Want to Reform the Criminal Justice System? End the Drug War

Protesters say America’s criminal justice system is unfair.

It is.

Courts are so jammed that innocent people plead guilty to avoid waiting years for a trial. Lawyers help rich people get special treatment. A jail stay is just as likely to teach you crime as it is to help you get a new start. Overcrowded prisons cost a fortune and increase suffering for both prisoners and guards.

There’s one simple solution to most of these problems: End the war on drugs.

Our government has spent trillions of dollars trying to stop drug use.

It hasn’t worked. More people now use more drugs than before the “war” began.

What drug prohibition did do is exactly what alcohol prohibition did a hundred years ago: increase conflict between police and citizens.

“It pitted police against the communities that they serve,” says neuroscientist Carl Hart in my new video. Hart, former chair of Columbia University’s Psychology department, grew up in a tough Miami neighborhood where he watched crack cocaine wreck lives. When he started researching drugs, he assumed that research would confirm the damage drugs did.

But “one problem kept cropping up,” he says in his soon-to-be-released book, Drug Use For Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, “the evidence did not support the hypothesis. No one else’s evidence did either.”

After 20 years of research, he concluded, “I was wrong.” Now, he says, our drug laws do more harm than drugs.

Because drug sales are illegal, profits from selling drugs are huge. Since sellers can’t rely on law enforcement to protect their property, they buy guns and form gangs.

Cigarettes harm people, too, but there are no violent cigarette gangs—no cigarette shootings—even though nicotine is more addictive than heroin, says our government. That’s because tobacco is legal. Likewise, there are no longer violent liquor gangs. They vanished when prohibition ended.

But what about the opioid epidemic? Lots of Americans die from overdoses!

Hart blames the drug war for that, too. Yes, opioids are legal, but their sale is tightly restricted.

“If drugs were over the counter, there would be fewer deaths?” I asked.

“Of course,” he responds. “People die from opioids because they get tainted opioids….That would go away if we didn’t have this war on drugs. Imagine if the only subject of any conversation about driving automobiles was fatal car crashes….So it is with the opioid epidemic.”

Drugs do harm many people, but in real life, replies Hart, “I know tons of people who do drugs; they are public officials, captains of industry, and they’re doing well. Drugs, including nicotine and heroin, make people feel better. That’s why they are used.”

President Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex. America’s drug war funds a prison-industrial complex. Hart says his years inside the well-funded research side of that complex showed him that any research not in support of the “tough-on-drugs” ideology is routinely dismissed to “keep outrage stoked” and funds coming in.

America locks up more than 2 million Americans. That’s a higher percentage of our citizens, disproportionately black citizens, than any other country in the world.

“In every country with a more permissive drug regime, all outcomes are better,” says Hart. Countries like Switzerland and Portugal, where drugs are decriminalized, “don’t have these problems that we have with drug overdoses.”

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drug use. Instead of punishing drug users, they offer medical help. Deaths from overdoses dropped sharply. In 2017, Portugal had only 4 deaths per million people. The United States had 217 per million.

“In a society, you will have people who misbehave, says Hart. “But that doesn’t mean you should punish all of us because someone can’t handle this activity.”

He’s right. It’s time to end the drug war.

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On Parenting

An insight I had recently is on who we are raising as parents. We are not raising children, rather, we are raising adults. Childhood is a very small part of life for us. It only constitutes the first 15 years, or so. The importance of this insight, that we are raising adults, is a reminder that how we engage with our children and the behavior we model will determine the type of adults that they will be. I am not an authoritarian parent. I try hard to always be the type of parent who treats my children with respect. This entails, among other things, trying to understand the causes of any behavior incompatible with my preferences, clearly communicating (on their level) and negotiating with my children when our preferences are in conflict, and ensuring their safety as they satisfy their curiosity about the many marvelous things around them. Will this create adults who respect others, have empathy, negotiate for mutual benefit, and are always curious and learning new things throughout their life? I absolutely believe it will, and that’s today’s two cents.

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Why Logic is Unpopular

Value hierarchies are inevitable. What value belongs at the top to make sure the others stay in their proper place?

The ancient Greeks spoke of three perspectives: pathos, ethos, and logos. From a pathos perspective, emotions and feelings take center stage. From an ethos perspective, reputation and tradition are what really matter. From a logos perspective, reason is what guides to wise action.

The Primacy of Logos

There will always be tension between people with different values and tendencies, and this tension often manifests most obviously in politics. Most people are driven primarily by instinct (pathos) or tradition (ethos), which is why self-described “liberals” consistently find themselves at odds with self-described “conservatives”. Some few are driven primarily by reason (logos). Logic is unpopular because it calls into question both instinct and tradition.

In politics, instinct-dominant (pathos) people seek validation of their feelings and messages that make them feel good, usually because something sad/scary/unfair is presented along with an easy solution that would make everything better. Tradition-dominant (ethos) people seek assurance that the messenger is trustworthy, usually because they are part of the in-group or because they signal about duty and allegiance to established institutions like governments and churches and against out-groups and their institutions. Reason-dominant (logos) people seek to establish the truth of ideas and messages, even when it causes them to subordinate natural tendencies and inherited traditions to come into consistent harmony with the wisdom they cherish.

By Their Egocentric Biases Ye Shall Know Them

If you aren’t sure whether you’re dealing with a pathos-dominant person or an ethos-dominant person, you can look for patterns in their behavior.

Typical emotion-driven behavior:

  • Tend to engage in hot cognition with motivation bias
  • Feelings/intentions valued over facts/results (“it’s more important to be morally right than factually correct” or “that wasn’t real socialism”)
  • Easily scared/overwhelmed, and therefore easily controlled (“we need to do something!”)
  • Furious “mama bear” overreactions when challenged
  • Confuse “open minded” with “empty headed”
  • Oppression narratives with victimhood as a status symbol (various privilege/equity/social justice/forced redistribution schemes)
  • Anecdotal NAXALT fallacy and tactical nihilism in response to statistical evidence

Typical tradition-driven behavior:

  • Tend to suffer from the illusion of asymmetric insight and base rate neglect
  • Obedience to authority valued over truth (“it’s the law” equivocation)
  • Retreat to dogma and orthodoxy when challenged
  • Pearl-clutching fear of ambiguity and change (belief that the only alternative to the status quo is chaos)
  • Confuse “consensus” with “evidence”
  • “Might makes right” crusade narratives
  • Tendency to oversimplify patterns and overlook exceptions

The Cure for Irrational Tribalism

A society that subordinates reason is destined to corruption and ruin as the fruitless scramble to justify and rearrange prejudices to satisfy confirmation bias replaces the quest for truth. Narcissistic moral relativism and political power struggles only escalate the conflict. It is only by subordinating emotion and authority to wisdom that can we avoid catastrophe.

“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”

– J. Reuben Clark

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Edward Stringham: Private Governance (25m)

This episode features an interview of economics professor Edward Stringham from 2015 by Jeff Diest, host of the Human Action podcast (formerly Mises Weekends). Edward is the author of a book called Private Governance: Creating Order in Economic and Social Life, where he looks back at the history of private legal systems, and in so doing demolishes the idea that only the state can manage and adjudicate human conflicts. Today, Edward gives some concrete, real-world examples of how private governance operates in our statist world. If you’re interested in Rothbardian and Hoppean anarcho-capitalism, you’ll find Edward’s book a great addition to your library, and you’ll enjoy hearing this interview. Purchase books by Edward Stringham on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (25m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “voluntaryist voices”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc or PayPal.me/everythingvoluntary.

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Love the Very New and the Very Old

I love old farms and skyscrapers under construction, old cars and Elon Musk’s newest spaceships. I think my ideal way of living would consist of working on a farm (or hunting/gathering out in nature) during the day and working on a high-tech project at night (call it “Jeffersonian futurism.”)

I love the very old and the very new. I see no conflict in that – but I do see a necessity.

Futurists seem to miss the fact that old things contain worthwhile wisdom and usefulness. Traditionalism seems to miss the fact that static institutions become corrupt without change. Meanwhile, the modernists are so tied up in the recent past as to be blind to both tradition and innovation.

But in the years ahead, it’s the futurists who will deliver us interplanetary travel, life-saving medical cures, and clean and renewable nuclear energy in the years ahead. It’s the traditionalists who will help us to remember the human values of fidelity (marriage, etc), individual dignity, self-reliance, and honesty are the foundations of a society that can enjoy technological progress properly (i.e. without self-destructing).

If we’re to appreciate and encourage this outcome, we need a way of thinking that embraces the dialogue between the old and new*. We need to understand that the only conflict is between the life-enhancing and the life-destroying, and that either force can be found in our newest inventions or our oldest customs.

Author Ross Douthat recently summed up the interesting fusion he posits will lead us out of the current “age of decadence” – a combination of old-time religion and high-tech futurism:

“So down on your knees – and start working on that warp drive.”

I dig it.

*Credit to Jordan Peterson for first (in my experience) formulating this yin-yang interplay of liberalism/openness and conservatism/orderliness.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Being Your Own Man Doesn’t Have To Mean Rejecting a Legacy

People leave the family farm. Sons go to college instead of going to work into the plumbing business. It has a thousand faces, but there’s this American idea that inheriting a vocation is “settling,” so you’d better go off and find a new one.

I know I feel it. It’s why I probably couldn’t have been satisfied just taking over the reins of my father’s successful landscaping business – and why indeed that wasn’t even something he tried much to encourage.

This same idea has killed many multi-generational businesses – and seems to have killed much hope for this one kind of intergenerational wealth transfer possible to most people. The result? Each new generation of men are poor and alone, and therefore at the mercy of the lenders and the mercy of the state.

Ironically, the mythos of dreaming-big and independence may be contributing to the destruction of both.

But “being your own man” doesn’t have to mean rejecting the legacies people try to leave you – including the legacy of training, capital, and vocation. Indeed, accepting a good legacy in these things can help to ensure that you remain as much your own as possible.

I’d look at the character of Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies* as my model. He comes from a long line of kings yet struggles with his legacy – particularly with the less than wonderful parts (like when Isildur keeps the Ring of Power for himself). So he wanders the north alone, fighting bad guys. Yet he only comes fully into his own when he accepts his legacy – but also transforms it through rejecting the evil of the Ring and Sauron for himself.

Aragorn becomes “his own man,” yet not from traveling footloose and fancy-free and deciding he doesn’t want to be king. His individuality established, he comes back and accepts and redeems his legacy.

We live in a mythos right now of “leave and never come back” – from a lot of things – family, life, work. This may be better than the ethos of “never leave” – certainly for some people it is. But the right ethos is “leave and then come back different.”

*It’s worth noting that (to my knowledge) this is not a conflict or at least not a major conflict for Aragorn.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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