it's a success...crap

(P) Well the American Jobs Creation Act is doing exactly what the lobbyists hoped it would do. Nope, not create jobs. What it does is let companies that have been sheltering cash offshore repatriate the profits at exceedingly low tax rates. The lowest federal income tax bracket is almost twice as high as the rate given to these companies! Why don't we just use the government to write checks directly to them? Clearly they do a better job defending the country and building schools than our democratic processes.

Also, drug war advocates must be getting nervous after a generation of absolute failure despite having spent hundreds of billions of dollars, killing innocent people all over the globe, and imprisoning millions of people who have harmed no one save themselves. The leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament has come out for a fully legalized, regulated system, just like all the other dangerous consumer products from alcohol to automobiles. I can't wait to see the desperate counter assault against such common-sense realism.


At 8/20/2005 11:02 PM, Blogger Charles said...

Nate--I know you're a wonk and all of that. And I know you think its a terrible waste of government's time and energy to interdict anything at all about drugs.

How about a brief treatise on whether or not humans should try to alter their realities--artificially, with the capabilities we have now, and if its moral to do so, particularly if you believe in God.

I'd be interested to know because I think your answer would be very telling as it relates to your views on legislating against drug use.

Charles (OSU, Class of 85)

At 8/21/2005 2:17 AM, Blogger Nathaniel said...

Sure. Brief may be the hardest part :)

My brief moral position is that there is no principled position, except to say that never is too severe a restriction. We have been artificially altering our reality since even before humans were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. (Or since even before homowhatever left the dense rainforests of Africa). To be against artificially altering reality is to be against God-given/naturally selected for intelligence and ingenuity. Leisure and pleasure aren't curses; they are integral parts of the human experience. Food itself is merely a combination of reality-altering chemicals we put into our bodies.

I would say that humans alter their realities artificially in two ways: their own body, and the world around them.

Essentially, humans artificially alter their bodies for two reasons, as well: health and recreation. Sometimes it's both (glasses, for example), sometimes one (antibiotics), sometimes the other (alcohol). Here I agree very strongly with the various old adages about the dose alone determining the poison; after all, THC, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, coca, and opium are all natural, not artificial, parts of Creation. Does abortion pose serious moral questions? Absolutely. But we can't ignore the fact that the vast majority of abortions are natural; something like 1 in 4 women have a miscarraige during their lives. Does cloning pose serious moral questions? Absolutely. But we've already created hundreds of thousands of embryos at fertility clinics; in vitro fertilization is the definition of artificiality. And we already know that nature produces genetic duplicates of things. Does artificially ending life pose serious moral questions? Absolutely. But we've already decided to play God at birth, death, and everywhere in between. In fact, I think one of the best definitions of an intelligent species is the ability to stop evolution. We've changed the rules; the "successful" people of the world are doing most poorly by evolution's most important statistic: offspring (globally, there is a high correlation between increasing economic resources and decreasing family size).

Specifically relating to drug policy, a key point I would make is that our drug laws are arbitrary when compared to the natural/artificial distinction; the laws exist due to political and racial factors. Even particular drugs have arbitrary distinctions; the painkiller codeine is an opium derivative, for example, while Ritalin is a stimulant that we use to put our children in a stupor (it also happens to be a great recreational drug, used more illegally than legally) . A joint is far more natural than a McDonald's Big Mac, and a lot healthier, too (at the margins; obviously, if you were starving, you'd be better off with the Big Mac). One of the biggest artificial alterations of our bodies is TV. Other big ones include books and music.

I think Scripture calls for balance and moderation, not abstinence, of pleasure; both "natural" and "artificial". There are simply too many verses to quote here, but my contention rests on three premises. 1) we were created in God's image, 2) God happens to be the best distiller in all of recorded human history, and 3) we are called to love one another; God reserves the right to judge for Himself. To put that in practical terms, I do think there is something "wrong" about getting drunk or smoking or committing suicide or sleeping around or getting an abortion, but ultimately I feel that is for the individual to decide, particularly when the activity is not done in excess; in other words, when it doesn't control you. I think the distinction between naturally altering reality and artificially doing so is much less clear than our use of the language makes it appear. I am aware that many verses of Scripture, particularly those by Paul in the New Testament, can be interpreted to be extremely strict, but I think the abstinence-only "don't do this" Puritan approach is simply too judgmental and limiting of God (and too widely violated) to be universal truth. I also would point out that my sense of morality stems from faith; the whole idea of the existence of morality depends on some sort of God(s) with authority over man. In purely evolutionary terms, the only thing that would be wrong would be to sabotoge one's own ability to reproduce. That's why when I discuss public policy, I put things in secular terms. Telling people not to steal or not to kill because it's wrong doesn't work on the people who don't think it's wrong (and often, even on the ones who do think it's wrong); you have to have a criminal justice system to back it up.

As for the world around us, I think we are called to be caretakers of Creation. We have reached the point in our development that there is no part of the world that does not exist as it does because we want it to. There is no tree we couldn't cut down, no elephant we couldn't kill if we wanted to. There's neither parking lot nor climate controlled environment that couldn't be built if society wanted to. I think we can and must have a sustainable balance between protecting the wild and promoting human development; the more we learn about other creatures, the stronger the moral argument gets for checking our tendency to spread like a virus killing everything in our path. Dolphins and elephants have really caught my attention; between the wilderness and domesticated pets, I think there are very few people who would view non-human life as morally equivalent to the coffee table in their living room.

Reality on our planet is what we make it. We can debate whether building incredible luxury resorts on artificial islands for the uber-wealthy is better stewardship of the planet than providing basic housing for all. But let's make no mistake; even the Amish aren't proposing abandoning artificial intervention in the natural world.

If I had to give a simple yes or no, I would say quite strongly that of course humans should try to alter their reality; that's what it means to be human. We have committed so completely to this capability that I'm not sure we can even comprehend what it would mean to abandon artificial alterations of reality.

At 8/21/2005 7:14 AM, Blogger Charles said...

Nate--I always like throwing a challenge out to you, because I feel like I get your Wikipedia-worthy answer and I generally learn something to boot.

But what still niggles at me about your answer is if altering our realities is all just part of the plan, why is our government and other governments around the world, interested in legislating it? Could it be that our government is hyper-moral? More so than its citizens?

That thought should make you nauseous.

So, in your opinion, what's the point of government legislation on things like drugs, alcohol, etc.?

Or is there none?


At 8/21/2005 1:53 PM, Blogger Nathaniel said...

I think the why question is a very important one. I would suggest it is a combination of groupthink and the desire for control.

When there are problems we as people are programmed to want to do something. Frequently, our gut instinct is productive; however, particularly with issues requiring detailed analysis and nuanced solutions, we can end up rushing to do something and limiting our range of solutions in the discussion. This happens in Congress for both very trivial things and very serious matters. Over the current generation of federal drug laws, which I would roughly date to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, Congress has been a rather homogenous body. It has been substantially whiter, wealthier, more masculine, and more secure in employment than the general populace. I don't think the members of Congress who have voted to rapidly expand the drug war over the last 30 years are evil, but they are trapped in a body that echoes hollow phrases like "tough on crime" and "drugs are bad" and frankly live a very sheltered life in their experiences and people with whom they socialize. In that kind of environment, flawed assumptions go unchallenged and the suffering of people without access goes unheeded.

The second part of this is more nefarious; in a word, much of our government's involvement is the desire for control. There are people who like telling other people how to live their lives, and some of them particularly enjoy using force to do so. We have created a paramilitary army with the authority to suspend the US Constitution and international law. Taxpayer dollars go toward propaganda in schools and ad buys on TV and subsidized prison labor for private companies and so on. Simply raising issues for open debate earns incredibly strong and personal rebuke from the special interests vested in the system. One may agree with the ends, but even that still leaves the means unjustified.

The reason this is successful is due largely to the earlier history of drug regulation at the state level based predominantly on race. Of the six major recreational drugs (meth is making a good case to be number 7), caffeine and tobacco have American roots while alcohol has European roots. However, marijuana was closely associated with Mexican immigrants, opium with Chinese immigrants, and more recently the "crack epidemic" with urban blacks. It's not a coincidence that Starbucks, Anheuser Busch, and Phillip Morris are giant consumer corporations while hundreds of thousands of people are serving prison sentences for possession/use/distribution/conspiracy thereof of crack/cocaine, opiates/heroin, and marijuana. It's also not a coincidence that then-failed businessman George Bush wasn't put in jail for either violating SEC rules or using drugs himself.

"Vote for me, I'm tough on crime; I'll lock up all those evil drug dealers out there looking to harm your kids" is a great sales pitch. But that's all it is; in this particular case, it backs up a pretty despicable product. It's a product where we don't mind demonizing people without much political power while at the same time claiming a double standard for ourselves. The Bush family knows this very well. Tough talk makes good politics, but when one of your own does the deed, well, then it's a family affair, not a public crisis. "One of the women here was caught buying crack cocaine tonight, And a lot of the women are upset because she's been caught about five times. And we want something done because our children are here, and they just keep letting it slip under the counter and carpet . . . They said, you know, because it's basically Noelle Bush . . . She does this all the time, and she gets out of it because she's the Governor's daughter." The same could be said for Rush Limbaugh and Jeff Gannon and many many others who proclaim such puritanical judgment while simultaneously violating their own commandments. In fact, the same can be said about all of us; nobody is perfect and we've all been hypocritically judgmental. I have nothing but sympathy and compassion for Noelle; she needs help, not jail.

To answer your second question, the point is harm reduction. We outlaw drunk driving because it substantially increases the danger of an accident, which is a very costly event for society. We make gas stations ID young people buying cigarettes because we have an extra responsibility to minors and to making it easier for parents to raise minors in an environment of their choosing. We make it illegal to inject things into product sitting on grocery store shelves because public confidence in the safety of our food delivery network is very important. But we shouldn't outlaw things that don't harm society, or that cost more to society to enforce than society can recoup, or that people have a right to do regardless of whether their actions affect society in an adverse manner.


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