John Holbo at Crooked Timber reads David Brooks’ recent column on marijuana and has a requestÂ we’ve had for a long time:
Why is this interesting? Iâ€™ve said it before, and this column is a good example.In US politics, the conservative imagination is so loopily half-utopian. Prominent liberal pundits, by contrast, donâ€™t go in for this sort of half-baked (no pun intended!) goofiness. (Maybe thatâ€™s whyÂ they donâ€™t get invited onto the Sunday morning shows. They are less entertaining.) But maybe this is just my liberal bias. A challenge for our conservatives readers. Can you provide examples of liberal pundits who are as prominent as Brooks, who are as goofy as Brooks?That is, they defend some concrete policy proposal by sort of half-flying off to some vague Cloud Cuckooland, based on principles they would never seriously propose ratifying in the real world, because they obviously donâ€™t even believe those principles?
As an empirical matter, I think Holbo is right on the money. Â We have, on the one hand, a very vibrant argumentative culture in the United States; you don’t have to go very far to find vigorous dialectical exchanges on any number of topics (see, the Internet). Â At the same time, however, this culture is dominated by the likes of Brooks (and Kathleen Parker).
Brooks, the particular case at hand, argues the following:
For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana. It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly together. I think those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our friendships.
Only to conclude:
The people who debate these policy changes usually cite the health risks users would face or the tax revenues the state might realize. Many people these days shy away from talk about the moral status of drug use because that would imply that one sort of life you might choose is better than another sort of life.
But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? Iâ€™d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.
In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.
Skipping the obvious rejoinder of the legality of alchohol and workahol, smoking weed was good for Brooks, morally good actually (it deepened his friendships, didn’t it?), but it ought to be illegal for others (with, I imagine, all of the consequences of being illegal–jail, fines, war on drugs, etc.) because nature and the arts are better. Â I think you’d have to be high to cite those two particular examples of alternatives to weed. Â And so maybe we’re reading this all wrong. Â Brooks is enacting his argument against Â legal weed by getting high before writing it.