Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Thursday, November 18, 2004

An Idle Query

I suspect there will be nothing new in this blog--then again, according to a reliable source, "there is no new thing under the sun," so what the hell, I guess redundancy is unavoidable. By 'nothing new,' I mean that nothing I say here, the opinions I express or even the phrasing I use, will be original. Why, then, waste my time spouting off on what you've already heard? Because, he said, in the phrase that only barely covers the sin of banality, It Bears Repeating. To Wit:

This country is governed in a profoundly stupid manner. Not always--perhaps not even most of the time. I rather despise the stereotype of Washingtonians as bucket-headed slack-jaws who run around with their shoe-laces tied together as they try, with their shriveled, almond-sized brains, to figure out ways to dither and stall and ignore and screw over and generally make bad situations worse and good situations impossible. Fact is, they're a pretty savvy crew--the people we elect and the people who work for them are sharper than most of the pencils in the box--not as smart as some of the people in the private sector, perhaps, but shrewd as hell compared to Joe and Jane Average. All bureaucracy is going to contain an element of inefficiency--yet try running things without a bureaucracy and you'll discover the true meaning of the term. So when I say this is a stupid country, I don't actually mean that, person to person, we're a nation of dolts, run by a crew of sub-dolts. There are a lot of stupid people out there, to be sure, but sometimes stupidity takes on a life of its own--stupid ideas create a kind of morbid, impersonal national consciousness for which nobody is really responsible and which become nearly impossible to address because there's nobody to argue with. And most of this stupidity is old--modes of thought that were created so long ago that we can't remember who started them or why and just sort of assume that it's always been so. Professional sports, for instance--I have no interest in them, but I don't really judge those who do (except for people who paint themselves the team colors and who make huge, badly phrased signs to display--you actually went to the trouble of getting a huge post-board and decorating it with glitter and smiley faces on the off-chance that a camera would be trained on you for three seconds?--and don't get me started on those "John 3:16" jackasses--we've got the message, thanks.) Point is, though, nobody ever stops to say: "Why do we really care about this stuff? Why, in a post-industrial age, is the ability to play an athletic game something that interests--indeed, captures us? And why these games? Why these rules?" "Why," in other words, is the most underused of our internal queries, and it's because of this failure that stupidity takes on a life of its own.

Which gets me around to my point:


They're illegal, why exactly? I mean, the idea of legislating the consumption of narcotics is just so...odd. It never would have occurred to the Greeks. Or the Romans. Or even the repressive regimes of the Middle Ages. Or the Elizabethans. Or the rulers of the Enlightenment. I mean, sure, you might tax the importation of tobacco and coffee and such--no government in history has forgone the opportunity to make a buck off of public demand--but now it's the policy of most of the free world (and non-free, too, come to that,) and I want to know: Why?

"Because drugs destroy lives." That, so far as I can tell, is the bottom line of the anti-drug policies of the world governments. And of course, that's true. Drugs destroy the lives of those who take them--those who love those who take them--and (and I suspect that this is really the primary justification for their illegality) the lives of those who are stabbed in their stairwells for their wallets by those who want to buy them and those who are run down and dragged 700 feet on the asphalt by those on them. Fair enough. The thing is--can't all these things happen absent the use of drugs? I mean, all it takes to destroy your life and the lives of those around you is being an a--hole, right? And there's no legislating that, is there? (And let me add, on a personal note, thank God--I have no desire to do hard time and be forced into sexual slavery by a hirsute neo-Nazi--I mean, I might like it, and then where would I be?) And, of course, the stabbings in the stairwells happen because drugs are prohibitively expensive because of their illegality, and while there's no excuse to run someone over, the proliferation of cell-phone related accidents and the dearth of criminal charges attached to the use of said devices whilst driving would suggest that clearly just running someone down due to your selfish carelessness doesn't in and of itself merit legislation beyond the crime itself, reason for said carelessness be damned. I'm just not really sure on what grounds--what real, solid grounds--we forbid the use of narcotics. I mean, yes, genuinely socially transgressive activity surrounds drug use: robbery, murder, violence, prostitution, the equivalent of slavery, etc. But A. these activities are, as I've said, largely created by the illegality of drugs rather than the effects of drugs on one's behavior, and B. just because an activity makes one more inclined to commit a crime, doesn't mean we still have the right to forbid it. Taking part in a political demonstration makes one more likely to engage in mob violence, but we're not about to ban that right. Owning a gun makes it a hell of a lot more likely that you'll use it to commit a crime, but we ain't giving up the second amendment. I'm not suggesting that we have a Constitutional right to drugs, but I fail to see on what grounds the government has chosen to deny us this "pursuit of happiness," warped though it may be. Drugs primarily injure the drug-user. Since self-destruction is legal--one's body is one's own property, and one may to/with it whatever one likes, provided whatever that is doesn't impinge on the property/person of another--then why can't I, if I choose, chase the dragon? (Especially since I'm still perfectly free to kill myself with booze and cigs and bathroom cleansers.)

"All drug use is drug abuse." Why, exactly? I mean, the Stoics would agree--Plato would agree--the Puritans would agree, but let's not play the P-card, shall we? If you believe that life is best lived through clarity and reason and believe that the unaltered mind is the path to such clarity and reason, then any escape from this state represents a moral/intellectual failure. Fair enough, and I'm not sure I disagree. But even if all drug use is abuse, so what? I'd argue that the practice of, say, tattoing oneself is a form of self-abuse, but I'm not prepared to outlaw it--to the contrary, those who chose to self-express in this manner are quite free to do so. (Although what's with all the skulls? Seems as if a guy gets more than one, one of them's gotta involve a skull either in flames, pierced with a dagger, superimposed over a bleeding rose, or entwined by a snake. Enough with the skulls. Get creative, folks. And ladies, enough with the butterflies.) People have the right to abuse themselves--self-flaggelation is self-abuse, but it was statement of profound morality throughout the Middle Ages. I won't even get into the subject of drinking oneself blind or smoking a carton of Camels over a 24 hour period. These are things people shouldn't do, but they should be able to do them all the same. Because if we criminalize one form of self-destructive folly, we have no pretext not to criminalize them all. (And don't get me started on prostitution--I know, I know, "it degrades women and encourages dehumanization and its consequential violence and blah blah blah," but I still come back to the old point that if you can give something away for free, it shouldn't be illegal to sell it. Which forces me to approve of the sale of organs for transplants, but again, though I'm not thrilled by the prospect, I have to go along with it--personally, I'll still donate my giblets for free when I get run down and dragged 700 feet across the asphalt, and I'm pretty selfish, so I don't know that it'll automatically mean that only rich people get the good stuff.) Self-abuse is legal--it has to be. And if so, the automatic labelling of drug use as abuse is just moot.

"Pilots will fly planes stoned. And surgeons will operate on smack. And fire fighters will show up tweaking." No, they won't. People in really important jobs tend to take those jobs quite seriously. Witness the number of pilots who fly, surgeons who cut, fire fighters who operate while drunk. Not too damned many, actually. And if you want to require mandatory, regular drug screening for positions of such responsibility, then do it. Otherwise, you're convicting people of criminal behavior prior to any action on their part. And that's just creepy.

Not too funny, today, I realize. But I do mean this as an Idle Query--I really don't get the illegality of drugs. I mean, I get that the pharmaceutical companies and the tobacco and alcohol industries are funding the living s--t out of organizations that call themselves "Families Against The Moral Devastation Of Society" and put out public service messages that equate pot-smokers with the 9/11 highjackers. I get that the illegality of narcotics is really based on market sharing, and the fact that those who squeeked in under the "legal" wire want to keep their monopoly as nice and tight as they can. But what's the argument? Is there any one that holds up to logical scrutiny? Help me out here, people...


Blogger HonEB said...

Like you said, if there's no one to argue with than these concepts take on an idiocy all their own. Why do we have anti-drug laws? Because there is no strong political group for the use of drugs. Whether you want to believe that users are too stoned organize, or that the class of people mostly likely to use drugs (and be prosecuted) are also the least likely to vote, the outcome is the same. Parents see children fall apart, OD, etc and look to law makers law enforcement to make sure it doesn't happen to THEIR kids.

Would it be better to have government provided drug clinics with safe, cheap narcotics? Absolutely. But society would prefer to pretend there isn't a real problem, just a few bad eggs that police are doing their best to catch. But outlawing drug use has the benefit of making the problem go underground, out of public sight. And that's what we really want, not to have to face an ugly reality. Social problems, like prostitution, teen pregnancy and drug use, can be either "solved" through funding or by outlawing them. And moral legislation makes us feel superior to those thugs, and in the short term is an easy way to trim the budget.

10:27 PM  

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