Agriculturally Inclined Neighbors

September 08, 2010 By: erik Category: Complaining, Politics, Religion, Spain, USA 327 views

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Agriculturally Inclined Neighbors (crop, no pun intended)Today a neighbor of mine whispered some gossip in my ear about something he’d seen on another neighbor’s balcony. I was surprised that I had not discovered this gossip on my own, since it’s about the balcony that we have the best view of from our own and was the source of my most viewed photo on Flickr. Apparently, in the evenings, our young neighbor can be seen carefully spraying and lovingly caring for a plant on his balcony. I’ve heard that this guy had kind of a wild youth, so his parents must be very proud that he’s working so hard on his gardening project.

Agriculturally Inclined Neighbors

In Spain, it is perfectly legal to grow your own marijuana for personal use. The cops only start to care when you’re growing with intent to sell.

In general I’m strongly against the War on Drugs and generally in favor of the legalization of just about every currently illegal drug. Everything from the history of Prohibition (of alcohol) to teenage abstinence programs show us how forbidding people from seeking pleasure does not stop them from doing so; it only makes them do it in less safe ways. The sooner we can shed the Judeo-Christian-Islamic “pleasure = sin” mindset, upon which all these pleasure-prohibiting laws are based, and talk rationally about the best policies for keeping the populace safe and happy, the better.

Incarceration Rate

In 2008, 1 in every 31 adults in the US was on probation, in jail, or on parole. (BJS)

22% of the prisoners in the US are convicted of drug-related charges. (HRW)

You don’t have to be a Libertarian to agree that we’re doing something wrong.

  • Jews, Christians and Muslims account for something just south of 80% of the U.S. population. At what percentage can we just call it the “American pleasure = sin” mindset? Anyway, if the Hatter called “change places” and everyone switched religions tomorrow with the vast number of them becoming Hindus and Buddhists, should we expect a change in drug policy to follow directly?

    I guess I’m wondering what your basis is for pinning the war on drugs on a JCI mindset. (My confusion may stem from my not being sure what a “JCI mindset” is.) Is there something in particular in shared texts that requires a “pleasure = sin” mindset? Suppose that people born by vaginal delivery are more supportive of the war on drugs than those born by cesarean section. (It may be true – I assume the latter population skews younger and that this correlates with more progressive attitudes regarding the war on drugs). But absent a showing that something in the birth canal influences political views, it seems pointless to say so.

    • Hindus and Buddhists do generally seem more permissive of others’ actions. Would you disagree? Having known very few of either and never having visited a country in which either was the majority religion, I cannot say for sure, but I get the general impression that that is the case. Hinduism and Buddhism are both very interested in altered states of consciousness, so I would imagine that, yes, they would be more open to drug use.

      My basis for such a correlation comes mainly from the writings of Sam Harris, which make a lot of sense to me. Here’s what he has to say about it. A small quote here:

      Behaviors like drug use, prostitution, sodomy, and the viewing of obscene materials have been categorized as “victimless crimes.” Of course, society is the tangible victim of almost everything human beings do—from making noise to manufacturing chemical waste— but we have not made it a crime to do such things within certain limits. Setting these limits is invariably a matter of assessing risk. One could argue that it is, at the very least, conceivable that certain activities engaged in private, like the viewing of sexually violent pornography, might incline some people to commit genuine crimes against others. There is a tension, therefore, between private freedom and public risk. If there were a drug, or a book, or a film, or a sexual position that led 90 percent of its users to rush into the street and begin killing people at random, concerns over private pleasure would surely yield to those of public safety. We can also stipulate that no one is eager to see generations of children raised on a steady diet of methamphetamine and Marquis de Sade. Society as a whole has an interest in how its children develop, and the private behavior of parents, along with the contents of our media, clearly play a role in this. But we must ask ourselves, why would anyone want to punish people for engaging in behavior that brings no significant risk of harm to anyone? Indeed, what is startling about the notion of a victimless crime is that even when the behavior in question is genuinely victimless, its criminality is still affirmed by those who are eager to punish it. It is in such cases that the true genius lurking behind many of our laws stands revealed. The idea of a victimless crime is nothing more than a judicial reprise of the Christian notion of sin.

      • I read the Sam Harris page you linked, and I think he should be reading and linking you. Anyway, I think your arguments usually pretty good, whereas Harris never really gets around to making an argument. Religion as he sees it could lead to the criminalization of perfectly harmless acts. That in itself proves nothing. Powerful commercial interests can also lead to the criminalization of harmless acts. So could a widespread misapprehension of the harm that flows from the act. Harris doesn’t give us anything that makes it seem more likely than not that the criminalization of pot is the result of efforts by zealots to create a heaven on earth with Gov’t in the place of God.

        I think we Americans get a skewed picture of Hinduism and Buddhism. Many of the Hindus we meet are those with the wherewithal to relocate internationally, and may not be representative of the broader religion. And most of the Buddhists we know are Richard Gere. But there’s plenty of terrible shit in India’s social history, some of it quite recent. And it’s not like Southeast Asia has been a libertarian paradise.

        Just to share my personal view, I think malum prohibitum is going to appear in any system used by our species to organize social authority. Like most of our closest genetic relatives, we are perpetually all up in each others’ shit. Religion is one way in which we organize social authority, and law is another. The fact that both feature the punishment of remote-harm ‘crimes’, in the absence of something more, can’t be taken to mean that one causes the other.

        • It would just be nice, for once, to not base our legislative arguments on millennia-old writings. I’d like to think that the history since has taught us a thing or two…

  • Here’s an example of how Harris starts with his conclusion firmly set and then does a shitty job of establishing any support for it. He leads off one paragraph by saying: “The fact that people are being prosecuted and imprisoned for using marijuana, while alcohol remains a staple commodity, is surely the reductio ad absurdum [sic] of any notion that our drug laws are designed to keep people from harming themselves or others.” I think that what he means is that the fact that people can drink but not get high is absurd if you accept the premise that the purpose of drug prohibition is to protect society from harm.

    But of course it’s only absurd to the extent that alcohol is like illegal drugs, and Harris chooses to ignore the fact that alcohol use is ingrained in our culture in a way that illegal drugs are not. Policy makers could rationally conclude that alcohol should be added to the list of illegal drugs, but that supporting such a prohibition on alcohol would be so costly that it is to society’s benefit overall to just leave it off the list. And of course we can look to the 1920s as a demonstration that, even where policymakers could marshall the political will to make alcohol consumption illegal, the costs were in fact too high to justify the benefit. Harris mentions prohibition in the ’20s later in his essay. He has all of the pieces to construct a rational explanation for the different treatement given to alcohol and illegal drugs, but that would have made reaching his preferred conclusions more difficult. Whether for that reason or just sloppiness, Harris opts instead to just declare the current regime absurd.

    I don’t feel like I’m cherry-picking – Harris’s whole essay is sloppy and conclusion-driven. (It reminds me of Terrence McKenna’s writing.) In the same paragraph I quote above, Harris sets up all of the evils of alcohol against the virtues of pot without seeming to notice that some of the flaws he ascribes to alcohol are also true for marijuana. He says that alcohol “has no approved medical use”, but that marijuana has “several medical applications”. In fact, there are no FDA approved medical applications for pot. I don’t know if that’s what Harris means by “approved” when he says alcohol has no approved medical use. I’d defer to a health expert on this, but I think alcohol has been shown to have a number of potential health benefits. In my experience, beer always knows exactly where it hurts. Marijuana, on the other hand, has shown mixed results when tested for medical benefits. Glaucoma usually tops the list of things pot is good for, but groups like the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the NIH’s National Eye Institute and the Institute of Medicine (probably not a lot of overlap there with the Southern Baptist Convention) don’t seem very impressed.

    Before I let this go, I want to point out my favorite of Harris’s complaints about alcohol: “The manner in which alcohol relieves people of their inhibitions contributes to human violence, personal injury, unplanned pregnancy, and the spread of sexual disease.” It also lubricates otherwise socially difficult situations and contributes to unplanned dancing and the spread of sexual pleasure. Harris is really pointing to alcohol’s ability to ease the social expression of emotion, including through sex. But by “sex” he means only the bad parts.

    • I think that “…prohibition of _____ [is] so costly that it is to society\’s benefit overall to just leave it off the list” is the entire argument in favor of legalizing the currently illegal stuff…at least by those of us that don’t intend to use it all. The cons of prohibition outweigh the pros in almost all cases. Of course no one can ever really know beforehand what a legislative change will do to society, but that’s why governing is so hard.

      Re: your last paragraph, he’s just Colbert’d you. By arguing in favor of alcohol prohibition, he’s making the reader argue against it, thus tricking you into making an argument that parallels his for legalization of pot. It’s like when the Democratic senator put up the bill to stop Medicare, thus forcing Republicans to argue in favor of government-run healthcare.

      • It just so happens that I already believed that we were past the cost-benefit tipping point with marijuana before I encountered the swiftian genius that Harris has so thoroughly disguised as lousy argument. 🙂

  • We really should debate this whole “new atheism” thing some time. As an atheist myself, I find the whole thing very off-putting, and it would be fun to try to get to the bottom of it. Of course, I think we have a prescriptive vs. descriptive linguistics debate in the queue.