Sunday, January 5, 2014

Taking pot shots at David Brooks

David Brooks
David Brooks has been a laughingstock of the left-wing blogosphere for a long time now, and with good reason. But he deserves an extra helping of scorn for last week’s column “Weed: Been There. Done That,” in which he accomplishes the singular feat of advancing his anti-legalization thesis by means of a personal history that entirely undermines it.

How so?

“For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana,” Brooks writes. “It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly together.”

And then what happened? He and his pals gradually realized pot can make you do dumb things in public. One guy, sadly, became an addict, but the others developed interests and pastimes that were more worthwhile than weed. In short, they grew up.

Notice what did not happen. Brooks and his friends were not arrested. They didn’t go to jail, or get put on probation, or have their futures permanently blighted. For all we know, the one who became an addict got to go to rehab, maybe multiple times. Maybe he’s in real estate now, or hedge funds.

Can you imagine any way in which adding the police, or drug courts, or a brutal black market in which cartels kill and torture to maintain market share, makes this story happier?

Yet Brooks apparently believes that the war on drugs helps make us moral:

Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.
In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

Even from Mount Olympus, it should be possible to have a more realistic impression of actual drug policy than that.

When some guy’s door is bashed in by DEA agents, and he’s flung on the floor at gunpoint amid a hail of profanities, he should thank government for subtly tipping the scale? As he is led away to begin his trek through our byzantine legal system, do the rest of us cheer, knowing how temperate, prudent and self-governing he is going to be afterward?

When poor black teens make the same immature choices Brooks did, and have their already slim chances of landing a good job shrink to nothingness, how exactly does that help them to be “the sort of person most of us want to be”?

On Brooks’ reasoning, Prohibition should have been a resounding public policy success. With the government removing the temptation of alcohol, America was that much freer to focus on Higher Things. Odd that what we got instead were speakeasies, bathtub gin and back-alley shootings in Chicago.  

Regulating addictive substances is always going to be a tricky business. I don’t especially want to see heroin ads during football games. But treating marijuana roughly the same way we treat liquor strikes me as a major improvement over the status quo. If David Brooks were being even minimally honest about the lessons of his own experience, I don’t see how he could fail to agree.                             

1 comment:

  1. "On Brooks’ reasoning, Prohibition should have been a resounding public policy success."
    Good point.
    Prohibition also was a job killer. One example is the highly regarded whiskey distillery that had been a major employer in Highspire, downriver from Harrisburg.