Freedom Or Not

I wonder about how humanity goes about policing itself. Not only because I’m a lawyer and incentives and systems in general fascinate me, but because human beings themselves are a never-ending source of wonder and amusement.

There’s a libertarian school of thought that says “Legalize all the things! People are adults; treat them as such!” The countervailing impulse says “Ban all the things! People need to be saved from themselves!” Me, I’m generally against, banning things, but I do have a strong belief that people need limits.

“Prohibition of anything will lead to unintended consequences, and likely worse problems!”

Perhaps. This was the case with alcohol–prohibition was a failure that helped give power to organized crime. But it’s folly and flat-out wrong to think that organized crime wasn’t there, wasn’t dangerous, and wasn’t strong before America’s experiment in banning alcohol. (Have you read Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury? You really should; it’s a fascinating discussion on the underbelly of 19th and early 20th century America. Pure nightmare fuel).

Dumping alcohol prohibition

I would say that I’m on the fence about marijuana legalization. It’s kind of like alcohol, sure. But I’m suspect because a lot of pro-pot people a) don’t seem serious about anything other than pot and b) they tend to also be anti-tobacco, which makes no sense.

But generally, the tension is between treating people like children who need to be coddled and treating people like adults who can make decisions on their own. Statism versus near-anarchy in the political sense (little to no government or authority whatsoever).

I have problems with both extremes, as one would imagine. But I’m going to take more of an issue with the anarcho-libertarian idea because it will not work as society is currently constructed.

If you want people to act like adults without a governing authority, then the limits have to come from within. Historically, this was in the form of religion. The Founders of America might not all have been the most devout individuals, but they recognized that religion, particularly Christianity, was essential to allowing the government to keep its hands off the citizenry. The people would regulate themselves because of the eternal standards and ultimate judgment of God.

This has been chipped away at for over one-hundred years. The idea of the Seven Deadly Sins is mocked, and indeed vice has been turned into virtue.

Overconsumption is encouraged, because it turns the wheel of global commerce.

And any internal checks and balances on people’s behavior is viewed as a danger because it removes the need for, and indeed makes people hostile to the idea of, an overweening, overbearing, over-regulated nanny state.

If you want people to be “treated like adults,” then you can’t also say “Down with religion! Down with churches! Down with spirituality!” This strange anarcho-utopian paradise is just as pie-in-the-sky as the centrally planned, command-and-control world the socialists and communists want to impose on us.

Drugs, sugar, sex, violence . . . yeah, some people will always do these things to excess, but wouldn’t it be better if a society actively discouraged things that were harmful to the mind, body, and soul?

Legalize drugs, sure. But in an “anything goes” culture, you’re going to have a lot more drug addicts and a lot less productivity. There will be more conflict and division because there won’t be any countervailing force saying, “Heroin and cocaine are legal, but are still shameful things to be addicted to. You’re better off staying away.”

“Victimless crimes!” is the refrain. Sure. Tell that to the child whose parents are either too strung out to take care of them or OD and die.

“Serves them right!”

So what do you do with the children?

“Um . . . state run orphanages?”

So you need to expand state power again . . . explain to me how this is anarchy?

Ditto prostitution. Are we better off for it being legal? Are marriages and man/woman relationships in general better off? Are those involved in the sex trade safer? Does your country risk becoming funded by these things to an unhealthy degree? Imagine if your nation depends on taxes on drugs and prostitution to survive . . .

I keep coming back to Moses Maimonides and his Guide for the Perplexed, but quite often ancient thinkers offer timeless wisdom. He describes the Old Testament prohibition on prostitution as keeping something that is special from becoming trivialized. Sex itself is not a bad thing. It’s great, in fact, and vital for keeping the species alive. And as marriage is the bedrock of the family, which is the bedrock of civilization, anything that cheapens and demeans sex and gives spouses (men, primarily) an outlet to get a little outside of the bonds of marriage is a bad thing because of the harm to families, not because of “misogyny” or “hating sex.”

If you want people to be treated like adults in a society, they have to act like adults. We most certainly do not do that in America in the Year of our Lord 2017. And so we need ever-tighter controls on things including what we eat since obesity is such a huge health problem (no pun intended) and a potential national security risk. There are a lot of reasons for this that aren’t all consumer side, but that’s a discussion for another day.

In short, at the rate we’re going, tighter and tighter state controls seem necessary to save us from self-destruction. And I’m not happy about this! But in the absence of anything else that could help–say, religion or a unified culture that shames certain behaviors inimical to a functioning society while promoting those that further social good–legalizing all the things will only hasten our narcissistic spiral of self-destruction.

“But at least we’d be free!”

Freedom to indulge in your vices unimpeded hardly sounds like freedom to me. It’s trading one form of slavery for another.

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