Sparring with ghosts

Not only will same-sex marriage be nationally legalized in the United States, but so too will marijuana. Moreover, same-sex marriage will ultimately be legalized in all but the most oppressive political regimes in countries the world over. I predict it now. Check back in ten years to see if I’m correct. (That is, ten years for western/industrialized/democratic/economically well-off countries; maybe 20 for some others.)

Because the fact is that the law and institutions always lag behind societal and cultural progress.

Whether we’re talking about cultural, social, political, economic, or technological changes, “the people” are generally ahead of the law, which inevitably has to play catch-up.

Which is why it’s somewhat amusing (in a non-funny way) that the debate over equal marriage keeps raging. That California, for the first time in history, revoked the civil rights of a significant segment of its population in its Proposition 8 vote is more than appalling—it’s embarrassing. In a few years, Californians will look back and shamefully shake their heads, as I believe most Americans will in time.

Countries like Canada, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, and even South Africa legalized same-sex marriage long ago, and people in these countries already look at countries like the United States and shake their heads. Because we have embraced the truth that opponents of equal marriage seem to be denying: the debate is actually over.

Looking back at history, the same always holds true: while some people are busy fighting to prevent change from occurring, change occurs.

The torrent of social and cultural change cannot he held back with lies, propaganda, fear, hatred, or even constitutional amendments. It’s like trying to hold back a tidal wave with your hand. Humanity moves ever forward (from time to time it’s two steps forward and one step back); this is most evident in civil rights and technological advancements. It can’t be stopped. Shut down Napster and five other file-sharing sites will pop up.

The Civil Rights and Suffragist movements did not halt because they had ardent and often violent opposition. Society mostly agreed that black people and women, in their respective times, should have equal rights despite pockets of folks who felt differently and tried their damnedest to hold back the tide. And as society went, so went the law. Eventually.

During the industrial revolution in the U.S., the chasm between the working conditions of the rich versus the poor was great. Progressives decided that the working class needed to be protected and so established minimum wages and maximum working hours. The Supreme Court struck down much of this progress, saying that it was unconstitutional (something about the freedom of contract, but it was really about the free market and capitalist economics). And what happened? Society progressed anyway, insisting on minimum wage and fair working hours, and the law had no choice but to follow.

So why do people bother trying to fight the inevitable? Do they really think the progress of human rights can be halted or turned back? I don’t know about this. I really don’t know the answer. I suspect that even the most ardent opponents of equal marriage have to realize that they are sparring with a ghost.

The legalization of marijuana may be an even more contentious issue on its surface. But logic dictates that pot should, and will, be legalized.

Prohibition does not work. The first point of evidence is…well, prohibition. In the late 1920s and early 1930s the U.S. made alcohol illegal. It’s pretty common knowledge what the outcome was. The buying, selling, and use of alcohol did not cease, it was just driven underground where it led to a hell of a lot of crime and profiteering. Criminals got rich, people paid a lot more for alcohol than they should have, and the government lost great amounts of money “fighting” the crime syndicate, not to mention on lost revenue they could have been making on the taxation of alcohol.

The second point of evidence is this “war on drugs” that has been waging for decades. People are still using drugs, only now the prohibition has caused a very dark and violent criminal underworld to emerge that is making society less functional and less safe. Look at what’s happening on the Mexico-U.S. border right now.

People will never stop using drugs. They have been using drugs since the beginning of time and will continue to do so. Legalizing and regulating them—taking the “market” out of the hands of the criminals—is the only way to deal with criminality.

One can easily argue, with evidence, that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Yes, pot kills brain cells, but it seldom if ever incites people to kill each other. No one has ever fatally overdosed on pot, nor gotten “pot poisoning.” Seldom do people smoke a joint in a bar and end up attacking each other with broken bottles and pool cues. Most people don’t get high off marijuana and beat their spouses or kids. This article is a pretty decent overview on the subject.

Pot is arguably less harmful than tobacco, too. There are no ties, as yet, between marijuana and any form of cancer. Yet alcohol and tobacco are legal and regulated, and marijuana is illegal. It seems absurd to a rational person. But those hardliners who are anti-pot base their stances on a mythical sense of morality. There is nothing inherently immoral about smoking pot, and nothing moral about drinking alcohol. The cultural mores are in fact cultural myths.

People are starting to realize this. And since the latest spate of bloody violence in Mexico and the United States by the drug cartels, it’s not just the hippy fringe groups who are arguing for the legalization of pot; members of the U.S. government know that the war on drugs isn’t working. They know that there are a great many benefits to legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana, not the least of which is taking away the one thing the drug lords need to be drug lords—a desperate population of consumers who can’t get their product anywhere else.

And so, over time, the moral outrage will wane and rationality will emerge victorious. Because progress happens, things change, even while those who fear it have both feet planted firmly in the past with their shoulders bracing against the wave that will eventually carry them away.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Very interesting point you make about the legalization of marijuana. I agree with you, but I’m concerned about the normalizing effect that legalizing it will have. I’m not saying that’s enough a reason not to legalize it, just saying that it is still a drug, after all. Any thoughts?


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