the slippery moral slope that slides both ways

The video in M. Simon's post about medical marijuana served as a reminder that logic is wasted on moral issues. That's because moral issues supersede logic, and replace it with determinations based on right and wrong, good versus evil.

The problem is that a substantial number of powerful and influential people believe very strongly that marijuana is an inherent moral evil. Arguments over the relative harm, its potential value to patients, or the logical absurdities of classifying it as a Schedule I drug along with heroin are not relevant to the moral question, because its immorality is seen as outweighing logical arguments.

It's the same thing as arguments over animal issues. Jessica Valenti discovered that there were people who considered her simple act of buying a dog to be a profound moral evil. No arguments she or her supporters might make could possibly sway people who think that way -- any more than I could convince anti-gay activists that consenting adult homosexuals do no intrinsic harm to society. Because the intrinsic harm is seen as being the immoral activity itself, arguments that the activity is not harmful go in circles. If something is seen as harmful because it is immoral, there's no way to argue that it isn't harmful -- not, at least, with the people who think it's immoral.

Thus, the theory of the immorality of marijuana is not really based on any good faith belief that it "leads to harder drugs," or that it's "addictive" or "causes brain damage." These arguments are used as utilitarian window dressing. But to those who believe marijuana is immoral, the reasons are superfluous, and it is a waste of time trying to convince them.

They see marijuana as an evil because it damages the morality of society. Period. Legalizing it in any way is seen as countenancing decadence of the sort which leads to the fall of great empires.

Thus, pot remains classified with heroin. But what most people don't realize is that to a true-believing anti-marijuana moralist, marijuana is even more evil than heroin. At least heroin is seen as containing its own punishment. Addiction, malnutrition, wasting away, and loss of interest in most things. Everyone knows what happens if you get strung out. Marijuana use, OTOH, is not self punishing. Users run around having fun, being creative, and unless they get totally stoned, they can function quite well in a number of occupations. Thus, if it becomes legal, people might think it's OK. Which would mean it might cease to be seen as immoral.

As to the basis for this immorality argument, it isn't in the Bible. It's just manufactured morality dating from the 1930s. But they did a damned good job of manufacturing it and scaring the hell out of an entire generation. Many people (especially the kids who grew into the World War II and produced all those post-war babies) went along with it. It has real staying power.

I worry that the same thing is happening with global warming alarmism, and the idea that guns, dog breeding and cigarette smoking are immoral. Once successive numbers of people are conditioned into accepting a new moral view, it tends to stay.

As activists get louder, people become more and more afraid to say what they think. The fewer people there are who speak up, the more the activists think they are winning, and the more the silent people are changed. Initially, the first to fall silent are the ones who don't want to make trouble by disagreeing. The silence spreads to include people who fear social ostracism or disapproval if they speak up, because the people who have been bullied into silence by activists have a strange way of demanding that others be bullied as they were too, and the more of them that feel this way, the more the work of the activists is done by people who aren't really activists, but just go along with it. It's a bit like doing anything you don't like. "Fairness theory" sets in. If you follow rules even though you don't like them, pretty soon you'll come to resent those who don't, and eventually you'll join in the bashing of the remaining few non-conformists. That is how new morality comes to be created.

The reason I like to talk about mandatory spaying and neutering of animals (see this post, this post, this post, this post, this post, this post, this post, this post, and this post) as an example is not just because it's highly personal and I dislike the government getting into these things, but because I have watched attitudes change dramatically in a single lifetime, without people really thinking things through. So many people have been bullied into cutting their dogs nuts off that if you have an intact dog, they'll now come up to you and scold you. I say this because it has happened to me, and I understand the control mechanism. But if I said, "you're just resentful of me because I didn't follow recently manufactured morality," they'd become indignant. Perhaps even morally indignant. (But how is it moral to want a total stranger to cut off his dog's nuts because someone made you think it was the cool thing to do lest you be considered responsible for "dog overpopulation"?)

The problem is that morality does not stop with the adoption of new attitudes and new social conventions. People who have been bullied into obeying the new conventions are easily persuaded to support changes in the law. "We the responsible citizens are tired of doing our share while others don't. This law is needed!" Today's moral suggestion is tomorrow's moral imperative, and the next day's law.

Ironically, thanks to the trendiness factor I have tried to explain, the moral tide may be shifting against the old meme that marijuana is evil. Now, it's become trendy to advance an argument along the lines of "people have a right to smoke pot!" Those who believe in the old "marijuana is immoral!" line will be increasingly afraid to voice their views in the workplace and the country club. Eventually, this may lead to the ridiculous laws being scrapped.

I think that scrapping the laws and reverting to the pre-1930s morality would in the case of marijuana be a good thing.

I don't smoke pot, though, and I don't say this in order to be cool.

But what about the people who do think things (er, claim to think things) in order to be cool?

I have to say, they worry me. Even when they're right.

posted by Eric on 11.01.07 at 05:06 PM


Good point about logic and immorality.

However, I'm even more cynical than you are about pot: The reason there is not more pressure to legalize it is that it is so easy to obtain.

Some people - the distributors - face great risk in delivering it, but the consumer faces very little, if any, risk in obtaining and using it. Until suburban kids are sentenced for using the same way that urban kids are sentenced for dealing, nothing will change.

20 years ago I attended a small, private high school in a semi-rural town; pot and coke were easily available. Now I live in Denver and the situation has not "improved": Just take a walk in Civic Center Park - right in front of the court house - and you can get any drug you want.

It's the hypocrisy that bothers me more than than the strident activism. The activists at least care about what they are doing. Those who go along - as long as it either doesn't affect them negatively or makes them feel good - are the ones I dislike. The list is long:

The global warming believers who prevent the construction of ANY new power plants (screw affordable heat and electricity for the poor). The "end homelessness" campaigns that funnel more money to bureaucracy than the homeless (give wine to the government employees, not beer to the homeless). The breast cancer runs that spend more on marketing and shwag than research (feel good, accomplish nothing). It's an endless list.

I wish the 60s had never happened.

mrsizer   ·  November 1, 2007 10:40 PM

Confessions of a former pothead:

In my libertarian days, I favored legalizing all drugs but have since backed off from that because of what I see meth doing to our kids in my rural backwater. I still sort of favor decriminalizing pot mostly because it's not really a (manufactured) drug but my 25 years in San Francisco, where pot rules, also put me off potheads. Pot does seem to cause lots of people to lose touch with reality. Half of the potheads I knew were paranoid conspiracy theorists and the other half were Marxist/John Lennonists.

Patrick Joubert Conlon   ·  November 2, 2007 11:02 AM

Let me say this so that you get it nice and clear.


passing laws that aim to prevent one from doing naughty things just makes a percentage of the population criminals... arbitrarily.

drinking is immoral, sex, speaking honestly with children, reading controversial texts, yelling in public, creating a nuisance (even as a protest). Any of these things could be chosen as the next target of 'moral legislation' aiming to improve society.

Society never changes... the same freaks and conformists are ALWAYS present, its just a matter of accepting that which you disagree with or not. Laws such as this will never ever ever stop anyone from doing what they feel is 'right' (by their own estimate).

Instead of trying to use the morality argument as a base for changing any law, how about pointing out that my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is damaged when anyone else tells me what I should or should not do.

Anonymous   ·  November 2, 2007 11:05 AM

In my libertarian days, I favored legalizing all drugs but now a days I find that subsidizing criminals with prohibition type price supports thrills me.


The Receptors in the brain will get filled. Naturally if possible. Otherwise legally or illegally.

M. Simon   ·  November 2, 2007 11:21 AM

In 2005, a study done in Spain found THC from Marijuana to *shrink cancer tumors*. If its so dangerous, why aren't Jamacians dying like flies? Yet their cancer rates are lower than US cancer rates...

Similar studies were done in the 1970s in the US, and found the same thing. The Reagan administration tried to *remove books referencing these studies from libraries*, and companies tried to replicate THC, but had no success.

see for more info.

If you wear a tin foil hat, it would seem the problem was its impossible for big pharma to make billions selling a cancer drug that anyone can grow as a weed in their back yard...

zorn   ·  November 2, 2007 11:31 AM

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