Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Self-Stupifying Narcissism of the Anti-Pot Brigade

I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling that at the end of any great policy or cultural shift, the old guard tends to twitch in a final spasm of feeble protest.  And so, as Washington and Colorado move to implement their voters’ decision to decriminalize marijuana, it’s probably natural that the reactionary vestiges of the flat-earth Reefer Madness movement would scowl and wag a futile finger one last time, if only to indicate, “Don’t say we didn’t tell you so!”

I won’t repeat the many excellent rebuttals that have already been addressed to prohibition dead-enders.  I recommend the Chris Hayes video embedded below, and Matt Taibbi and Charles Pierce also wrote terrific pieces.  I’m sure there are plenty of others.  The logical and empirical flaws in the pot prohibitionists’ last stand are so glaring that were other than prominent media personalities involved, I doubt anyone would even bother responding.

So here, I want to note just one interesting element the various old-guard cries of “Nooooo!” seem to have in common.  Which is:  narcissism.

Read the columns, if you can stand feeling embarrassed for the people who authored them, and you’ll see the foundation for all their anti-pot animus is... they themselves don’t like pot.  Brooks got high and feels like it was what made him mess up a presentation in English class, something he claims now sometimes keeps him up at night.  Ruth Marcus liked pot well enough when she was wearing "bell-bottoms and polyester," but no longer approves.  Joe Scarborough claims to have never smoked pot himself, but it made some of his friends "dumb" (whatever that means -- dumb for an hour? for the rest of their lives? and how do you get from "I saw this happen to a few people so I know it happens to all or most people," anyway?) and that's all the evidence he needs.

The tendency to confuse subjective preferences with objective principles is unfortunate and widespread:  as John Cusack said to Jack Black in High Fidelity, "How can it be bullshit to express a preference?"

The inability to distinguish between subjective taste and objective principle is the very confusion that takes people from "I don't like gay sex" to "gays shouldn't be allowed to marry each other."  Obviously, the tendency is powerful -- so powerful it causes a collapse in logic and reason in otherwise presumably capable people, people who can feel so strongly about their own preferences that they manage to leap from "I don't like X" to "which means X is objectively bad for society" to "and therefore the best and only way to address X is to make it a criminal act."  None of these three things in any way follows logically from the others, but sometimes, when you really don't like something, those three unrelated concepts can start to seem as ineluctably connected as a chain of ipso factos.

Beyond the obviously solipsistic tendency of prohibitionists to conflate their own tastes with what's best for society (see this hilarious and dead-on take, where Dan Gillmor substitutes "alcohol" for "pot" and "drinking" for "smoking" in Brooks' piece), there's also the problem of conflation of ends and means.  The only sane objective for any drug policy would be to cost-effectively minimize and manage the incidence of drug abuse.  And we have mountains of data demonstrating that prohibition does little or nothing to reduce drug abuse, while achieving that little or nothing at about the highest cost reasonably imaginable (just Google "costs of drug prohibition").  An attachment to prohibition as the best or only way to minimize drug abuse is so at variance with logic, everyday experience, and history that I don't know how to explain it other than as the result of emotion occluding reason. 

Interesting.  It seems that among the many things that can cause people to be "dumb," fear and loathing of pot can be much more potent than pot itself.

One other thought.  Scarborough's column struck me as more or less as thoughtless as the others, but I sensed something in it beyond the usual prohibitionist "I don't like it/therefore it's objectively bad/therefore it should be illegal" fallacy.  About ninety percent of the piece is a gratuitous and off-the-mark sarcastic response to Taibbi (making fun of Taibbi, for example, for publishing his anti-prohibition piece to a presumably sympathetic audience in Rolling Stone, while overlooking the fairly obvious fact that Rolling Stone happens to be the magazine Taibbi writes for, whatever the topic), and that excessively ego-driven response, too, seems to have occluded Scarborough's ability to reason.  I've written about this before, and the more I see it, the more I think excessive sarcasm, and certainly insults and contempt, are tendencies to resist.  It's not just that the right tone makes persuasion of other people more likely; it's that the wrong tone engages your ego and turns off your mind.  Certainly it seems to have had this effect on Scarborough.

Hmm, another non-pot thing that can make people dumb -- with apparently longer-lasting and far more deleterious effects.  By the standards of the people who indulge in it, I guess that means we should make it illegal.


ryan field said...

"The inability to distinguish between subjective taste and objective principle is the very confusion that takes people from 'I don't like gay sex' to 'gays shouldn't be allowed to marry each other.'"

I think I "get" it.

I actually don't like pot, but I DO think it should be legal to use everywhere.

editor said...

You're on to something here, Barry. I encounter this all the time as the editor of a small-town newspaper. People confuse what they like or don't like with the good of the community.

Or, more perniciously WHOM they like or don't like. People will oppose something because they don't like the person who promotes it. My response is, OK, you don't have to marry him/her — let's talk about the policy.

That is very difficult for a lot of people. It requires setting aside the ego a bit and striving for a higher level of thinking, and that is just not taught, trained and expected once people get past their school/college years.

Jim Cornelius

flyin' granny said...

I am very glad I found your books and your blog. Very refreshing. I have some concerns about use of pot - and they are the same concerns I have about alcohol - reinforced by years of experience working as a Rehab R.N. I do drink alcohol, 1 glass of wine with food. I have never used pot, just not interested. That doesn't mean that I oppose others using either. I am concerned with those who insist that pot & alcohol are "harmless." Both impair judgement to the point that folks whose judgement is impaired drive cars -- and cause accidents -which kill or maim others.

Barry Eisler said...

Thanks for the kind words, Flyin Granny. I don't think many people would argue that pot and alcohol are completely harmless. The question is more, what is an appropriate policy? There are many, many harmful activities adults undertake that we don't criminalize -- indeed, that it would be insane to criminalize (fast food? motorcycles? loud music? The list is unending). I'd classify drugs as one such. There are infinitely better ways than prohibition to deal with the potential harms of drugs, as our own experience with Prohibition and Portugal's experience in ending it demonstrate.