Repeat After Me, David Brooks: Repealing Prohibition Is Not the Same As Endorsing the Previously Prohibited Activity

Sometimes this is my favorite cover. |||New York Times columnist David Brooks has a

piece out
about pot in which he confesses that, “For a little
while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana,” but
“then we all sort of moved away from it.” Not a particularly
, that; even if it does contradict generations’
worth of taxpayer-financed
about the
dangers of even one puff

Brooks concludes his tour of youthful experimentation not by
knocking on wood that his life wasn’t needlessly truncated
by incarceration
, but by musing on where such activity should
fall on the encouragement/discouragement scale:  “I don’t have
any problem with somebody who gets high from time to time,” he
writes, “but I guess, on the whole, I think being stoned is not a
particularly uplifting form of pleasure and should be discouraged
more than encouraged.”

I wouldn’t have any problem with that, if people like Brooks
limited their discouragement to the marketplace of public debate.
Instead, they too often advocate using force to deter individuals
from making potentially suboptimal personal choices, and otherwise
mis-idenify government as a giant sanctioning machine. As
demonstrated by this remarkable sentence:

We now have a couple states — Colorado and Washington — that
have gone into the business of effectively encouraging drug

Gawker’s John Cook did the best
of highlighting the absurdity and wrong-headedness of that

We now have a couple states that have gone into the business of
effectively encouraging David Brooks.

"subtly tip the scale" |||The absence of prohibition is not the presence of
government sanction. There are a countless number of perfectly
legal activities I may find personally abhorrent—giving money to a
major-party politician, driving at the speed limit in the fast
lane, rooting for the Boston Red Sox—but keeping them legally
permissible is not a case of my values being trampled by
the state. If anything, the opposite is true: The more government
uses laws to shape behavior, the more it is likely to
offend your core values
, whatever they may be.

Brooks, as is his
, closes his column with a flourish of
see-no-government-evil authoritarianism:

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? I’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.

The Drug War is to “subtly tip[ping] the scale” as a firing
squad is to gentle discouragement. “Healthy societies” don’t throw
millions of people into human meat lockers to satisfy the moral
urges of social engineers. It is “a bit harder to be the sort of
person most of us want to be” after you go to jail for engaging in
the same recreational activity as a teenage David Brooks. The
“moral ecology” got a whole better on Jan. 1, and will get better
still when people stop using the criminal code as a laboratory
experiment on their fellow human beings.

Bonus video: Here’s the great Penn Jillette talking about legal
pot Monday night on The


from Hit & Run

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