Monday, November 30, 2009

George Will's War on Rights

George Will pipes in on medical marijuana in Sunday's Chronicle, declaring that
By mocking the idea of lawful behavior, legalization of medical marijuana may be more socially destructive than full legalization.
Will argues that legalization--even if for medical purposes--removes the stigma of using an illegal product, and more people will begin smoking pot. While this may or may not be true, it is completely irrelevant.

Will's premise is that pot smoking is destructive to society, and therefore should be banned. In other words, the welfare of society justifies prohibiting certain voluntary actions on the part of individuals. This argument has been used to justify all types of controls and regulations-- from zoning to nationalized health care, from bailing out banks and auto companies to "cash for clunkers", from environmental laws to bans on prostitution.

Underlying Will's argument is the morality of altruism--that the individual must serve others, that the individual must place the interests and welfare of others before his own interests and welfare. And, while smoking pot is seldom, if ever, in anyone's interest, this is a decision that each individual has a moral right to make for himself. This is what Will opposes--the right of individuals to make choices regarding their own life. Consider Will's own words regarding medical marijuana in Colorado:
Customers — this, not patients, is what most really are — tell doctors at the dispensaries that they suffer from insomnia, anxiety, headaches, premenstrual syndrome, “chronic pain,” whatever, and pay nominal fees for “prescriptions.” Most really just want to smoke pot.
Smoking pot may be self-destructive, but it doesn't violate the rights of anyone. This isn't good enough for Will, or anyone who wants to dictate the actions of other individuals. Will and other prohibitionists believe that they have a right to determine what is good and bad, and then impose their value judgments upon everyone else.

(It shouldn't need to be said, but if someone smokes pot and causes an automobile accident, or robs a store, or murders someone, they should be prosecuted for those actions, but not for smoking pot.)

The fact is, actions that do not violate the rights of others--do not force others to act contrary to their own judgment--should be legal. This includes smoking pot, prostitution, gambling, and other "victimless crimes". If an action in which all participants are voluntarily engaged can be banned, then anything can be banned. If the "common good" allows government to control and regulate individual behavior, then all rights are destroyed. And in the end, that is precisely where Will's war on pot leads--to a war on individual rights.


Anonymous said...

there are reasons why drugs are illegal. They are illegal because they create negative consequences not only for the individuals that use them, but for society as well. Just come to parts of the south bronx or brooklyn or camden where there is rampant drug use. Would you let your daughter walk in that area? I doubt it. My rights are rights to act as I see fit, but my rights to go where I want become limited when others act in ways that they consider their their own self-interest but are ultimately detrimental to mine.

Brian Phillips said...

As I noted in my post, your argument can be used to justify anything. A lack of exercise or too much red meat can be bad for you, so should government control those activities as well?

You are confusing your desires with your "rights". Does the auto dealer violate your rights by refusing to give you a BMW? Does the concert promoter violate your rights by refusing entrance because you failed to buy a ticket? The answer is NO.

Moataz said...

This has been the attitude of our NZ politicians.If something is causing harm ban it. I must say that banning is an irrational response. It bypasses thoughts for emotions.

Brian Phillips said...

There seems to be a growing belief that life should be perfectly safe and that legislators can make it so. Not only does this place emotions before thoughts, it replaces "I wish" for "it is".