The current struggles across our nation and around the globe brings me back to the same thoughts I revisit often.
According to the constitution, the five purposes of government are unity, justice, domestic tranquility, defense, promotion of the general welfare of its citizens and securing liberty for all. I ask you to consider the the enormous savings in grief and funds if we were to simply stop legislation that has no purpose except to control others.
Remember that we are a country based on freedoms. Freedom of religion and the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is defined as a fundamental right in the Declaration of Independence — to freely live in a way that makes you happy, as long as you do not infringe on the rights of others. Does it make sense then that no act should be illegal that does not infringe on the rights of another? That is the only place it makes sense to draw the line. Not where something offends my sensibilities and those of some of my neighbors, but because it damages someone else. Let’s clear the slate of any law that is on the books because we deem the act it regulates “wrong.” The act in question may be incredibly stupid. Or, it must may make us cringe. But, if it affects only the offender, we have no right to stop his or her participation. That applies to many laws that have permeated our society for so long now that these “crimes” are just part of its fabric. We’ve tried to legislate morality. It’s costly. And it’s useless. In most cases, the mere fact such is not legal harms far more people than if the act were legal — because it creates the real crime of theft, death, and destruction.
I cannot take your life or property. I cannot break your bones. These infringe on your rights and should damned well be illegal. However, I don’t get to control what you do in your personal life based on my sensibilities. If I make football illegal because it can hurt you, I’ve diminished the life of athletes and fans, though their participation does nothing to affect me. Doing so prevents their right to their own pursuit of happiness. Compassion says we can educate the players on potential problems, but not forbid them to partake.
For example, I wouldn’t want to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. I could show you what your head might look like after an accident by smashing a melon on the pavement. Still, the choice to wear one or not should be yours. Go live your life. I have no desire to do drugs. It isn’t smart. I am willing to spend a few tax dollars for the Department of Health and Education to warn you about the results of various drug use. But I don’t care to babysit you. Nor should the government. It’s expensive. And it doesn’t work.
Prohibition didn’t work in the 1920s and had to be repealed. The war on drugs work doesn’t work either. The fact that recreational drug use is illegal clearly doesn’t prevent it from happening. There is far more crime and loss of life due to the fact it is illegal than there would ever be otherwise. The cost of finding, prosecuting, and housing these “criminals” is enormous. Since 2003, $383 billion dollars. Decriminalizing drugs would put an estimated $41 billion back in the federal budget each year from savings in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. The only people who win in this war are the real criminals because the illegal status of drugs makes them highly profitable.
Alcohol abuse causes great damage, yet we could not prevent its use. Was there not much more crime when it was illegal? Of course, there was. Prohibition was very lucrative for organized crime. Is drug use worse than alcohol abuse? Recreational users don’t get violent. And they don’t typically get behind the wheel of a car under the influence as happens with alcohol. Yet we feel the need to make it criminal. Soft drug users (as with marijuana) are typically chilling with friends and music or maybe a movie and plenty -of snacks. Heroin users are laid out somewhere. Now, don’t start with me — I know! Drug addiction is sad. Sad as hell. It should never begin. (Honestly, I think over time it would lose its glamour by the mere fact it is available and so there would be far less use.) Let’s educate users. But should we go to such lengths with billions of tax dollars and hundreds of lives in futile attempt to prevent it? The real crime is committed in acquiring the drugs. Robberies, and murder occur due to the high price criminals charge. About 18% of prisoners said they committed their crime to buy drugs. And what was the additional cost of those crimes? Connecting the dots from illegal drugs to border control issues (a key rationale for “the wall” at this moment), prostitution, and more will give you brain cramps.
So, why are drugs illegal? Gambling? Prostitution? Because many of us believe they are not right. Still, it is simply not up to us in a free society to attempt to control citizens in their own pursuit of happiness, however misguided or however it may offend our individual sensibilities. When you add the cost of prosecution and imprisonment for these lifestyle crimes to the cost of the war on drugs, it becomes too much to fathom. You say you want to ease your tax burden? Or see Social Security replenishment?
What about same-gender partnerships? There is zero place in government for addressing this whatsoever. I don’t see any role for government in the marriage of men and women for that matter. Relationship laws. Really? Regulating any lifestyle is clearly legislating morals. Morality — beyond clear acts of violence, theft, or murder — is open to interpretation and not an issue for government. These things do not run a country. Nor does abortion. The reasoning is typically based on religion. Remember, the United States of America was founded because people fled the religious climate of England with its national church.
The toughest question of all is abortion. Is it murder? Is a fetus life before it breathes independently and, if so, at what point? This will never be agreed upon. Let’s assume for the sake of those who seem to want a Christian nation that we each accept today’s Bible, with all its translations and contradictions, as an authentic authority. Two critical messages emerge: 1) everything that happens is God’s will, so let us concede that if God wants a soul on earth it will be here, in one vessel or another, and maybe those involved are to go through some trial, 2) it is not for us to judge so if what you want to abolish in society is in fact punishable, the offender will get his or her due, not from their neighbors, but from the only one that is to judge. It is said that aborting a child is playing God. Consider that the role of deity is instead being played by those trying to prevent the abortion.
Now, imagine, as John Lennon said. Just imagine. The quiet. The peace of not pushing against that which we do not choose for ourselves. We do have choices. Participate or don’t. Chastise or do not. Is it so important to our own identities to be right that we must make others wrong? Why on earth should we only be okay with people who look like us and live as we do? We have the opportunity to live day to day in joy as we choose it. I want to dance. You want to play golf. Or bridge. She wants to live with horses. He wants to run with bulls. Many want to make music and art. We are not all required to like their results. Some want to thrill in the love of another of their own gender. Who are we to mar that? Others choose to ingest cocaine or gamble to excess, no matter what the potential consequences. Let’s try to show them another way. But let’s not force hands and punish. Let’s not forbid in a free society what we cannot control by law or otherwise.
Religion? There are around 4000 of them on this planet. If we were born in India we would likely be Hindu. Christianity, founded in the Middle East, is the largest yet represents just 30%, with non-believers falling in third of all. Each of us believe our theology, or lack of, is correct. What if we all got over ourselves — stopped trying to force others to conform to our model? What if God is love — and love, itself, God? It would be a good thing to practice. I do think — again with The Beatles — that love is all we need. It is, at least, much more pleasant than hate. It is not too grand a notion to experience peace on the planet. We can’t start on the other side of the globe. But we can start here.