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Why fight drugs?

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I completely agree with Ian Ronderos (“The cost of the real war lost,” Nov. 29) that the drug war has been a fiasco, and that everything up to and including cocaine, meth and heroin should be legalized – assuming that the vast majority of people are rational. I have never had the “pleasure” of trying cocaine myself, but I knew plenty of people who did, and the vast majority of them still lead normal (or, to most people, quasi-normal), functional lives, even if they might still indulge in it one to a few times a year. Ditto for the one person I knew who occasionally dipped into OxyContin, the Midwest’s “hillbilly heroin.” (I honestly believe that most students at this school could occasionally use cocaine and lead otherwise functional lives, and ditto for most other hard drugs. After all, studies show that only heroin rivals nicotine in terms of addictive potential.) Even mildly future-oriented people can cope as one person described: “My girlfriend didn’t see what the big deal was with crack, she tried it three times and then she started to crave it, so she stopped.”

Unfortunately, there is another side of America, the significant “underclass” – both urban and rural – whose people have little to live for and who perceive no chance of advancing beyond dull, low-paying menial jobs and distinctly unglamorous lifestyles, who don’t value the future because they have no rational basis to do so. When I did menial labor at a large business over several high-school summers with a lot of “low-SES” people, I saw a mindset utterly opposite from that of a student at a top-50 college. One worker had to pay garnishments to five different women for six different children (all illegitimate). The overwhelming majority of the workers there had illegitimate children.

Now, if you care so little about the future that you’d rather repeatedly risk a lot of future income for illegitimate kids than use condoms, and if the definition of childlike behavior – stay with me – is the inability to defer gratification now for more gratification later, how can the state not treat people with that outlook like infants? If everyone is equal under the law, how can the law not cater to the lowest (significant) common denominator?

I am as libertarian as the next guy, but the fact is that not all people care enough about the future not to go off a cliff (and be high at the same time) in the present. And while “you should be able to do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t harm anybody else,” legalized drugs definitely will be my problem when my Medicare dollars start paying for over-coked livers and new teeth for meth tweaks. (Don’t see it? Treating obesity is now a Medicare liability. Do you think obese people need treatment more than drug addicts do? Have you no compassion?) You can either allow people a wide berth to potentially destroy themselves or coddle them with a sprawling welfare state, but you can’t do both.

The legalizers’ beef isn’t really with America’s drug laws, but rather with America’s values, which have pretensions to “rugged individualism” but actually enthusiastically embrace trial lawyers and welfare sprawl. To see what happens when a society does a 180 from collectivism to individualism, libertarians should take a look at Russia, where the fittest are certainly thriving – and the unfit can join the mafia, overdose to death or starve.

It’s a small wonder that the legalization diehards ignore the real costs of legalization (they’d have no audience), and a great irony that those who hate Big Brother the most have been most blind to its infantilizing effects on three generations of Americans.

Alex ForshawsophomoreSt. Edward’s HallNov. 29