Revolution of Principle

We need a revolution of legal and social appreciation for human liberty, for the Human Right in all its facets.

Email sent to:[*]

I write to the Toronto Star, whose website carried "an excerpt of an editorial from the Calgary Herald." I tried to access the Herald online to read the original editorial in its entirety, but (Star publishers please note) the Herald requires "registration," an unfortunate but increasingly common reader-losing practice among online periodicals, which tedious and invasive practice I refuse to encourage.

I write from Oklahoma, smack dab in the middle of the USA. Please excuse me if in the following, in the occasional tendency of my countrymen, I sometimes seem to universalize my country's culture or otherwise smudge national and cultural borders.

Regarding the editorial, href="" target="_blank">Taxing marijuana compounds problem[*]:

Pragmatism v Principle

The editorialist is correct to point out the flaw in the pragmatic argument for legalization of pot, or likewise other substances. Contrasting the material gain argument with transgressions like shoplifting is the correct way to point out a logical error of the argument from pragmatism. Many of the arguments for repeal of modern vice prohibitions are similarly logically flawed: emotionally appealing, rhetorically propagandistic, or sometimes even to some degree disingenuous, like the back-door hemp-product or medical approaches to cannabis legalization. (I don't mean to suggest that those supporting hemp or medical uses are insincere potheads; but those supporting these movements, if they are thoughtful, would acknowledge their efforts — duh! — innately, inherently, and inevitably weaken recreational criminalization.) Humans being frequently less than entirely reasonable, legalization propaganda is frequently just as flawed as Prohibitionists' paralogisms.

In comparing pot use with shoplifting, however, the editorialist unintentionally compares apples with handguns, so to speak. Shoplifting, theft, threat, murder, force, fraud, these are true transgressions, and just cause for society to govern the transgressors. Gambling, beer-drinking, smoking one plant or another, and other so-called vices, these are personal (for good or ill) actions, not inherently interpersonally transgressive. Society may rightly govern public intoxication, public motor-vehicle operational impairment, public lewdness, public second-hand smoke, public littering of syringes, the poisonous meth lab next door, whatever the public and social consequences of people who can't hold their whatever or really threaten or harm others.

But what could possibly give Society just cause to govern the private bet, the private beer, the personal joint?

Prohibitionism = tyranny

The editorialist rightly notes that "Unless the government is willing to legalize all drugs, the effect on organized crime [of marijuana legalization alone] would be minute." This sad fact of vice laws underpins the very way modern USA pot and drug repression got started, with former alcohol prohibition agents like Anslinger callously trying to keep their jobs by getting new prohibitions passed with racist and cultural scare tactics.

The editorialist is further correct to lament the hypocrisy and ironic self-defeating nature of disincentive taxation that arises wherever vice is legalized. (As if when pot were legal and the profit motive of bootlegging were removed the government could still collect black-market level prices as taxes.) A black market in otherwise legal items, like cigarettes, arises just as surely as completely prohibited items, because under exhorbitant taxes, especially combined with relatively open borders and the matter's elsewhere general legality, a smuggler's profit-to-risk ratio is still high. The punitive tax "to dissuade use" or punish or "pay for social consequences" is just the same taboo-minded Taliban-like thinking upon which outright prohibitionism is based. The very tyrannical thinking behind dissuasive taxes and Prohibitionism in all its forms is the real social problem, the scourge, which must be addressed.

The Puritan and Taliban give us similar religion-based taboo-law culture. To be fair, such religious extremists are also to be associated with Godliness, devotion, and duty. The Puritan Work Ethic is still something to be admired and emulated. But such cultures leave us also with a heritage of taboos regarding personal appearance, behavior, and lifestyle and practices. Often today, these taboos are no longer so much religious as cultural. Dancing after midnight? "We just don't do that." But in all cases, the codification of taboo is an aberration, a cancer even, of governments which otherwise Constitutionally protect liberty.

The idea of Prohibitionism inevitably justifiies any tyranny. The Prohibitionist, logically, must control not just alcohol, drugs, gambling and prostitution, but also tobacco and marijuana, and we may soon throw in those minor villains caffeine, sugar, and taken to its logical extremes, even carbohydrates, or alternative herbal or homeopathic medicines... and what if dancing is medically proven to be dangerous for old people? Better prohibit that. Beard length, women's attire, private bedroom behavior of married heterosexual couples, there is historically and logically no barrier to the idea of Prohibitionism, taken to its logical extremes. However, the futility of prohibitionism is best illustrated with Alcohol. The deadliest and most abused drug of all time and all cultures should logically always be the Prohibitionist's first target, yet the most resounding historic disproof of the path of Prohibitionism is the USA's 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition.

Liberty & Responsibility

In extreme contrast, true ideals of liberty inevitably drive one to complete repeal of blue laws, vice laws, and all those barbaric taboos which do not concern true transgressions. Society, plainly, is unready for pursuing the ideals of liberty. Concern about the "consequences of sin" is generally reasonable, but we don't have to be scared of real freedom — where legal and well-governed, vices lose much of both their inflated gangster-attracting profitability and their socially corrupting illicit allure. People who turn to prohibitionism generally lack faith — expecting to eradicate the degradation and self-destruction of individuals through generalized social oppression, when these goals can only really be accomplished when strong, self-regarding, devout families and communities abound.

Some public regulation is entirely just. We can't have the rotgut or the cancer sticks out near where the kiddiess can grab it, and so on. We may allow titty clubs (pardon the expression but the new one that opened up in our town has added this to my current lexicon), but we no more have to permit them in plain sight of our schools than we need permit choking factories to go up next door to our residences.

Abandoning our heritage of taboo enforcement for truly free government is not the same as permitting transgression nor any more a sign of social endorsement of general debauchery than is legal booze. General repeal would actually mean exorcising a great devil in the purposes of government. The pragmatic arguments are not only ultimately correct in material terms, but also accord with the ideals of liberty: We are better off today treating alcoholism and the dangers of alcohol openly than we were under the gangsterism and corruption of American Prohibition. We don't punish one beer drinker for the transgressions of another person who gets drunk. We have stores stocked with a world-wide selection of beers and fine wines, not speakeasies serving bathtub-brewed poison. Without Prohibitionism, those who have problems with substances or habits, we will deal with as we deal with the alcoholic or tobacco fiend or others with debilitating dependencies. Logically, Prohibitionism taken to its conclusion, unless you absolutely eradicate virtually all taboo-breakers from society, interdiction and repression is futile. In practice, with prohibition, control becomes actually less possible — kids can get pot and ecstasy easier than they can get alcohol or cigarettes. Our prisons groan under the strain of encaged non-transgressive taboo-breakers yet drugs flood across the border daily. The war on users of some substances was eviscerating Constitutional protections long before the war on terrorism and its Orwellian Patriot Acts. Much of the major woes of drug source countries derive from the inflated black-market profits due to drug taboos. Worldwide, those resources which we currently vainly employ in interdiction, criminalization of harmless users, and cheap scare-tactics would be far more effectively spent on serious education and personal intervention efforts… but all the practical benefits of liberty are just the inevitable result of correcting a great pattern of terribly tyranny and injustice throughout humanity. Prohibitionism itself must be ended, looked upon as surely as we now look upon slavery.

Rather than the tyranny of the taboo, rather than the flawed logic of rationalists or the tedious machinations of the incrementalists, we need a revolution of legal and social appreciation for human liberty, for the Human Right in all its facets.

Above all, government which is consistent in its principles of liberty and just in its enforcement of only the social contract will be most highly regarded by the populace. Law must govern transgression, not taboo. In the contest between individual right and majority opinion, non-transgressive behaviors of all sorts must be Constitutionally protected, just as surely and importantly as the rights of speech, press, and worship, of person, property, and security, or of any right of non-transgressing artistic, political, and religious practice or expression.