Theodore Dalrymple reviews a recent book by the Guardian‘s Washington correspondent on the devastating American opioid crisis that has resulted in the deaths of 49,000 Americans in 2018 alone, and 350,000 deaths since 1999. Dalrymple agrees with the journalist that there is much blame to go around, but points out that the book absolves the drug addicts from any responsibility, pretending that these people completely lacked moral agency.
It seems very difficult for people to hold in their minds simultaneously that corporations, public authorities, and individuals can behave badly. The desire to absolve individuals of their responsibility stems from a reluctance to admit that victims play any part in their own downfall: Victims are either immaculate or they are not victims at all. To recognize this as a false dichotomy is to lack compassion, and we all want to be seen to be compassionate.