Saturday, March 29, 2008

Victimless Crimes

Tibor R. Machan

When I go to movies I sometimes experiment. I decide to see some because of what I call education in cultural anthropology. Not all of these are enjoyable, even interesting but some suggest insights it would be useful to pay attention to.

Trees Lounge is a movie, from some time back, in which probably none of the characters is likable, most of the events are kind of disgusting, and only here and there can a viewer empathize with how problems are managed. Yet, this is not a movie about criminals, nor are there car chases; instead it is a guys version of a chick flick. The bulk of the people, some of them not especially mediocre, do dope on a regular basis and show how that isn’t really all that great for them. There is plenty of drinking, too, which also manages to bring a few people down. But some aren't put out by their habit.

However, one can tell right away that there is no difference at all in the damage done to some buy drinking versus doing dope. Some aren’t harmed by either, others are. Just like in real life--this is nothing if not a naturalist film, with everything just as it is likely to be for quite a few people in real life.

Yet there is a big difference. The drinking done is legal while the dope consumption is not. Of both one could say exactly the same thing, just as the late William F. Buckley, Jr. put it some time ago:

"Drug prohibition has accomplished none of its intended goals. Just like alcohol prohibition, it has created a multi-billion dollar black market, and despite the expenditure of billions of dollars in the prosecution of this war, drugs are available in every city and town in this country, and they’re cheaper than they were just ten or twenty years ago."

But that is not the worse of it. It is patently unjust to treat adult human beings as if they were children or invalids instead of responsible persons, capable--although not always willing--to guide themselves through the maze of temptations life has to offer. Abusing alcohol, gambling, dope, and even such normally healthful pursuits as exercise, adventure, and so forth is avoidable, even when one is addicted--how else do addicts get themselves to clinics? To entrust the government with banning what people need to resist of their own free will is not becoming of a free society.

No one needs maintain that there are no collateral “victims” where people act self-abusively. Yes, no one has to be influenced but many will be. Yet, that too must be handled in a free and just society without violating the sovereignty of abusers. People have to learn to resist bad influences and if governments do not pretend to deal with the matter in their typical paternalistic, nanny like fashion, they have good reason to. They will not be lured into the false security the war on drugs promises. They will make sufficient effort to deal with the matter, given that no one is really coercing anyone to use or abuse dope, just as none is coerced to use or abuse alcohol.

But here is the problem. Once the principle of sovereignty is affirmed in the case of alcohol or drug use and abuse, as a principle it must be applied to all non-aggressive human conduct. How would that square with the thousands of government regulations, professional licensing rules--I hate to call these “laws”? Of course, the implication of the rights to freedom of religion and free speech are no less clear but somehow the sophistry that the latter apply to special activities that need to be kept free serves for many as an excuse to evade that fact.

It is my contention that principled opposition to the war an drugs is now difficult for several reason, one of which is that such opposition would leave no governmental interventions unscathed. But there is also the general disdain today for principles--it is dismissed as ideology (unless it has to do with a politically incorrect evil such as racism or sexism).

At any rate, however, the movie Trees Lounge shows clearly that criminalizing drug abuse is plainly unjust, as well as unfair, especially wherever alcohol abuse is deemed legally untouchable. One can only hope that such lessons from fiction are not lost on the citizenry.

No comments: