Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fair and balanced

Today in lecture, I made an announcement about how SSDP is having a week of action to repeal the HEA Aid Elimination penalty.

I made the announcement brief but thorough: explained what it is, how it's being reauthorized, how many students have been affected, how it affects students with at least a 2.5 GPA, how low-income students tend to suffer more, how it's counterproductive.

I passed out postcards for people to fill out if they so chose to take action. After class, I collected them. Not everyone filled one out - hey, freedom of choice, it's cool - but one of the otherwise blank ones contained a message for me:

"I am all for helping people out, but you did not say anything about the other side of the issue. You need to inform us about the other side."

Me and that postcard stood a while giving each other a long, hard, bewildered look.

What is the other side of the story?

Seriously. Nothing, absolutely nothing and nobody benefits from this penalty. Well, Rep. Souder, maybe drug dealers recruiting long-term customers and salespeople, apparently recruiters for the armed forces too. Schools, economy, family, human rights, minority advancement, criminal justice & law enforcement, community health & safety, faith in the government, reducing drug abuse itself... yeah, pretty much everything else stands to lose.

There is this American myth that every issue has two sides with equally compelling arguments. Like everything's a complicated issue for which you have to consider tons of different conflicting factors. Indeed there are complexities within the drug policy issue at large - in fact, the existence of complexities prompts us to work for reform and reject zero tolerance/prohibition. The HEA Aid Elimination penalty, though? Hell, even my dad the well-meaning oldschool prohibitionist immediately understood the inherent nonsense and misguided morality of the thing.

Come on, people. 9 out of 10 dentists recommend repealing this penalty; the 10th dentist is a con artist who is not actually a dentist at all but a sadist who likes ripping out teeth with rusty tweezers and without Novocaine. Use your noggins. Sometimes you really can confidently pick a side; the issue is not always way beyond your comprehension. Must we insist on remaining disoriented in order to consider ourselves open-minded? Welcome to the post-9/11 world; this has been me ranting about my pet peeve.


Anonymous said...

I normally agree with what I see on this blog, but I have to say this post annoyed me. There is obviously another side to this issue, even if you think the argument is weak or invalid.

From the drug warrior's point of view, drug use must be avoided at all costs, because once someone takes their first bong hit, they are on an almost unavoidable one way trip to addiction, unemployment, failure, and destruction. If you accept that statement, it makes more sense to use amazingly harsh penalties to stop people from taking that first bong hit. You tell ( mostly ) young people not to do that or they'll have the book thrown at them. If some people try drugs and then get kicked out of school, well, they were going to be failures anyway and at least then we're not wasting tax payer money to try to educate them when they're just going to end up a worthless crackhead anyway.

Now, I'm not saying we should agree or give validation to their points. Far from it, I think we can be more effective at changing people's minds if we point out the fallacies that led our opponents to support these policies. Pretending there is not reason for their actions, makes us look as if we do not know or can't understand the reasons, and leaves us open to attacks that we're too dumb, uneducated, or drug addled to understand.

Instead I think we should hold this kind of idiocy up to the light. Let's tell the world that drug warriors think that if you smoke a single joint you don't deserve to go to collage anymore. Let's explain how taking away education, the very opportunity for ecnomic, moral, and social advancment just leaves people more likely to abuse harder, more dangerious drugs, to commit crimes, and be a drain on society.

Let's show how the drug warriors create criminals and crime by taking away a chance at a productive life. Once we've shown how kicking people out of collage hurts them and society, we can show how putting drug users in jail is doing the same thing, but with much worse effects. Nonviolent recreational drug users go to jail and either become violent or become prey. It costs the state more to keep someone locked up than it would have cost to give them an ivy league education. Then after the state has spent tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars the result of the process is to spit out a frightened, emotionally damaged, often violent person back into society, where their criminal record all too often bars from from finding legal employment.

As I said, I almost always agree with the content of this blog, but I think in this case it's important to show that we know, understand, and can show the flaws in the drug warriors arguments. I also think we need to be intellectually honest enough to admit the legitimate dangers of irresponsible drug use and show how harm prevention deals with those dangers more effectively, humanly and cheaply than our current war on drugs.


JT Barrie said...

The "other side" is all about punishing wrongdoers or "those" people. It's based on the mindset that we can't let "those people" get away with misconduct. So once you have established and defined that misconduct you devise various penalties to punish "those people". And anyone who objects to this as "unfair" is gently reminded that "If you don't like the punishment you don't have to misbehave".
It has to be infuriating for a drug policy reformer or truth Nazi like myself to rail against the lies that are the drug war and be confronted with the old adage that "all one has to do is not use these arbitrarily banned drugs". It seems that "those people" [who form the hard core of the prohibitionists] can unabashedly admit to lying [by other like minded people] while quite calmly stating that "those people" [users of arbitrarily banned drugs] are bringing on these punishments with their own behaviors. Isn't it amazing how personal responsibility works: you are held responsible for choosing to disregard decisions made by people who lie in order to get those decisions enacted into law. But those legislators are NOT held responsible for the consequences of those decisions AND the people who disagree with those decisions have their tax dollars stolen in order to bankroll a campaign of lies and disinformation in order to rally public support for those policies.
And yes, there is another group of people who will smugly declare that the drug war is right - otherwise it wouldn't have such widespread support. This support is evidenced by votes against legalization of marijuana in states like Nevada and Alaska - where boatloads of federal tax dollars are illegally used to post lies everywhere.