage to the other effects and the goal of “war”. I am not attacking or defending your position I just found the post a little misinforming. And this may sound chastising but it is truly not – I may have just misinterpreted what the purpose of the blog is.

        • Look: if you put a person in prison for any reason other than his own good — for the good of the community, or to stop drug trade, for example — you are, by definition, using him as a means to some other end. So to advocate putting people in prison (or executing them) as a general deterrent or retribution while advocating Kant’s position of not using people as means to ends shows a lack of self-awareness at best and hypocrisy at worst.

          Aside from that, drug trafficking could be as dangerous to the community as nicotine trafficking or alcohol trafficking. It’s prohibition that makes drug trafficking profitable and dangerous.

  5. Mark.. i would suggest that you recommend to our esteemed commentator starting his/her own blog. Precious brilliance as displayed above deserves a wider audience. Now… what would we name it… mmm

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