Comment Of The Day: “US Priorities: Make War On Cheese, Not On Drugs”

smoking_weedThe articulate squid commenter, Extradimensional Cephalopod, weighed into the contentious discussion over the wisdom of pot use and government approval there-of with this thought-provoking piece.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post: US Priorities: Make War On Cheese, Not On Drugs.

I’ll have a few comments at the end.

Full disclosure: I have not used marijuana, but I have had its effects described to me in detail by people who have. My understanding of it is that it has at least two separate and notable effects, which can vary based on the particular strain. One of them is a relaxing effect, although some strains actually increase anxiety at some point after use. However, the relaxing effect makes it suitable for medical purposes such as treating seizures. The other effect I am aware of is an increase in the brain’s divergent thinking patterns; that is, it increases random association, enhancing creativity and making experiences more vivid. A user can increase this effect deliberately by increasing the quantity inhaled or ingested to the point where coherent thought is difficult, but this requires very high levels of intake. I am told that it is not chemically addictive, or toxic except inasmuch as inhaling smoke in general is toxic, but more on the level of incense rather than cigarettes.

In my opinion, people have a right to use the substance provided they do not take actions that put others at risk by doing so, such as driving. I see no reason to ban the substance, but one can certainly ban taking actions that become dangerous under its effects. As a transhumanist, I see nothing inherently wrong with using a form of technology to alter one’s mental state artificially. Marijuana does not seem like a harmful or dangerous way to do so, as long as one is responsible. I agree that people who use marijuana, or alcohol, for that matter, can become very boring and less able to have interesting conversations, although sometimes the opposite happens; it depends on who the person was to begin with and how they react.

On the other hand, the ethics system that I subscribe to and through which I come to the above conclusions is based on promoting consciousness. One of the root problems with this world is that humans get very easily addicted to mindsets, experiences, or control. Addictions are blind spots, limitations that a consciousness has picked up that allow it to be manipulated by the world instead of being its own master. An addiction occurs when a mindset, experience, or form of control automatically becomes a person’s first priority in certain situations even where the person would intellectually judge it to be subordinate to a more important goal. It is possible to get mentally addicted to pretty much anything: alcohol, marijuana, candy, sex, adrenaline, attention, solitude, et cetera. To a certain extent we all have addictions in that when our lives are changed we feel uncomfortable and stressed, but toning addictions down is part of empowering ourselves.

That being said, my ethics system leads me to disapprove of the use of marijuana (or other drugs, for that matter) as a means to induce apathy to escape the stress that would otherwise lead a person to self-improvement. My worldview draws a distinction between joy and well-being. Joy is a positive feeling towards one’s current circumstances. Well-being, however, I define as regularly developing new abilities or improving one’s point of view, or any sort of change that results in a person having a more harmonious relationship with the world and being able to promote harmony for other individuals. Here is where the “it’s the journey, not the destination” cliche comes in. Joy may be the destination that people try to reach because it is associated with a state of increased harmony, but consciousness, the process by which people try to reach asymptotically-increasing states of harmony, is what makes us people in the first place, with all the associated awareness and abilities, and it is consciousness that I prioritize.

Long story short: it’s okay to use drugs to augment one’s ability to improve oneself (especially if one has a disability that requires the use of drugs to bring mental functions within human normal), as a tool (yes, sometimes a crutch) to access mindsets you want to use but can’t invoke at will, or as a neutral form of recreation. Using drugs as a substitute for self-improvement so that one can stagnate without feeling bad about it is pathetic and not empowering at all.

I hope this post has been coherent, but I have an internal vocabulary that has developed in partial isolation, so if there is any confusion that you want resolved, please let me know.

It’s me again. Just a few notes:

  • One thing I always appreciate about EC is that he never makes a typo. I am awash in envy.
  • I have been shocked at how many commenters on the main post never have used pot. Either I am not as strange as I always thought I was, or this blog does not attract anything close to a representative cross-section of America.
  • I should have mentioned in the original post that the Federal government still regards pot as illegal. However, with its first confirmed former pot-head as President ( Clinton didn’t inhale, remember), and the “base” of the Democratic party as well as most reporters clearly in favor of Stoned America, I think the eventual legalization is a certainty.
  • Alcohol is not chemically addictive either, except for the minority of the population that doesn’t metabolize booze properly, those we call alcoholics. However, there are many alcohol addicts who are not alcoholics, and they are psychologically addicted, and seriously so. Psychological addiction to a drug can be and often is both indistinguishable from the physical kind, and just as destructive to them and those who depend on them.
  • I am dubious about the substantive beneficial effects of pot, John Lennon and Timothy Leary notwithstanding. The use of marijuana for genuine palliative purposes is obviously valid; it is also obviously being abused.
  • I endorse the Squid’s penultimate sentence, but I think that this kind of drug use should never be discussed without the adjective “irresponsible” prominently displayed. For this is why discouraging such use is a legitimate, indeed crucial, government function, and a function the government cannot perform while approving the conduct, and, as we all know is coming, profiting by it. The government has to promote responsible conduct from its citizens, because irresponsible conduct does material harm to society.

47 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “US Priorities: Make War On Cheese, Not On Drugs”

  1. “The other effect I am aware of is an increase in the brain’s divergent thinking patterns; that is, it increases random association, enhancing creativity and making experiences more vivid. ”

    Pot is a mild hallucinogenic. Nothing like acid, of course, but I am certain that some people think it enhances thought processes, creativity, etc. The truth is, it doesn’t.

  2. One thing I honestly don’t understand…. Perhaps I don’t’ understand American history well enough. If anyone knows the answer, please chime in.

    Why did prohibition of alcohol require an amendment to the constitution to enact, and the prohibition of drugs did not? Was it overkill to write it in as an amendment, or has something changed in the interim?

    • Several reasons, actually. Primarily political with a little religious thrown in. The biggest reason, however, is that if it was a Constitutional Amendment, it covered the entire country (not just the individual states) and the Fed could enforce it (Elliott Ness and the Untouchables).

      • I was under the impression the DEA was a federal department, no? In fact, and I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that even in states where cannabis is legal, the DEA could still charge you federally. (I doubt they would, there’s only something like 5000 DEA agents on Earth, but I thought they COULD)

        • DEA is a Federal Department, and is the inheritor of the Untouchables. Until Prohibition ended, there was no DEA. The Fed wound up with an agency under Treasury that no longer had a job, so they turned it into the DEA. However, unless my memory has gotten a lot less reliable than I thought, the Federal jurisdiction of the DEA is basically tax enforcement. The law on MJ and other drugs is to tax it at 100%, but I strongly suggest checking with Jack and/or Beth on this. They’ve probably forgotten more about the law than I ever knew

          • The DEA has their hands in controlling a lot of pharmacy work. They are the ones who levy fines on businesses for drug reasons. What is not often reported is how often businesses get fined by the DEA. Walgreens was just forced to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars for improper dispensing of controlled medications.

            • Agreed. However, I am not a fan or a supporter of the DEA, so I don’t follow all the stupid things that they do. I have my hands full with the Secret Service.

    • Once upon a time Congress paid attention to the limits on its power. Congress only regulates, supposedly, inter-state Congress, so in order to make Prohibition national rather than local—and get those stills—an Amendment to the Commerce Clause was deemed necessary.

      • So…. I’m just trying to wrap my head around this…. Would federal drug laws be considered unconstitutional under the commerce clause without an amendment? Or if alcohol prohibition were tried today, would it be done without an amendment?

        • Federal drug laws are unconstitutional under a plain reading of the constitution. After Wickard vs Filburn, the word interstate became empty filler for a long time, although theres been a little push back.

          Despite what certain people will tell you, the Supreme Courts is not the sole arbiter of constitutionality. If they said that it was constitutional for the army to quarter it’s troops in peoples homes because of a compelling government interested, they would simply be wrong. Having the final say is not the same as being correct. The president and congress are also oathbound to uphold the constitution.

          • That’s not how the Constitution works. The Supreme Court interprets it, and that interpretation becomes the Constitution, because of the Constitution (and John Marshall.) The Supreme Court isn’t “wrong” until it says it is.

            • Jack: “That’s not how the Constitution works.”

              I am not sure exactly what you are responding to here, but Phlinn’s point is well-taken: Congress and the President also have the obligation to uphold the Constitution. My biggest problem with Bush was when he signed McCain-Feingold (I think). His position was: I think it is not constitutional, but I will leave that to the Supreme Court to decide that. The Court found it constitutional, but that in NO WAY justified Bush’s decision to pass the buck. I heard Obama did something similar recently, but don’t have the details.

              But, to his other point about the Court being WRONG about the Constitution, just look to Justice Jackson: “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.” That quote basically says: the only reason they can’t be “wrong” is because there is no one around to tell them so.


              • Why yes, Obama did exactly that with regard to the prisoner exchange exception.

                If a President, with the advice of White House counsel, believes a law is unconstitutional, I believe he has an obligation to veto it. If he believes its a close call, I see nothing wrong with letting the courts decide. Most Presidents are not qualified as Constitutional scholars. Bush wasn’t even a lawyer.

                • I would much prefer the cautious approach. When in doubt, do nothing (i.e. veto it). Constitutional scholar or not, he has a duty to uphold it, not place bets on upholding it. If Congress wants to override the veto, that is their perogative. Then, let the Courts decide.

                  But, because the Courts are not accountable to the People (and that’s a good thing, by the way), I would rather give them as few opportunities as possible to exercise their power.

                  Unfortunately, as you observed, Presidents used to ask themselves whether they had the authority under the Constitution to take certain actions. Now, politicians scoff at the question (Pelosi and the ACA was probably the most grotesque example of that).


    • No one asked them to. Why would they assert they hadn’t used pot if in fact they had? And come to think of it, why would they not want to admit it since 1) everybody does it, so it’s swell 2) The Prez and at least one Supreme Court Justice are on record as using it, and 3), as if it mattered, my position has always centered on the damage done by those members of the “elites” who advocate pot, rather than those who use it? Most of my best friends, closest associates and family members were or are marijuana users.

      • Applied for a federal job recently? If you need any type of clearance, you will get dinged if you admit to any drug use within a 7-year period.

        • So you lie to an officer? If you used it, you better admit it. Breaking the law has consequences. I’m not sympathetic at all. I cited exactly this as one of my reasons for abstinence when people were forcing joints into my hands in college.

        • I’m not saying that anybody lied — I’m saying that there are people who probably didn’t volunteer information about past drug use on your blog.

          • Not sure then your amazement, since Jack’s line directly addressed those who haven’t used and openly discussed not using… He didnt mention those who have used and have avoided saying they have…

          • No, I’M saying that if they are up for a federal job, which was your explanation of why they might not want to publicize the fact, they had better come clean, and avoiding the subject on a website has nothing to do with it.

            • I understand what you’re saying — we’re talking about different sides of the same coin. Of course you can’t lie on a federal — or any — application.

  3. I admit I thought being a non-user was on par with being a big fan of the Chamberlain musical Slipper and the Rose. But then I am hopelessly square in most ways.

  4. I’ve never smoked pot. Never saw the attraction in getting stupid for an evening, or going out and not being able to remember it the next day.

  5. Thanks very much, Jack. I appreciate people letting me know now and again that what I think has some bearing on reality. And no, I am not representative of any population I’ve ever heard of. To be honest, the single largest deterrent to me as far as marijuana is concerned is the fact that it is illegal, although I would also rather not run the risk of a psychological addiction to it. I personally like to be able to exercise as much control over my mental/emotional state as possible without using drugs.

    “…this blog does not attract anything close to a representative cross-section of America.” The depressed part of me says that that’s because it’s an ethics blog. That most people aren’t interested in figuring out how to do good things (with emphasis on “figuring out”) is an indicator that things are seriously wrong in this world.

    A large cause of the problem is that most people think that right and wrong are “obvious,” either because they’re codified in rules (semantics) or because you just have to follow your compassion (empathy). At the risk of repeating myself, the Republicans versus Democrats conflict is a classic example of a semantics versus empathy dichotomy. These mindsets are both important, and while neither of them is always appropriate for choosing one’s course of action, they’re often addictive in and of themselves because of the certainty and validation they offer. I’m on a mission to disabuse people of the idea that either of these paths (or any of the other basic mindsets) has all the answers.

    As you say, responsible conduct is an important factor in whatever substance, item, or technology we decide to make legal or illegal. If humans in society considered the consequences of their actions more, I’d be willing to be there would be less invasive bureaucracy and more personal freedom, in addition to the other benefits which I’ll risk calling “obvious.” Outsourcing responsible conduct to elected officials is a terrible idea, since they’re elected by irresponsible individuals in the first place.

  6. Umm… Jack? Clinton was nowhere near the first President to smoke marijuana. Remember that marijuana being illegal is a pretty damn recent thing, historically speaking.

    Hell, both Washington and Jefferson farmed it.

    • They farmed hemp — and used it for rope, not smoking. That’s a myth that has been debunked. I learned the same thing years ago but it’s not accurate.

          • My most favorite cultural phenomenon in Texas is use of the Texas war for independence and especially the Alamo for agenda pushers.

            In the 90s I recall watching a documentary on the Alamo in which a little Willie Nelson type hippy got his 5 minutes in the sun (due to the irresponsibility of the documentary producers). He essentially asserted a political message about legalization of pot… “Yeah man, its not so bad even our forebears used it regularly”. He then went on to posit that “many researchers” actually theorize that the reason the Alamo outposts failed to raise warning of the impending attack on 6 March was due to those pickets being under the influence of weed.

            1) many researchers? Try none…

            2) so what your actually citing as evidence of our forebears being cool with pot is actually a horribly devastating instance? Sigh…

            3) the Alamo outposts, of which there may have only been 2-3 (if any) due to manpower issues, were probably bayoneted or knifed in their sleep because they’d just gone over a weekd without sleep due to Santa Anna’s bombardment. Moron.

      • I’m more referencing the fact that its use wasn’t really comment-worthy back then. It’s only starting in the in the 1900s that it was stigmatized and/or criminalized.

        It was used for rope and clothing, yes… but also as medicine, in cooking (albeit not the way it is today), and, yes, smoked… although you’re right that their crops probably weren’t very good for it.

        Of course, you can argue that there’s no way that they were “pot-heads” in the modern sense — that’s involves a number of cultural phenomena that only came into existence relatively recently — but the point remains.

        • I don’t see the point.As research for my senior thesis on the American Presidency, I studied biographies of every President through Nixon, reading the major one (at the time) on every POTUS, and several on the most significant ones, as well as monographs and scholarly articles. I encountered no verified account of any of them smoking hemp or pot for recreation. I’d love to see one. Just assuming this took place is unwarranted. Yeah, I think it’s likely some of these guys used cocaine, opium, and other drugs before they were legalized. So what? They also owned slaves. I don’t see how this helps the discussion, because their activity, whatever it was, was not made public and did not influence the culture as a result.

          Clinton and Obama are the only Presidents I’m aware of in which recreational drug use is part of the record in their biographies.

            • I don’t buy into it or not buy into it. It is unsubstantiated, and has no cultural impact. Presidents affect the culture by what they have done and do, not by what they are rumored to have done. Clinton increased the acceptability of oral sex in junior high school, because it suddenly “wasn’t sex,” and besides, the President did it with Monica. I have no doubt that the sudden surge in public acceptance of pot has been boosted by the fact that the current President was unequivocally not just a user, but an enthusiastic one.

              Bush is an alcoholic in all likelihood. Fortunately, that is no longer likely to become “cool.”

              • Without a doubt he is a recovering alcoholic. However, drinking to excess stopped being even marginally acceptable with the crackdown on drunk driving in the 1980s. If drugged-up driving becomes a problem, as it is already becoming, I think toking up may go the way of alcoholism.

                • Oh, I can easily see that happening—after pot abuse has become an alcohol-style national health care catastrophe that can’t be put back in the bottle. By then I’ll be too old, and probably too dead, to write the “See, you arrogant, selfish morons?” post.

                • Nope, Beth, it is you are deluded on this score. Kids absorb their values from the popular culture and visible role models. Prior to Bill’s “eatin’s not cheatin'” defense, as it was colorfully and crudely called at the time, the incidence of oral sex in middle schools was minimal, because children regarded it as sex, which most recognized they were not ready for. Within months of Clinton’s Monica mess, reports of middle school girls pleasuring boys skyrocketed, and most agree that the reason was that the President of the United States legitimized and glamorized it. There were even quotes at the time, rationalizations, perhaps, but still: “The President says this isn’t sex, so its OK.”

                  The power the President has over national and cultural ethical standards is massive, and this was one of the most striking examples we have seen…even more than JKF killing the hat industry by sending the message that men wearing hats wasn’t cool….and that was adults being influenced. Getting blow jobs is more fun that wearing hats—Bill sent the message and the kids received it.

                  • Or, it could be that kids have learned that you can’t get pregnant and many of the STDs from oral sex. Or, it could be a whole host of other reasons. I would argue that pop culture and president usually do not belong in the same sentence. Paris Hilton has more influence over kids than the President. Correlation does not = causation. Didn’t we learn that the first week of law school?

                    • I’m really curious…I only know of one STD that you can’t get from oral sex…cervical cancer…and, truthfully, I’m not certain about that one. What others?

          • Clinton was, as I recall, the first President to openly admit to the illegal use of marijuana (if in a… rather bizarre… fashion). He was not the first to use it. That’s not the same thing.

            The biography bit? Maybe. I’m well aware that there are multiple biographies of many (if not most or almost all — I haven’t actively checked or counted), so I can’t really remark.

            Incidentally, as I’ve been researching somewhat (I almost always spend a few hours looking into and checking any assertion I make, and usually only get two-source confirmation before posting), I’ve found at least one source that indicates that pot-_smoking_ only became popular around the turn of the 19th century (into the 20th), with other forms (hashish, hemp oil, medicines, “medicines”, tinctures…) predominating before then. Regardless of whether or not this is true, it’s damned near certain that they were used.

            As for the point… I’m a big fan of Bertrand Russel’s message to future generations — and, specifically, his intellectual message. To paraphrase — when considering any matter, first ask yourself, “What are the facts?”

            Everything else comes after that… and follows from that start. It’s a large part of why I regard anything to do with facts and factual errors as of critical importance.

        • It may not have been comment worthy back then for several reasons, two of which:

          1) as my old Cultural Geography professor discussed when we got on topics of food and consumption: about the time of the industrial revolution you see the shift from a “downer” society to an “upper society” even though downers were still equally consumed. As per the prof, society could get away with someone occasionally completely blitzed on the back of a horse or someone whose senses were dulled if all they are doing is plowing a field. But the moment intricacy engineered tools with rapid moving parts entere the scene such as cars, rapid firing weapons, industrial machines, coffee and uppers became the focus and suddenly the direct physical affects of inebriated workers actually have a tremendous and devastating impact.

          2) consumption may very well have been quietly ignored because it may very well very well have been limited to once in a blue moon…culturally speaking I think our ancestors understood moderation better than us.

  7. Jack: “One thing I always appreciate about EC is that he never makes a typo. I am awash in envy.”

    And, hopefully, shame.


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