Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the first of a two-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

(R) First of all, I'd like to commend your efforts to create a site where people can engage in (ideally) reasoned discourse about societal issues. I just stumbled onto it today (via the "DH" argument; I agree with you there, I like the DH, but that's another debate).
(MB) Thanks for the "thumbs up"! If you have anything you'd like to contribute about the DH, please feel free to send it to me.

(R) I admit I haven't read all the responses/defenses on "drugs" yet but I'd like to add the discussion if I may.
(MB) Sure! All opinions are fair game here. Let's see what you have to say...

(R) About the debate over the victimlessness or non-victimlessness of drug use, I would approach this from another angle. Do we agree that an adult in our society, whether drunk or high or sober, bears 100% of the responsibility for his own actions?
(MB) Absolutely. Some might say that a person shouldn't be responsible for things done as a result of something forced upon him by others and I would agree with that. After all, such things would result from the actions of others and not primarily from the individual himself. It should be noted that trying to shift blame to others through simple rationalization is not the same thing.

(R) If I drink to excess, say, and subsequently drive my car around and cause an accident, is alcohol to blame here? I would say not; I am to blame for my poor judgment. Whether I was drunk or not does not excuse that one bit; I made the decision to drink knowing full well what it might do to my faculties.
(MB) You are correct. Many try to shift the blame to alcohol, to the bartender who served the drink(s), or to some imagined "disease", but the root cause must still be the conscious decision of the individual.

(R) This is to say, if I had made the correct decision here (and I do, as a factual matter - I don't drive drunk), my drinking is victimless, at least as far as the driving issue is concerned.
(MB) Here, we must be careful not to merge two separate decisions -- the decision to drink and the later decision to drive. The decision to drink should be one resulting from clear-headed thinking, but the decision to drive afterwards cannot be said to be the same since it results from the impaired thought processes produced by too much drinking. One should surrender his keys or make other transportation arrangements prior to beginning his drinking.

(R) The same goes for drug use - if I smoke a copious quantity of weed and sit around my house eating Cheetos until I pass out, I haven't hurt anyone.
(MB) If that's all that happens, I'd agree with you. But, who's to say that the impaired state of mind produced by smoking that amount of weed won't result in a decision to do something other than eating Cheetos? Here you'd have a situation similar to that of the actions taken by somebody whose drinking has produced an extreme state of intoxication. His getting drunk didn't hurt anyone, but what happens afterwards while his mental processes are seriously impaired might well do so.

(R) (We can debate the deleterious nutritional effect of eating Cheetos another time.)
(MB) One eats Cheetos for their enlightenment value, not for their nutritional value. All computer geeks (myself included) know this...*grin*

(R) If I get hopped up on PCP and beat four people up, then I have definitely hurt those folks.
(MB) Then again, one's use of PCP might well cause him to join the Cheetos brigade. No two people react in the same way. Your point, however, is undeniably correct.

(R) So if we are to evaluate these practices for individuals, clearly the designation of a practice as "victimless" or not can only be accomplished by examining the results. If we agree that "victimless" practices are okay, then, in the "sit around and eat Cheetos" scenario, my drug use (not knowing any other consequences of it) is quite moral and acceptable.
(MB) That is correct -- but only for that one example. This can't be extrapolated into a general statement that marijuana (or other drug) use can be portrayed as "victimless".

(R) If you want to characterize a practice as non-victimless based not on the individual case, but on the general effects its proliferation has on society, we run into some other problems. Are you willing to say that any practice that can be shown to have some negative effect on society (increased crime, decreased productivity...whatever the effect) should be banned? Sounds easy to say, but if you buy that line of reasoning you would be forced to ban all sorts of things that give certain people joy.
(MB) That's correct. Accordingly, I wouldn't support such a ban based solely on a focus upon the negative impacts of a given behavior. One must examine the entire spectrum of effects for the behavior in question and weigh the positive, neutral, and negative effects against each other. This methodology applies equally well to evaluation of all behaviors.

(R) Alcohol is a perfect example; while, as you say, a great many people enjoy a good wine with dinner and take it no further, that is certainly not the case with the millions of alcoholics we have in this country.
(MB) I don't drink and I won't attempt to defend the overuse or misuse of alcohol. That being said, there is clear evidence that alcohol can be used safely in small to moderate amounts (what is often euphemistically called "social drinking").

(R) Think about all the wife-beating, child abuse, lost jobs, failed marriages, fatal car accidents...all perpetrated by alcoholics.
(MB) Not a pretty picture. However, it is also true that none of these things require that the perpetrator be an alcoholic. Alcohol may increase the instances of such things, but there are some people who drink themselves silly in order to avoid taking out their problems on the wife and kids. Again, I'm not attempting to defend alcoholism in any way. I just want to ensure that all considerations pertinent to the argument are presented.

(R) It's true that if alcohol were illegal, many (most?) of these incidents could be avoided, right?
(MB) Possibly, but we also need to consider the other reasons why somebody might perpetrate some of those acts. It's doubtful, for example, that alcoholism alone would turn an otherwise peaceful person into a wife-beater or a child abuser. It might make such an incident more likely since intoxication tends to lower inhibitions and cloud judgments, but the conditions which might drive the perpetrator towards his acts or towards alcoholism in the first place would already exist independently of his drinking. In that case, removing the alcohol from the scenario would be akin to placing a simple bandage on a serious wound.

(R) So, as a society we should then ban've no doubt heard that comparison before.
(MB) Indeed, I have. That's why we need to consider the reasons why such a ban would be imposed and whether or not such a ban would solve those problems.

(R) But if you insist that we should ban anything that increases crime, decreases productivity, and smells meat, candy, video games, TV cop shows, mindless comic books, premarital sex, football pools, dirty joke books...where do we stop before we have violated our constitutionally guaranteed liberties? Where do we draw that line, that wouldn't be totally arbitrary and capricious?
(MB) We have to judge each case individually on its own merits (or lack of). It is a fallacy to claim that one thing should be banned (or legalized) simply because something else is treated differently by the law. For example, a common argument attempts to claim that marijuana should be legal because alcohol is legal. This is illogical on at least two major points. First, perhaps *both* should be illegal. Second, marijuana and alcohol are not the same substance and do not share an equal set of positive, neutral, and negative effects so they should not be lumped together as equals.

(R) I don't trust our government to exercise better judgment than I do about what practices I can enjoy responsibly and what practices I can't.
(MB) Neither do I. That's why government is best served to get the best research and evidence available from all sides prior to enacting any legislation. When legislation is enacted primarily in response to pressure from lobbyists and special-interest groups, we rarely ever end up better off.

(R) So, to recap, we've established two things here:
    1) If the notion of "victimlessness" applies to individual acts, we can only judge the consequences of each individual's acts, case by case. If the action does not hurt anyone else, it's victimless. If it does, it isn't. That means that marijuana use, in and of itself, does not constitute a non-victimless action as you say, unless it can be shown that there are (external) victims in every occurrence of marijuana use.

(MB) That's not quite right for the same reason that it would not be correct to label alcoholism as acceptable because it doesn't *always* result in harm to others in every occurrence. One must weigh all positive, neutral, and negative effects before passing such a judgment.

(R) 2) If the notion of "victimlessness" is applied to our society as a whole, we must be willing to either ban ALL activities which could possibly create victims (nearly everything we can take joy in) or settle for a series of admittedly hollow and illogical decisions about what is and is not okay.
(MB) Again, that's not quite correct for the same reason that judgments can only properly be rendered when all effects of a given activity are considered and weighed.

(R) I submit that the entire "victimless/non-victimless" argument is not able to tell us whether we should legalize drugs or not, for the reasons listed above.
(MB) I agree with this up until the point where proper definitions of those terms can be applied.

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