Legalize Now – The War on Drugs is Philosophically Bankrupting America
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Good evening. Tonight I’d like to discuss a battle of modern politics with which every American is intimately familiar, and that is the so-called “War on Drugs”. The discourse surrounding the war is among the most philosophically insightful of all the hot-button issues, and nothing says more about a politician’s true principles than how he defends his position on drug use in America. Through careful examination of political rhetoric we can see that, despite the recent trends towards decriminalizing marijuana, the philosophy of freedom is actually losing the fight for the minds of the American people, especially among the established politicians. Even as drug laws grow more relaxed and penalties less severe, the government is actually tightening its control over the daily lives of innocent civilians.
To the enlightened individualist who recognizes non-violence and the freedom to choose as the hallmarks of great civilization, it is immediately clear that any production, retail, and consumption of drugs or any other products which do not cause harm to others is absolutely none of the government’s business. It is further clear to any literate person that the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the federal government from passing any legislation restricting the trade and use of drugs regardless of whether such actions harm others or not. This of course has nothing whatsoever to do with any particular “right to use drugs” or lack thereof; it is simply the moral and Constitutional mandate that one person cannot use coercion against another to control personal choices. To advocate for the repeal of drug legislation is not an endorsement of drug use, but rather a rejection of assault and imprisonment as a response to non-violent actions.
Unfortunately, the battle cry of the mainstream anti-“War on Drugs” movement has become, “Decriminalize, regulate, and tax”, or “DRT” for short. Presumably, the unusual word “decriminalize” is used here specifically to distinguish from legalization, as, for example, minor traffic violations are typically not criminal offenses, but are still illegal. Regulation, of course, means only allowing government-approved vendors to sell government-approved drugs in government-approved quantities. Furthermore, the concept of taxing drugs is invoked with the intent that they would be taxed above the rate of ordinary sales tax, just as cigarettes and alcohol already are. This stance is philosophically void; it signifies no fundamental change in how people interact with one another. If the movement to end the War on Drugs takes the DRT form, it deserves to lose in Congress.
The DRT argument is not a moderate form of the Libertarian stance. It is in fact a moderate form of the statist stance. Advocates of personal freedom must not regard DRT as any improvement whatsoever over current laws for the simple reason that the DRT argument treats the question of government control of drugs as one of degree rather than of morality. Both current laws and the proposed changes accept it as a foregone conclusion that certain people have the authority and the responsibility to use force to help others make personal decisions. Neither side of the debate rejects philosophically the idea that aggression is a moral good, and so neither side is any better than the other.
Some freedom fighters have mistakenly fallen into the trap of thinking that the regulation of DRT only implies that harmful drugs will be kept out of the hands of small children. This is of course not what the legislators intend by the term at all. Keeping drugs away from children is regulating child care, not regulating drugs. What the legislators mean is that they want to control who sells drugs and in what quantities, just as there are already huge barriers to entry in the bars and distillery industries. When they say they will tax drugs, they mean to apply steep taxes to disincentivize the consumption of drugs, as if that is the government’s prerogative or responsibility. The establishment politicians, even the seemingly drug-friendly ones, have no intention of rejecting coercion and nanny-state values in favor of a philosophically individualist attitude towards drug use. Their purportedly new ideas are just a rehashing of the well-worn and thoroughly despised statist programs.
Those who will oppose the live-free-or-die stance of the Tenthers and the Libertarians fall back on tired and intellectually lazy distractions masquerading as arguments. Politicians will try to confuse the issue by citing collateral damage done by drug users operating vehicles on public roads. This has nothing to do with the issue at hand, because drug legislation has nothing to do with roads, and no one has ever seriously suggested that druggies should be allowed to harm others without accountability. The only point put forward by the Libertarians is that drug users who do not harm others should not be forbidden from pursuing their recreation on their own property. Taxing drugs to disincentivize their use has no bearing on whether people drive while high or not, and so the latter should never be brought up in a debate about the former.
By far the most widespread counter-freedom argument on the issue of drugs is the fabled plea for moderation. Almost all politicians and most citizens would not hesitate to agree with the statement that the government should not tell people how to live their lives if they aren’t hurting others. However, when that philosophy is taken to its logical conclusion of repealing all drug laws, the average Congressman will retaliate with a criticism of “absolutism”, arguing that society should not take moral principles to “extremes”. It is impossible to exaggerate how intellectually void and utterly meaningless this is as a defense. To criticize an otherwise valid principle simply for being a principle is to abandon all hope for consistency and morality in the world. To cry out against absolutism for no particular reason save that it is absolutism is the last, desperate act of a failing philosophy in the face of incontrovertible truth. Essentially, a plea for moderation is nothing more than a spiteful admission of defeat. The “Decriminalize, regulate, and tax” camp is as much of a moral failure as the War on Drugs itself, and the only legitimate stance to accept is that of complete legalization and individual choice.
The importance of this philosophical distinction cannot be overstated. Ayn Rand once noted that sociologists and historians go to extraordinary lengths researching trends in history to try to explain events, but that she was able, with relatively little intellectual effort, to predict events by understanding the philosophical motivations of the various schools of thought in modern politics. Even John Maynard Keynes declared “The ideas of economists and political philosophers are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”
I am here to tell you that I am a philosopher. I know why people do things, based not only on their moral values but on the even more fundamental structures of epistemology and ontology that guide their whole lives. Because of this, I can predict the future of politics more accurately than any sociologist who tries to study only statistics and feelings as if they are dissociated from logic and the mind. I have analyzed the theory of the War on Drugs and its associated debate, and I have educated myself as to how others perceive the situation. If you wish to know what will happen with the War on Drugs, I will tell you.
The War on Drugs will never be won. It is far too late for the central planners to put the genie back in the bottle and convince society that drugs are a paralyzing threat to the nation. However, the anti-War movement will not succeed, either. As the federal debt continues to climb and the prison crisis grows ever more severe, decriminalization and the increased nullification of federal marijuana legislation will be inevitable, but full legalization of all drugs will not be realized. The efforts of Congressmen Ron Paul and Barney Frank to promote individual freedom will continue to make repealing drug laws a cool way for establishment politicians to appeal to younger voters, but the establishment will never renounce government control as a fundamental value.
The consequences of this intellectual laziness will be far more severe than is presently believed. In fact, the government will reassert itself in another decade or two with a new crusade for our protection. This post-War on Drugs phenomenon will actually be more restrictive and affect more Americans than the current battle, because it will be excused as being more relevant to the functionality of society. The demon will be bad nutrition and health habits. The so-called fight against childhood obesity will merge with the campaigns to outlaw trans fats and excess salt consumption. Nanny state do-gooders from the Left-wing establishment will incite rage and riot among naive Right-wingers by complaining that unhealthy, lazy, fat people are bankrupting the nation’s health-care systems. They will rally the false fiscal conservatives into an elitist fit and decry the unhealthy scum that pollutes our nation the same way illegal immigrants and the unemployed are resented by the dumber Republicans today. The same underlying principle of the government protecting individuals from the substances they choose to consume under the guise of promoting general health will lead to a far more disruptive and personally invasive institution than the War on Drugs ever has. Granted, it is unlikely that half a million people will go to jail for eating too much salt, but they may be chastised regularly by public school officials. Restaurants will be forced to submit to periodic menu evaluations, and folks with a sweet tooth will be forced to pay high taxes to offset their own choices.
In the long term, mainstream American society will pay dearly for its decision to marginalize drug users today. All tyranny and oppression begins with small groups who are easy to criticize and treat as plagues upon the larger national population. Once the philosophy of individual liberty has been supplanted by state-enforced “wellness” and collective decision-making, the regulations become ever-more invasive and destructive to everyday people. The transition from minor regulation of drug use to absolute Orwellian totalitarianism is merely one of degree, and the inherent nature of government is to gradually exploit whatever power is given to it more and more as time goes by.
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