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Moonshine Versus Fentanyl: An Analogy For The Protective Effect Of Conscience

White powder similar in appearance to Fentanyl..
This white powder is potentially strong enough to kill hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Every culture in the world uses analogies, metaphors, and figures of speech to convey knowledge and illustrate truth. The former are tools that can help elucidate connections between ideas and serve as an aid to memory. The visual element also adds appeal and interest to abstract ideas that can otherwise be bland. Imagine a website with just text and no images. It is unlikely that most people would spend very much time on it, no matter how great the quality of content.

The History Of Moonshine

If you live in the US, you probably already know a thing or two about moonshine and fentanyl. Today, many alcohol companies brand their product as “Moonshine,” but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Moonshine, technically speaking, refers to very strong alcohol (typically 40% to 80% alcohol by volume). The name apparently came from the “Era of Prohibition” in the US (1920-1933), during which alcohol was illegal. People who broke the law and distilled alcohol at night (to avoid discovery) were called “Moonshiners,” and their product was called “Moonshine” (link). To this day, federal US law bans private distilling of alcohol, but some people still distill moonshine for personal consumption or retail on the black market. Moonshine (and high-proof alcohol of any kind) is very strong to the smell and bitter to the taste. The body knows that it is extremely powerful (and dangerous). Consuming enough moonshine can lead to extreme side effects, the most radical of which is death by alcohol poisoning.

The History Of Fentanyl

The history of fentanyl is a little more recent than moonshine. Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that was created in the 1960s as an analgesic (pain-killing agent) by the company Janssen Pharmaceutica. Fentanyl is ~100 times more powerful than morphine and ~50 times more powerful than heroin. In 2019, fentanyl overdose became the leading cause of death in the US among people aged 18-45, (overtaking suicide). Due to fentanyl being so cheap and powerful, many drug dealers in the US lace other substances with it (cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, etc.). The process of lacing a drug with another substance is called “cutting.” Cutting a drug increases its weight (more $) and makes it stronger (the goal being to increase demand). This dynamic has led to extremely precarious outcomes where people don’t really know what’s in the street drugs they’re consuming. Since a miniscule amount of fentanyl can kill you, many people who were not suicidal, and had no desire to consume a drug so strong, wind up dying due to accidental overdose.

Fentanyl fatal dose
A potentially fatal dose of fentanyl (source).

Fentanyl is so insidious because people have no idea it’s coming. There’s no forethought or premonition or painful, bitter warning sign that you get with moonshine and other dangerous substances. What looks like an innocuous powder–or a thing you cannot see at all–is the very thing that kills you.

A Metaphor For The Conscience

Our consciences are designed to alert us to danger. The uncomfortable feelings they produce are supposed to give us pause and prompt us to think twice before proceeding. In this sense, consciences function similarly to the pain of a muscle pull, the discomfort of being out in the frigid cold, and the bitter, unpleasant sensation we get if we smell or consume moonshine.

The more we ignore conscience, the weaker it gets. There are people whose consciences have become “seared” due to repeat disregard over time (or some other serious psychological disorder). The sad truth, however, is that these people are no less safe. If they engage in evil, dangerous activity, they face the same short-, medium-, and long-term consequences as everybody else. The only difference is they have no awareness of the coming danger (like fentanyl users), and cannot adapt themselves accordingly. Consequences aren’t just physical. They are often mental, emotional, and spiritual, where the ravages can be equally, if not more, devastating.

After we make a mistake (e.g. relapse), we often want the consequences and the bad feeling we get to go away as fast as possible. However, these provide valuable information that can help guide and grow us for the future. Viewed through this lens, consequences are a blessing for which to be grateful, rather than an after-effect merely to be dreaded.

When we ignore the voice of conscience, we do so at our own peril.

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.

Proverbs 22:3

For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.

Cornelius
Cornelius
An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of our lives. I got my B.S. from Georgetown University and my M.A. from The Ohio State University.
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