Tuesday, July 7, 2009

That’s What They Say—Part 1

From time to time I read about or hear someone discussing the war on drugs. In fact I read an editorial in a local paper about it just the other day. And I’ve noticed that pro-drug war arguments tend to focus on two aspects: why it’s a just cause and how to make it work.

The war on drugs is a just cause because it’s the duty of the government to protect people from themselves. Interesting concept, and arguably a noble ideal. It also sounds like a pretty liberal idea to me (i.e., the nanny government), although I doubt conservatives view trying to stop people from using drugs in quite that way. However it is not the role of our government. I’m not talking theoretically, but in terms of the duties granted to the federal government by our Constitution. The Constitution clearly enumerates the powers of the federal government, and states that any powers not specifically granted to the federal government are left to the states or to the people. Many of the powers granted to the federal government could be described as intended to protect people from others (e.g., piracy, treason, international trade). But none could even remotely be interpreted as protecting people from themselves. So, while it may sound to some like something our government should be doing, protecting people from themselves is not something that our government has the power or authority to do. And if you think about it, you just might realize that in practice it is virtually impossible. People always have and always will do really stupid things and no legislation will ever stop them. Nor in my opinion should it even try, because doing stupid things is a big part of our unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. Not to mention a very fundamental part of human nature.

Here’s the other thing about trying to use legislation to prevent people from hurting themselves: Not only does it typically not accomplish what it is intended to, but it tends to hurt the people who have no need of such protection. Just because one or two people burn themselves with hot coffee, does that mean coffee shouldn’t be served hot ever again? Just because a small percentage of people who consume alcohol become alcoholics, does that mean we should prevent the vast majority of responsible drinkers from enjoying their frosty beverages? Likewise, because a few people abuse other recreational drugs, should we deprive everyone of the right to enjoy and use those drugs responsibly? Not only deprive them, but turn them into criminals? Well, apparently the answer is yes—punish many in a futile attempt to help a few.

To be continued…

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