I love leisurely Sunday mornings. I still get the newspapers (Star and New York Times) on paper, and while I have long since gone to electronic receipt of the “funnies,” I will never be as comfortable with online formats as I am with old-fashioned newsprint.
That said, it’s impossible to read the news without being forcibly reminded how quickly and dramatically the world is changing, how complicated our reality is, and how difficult it is for many of us to accept those changes or deal with them.
Three totally different articles from today’s Star underscored the pace of change, the resistance to it, and not incidentally, our need to be sure we are asking the right questions in order to deal with it.
Least important, but telling, was the Varvel cartoon portraying the upcoming arguments over same-sex marriage in the Indiana General Assembly by drawing a castle with a moat around it. I’m not entirely sure what he thought he was saying with this image–presumably that our legislature is impervious to outside opinions–but it inadvertently (and accurately) portrayed our lawmakers as residents of the 17th Century.
The question is, how do legislatures or citizens who are firmly ensconced in the past deal with things like bitcoins? The business section had a fairly lengthy article about this new currency, composed of nothing more than computer code, and not backed by the “full faith and credit” of any government. This is one of many spontaneous new ways of doing business via the internet, a method that allows for anonymity and avoids the problems of foreign exchange. Its value is entirely determined by market forces (and that value has been extremely volatile). I have no idea whether bitcoins are a harbinger of our future, or an experiment that will fizzle–but the very concept has to be unsettling to the “gold standard” folks who populate talk radio and TV and are currently encouraging everyone to buy gold or trade in their paper money for silver coins. If they still don’t understand that money gets its value from people’s willingness to accept it, they are going to have a lot of trouble dealing with bitcoin and its progeny.
Less arcane, perhaps, was the article about rapidly changing attitudes toward marijuana. I’ve written before about the insanity of our drug war, and evidently, a lot of people have come to realize how self-defeating our approach to drug use has been. The problem is, as the article demonstrated, we are still asking the wrong questions–still in thrall to an approach that fails to distinguish between use and abuse.
Both sides of this debate are drawing wrong conclusions from wrong questions. The reason attitudes about pot are changing is that so many people have used marijuana occasionally, much as they have a drink or two occasionally, with no deleterious effect. That leads them to believe pot is harmless and should be legalized. Opponents of legalization point to the (relatively few) addicts, and see danger.
This focus on the substance being abused misses the point. People with addictive personalities can abuse anything–alcohol, tobacco, freon from the air conditioner, grandpa’s heart medicine, inhalents…It is literally impossible to ban everything someone might abuse. With alcohol and tobacco–thanks less to common sense and more to corporate lobbyists–we’ve found a workable middle ground: we regulate, tax and inform. And it works; in most places, it is much easier for teens to get drugs than it is for them to buy alcohol. (As one drug war critic noted, when was the last time you saw the owner of the local liquor store hanging around the schoolyard saying “Psst, kids. We got a new shipment of Stoly in today”?)
The world isn’t only changing. Thanks in no small part to science and technology, it’s getting more complicated.
If we stay in that 17th-Century castle protected from reality by a moat of our own construction, we’re not going to be able to deal with 21st Century challenges.