Sunday, June 08, 2003

Never Asked by Charlie Rose

I was interested to learn from a recent public service ad that marijuana is a major cause of unwanted pregnancy. For some reason, I was under the impression that beer and tequila shooters often had something to do with that. I don’t discount the deleterious side effects of cannabis, however. For example, pot causes politicians to lie on television and incites police officers and judges to ruin the lives of total strangers—a powerful drug, indeed, especially considering that it isn’t a powerful drug at all.

I was going to write that American society is hung up about pot and drugs in general, not because of their public health significance, which is small potatoes relative to the medical significance of tobacco, cheeseburgers, and even computer games, but because drug use symbolizes the hugely menacing because hugely attractive appeal of consciousness itself, the master addiction. That may be so, but I can’t claim to know why we inflict such terrible grief on each other over what should be trivialities. The anti-drug mania, after all, is not the only witch-hunt under way in this country. Why have we turned the sexual abuse of children into a crime so horrible, so sacred that people have to apologize in advance for speaking about it without hysteria? Even stating the obvious statistical fact that children are far more harmed by poverty than by child abuse can land you in trouble. The level headed Ian Hacking has shown that “child abuse,” far from naming an eternal evil, assumed in current absolute form around 1960. So why are we suddenly so obsessed with what was, not so long ago, more often an occasion for gossip and sniggering than inquisition and judicial condemnation?

My usual procedure is the reverse of Jeopardy. I regularly phrase my questions in the form of an answer. But in this case I’ll break with my own tradition and ask the plain question: “What accounts for our crazy public behavior about drugs and juvenile sex?” Of course it is possible that there is no natural class composed of irrational public obsessions and that the persecution of potheads, short eyes, and wicked old women has no common measure. It is also possible that the explanation or explanations will be rather disappointing since in human affairs there is no proportion between cause and effect.

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