Thursday, November 4, 2010

Guest Post: Against the Lotos

     On the tenth day we made the land of the Lotos-eaters, men who browse on a food of flowers. We landed there to fill our water-butts, while my crews snatched a meal on the shore, beside their likely vessels. As soon as the first hunger for food and drink had passed, I chose out two fellows and added to them a third, as runner, that they might go inland to spy out and enquire what were the human beings there existing. Off they went at once and met a party of these Lotos-eaters, who had no notion of slaying my emissaries: instead they gave them a dish of their Lotos-flower. And so it was that as each tasted of this honey-sweet plant, the wish to bring news or return grew faint in him: rather he preferred to dwell for ever with the Lotos-eating men, feeding upon Lotos and letting fade from his mind all memory of home. I had to seek them and drag them back on board. They wept: yet into the ships we brought them perforce and chained them beneath the thwarts deep in the well, while I constrained the rest of my adherents to hurry aboard, lest perhaps more of them might eat Lotos and lose their longing for home.

—Homer, The Odyssey, Book IX (T. E. Lawrence translation)

     On Tuesday, Californians defeated Proposition 19, which had proposed the legalization of marijuana. The margin was 53.9% opposed, 46.1% in favor. Recently, your author noticed some interesting comments on the issue on another site. The consensus there, unlike in California, was in favor of legalization. These comments, used with permission of the commentator on condition of anonymity, were against.

     “What most of us want is a society of peaceful people most of whom will not commit crimes, who go to their work everyday although in most cases the work is not very interesting, who will not want to attack their neighbors for reasons of class or ethnicity or religion, and who will be able to cooperate with each other to build a library or park. We want people who on voting day will not machine gun the voters or bomb the polls. To get to all this is not easy. It sounds like nothing, but a lot of cultures can’t do it. A lot of hard work must be done in terms of instilling values and attitudes that create all this. Sobriety is a large part of it. So is a certain amount of sexual repression. It matters that a child has a father and a father can claim his child for instance.

     “For people to live together as a community or nation, there must be an underlying philosophy which nearly everyone shares. People have to agree on most things. We talk about freedom a lot, so we don’t always realize that. But when the agreement stops and we can’t get along with our neighbors or fellow citizens, when we can’t agree what text books should teach our children or what language we should all speak, then we notice that something has changed.

     “Libertarians want a society that creates prosperity and that is tolerant. For this to happen, the people in the society have to share certain values. The Libertarian thinking is that people can share the values that create wealth and not other values. But that is ultimately not possible. The wealth creation itself is linked to other things, including the ability to trust others, which has a lot to do with how similar people are. In theory, a group of monogamists should be able to deal economically with a group of polygamists. But in reality it does not work. For one thing the different groups don’t act the same. And that not acting the same is manifested in economic conduct as well as other spheres. There are profound differences between monogamous and polygamous cultures. The kind of culture where one man can get lots of young women and other men have a hard time getting any is generally poor and undemocratic and has all sorts of ills we prefer not to have here.

     “Work hard, study, be on time, pay your bills, honor your contracts, if you lose take it in stride and don’t go burn down someone’s house, all the result of other qualities that most of us cannot even begin to identify.

     “Libertarians imagine that the underlying philosophy can stop at Be Tolerant. That is not enough. Even the tolerance aspect comes out of something else. For one thing, tolerance itself requires that everyone agree tolerance is good. Furthermore, everything can’t be tolerated. Most people, no matter how liberal/libertarian, would chose not to live next door to a brothel, no matter how well regulated. Most of us don’t want that our neighbor, no matter how nice he is, borrow our lawn mower without asking. No one wants to live in a dirty neighborhood. Even the people who are littering want to live in a clean one. But they don’t want to do the acts that would make theirs clean. And what makes some people but not others agree (and it is an agreement though not on paper) that they won’t litter and that their area will be clean? What is the underlying ethos that leads to such agreements?

     “The Libertarian viewpoint seems to be some will litter and some won’t and all will be happy. But the non-littering part of the populace won’t be happy. They will have to move if they can afford to.

     “Some divergence has to be tolerated. But even in a free society, tolerance is limited. We expect that most won’t take advantage of the freedom to indulge in anti-social actions. I can do everything, but I won’t is the mantra of the free. Libertarians, like liberals, are always messing with the ‘I won’t’ part. Libertarians think drugs should not be banned by the government. Okay. But Libertarians also want to interfere with private morals by forcing everyone to accept what they want to do. Libertarians should stick to the ‘it’s none of Uncle Sam’s business’ aspect and not preach that society needs to accept this or that.

     “About a year ago, on John Stossel’s show, the host argued, as he always does, that the government has no business telling people what drugs they can or can’t take and no business telling them what sex they can have. So one guest argued that drugs were good. A woman said that she used to be a prostitute and that it was a fine profession. This example shows everything that is wrong with Libertarianism and why people don’t distinguish between them and leftwingers who believe that so much of the rules and morality of western culture are oppressive. The government should not have laws telling people they can’t sell themselves is one argument. Advocating that becoming a prostitute is just another job option, like becoming a doctor or teacher, well that is something entirely different.

    “If prostitution was made illegal, would a brothel owner be able to open one next to my house or my kids’ school or in the local strip mall where the drugstore and coffee shop and ice cream store are? A Libertarian should be able to say, the brothel can operate but not in this place or that, because of morality and decorum and decency. Libertarians fight against a common inclination of humans to have their morality inscribed in the law. If Libertarians confined their arguments to small government, they might have more success. Instead, Libertarians say morality is stupid, or that morality is entirely private. But it is not possible for morality to be entirely private.

     “The more a society demands of its people in terms of discipline and restraint the less it can afford to have them high. It is not good to be high. That is why neighborhoods where a lot of people are high a lot of the time don’t like drug usage. There is nothing liberating about a woman who is on crack who neglects her children or a man who can’t work because of drugs. There is nothing liberating about the messiness and lack of self control and the stupidity of drug users. To those who witness it, it is horrible and disgusting. The Libertarian can say, regardless of all that, it is none of the government’s business. But Libertarians go further and try to argue that drug taking is not that bad or that it even has some benefits or that it should not be strongly discouraged. The reason that so many are opposed to Libertarianism is that they associate it with license.

     “There are some places, as in East Africa, where people are high a lot. People, mostly men, chew chat pretty consistently. It relaxes them. Yet, the people themselves will tell you that chat interferes with work and what they think is good conduct and it is the reason the place is so ‘backward.’

     “Libertarians always make a big deal out of the alcohol comparison. Yes, it is inconsistent. Society long ago made a compromise with alcohol. So Libertarians look at this compromise and seem to argue, if at Thanksgiving dinner the family has a toast of wine, perhaps the family should also have a toast of cocaine. Supposedly it is all the same, but this is not true. In any case, society must have limits. We limit drugs to alcohol. We draw the line at other drugs. All drugs need not be treated the same.

     “So we tolerate alcohol. We discourage drunkenness with various degrees of success. We don’t need to start tolerating other drugs in the same way.”


  1. I really don't think America is on the verge of a hedonistic mania, akin to the fall of Rome. People who have participated in the party scenes of Europe, South America, Asia or the Middle East (*#&) might be familiar with real hedonism.

    Quite frankly, many Americans are workaholic drones terrified of their bosses and monthly credit card bills. Tea Party buffoons notwithstanding, American do what they are told... its the French who riot when the government oversteps its bounds!

    The trouble with the USA is that it has become a low trust society, which is a problem distinct from hedonism.

    Indeed, many conservative, high trust, societies were highly hedonistic..... consider England under Eliz. II or Charles II!

    In fact, most anti-hedonism laws were passed during the progressive period. (see "Originally, prostitution was widely legal in the United States..... made illegal ... between 1910 and 1915 " .

    Prohibition doesn't even need a reference.

    Narcotics were outlawed only in 1914 ( )

    History of gambling prohibition is something similar.

    By the way, British Tories don't always share American conservatives horror of sex and pleasure.

  2. Many people who favor marijuana legalization would have no problem with the government telling us what kind of light bulb to buy. At least Libertarians would presumably oppose both government actions.

  3. I've seen your video in previous post and I caught a few points below:

    Conservatives see the way people have behaved throughout history, the violence and the charity, the evil, and the achievement. Certain norms, certain ways of guiding people's behavior, have been validated throughout history. Whenever a society deviates too far from them, it declines.

    While most people reject it, I think legalizing marijuana has been deviated. Will it decline the quality of life?

  4. Thank you for this post. I've just discovered your blog, and I must say, I'm gratified to find a (more or less) kindred spirit. On this post, I would be interested in your opinion of my thoughts on the subject, from a Canadian's perspective:

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Very glad to make your acquaintance, and I look forward to exploring The Spectacled Avenger.