I Should Probably Stick to the Comics….

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.


  1. Mark my words, when serious marijuana decriminalization/legalization efforts start getting close in this state, you’re going to see prosecutors and law enforcement officials come out of the woodwork to stop it. The reason? $$$$$. They make a fortune off civil forfeiture associated with marijuana criminalization. Whether using marijuana should be against the law can be debated, but the reason it should be kept illegal should not be because of all the money that can be derived from civil forfeiture.

  2. Why can’t I help but suspect that when it becomes legal, the state’s moneyed interests will have successfully lobbied for rules and regulations that benefit them.

  3. Paul’s comment speaks wisdom. There is a tendency to look deeply into the philosophical/political/psychological issues when one should, first of all, “follow the money”. All kinds of insight follows that one.

  4. Stuart; you left out religious issues – money is God to the GOP, the Tea Party and their ilk. They get paid to preach their gospel by lobbyists in great numbers.

  5. Sheila, I would like to know what you think about the article Chicks on the Right. I find myself in that arena philosophically. I have always considered myself independent and have voted both ways. I don’t like the boxes we are put into and labeled if we say we are one or the other. I seem to get slammed from both sides at times so I usually keep quiet. Like these gals, I am too liberal to be called conservative, and too conservative to be called liberal. I was kind of excited to see something out there that might apply to the vast majority of people in our country, although I suppose they could likewise have called themselves Chicks on the Left. I have yet to check their website, etc. Anyway when I saw this post I thought you might have included some comments about the article. I just “hate the hate” I feel and observe from both extremes and really struggle with where I am sometimes. The extremes don’t seem to appreciate moderates. Having once been on “the other side” (I think) I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

  6. Lost in the maijuana discussion is the reality that no matter what you are smoking, it is bad for your health. How many new smokers will there be, marijuana or otherwise, when Big Tobacco puts its marketing muscle into the game?

  7. Saw the article about “Chicks on the Right.” (Hard to miss–it was pretty prominent.) My problem is that we are WAY too quick in this country to use labels, and labels are a substitute for thinking. This is my problem with “Chicks,” they are playing the same game, in this case, by labeling themselves. Most thinking Americans don’t fit neatly into boxes marked “left” or “right.” As I keep reminding people, I have the same mix of positions—and the same political philosophy—that got me labeled “too conservative” in 1980. Today, it earns me a leftist label. In both cases, slapping a label on me was an easy way to dismiss what I had to say—a way to stop thinking about issues in context, which requires us to recognize that there aren’t easy formulas that excuse independent analysis.

  8. Sheila—excellent blog. I think labels are inaccurate and only make for ease of placements of people’s views—left or right. If one is “left”, that persons favors certain things and opposes others. If one is “right,” flip the issues and the positions. These are very convenient pigeon holes. As for drugs, Paul is correct, in part, about the lobbies opposed to decrim/legalization. (We should legalize all drugs, as decriminalization leaves the illicit markets intact and, thus, the gang and turf wars, etc.) Also the private penal institution lobbyists and the lobbyists for prison guards are strident in their opposition to an end to the “war on drugs.”

  9. “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.”

    …Nice, problem is, the people who vote against legalization feel the same way…most of them anyway.
    …it’s about the $$$ Can’t have that cash going back into the community with other programs like education…fix a few more roads, health care.

    Prisons are a profitable business as well, even at the government level. Employ many people throughout the whole Justice System. Legalize simply to reduce prison populations and keep the inmates that are proven to be violent and damaging to our neighborhoods there as originally designed…will come with residence.
    Prisons are also a wonderful way to impose beliefs on to a truly attentive audience, religious and political.

    We have water pipes bursting that are 110 years old, we only hear about them when they break…guess that counts as last century.

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