Monday, December 24, 2012

A litmus test for Fascism

I have been struck by the opposition to legalized marijuana that I have encountered Down Under.

The arguments invariably follow the same pattern; first, the dangers of the drug are cited. This is usually a fact-free argument, and it must be, because science has found no particular danger aside from an utterly wasted life.

When alcohol is presented as an example of a more harmful drug, and therefore even more deserving of banning under this principle, the discussion invariably slips to the defense of the traditional: alcohol is too entrenched to combat, but why should we encourage even more drug use?

But this position assumes that the only reason people aren't out getting stoned all the time is because a man with a gun is telling them not to. So, fascism alert #1: people can't be trusted to act on their own behalf.

Fascism alert #2, of course, is the idea that if an injustice is traditional, it's OK. By that logic we'd still have slavery.

But it runs deeper than that. When faced with facts such as the relative quantities of harm that alcohol and marijuana inflict (and how society would be better off with one instead of the other), or with the evidence that legalizing marijuana does not materially affect the number of users (particularly in a country like America which already has 40 million users or so), the truth eventually slips out: marijuana represents a lifestyle that people generally oppose.

And why not? Pot-smoking hippies are the butt of jokes for many well-deserved reasons. I, personally, have no more use for them than George Will does. Wasting your life smoking dope is only marginally less repulsive than wasting your life drinking, and that only because smoking is less likely to harm others.

But herein lies the ultimate endorsement of fascism: the idea that lifestyle choices should be compelled by men with guns.

Not by the market place, or personal choice, or education, or social norms, or peer pressure; but by men with guns.

Alcoholism is a disease, with social support for cures, and baked-in legal exceptions (try running over someone in a car while drunk and then while sober; one is manslaughter and the other first degree murder). But marijuana addiction is a moral failing, akin to robbery, rape, and murder. Why? I don't know. I have never gotten a coherent answer.

Human beings will always self-medicate. It is regrettable, but true. Therefore my preferred solution (eliminating all intoxicants and filling the shelf-space with condoms and sex toys) will never happen. I accept this. But I find it disheartening how many people unthinkingly reach for the power of the state to enforce their personal decisions on everyone else.

I think the next time I get involved in one of these discussions, I'm going to try a personal tack. I'm going to ask if the person I am debating ever chooses to self-medicate their emotional difficulties with alcohol (knowing full well, of course, that the answer is invariably yes). Then I'm going to ask them what they think I should do, when I feel the desire to self-medicate. Because, you see, I can't drink. The sugars will kill me. It will be interesting to see how someone defends their right to engage in an act while denying me the right to do the same.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

It is always to be taken for granted, that those who oppose an equality of rights never mean the exclusion should take place on themselves. -- Thomas Paine


  1. It not just pot Mike. The policy of the United States is to promptly ban all chemical substances normal people (read not wealthy) use to create a sense of euphoria in their otherwise mundane lives. The pattern is always the same. Too many poor people begin to have a good time without paying appropriate duties to the corporate elite. Rich people, annoyed that their monopoly on happiness is being infringed upon, find an anecdotal example of how the new chemical will make (helpless) young people eat the faces off their friends (this example is from a recent chemical smear campaign) and then rapidly pass legislation banning the substances manufacture or import.

    What's so wrong with feeling good anyway? While I agree with you that sex is a preferable remedy to chemicals in most cases, they banned sex with strangers (for money) long ago so that isn't really on the table any more either. Rich people still get to buy sex of course...

  2. Well, pot is one of the few chemicals we have enough history with to know that it's less harmful than alcohol.

    You are wrong in one regard: they ban the substances wealthy people use, too. Because (as you note) wealthy people can always find a way around the law. Consider Saudia Arabia, where alcohol is a death penalty but every prince has a liquor cabinet.

    In general, however, I object to all chemically induced emotional states. For much the same reason I prefer stairs to elevators. Nonetheless, sometimes elevators are appropriate.