Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Reclaiming Reality

It’s mid-January and the new semester has just begun. You slide into your Political Science 101 class a few minutes late and covertly take a seat in the back of the lecture hall. Your battle-hardened professor has already started to outline the course, and as she shoots you a perturbed glare, she proceeds to explain that she will often frame political issues using one particular ideological dichotomy. For the remainder of the class, she fleshes out this dichotomy by illustrating how each of the two viewpoints look at the world. Then she assigns homework. One page, double spaced, 12 pt font, answering this question: “Are you an idealist or a realist?”

Easy question, right? After all, your work with SSDP is certainly directed toward making the world a more ideal place in which to live. And you’ve heard that Idealist.org is a great place to land activist jobs in the non-profit sector. As your professor explained, realists see the world as a static place, but idealists see possibilities for progress in the future. You’ve got to be an idealist… right?

Not so fast. Let’s take a moment to compare yourself to, let’s say, Drug Czar John P. Walters.

Yes, John Walters, the rabid drug warrior who thinks that we can attain a goal of a drug-free society… if only we lock enough people up. John Walters, who has seen teen cigarette smoking drastically decline under a regulated market, while teen marijuana usage has remained the same despite his full-out war against it. John "Pee" Walters, who boasts that children are thankful for random drug testing and intrusive searches because it gives them an excuse to say no to drugs. John Walters, a proponent of abstinence-only drug education that has been shown to be largely ineffective. John Walters, who continues to promote the spraying of South American countries with deadly chemicals, even though the program has never been shown to successfully decrease the flow of drugs into the U.S. John Walters, who fights a war that can never be won.

John Walters is every Drug War Zealot. The clueless idealist… living in a fantasy land of abstinence while reality becomes yet another forfeited asset.

In this sense, we Drug Policy Reformers are the realists. We realize that people will continue to find ways of altering their consciousness regardless of how many people are arrested. We realize that drug dealers will always exist as long as prohibition creates an illicit economy that makes easily grown weeds worth more than their weight in gold. We realize that indigenous farmers in third-world countries will continue to find ways of growing the one crop with which they can support their family. We realize that providing children with inaccurate and ineffective “drug education” while demanding that they urinate into a cup will only push them farther away from those who they need the most. We realize that our brains are not perfectly-balanced, unchanging wads of meat; rather, they are complex ever-changing systems of neural networks and chemicals that can often be responsibly tweaked and altered by using a variety of legal and illegal chemicals. And we realize, above all, that there is no silver-bullet solution to our nation’s drug problems, and there will always be work to be done.

Let me be clear: While we work toward a more ideal society, we need to continually express the fact that our advocacy aims to be sensible and rooted in reality. Whether you call yourself a realist or an idealist (or if, like me, you are skeptical of false dichotomies), we can all agree that the Drug Warriors promote policies that blatantly disregard reality, and end up leading to a society that is much less ideal.

It’s time for the DARE Generation to reclaim reality.

4 comments:

Jonthon said...

No fair - Micah is posting homework assignments to the site now!

No but really (pun intended)...this dichomotomy is one that could be extrapolated and repurposed in so many social justice causes, and is a good reference frame. Thanks for making such brilliant use of it here, Micah.

Micah Daigle said...

Thanks, Jon. Yes, I tried to limit it to just drug policy here, but one could easily see how it could be applied to other "progressive" isses (safe sex, abortion, welfare, etc).

And actually, that was my assignment 3 years ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

alex k said...

Awesome and insightful post by brotha!

800 pound gorilla said...

You need to add a third category: romantic. These people believe in give and take and believe that the end justifies the means. Maoism and Leninism are typical examples of romantics who use power to coerce others into submission to utopian goals.
Idealism is much more practical. They recognize that one can't achieve just goals using unjust means. They see numerous examples in history and in their own lives. They also see no advantage to selling out their ideals and sacrifice their integrity for any noble cause. They recognize that as a false trap. You don't really defeat evil by becoming evil. You just inherit evil's power - with all the problems that they will face without principles and without love. [FWIW, it's all in my book - although many fail to see the connection between drug abuse and lack of righteousness].