Opinion Piece: The War on Drugs
On September 22nd, 2017 The New York Times published an opinion piece titled “How to Win a War on Drugs” by Nicholas Kristof which covers the controversial, yet effective, Portuguese policy of the decriminalization of all drugs. In this article Kristof discusses how Portugal’s fairly new drug policy, it has been instated for around sixteen years, has effected to country and the people as a whole. From discussions with addicts and drug dealers to analyzing data collected from the Health Ministry of Portugal, Kristof paints a clear correlation between decriminalization and dwindling drug related health risks. Often cited as the archetypal drug policy by many countries around the world, Kristof cites Portugal’s significant decrease in drug addictions since the policy implementation as well as relating its successes to the current United States drug policy, which seen as backwards and detrimental to Kristof. Though this opinion piece does offer a lot of great and informational evidence for decriminalization, is it actually effective in persuading the reader?
The War on Drugs is an ongoing issue in America that a lot of people are passionate about. People believe that addiction is an issue only for the Judicial System to deal with whilst others believe it to be a public health crisis. Though it is quite a heated topic, the article “How to Win a War on Drugs” by Nicholas Kristof is a great opinion piece that illustrates the issues of addiction and the War on Drugs, from an outside perspective; Kristof utilizes data, personal anecdotes, and reliable sources that create a strong argument for his article as a whole. In order to understand how this article effectively persuades, one must look how it emotionally draws in the reader.
Pathos: The Persuasive Emotion
Emotion is a powerful tool that grabs hold of the reader and pits them against a spectrum of feelings. This utilization of emotion in order to persuade is called pathos. Kristof’s opinion of the Portuguese drug policy “How to Win a War on Drugs” gives great emotional appeal in both anecdotes and comparisons of life in Portugal and America. In the article, he describes his own experiences with addiction in his community by saying, “This issue is personal to me, because my hometown in rural Oregon has been devastated by [meth] and, more recently, by opioids. Classmates have died or had their lives destroyed; my seventh grade crush is now homeless because of her addictions.” This quote shows a lot of vulnerability in the author that is surprising to see, even for myself. It works well because it discusses very real experiences that people can relate to like the discussion of classmates and childhood crushes. This poignant vulnerability creates a sense of trust between the reader and the author by discussing something so personal and close to his heart. This vulnerability of the author makes the viewer feel some sense of loathing and sadness for something so personal. It makes them feel that even their “seventh grade crush” is not exempt from this epidemic, that it can affect anyone in their lives. This appeal to the readers’ emotions is effective because it strikes them in their hearts, making them feel a sense of urgency of the issue at hand.
Other than vulnerability, Kristof also discusses the relationship between a booming economy that guarantees safety and the need for other’s to self-medicate. A quote that brings up this correlation between safety and self-medicating also illuminates an emotional and shocking response by saying, “The [Portuguese] economy has grown and there is a robust fabric and safety net, so fewer people self-medicate. Anne Case and Angus Deaton of Princeton University have chronicled the rise of “deaths of despair” and argue that opioid use in America in part reflects a long-term decline in well-paying jobs for those with a high school education or less.” What is most striking emotionally in this quote is how self-medication is the reflection of long-term decline in livable wage jobs for those who are disenfranchised or undereducated for the current state of the U.S. This gives an emotional backing and understanding onto why some people become addicts and it is due to lack of opportunity which strikes an emotional cord in almost anyone who understands their pain. This quote uses empathy as a tool to draw in the reader into a reality they do not want to realize, and that is truly powerful. Though emotion is a great tool to capture the eye of the reader, the use of data and credentials are also key components in keeping someone interested and persuaded.
Logos and Ethos: Is It Effective?
Expert analysis and credible sources can be powerful tools in persuasion that can sway those who require the raw facts over emotional appeals, this is called logos and ethos. From Nicolas Kristof’s article there is a multitude of supporting evidence and perspectives from very credible sources like the Health Ministry of Portugal and the European Union. Informational quotes from these institutions provide poignant data such as, “Today, the Health Ministry estimates that only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began.” This data, a clear example of both logos and ethos, shows stark data collected from a creditable institution which is effective because it shows a clear decrease in drug users over the sixteen years it has been implemented. This data is straight to the point and tells the story, or lack thereof, concisely which is key in providing a persuasive argument. Data is a great persuader for any author as it makes it difficult for the reader to argue against hard facts like testable data.
Kristof also uses data to compare Portugal and the United States in the graph above. This graph shows the amount of deaths per million in the U.S. versus all of Europe and it is quite clear that the there is a correlation between Portugal’s drug policy and its small deaths per million ration. Another comparison can be seen in data received from the Health Ministry on the cost of their drug policy per citizen compared to the U.S. According to the Health Ministry, “[Portugal] spends less than $10 per citizen per year on its successful drug policy. Meanwhile, the U.S. has spent some $10,000 per household (more than $1 trillion) over the decades on a failed drug policy that result in more than 1,000 deaths each week.” This quote brings up clear data in comparing the cost of each retrospective countries drug policy. Utilizing this data persuades the reader effectively due to the fact that it shows a clear, identifiable contrast between both the U.S. and Portugal. This data shows the reader that there is a provable amount of data that backs up the claims that Portugal’s drug policy is a success. It is important to point this out because both logos and ethos do not need to be straight, empirical facts but can be utilized to persuade and push the reader onto their side with small associations and well placed words.
To answer the question, “Is this article effective?” it is hard to argue that Kristof did not achieve what he intended to report. From various emotional and statistical appeals, this article is a clear example of how important empathetical and logical speech can persuade the reader.
Kristof, Nicholas. “How to Win a War on Drugs.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Sept. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/opinion/sunday/portugal-drug-decriminalization.html.