Friday, July 20, 2007

What Not to Feed the Monkey On Your Back

I don't know why drugs should be illegal. I just know they should be. Others disagree, because prohibition doesn't work. I don't know whether or not Prohibition worked. You don't know about it, but there is conflict over the whole issue. Received wisdom is that it taught Americans to be scofflaws, and provided the impetus for organized crime. Some historians, however, write convincingly about how it did work. Discussion for another time. What we can be sure of is that people who were not inclined to drink, did not start to because of the Volstead act. And that the drunkards will aways find a way -- cough syrup and wood alcohol and paint thinner ... let's get this party started!

It does seem to be a fact that primates will always find means to alter their perceptions. Monkeys get a buzz by eating rotten fruit. Some jungle tribes turn milk alcoholic by communally spitting into it. Some steppe tribes drink fermented blood. Some nullarbor tribes lick toads. There's nothing that burns, that hasn't been put into a pipe and smoked. The Pythoness of Delphi squatted over a volcanic vent and went mad for a time from the sulfurous vapors -- her convulsive gurglings were interpreted by the priests as prophecies. It's all of a piece to me. I've never tasted beer.

I don't like standing against innate behaviors. Instincts must have their release. So the sexual urge must be expressed. Not with little children though. The urge to aggression must have its outlet. Not through murder and rape. And if there is an inborn tendency to use chemical means to change mood and behavior, I suppose there must be some salubrious way to do it. It has been alcohol, universally. Religions that don't use some ritual measure of wine in their ceremonials, or mushrooms or locoweed, use hyperventilating or dancing or jumping or spinning in circles or lampshades on the head to get closer to God. That God -- what a party guy.

The body is equipped to process and neutralize the alcohol molecule. We eat any number of fermented foods, and the byproduct of the microbes that do the fermenting release alcohol as their waste product. I've eaten alcohol, then. The same way that I've eaten rat feces and insect bodies in my factory-processed foods. You have too. Furthermore, food can ferment as it moves through the gut. Naturally occurring alcohol is absorbed in I-don't-know-how-large quantities, I don't know how often. But any complex meal is likely to cause it. No big deal. The body can handle it. No negative effect is likely to arise.

Even naturally occurring beverages like wine and beer are fairly innocuous. One or two "servings" a day would be no strain on the system, when spaced out over a meal, or over an hour or so. The beneficial effects said to accrue to one's health is a bit of a complicated issue, which I'll pass over. But it's not likely to be poisonous, for all that alcohol is toxic. Yes, it is toxic -- hence the term "intoxication."

My point is that if you must intoxicate yourself, alcohol is the least strange way to do it. That vaguely analogous things are not treated equally under the law should cause us no distress. Pot may or may not be more or less or equally harmful or beneficial than booze. But to object to the inconsistency of favoring one while condemning the other is puerile. Tastes are not rational. Sodomy comes to mind. More and more nowadays. Is that wrong of me? Ah, sweet, sweet sodomy, how I crave the dark secret pleasure of your forbidden fruit!


Drugs? The rationale behind laws of public policy revolve around the greatest good for society. Thus, sexual intercourse is good -- families promote social stability. Prostitution, however, undermines the fundamental unit of society -- the marriage union. Young men who have access to loose women are less likely to seek a bride. So we have laws about even such a private and personal biological function as intercourse between consenting adults. Duh. The policy that regulates alcohol and drugs partakes of the same principle.

Drunkards and dope fiends are generally unproductive, and create an overall burden on society. A net negative. Something to be discouraged. Even though the physiological effects are confined entirely to one's own bloodstream and static tissues. Private conduct that adversely affects even the principles of public conduct have always been regulated by societies. Ours will not be the first to neglect this imperative, and survive.

Drugs? However we define the term, we do know what it means. We recognize it through its effects. A diminishing of capacities. A slipping toward non compos mentis. That they might provide the private benefit of relaxation or disinhibition or artistic inspiration must be counterbalanced with the potential for public harm. We have the right to self-regulate; the right to self-medicate is less clear. There's a vast pharmacopoeia of designer and recreational drugs nowadays. I'm out of that loop.

The legalization argument focuses on marijuana. Advocates scoff at the idea that it's a "gateway drug". Their laughter is understandable. Marijuana makes people giggle. Perhaps the worst that marijuana might do would be to make its users boring, lazy and hungry. Or maybe that's the best it would do. Or is this insidious pest ever so much more diabolical in its vicious evil? Or is it just a groovy way to chill? On one level, all that is irrelevant. The active psychoactive molecule in cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, does not occur naturally in the human body. Thus, it is categorically different, and not to be compared with alcohol. It is not "natural".

The primary method of introducing THC into the bloodstream is through smoking. Smoking. Smoking. Deliberately drawing smoke into your lungs. That is, on the face of it, insane. Yes, lungs can eventually purge the, uh, crud that accumulates internally. And while the alveoli of the lungs don't regenerate, well, we've got lots of alveoli. Three hundred million. It would take almost a million years to kill them all, if you killed one a day. I think my math is right. And if you killed one every ten years, it would take billions and billions of years -- nobody knows how many. Golly, who could live that long? Something else is bound to kill you before then. See? We're almost safe. And another good thing about smoking is, uh, that, um ... well, there are just so many that I can't think of them.

Eating marijuana? It's a thought. But understand that the cultivated plant that goes by that name nowadays is not the one once found only in nature -- selectively bred to produce up to 600% more THC. That's not your father's maryjane. It's not recreation, when it's a job.

LSD sounds cool. It's an excitotoxin, which at best provokes a dysfunction of inhibitory cortical interneurons resulting in visual disturbances. Does cortical (that's brain) dysfunction sound like a good thing? At not-best, excitotoxins cause brain cells to keep firing until they die. Not so cool. Cocaine? Please. Any of the others? All those designer drugs? You see how it's done -- make your own list of reasons they're bad.

Medical marijuana? Why not. There's too much suffering in the world. But shouldn't it be a pill? And I know a certain someone who has a prescription for it because of "insomnia". Odd how he used it even before he had "insomnia". Nothing fishy there, though. Hemp products? Sure, sounds like a good idea -- hardy, useful and versatile.

But selling weed like tobacco and alcohol, so we can enjoy mega tax bucks? Great idea -- and let's bring back slavery too. There are lots of extra people just begging to be sold. It'd solve the illegal alien problem! We could invade Mexico! That'd be a switch -- haven't done that since forever ago. And entrepreneurs could set up thriving slave markets, hold public auctions, like a fair grounds -- bring the whole family -- free elephant rides! -- spend the day! -- ample parking is available! Just think of all the new sales tax revenue rolling it -- it'd be a fiscal windfall! Earmarked for Social Security! Old folks like me will be set for life! -- even if we live for millions of years I bet! Far out!

Legalizing a damaging substance, a vice, so that it can be taxed is an immoral argument. No, tobacco doesn't count as a counter example -- it is taxed, but it wasn't legalized so it could be taxed. And if enforcement costs are high, confiscating the assets of drug dealers will offset that. If they make it to prison, cutting off their cable TV would save a few bucks. In fact, chain gangs make a profit. Or we could harvest their organs. Think about it.

Someone argues that "legalizing marijuana would not increase use because decriminalization hasn't increased use. But ... legalization would reduce crime by neutralizing dealers and eliminating the violent black market." The first idea sound pretty good. Alas, the fallacy lies in supposing that no punishment will have the same result as a smaller punishment. Does your life experience bear out this supposition? The second idea is pure sophistry. We could legalize murder too, and the crime rate would fall. I expect, however, that more people would die.

Well then. I'm glad I wrote this. I seem to have figured out, to my own satisfaction, why drugs should be illegal. I just can't get over how smart I am.


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