Crime in America.Net
The Washington Post ran another insightful article by George Will maintaining that America is ready to once again legislate morality and run the life of American citizens. While I could not share the same literary sidewalk with George Will, I’m still puzzled. How does one rail against the issues plaguing society (as we routinely do at Crime in America.Net) without trampling on the “rights” of the average American?
From Mr. Will’s article: “The evening of Jan. 16, 1920, hours before Prohibition descended on America, while the young assistant secretary of the Navy, Franklin Roosevelt, drank champagne in Washington with other members of Harvard’s Class of 1904, evangelist Billy Sunday preached to 10,000 celebrants in Norfolk, Va., : “The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. . . .” Not exactly.”
“Daniel Okrent’s darkly hilarious “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” recounts how Americans abolished a widely exercised private right — and condemned the nation’s fifth-largest industry — in order to make the nation more heavenly. Then all hell broke loose. Now that ambitious government is again hell-bent on improving Americans — from how they use salt to what light bulbs they use — Okrent’s book is a timely tutorial on the law of unintended consequences”. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/07/AR2010070703558.html?wpisrc=nl_most
So George, what’s the magic formula? We just offered a rather caustic piece on child abuse (http://crimeinamerica.net/2010/07/19/up-to-93-percent-of-justice-system-youth-experienced-trauma-crime-in-america-net/) essentially calling for society to condemn bad parents. We stated:
“The truth is that few care about hungry, beaten and neglected kids feeding and raising themselves. We could condemn the parents in the harshest way possible, but that’s unthinkable, too many would accuse us of beating up on the previous class of vulnerable people.”
So what’s a very minor pundit to do? What are the unanticipated consequences of social protest? So we condemn bad parents in the harshest terms and what’s going to happen? Are they going to be worse parents? Is that possible? Is it a right of American citizens to be left alone to rase their kids as they see fit regardless of the consequences?
But we are always wrestling with this issue; what are the rights of American citizens? The Supreme Court settled the issue of gun ownership, but can people carry their firearms everywhere? Can citizens smoke pot to their heart’s content? Can they ride their motorcycles without helmets? At 100 miles an hour? While drinking? You think we don’t have people who are completely satisfied with doing any of the above?
What George’s article fails to articulate is that we want an America that relies on social pressure more than the criminal justice system and sometimes, social pressure needs a boost from legislation.
Think that’s silly? How many Americans would smoke marijuana today if it was legalized? What would be the social consequences of legalization? We’ve debated this question on this and other sites and we fear that legalization will lead to more crime and considerable social harm. There are people who should not touch anything stronger than aspirin; they simply do stupid and harmful and illegal things under the influence (the advocates won’t admit to any of this regardless of the data).
We believe that millions don’t smoke pot only because it’s illegal, not because they believe that it’s harmful.
There have been endless local and national movements throughout American history that combined legislation with social pressure that worked to tame Americans into better behavior. The Victorian era is just one example where the nation felt that fellow citizens were in need of correction. Social norms and local legislation combined to do just that.
Unanticipated consequences are a huge concern but Americans sometimes need a legislative push to not drink and drive or beat their spouses or kids or to do an endless array of bad acts.
Will we get it right every time? Obviously not. What’s the right thing? Well, that’s the truly difficult question.
But please excuse me; I have to go exercise my rights as an American by riding my motorcycle helmetless after smoking a joint. In the rain. At 100 miles per hour. After forgetting to feed my kid. God bless America.
Crime in America.Net
Article first published as Prohibition Was Wrong, But Is Legalizing Marijuana Right? on Technorati.