Thursday, January 9, 2014

Stoned before the state

By identifying libertarianism as the opposite of progressivism, Sarah Elizabeth Cupp sees legal weed as a problem for gun-banning, salt-banning, cigarette-banning, contraception-mandating progressives. Her central claim is that the freedom to smoke weed is a freedom that strikes a blow against the nanny state.

That rumble you just felt was the fault lines of political discourse shifting beneath your feet, so catastrophic is this revelation from Cupp. If true, it should shame progressives everywhere, from the gun-banning, pot-enabling progressive New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, to the gun-banning, pot-enabling, progressive magazine, The Progressive, in Wisconsin.

On the defining issue of the day, same-sex marriage, progressives and libertarians stand together. Like legal weed, ostensibly same-sex marriage is about “limiting government,” “getting the government out of the bedroom,” etc. Is it odd that progressives, the acolytes of big government, in the cases of marijuana and marriage, oppose the weapon of the law to meddle in people’s private affairs? Or is it the case, as with all licenses to sin, legal weed and same-sex marriage create more social ills for the progressives to “fix” through ever larger government?

Cupp is in denial over the common ground shared among libertarians and progressives, which makes it difficult for libertarians to fight progressives effectively. A libertarian herself, she frames the progressive ethos as acting exclusively to restrict individual liberties “for the greater good,” which allows her to conflate dissimilar issues. She writes:

The same argument used against guns is used for pot: that legalizing pot and making it more available will reduce crime. No good liberal would say the same of guns, though there is substantial evidence to prove more guns equal less crime.

So, by Cupp’s telling, the challenge to progressivism is to square a severe attitude towards gun ownership with a lax attitude towards marijuana. She indicates liberals will have to support restrictions on weed for consistency’s sake. But such a movement would only be consistent on Cupp’s oversimplified model, in which in one corner you have progressive busybodies and in the other corner you have unfettered liberty. As progressives’ support for marriage redefinition and legal weed shows, the progressive ethos is more complicated than that.

It’s true gun bans don’t reduce violent crimes like armed robbery, gun assaults, and murder. (Gun bans’ efficacy in reducing violent crime is mixed.) But the real point of contention on gun control is that gun bans make it a crime to own guns. Guns in the hands of the people are a major obstacle to centralizing power. Unarmed people are easier to control, which is why progressives favor heavier gun regulations.

This leads up to an uncomfortable question, especially for libertarians who support legalizing weed: Are stoners easier to control? Are people who dumb themselves down with drugs easier to control? Progressives know the answer. Peter Hitchens writes:

A development in modern societies that is far more of an immediate menace to human freedom... is the thing that Huxley warned against most particularly and wanted us to learn from Brave New World—the danger that we would come to embrace our own servitude. More specifically, it was his prediction that we would voluntarily drug ourselves into conformist contentment and artificial joy, so losing our curiosity and our free spirit.

Liberty is not an end unto itself. There are many ways to exercise one’s liberty, some nobler than others. Where does using drugs fall on that spectrum? That question is made easier by asking, How would you teach your kids to exercise their liberty?

The “war on drugs” has failed, and mass incarceration for marijuana possession is amok. But from these premises alone, legalization does not logically follow.

Legalizing weed reduces crime, insofar as what is now called crime is redefined as non-crime. “Defining deviancy down” is how Daniel Patrick Monihan put it. Smoking weed, with all its detriments to individual initiative and the family, continues, on a greater scale than before.

Traditionalist conservatives and libertarians both understand “reducing crime” is a progressive fig leaf. Where they differ is what does the fig leaf cover up. To libertarians, it covers up an instinct to meddle in people’s lives. To conservatives, who have progressives pegged more accurately, it covers up an instinct to control people.

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