David Brooks wrote a column today that was so stupid that I think it can actually be considered an own goal, where he literally—no joke—argues that because his own experiences with marijuana smoking suggested to him that it’s not the best use of your time, other people should go to jail and have their lives ruined over it.
But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.
If Brooks thinks going to jail is “subtly” encouraging his preferred behavior of smoking less weed, then he really ought to make an example out of himself and volunteer for prison time. Brooks pretends in his article, of course, that banning weed has no criminal justice aspects and acts like the only effect is to raise the price of it. But the reality is the ban destroys lives:
According to “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know,” a 2012 book by scholars at the Rand Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center, there are currently 40,000 prison inmates with marijuana convictions, and “perhaps half of them are in prison for offenses related to marijuana alone.” A recent ACLU report tells us that between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million marijuana arrests in the U.S., 88% of them just for possession.
But Brooks doesn’t think of these people as people. Just objects to be sacrificed so young men like he says he was are slightly less likely to smoke weed. (By the way, there’s evidence that decriminalization actually reduces drug use.) But again, there’s almost no reason to argue against this piece, since it’s self-evidently completely wrong and shows how pro-criminalization forces don’t even have an argument. What I want to highlight is this paragraph, which might be the most Brooksian bit of cluelessness that David Brooks has ever written.
Stoned people do stupid things (that’s basically the point). I smoked one day during lunch and then had to give a presentation in English class. I stumbled through it, incapable of putting together simple phrases, feeling like a total loser. It is still one of those embarrassing memories that pop up unbidden at 4 in the morning.
David Brooks writes something objectively more embarrassing than that memory at least 3 times a week, but that’s what makes him wake up screaming in the middle of the night? That fact alone should be enough to deprive him of his job at the New York Times. That little amount of self-awareness is a bad sign in someone who needs to operate a cash register for a living, much less someone whose job is supposedly to write down insightful opinions to make the reader think. Bless his heart, but David Brooks just really isn’t cut out for this writing gig. A modicum of shame for things that are actually shameful is necessary. Without it, well, nothing you say can ever really be trusted.