More on “expertise”
claims Professor Bellesiles made in his Arming
America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture
— a book once
acclaimed and now thoroughly discredited — was that there was
no significant market for guns in early America. Clayton Cramer, one of
Bellesiles’ most effective debunkers, describes the results of a quick
look at 18th and early 19th c. newspapers: you
just can’t avoid the gun ads
. As Cramer asks, why did the experts,
many of them specialists in the period, who praised the book and gave
Bellesiles the Bancroft Award get taken in so easily? As in the case of
opinion on affirmative action
, it’s enough to make you think that
experts have collective interests — identical with those of the
managerial state — that color and sometimes determine their findings.
Posted by Jim Kalb at May 21, 2003 12:32 PM | Send
Here’s Jayson Blair on experts:
In an extraordinary interview with the New York Observer being published today, the former reporter laughed about the Times’s investigation of him and seemed angry that his serial fabrications weren’t being properly appreciated.
“I don’t understand why I am the bumbling affirmative action hire when Stephen Glass is this brilliant whiz kid, when from my perspective — and I know I shouldn’t be saying this — I fooled some of the most brilliant people in journalism,” he said. Glass, who was fired by the New Republic for inventing stories five years ago, “is so brilliant and yet somehow I’m [an] affirmative action hire. They’re all so smart, but I was sitting right under their nose fooling them. If they’re all so brilliant and I’m such an affirmative action hire, how come they didn’t catch me?”
The only parallel I can find to this is in the matter of drugs, especially marijuana policy. In both cases, the overriding goals (of effecting or maintaining a ban) becomes an end justifying any means. Anything that can be said to inflame public opinion will be said, not on the basis of whether it’s true, but whether the public is considered gullible enough to believe it.
Of course, prohibition of firearms would be even less effective than prohibition of drugs — which is a rather forgiving comparison anyway. But prohibitionists, by their very nature, are among the worst of liars. Fabricating evidence whenever possible, downplaying evidence contrary to their position with smoke and mirrors, and hyping the least evidence in their support into exaggerations of fancy.
I am reminded of that commercial put out in the late 80’s by the Partnership For A Drug-Free America that showed the brainwaves of a 14 year old under normal conditions, then showed what were purportedly the brainwaves of the same boy after smoking marijuana — the brainwaves went almost flat.
Of course, this was nonsense. Both the NIH and the Nat’l Academy of Sciences have reported that the waking EEG readings of a person high on marijuana are hardly affected at all, a fact which has puzzled researches.
When Dr. Donald Blum of UCLA visited ABC headquarters to inquire about this, they duly dispatched a reporter to accompany him to the PDFA for an explanation. The PDFA spokesman didn’t miss a beat, explaining that the brainwaves supposedly of the stoned kid were actually those of a full grown adult lying in a coma. When asked why they would do this, they were told that the PDFA’s charter involves convincing people not to do drugs; how they do so isn’t the issue — and remember we’re at war on drugs!
‘Nuff said. If only more Conservatives were as concerned about _truth_ in ALL areas of public policy, not just in those issues where we are sympathetic. Let’s never be afraid to call a spade a spade.
BTW, my last sentence was in no way directed towared yourself or Mr. Auster. ;-)
Joel, you may be right that some anti-drugs campaigns were more concerned with the results than the truth. But your argument seems to slip over into a libertarian claim that drugs prohibition is wrong in itself. As a teacher who has to witness glassy eyed stoned 13 year olds walk into class in the morning - a very sad, pathetic sight - I would strongly dispute any argument favouring a relaxation of drugs policy. If your argument is that prohibition can’t ever be effective, I believe you’re wrong: the Australian government toughened its stance against heroin two years ago and within months the rate of heroin deaths fell dramatically.
Thank you for your post. Though I honestly did not expect to provoke a debate on this, I’ve decided to return the favor for whatever it might be worth. I am very sympathetic both to your concerns, which are obviously very sincere, and to your position — which I held for the first half of my life. My position changed only after several years of in-depth thought on this issue; I certainly don’t expect to change your mind with a single post. ;-) In any case, your presence on this forum suggests that we have much more in common than divides us, so if I seem ‘forthright’ in my statements, it is only due to a very strong conviction and not to any doubt of your sincerity, or your intelligence. ;-)
My conviction is that the position you have just articulated is terribly, terribly wrong. Please forgive what might be a lengthy post, but it is not possible to address your points in just a few sentences.
First, my main point was about truthfulness. The fact that we have different views on drug policy certainly shouldn’t affect this. And I will take it for granted that you agree.
Your initial statement did however seem somewhat cavalier. Consider that when Bureau of Narcotics Commisioner Harry J. Anslinger was lobbying Congress to ban marijuana, he brazenly testified that the drug would turn the user into a murderer and a rapist withing 1 or 2 months, and would then lead to permanant and incurable insanity. He also inferred that it would cause white women to desire sexual relations with black men. (If you doubt this, check www.druglibrary.com which has the transcripts of the hearings.) Among the sillier claims the government has tried to promote include brain shrinkage and breast enlargement in men.
If you join me in rejecting this nonsense, then you might have worded your first sentence more strongly. Where our concern is especially with young people, then this is not a light matter. Nothing is more damaging to credibility than the perception that the warnings proffered are not truthful. When young people see commercials about a frying egg, it only evokes mockery and cynicism.
As to drug prohibition, it has historically been a massive failure. Even worse, it may well have exacerbated the very problems it was supposed to reduce. The drive to alter one’s consciousness is simply too strong to suppress by legal means. This is true even in countries that employ Draconian measures.
In Saudi Arabia for instance, where even the #1 recreational drug alcohoal is banned and its use regularly punished by public floggings, people continue to produce and consume it. There, and in countries like China, we regularly hear of executions of drug dealers, and then we about them the year after, and the after that. Others take their place. Countries like Singapore, where users are caned and trafickers are hanged, still see a growing drug problem.
I would say indeed that _as a rule_ “prohibition can’t ever be effective.” And I don’t believe that you have presented a real exception in the case of heroin in Australia.
For one thing, you seem to be much more confident about the cause of the recent heroin shortage than the Australian authorities. See http://www.crimecommission.gov.au/content/publications/aidr_2003/03_Heroin.pdf and you will find that there is real uncertaintly as to the reason for the shortage, so much so in fact that the government commissioned an 18 month study to try to determine the cause, which should be released this year.
Other sources indicate that the heroin ‘draught’ may be ending anyway: http://www.mapinc.org/ccnews/v02/n1814/a05.html?351
Besides that, it is unclear whether the lack of heroin did much more than cause users to switch to other narcotics. The report above note “informants have stated that heroin users are supplementing their heroin usage with the illicit consumption of pharmaceutical opiates or barbituates.” This is also noted in another article: http://news.ninemsn.com.au/Health/story_45423.asp
Much ado has been made of the period of shortage, but I’ve seen that before. In 1986 and 1990 there were marijuana ‘draughts’ in the U.S. The DEA puffed their chests out and boasted of how their vigilance had finally produced results. In the succeeding years, when marijuana was again as plentiful as ever, they had little to say in follow-up. I was especially troubled in 1990 when I read how police in Alexandria, VA were reporting cases of kids using crach — as their first illicit drug experience.
If you look at the supply figures and use patterns going back decades, you will find continuous fluctuations up and down and up and down. Much is sometimes made of the ‘down’ cycles. William Bennett used that trick when he stepped down as drug Czar. He showed this chart that indicated cocaine use was decreasing. But the chart was a real ‘zoom-in,’ and he of course never pointed out where the zero point was — so low it could have struck oil. Cocaine traficking is still with us.
I think that citing the current (or former) heroin draught in Australia to support prohibition is at best very weak. An example with a few more years of experience to draw from would be the Netherlands, where marijuana is de facto legal, and narcotic users are treated in a more tolerant fashion. When their marijuana policy was changed they saw a diminution in its use, which is less for Dutch youth than our own. Their heroin users are typically in touch with health authorities, and are encouraged into treatment programs. There are about 1/10th the number of narcotic addicts in all of Holland as in New York City — which former Mayor Koch acknowledged even as he still criticized the Dutch policy. Who do you think has a more successful approach? And why?
Your own observations testify to just how horribly our current approach has failed. When were such problems as this ever seen during the first 139 years of our country’s existence when opium and extracts of cocaine and cannabis were legal and FREELY AVAILABLE over the counter?! Show me any history textbooks from the 1920’s or before that make reference to anything like the “drug problem” we have today. Back then, the big problem was alcohol. (It still is.)
Yet since these substances were outlawed, their use has jumped literally hundreds of times. Since 1965 we have made over 10 million marijuana arrests. We currently spend more every year combating drugs than we spent to win the first Gulf War in a never-ending fight that severely drains the resources of our police and judiciary and gives us what? Stoned kids coming to your class.
This thread started on the issue of gun control, so let’s return to it for a moment. You are no doubt aware of a problem of kids bringing guns to school, and occassionaly even using them. Would you suggest then that we should outlaw all gun ownership by adults, arresting as many as possible, in order to ‘send a signal’ to kids that it’s ‘not OK’ for them to have guns? Is this not absurd?
Yet this is exactly the argument we are handed by gun prohibitionists, is it not? who play up every tragedy as a reason for ever more repressive gun laws? Speaking of Australia, is this not what they did there in response to the Port Arthur Massacre of 1996?
If you reject this, then why would you support the same argument in the case of marijuana? I suggest that it would be more consistent with every other area in which we differentiate between behaviors acceptable to adults but not to children. Children must learn early on that there are certain things adults do that they may not — driving, having sex, using firearms, drinking alcohol. And I would add, smoking marijuana.
Marijuana, being the most widely used of the current illicit substances — more than all others combined — is a different case from narcotics. It is almost a certainty that most children will at least know someone who is a user. But in the mind of the kid, the fact that it is as illegal for adults as for children makes the aforementioned differentiation a moot point. I hope you can see what I’m getting at here, because in my opinion one of the worst effects of the current marijuana laws has been to encourage disrespect for the rule of law. These laws are among the most flagrantly violated since the Volstead Act, and with very similar effects in how people regard the law in their lives.
The view that I am taking is supported by nearly every major study that has been undertaken on the subject, including the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report of 1894 (British), the Panama Canal Zone Military Investigations 1913-1916 (USA), the LaGuardia Report 1944 (USA), the AMA-ABA Joint Committe Report 1960 (USA), the Baroness Wooten Report 1968 (British), the Presidential Commission on Marijuana and Drugs of Abuse 1973 (USA), the LeDain Commission Report 1974 (Canada — findings recently confirmed by another govt study), Analysis of Marijuana Policy by the National Academy of Sciences 1982 (USA), the California Governors Advisory Panel 1993 (USA).
All of these studies are in substantial agreement that marijuana represents minimal risk to human health, that its dangers have been often overstated, and that decriminalization is the preferred approach. Some of these studies were commissioned in the belief that they would support the prohibitionist approach and arrived at their conclusions against political pressure to do otherwise.
The only study that the U.S. Govt has done on the effects of decriminalization (in the few states that had enacted such laws) entitled “Decriminalization And Youth” 1979 found that the laws had had no discernible effect on use patterns. Perhaps this is why one arch-prohibitionist, the late Gerald Solomon, during his years in Congress would routinely introduce legislation that would outlaw any studies by the Federal Govt. on drug policy reform. One wonders what he was afraid of! Read the aforementioned studies, and you’ll see what he was afraid of.
At any rate, it sounds like you are daily confronted with the terrible failures of our policy, where children can regularly obtain marijuana easier than they can obtain alcohol. (They don’t need to show their ID’s to get marijuana.) So I have to wonder how you can continue to support this policy.
Only in such matters as race relations do so many of us find ourselves locked into such rigid and conventional thinking, unable to break out of the orthodox mindset and see the forest for the trees. Please try to open your mind a bit, and consider whether this policy that you currently support, however well-intentioned, might not have had the perverse effect of contributing to the problem of which you are rightly so concerned.
(And please forgive the rambling response — it’s rather late.) ;-)
“I would say indeed that _as a rule_ “prohibition can’t ever be effective.” “
Obviously this isn’t the case though. Prohibition against murder is necessary for a stable society that provides a good life for its citizens. There are of course always practical arguments for and against particular prohibitions, systems, enforcement mechanisms, etc. Lots of lies, damn lies, and statistics are deployed on both sides of the drug prohibition debate but at bottom the debate is ideological not practical in nature.
One thing that is certain though is that lawlessness and the breakdown of social fabric are furthered by libertine attitudes. If a large part of society thought that murder was meritorious and pushed a libertine rebel attitude with respect to murder then I would expect murder to increase even though on the other hand I would not ever expect to completely eliminate incidences of murder.
A straw man? I don’t think so. Welcome to Oakland, have a nice day:
“F**k the police, break it down.
F**k the police, yeah.
F**k the police, for Darryl Gates.
F**k the police, for Rodney King.
F**k the police, for my dead homies.
F**k the police, for your freedom.
F**k the police, don’t be a pussy.
F**k the police, have some muthaf**kin’ courage.
F**k the police, sing along.
Cop killer, what you’re gonna be when you grown up?
Cop killer, good choice.
I’m a muthaf**kin’ cop killer!
Cop killer, better you than me.
Cop killer, f**k police brutality!
Cop killer, I know your mama’s grievin’
lyrics by Ice T
There are of course real problems comparing marijuana smoking with murder. The comparison is not especially useful. Would we compare responsible gun ownership with rape? Or the right to possess alcohol with burglery? I mean for one thing, there is not really a huge demand for murder by millions of people as a commodity…
I don’t subscribe to the so-called Libertarian agenda, as that includes some pretty whacky features. But by referencing concepts as ‘libertine’ you are essentially making the same argument as gun prohibitionists. The gun issue is much closer to the issue of drugs.
Of course, none of our ‘rights’ are absolute. Free speech is a fundamental right, but you can’t yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. I do not question the right of society to assign reasonable parameters for a given behavior. But as General Washington stated, “I believe that a man is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruits of his labor, so long as he in no way interferes with the rights of others.” (From “Maxims.”)
Again, this country went for 139 years without such laws, and these substances were readily available. I see no evidence that this contributed to lawlessness or breakdown of social fabric. This happened _after_ specific drugs were outlawed. People of course continued and will continue to use them. Criminalizing millions of people for this creates its own societal problems, like a huge black market.
Like the gun issue — guns were hardly restricted at all during the same early period of our history. Of course, prohibitionists blame the more recent rise of violence on the availability of firearms. And so they want more repressive laws, which of course won’t work, so then we’ll need more oppressive laws. There’s something else to blame here.
Now if you look at a chart on national murder rates by year in the 20th century you cannot help but notice that after alcohol prohibition was passed, the murder rate rose markedly every year it remained in effect. Then when it was repealed, the murder rate showed a steady decline all the way into the early 70’s — about the time Mr. Nixon declared another war on drugs. I know — statistics again, but this can’t just be a coincidence.
As far as the extent to which the law should be used to intrude into every minute area of our lives, well the government of today has asserted far more power than the Founders ever intended. Today it even touches your seat belt. Where would you draw the line here?
Further, if murder is your concern, then you should remember that every time a police officer makes another useless marijuana arrest, (of which there are over 700,000 annually,) that is several hours off the beat, filling out paperwork and probably a court appearance. I live an hour outside of D.C., where 3 of 4 murders go unsolved. Do you really think that cops should waste time trying to harrass stoners in their homes? The resources of the police are limited. I have a hard time with your contention that there are not practical issues involved here.
And here’s some poetry back to you, not like Ice-T though:
Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can’t stop what it’s meant to stop.
We like it.
It’s filled our land with vice and crime,
Made wealthy men of graft and slime,
It don’t prohibit worth a dime.
Nevertheless, we’re for it.
Franklin P. Adams, 1931
I recalled another quote from “Maxims of George Washington” which I think is relevent here, if not very prophetic:
“From trade, the American people will not be restrained. It therefore behooves us to place it in the most convenient channels, under proper regulation, freed as much as possible from those vices which luxury, the consequence of wealth and power, naturally introduce.”
“Would we compare responsible gun ownership with rape?”
No. Gun ownership is not morally wrong, and rape is. Both drug use (a form of self abuse that also has a dramatic social impact) and murder are morally wrong; the difference in the latter pair is in degree and issues of practicality, but not in kind.
“But by referencing concepts as ‘libertine’ you are essentially making the same argument as gun prohibitionists.”
In a sense this is true, by the way. I am not a liberal of any sort, so I don’t see any fundamental problem with government regulating things for either moral or practical reasons. There can of course be major problems with the notion that government is a useful social instrument for many of these things, and in general it is best for a government to have modest practical goals. Other than the fact that drug use is immoral self-abuse while gun ownership is not though there isn’t any other fundamental difference between the issues that I can see.
It would be wrong to interpret my position as an endorsement of the current set of drug laws and policies. I would be against any change in the current state of affairs that failed to maintain a formal moral stance against drug use though. I summarized my own view of the relation between morality and the law recently this way in another comment on sodomy:
“1) Sodomy is immoral, period (as are adultery, contraception, and other sexual sins). It should never be treated formally and publicly as if it were not immoral.
2) What the law should actually require and enforce is a matter of prudential judgement. The law need not (and indeed should not) comprehensively enforce what is morally right, but it should support the good and at the least should be consistent with it. “
OK, so for you it comes down to a moral issue. One could raise a number of questions here — do you believe it is immoral to drink alcohol? Alcohol consumption causes up to 100,00 deaths a year by itself, many from overdose. Marijuana has not caused a single documented overdose fatality in 5,000 years. Is this too a difference of degree? Do you think our experience in outlawing alcohol was successful _overall_? Would you suggest that we should outlaw everything of which we morally disapprove, (and just assume we will have an acquiescent majority in support, if that even matters?)
The evidence presented in the studies I cited in the first post uniformly indicate that marijuana consumption by adults does not cause demonstrable harm to society. But do evidences such as this even matter if it’s just a moral issue? Should the effects of prohibition itself on society not be taken into account? Evidently they were in bringing the repeal of alcohol prohibition. (Was that the right thing to do in your view?)
I am arguing that the consequences of prohibition are worse than the consequences of drug use itself. Your statement that the difference between murder and drug use is only in degree but not in kind was staggering to me. But I don’t want to keep beating this topic into the ground…
OK, I see you answered my question while I was writing them. And I think in your last post we have narrowed our philosophical disagreement considerably.
I would suggest that a policy that exacerbates what is arguably a moral problem is itself less than moral. I don’t think I disagree with either your #1 or #2 point.
Thanks for discussing. :-)
“do you believe it is immoral to drink alcohol?”
No, but it is immoral to be a drunkard.
“Marijuana has not caused a single documented overdose fatality in 5,000 years. Is this too a difference of degree?”
It has caused plenty of deaths other ways though; but for me morality isn’t a utilitarian question, so this doesn’t address it. For me the basic question is whether we want Western civilization to survive or not. If we don’t repent from our liberal hedonism Western society will die, and the drug culture (as with all of the movements to legalize vice) is an integral part of liberal hedonism. Anything that encourages the “you can’t legislate morality” crowd has to be discouraged if we are to survive. There is literally nothing else other than morality that ever is legislated, in fact.
“Your statement that the difference between murder and drug use is only in degree but not in kind was staggering to me.”
In the specific sense that both are morally wrong acts it is the truth, though. Making vices illegal in a liberal culture is always a problem of course, because people think they have these “rights,” equal to those of others, that allow them to assertively do what they want without “interference”. So the problem runs far deeper than merely what is and is not embodied in law, etc. I’ve said before that only fundamental repentance will save the West, and I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it to be true.
We do seem to be cross-posting over each other!
I don’t worry too much about day-to-day policy questions. Things are so far beyond repair at this point that just about any practical criticism will fly and have real merit. That isn’t the basic issue to me though, and in general I am against anything that purports to represent increases in equality, rights, etc on fundamental philosophical and moral grounds. The way to think about me is as a medieval Catholic moderate monarchist transplanted into modern America, who nonetheless loves his country and countrymen. Thus the basic call to repentance.
We are again in agreement on these points. I believe in Biblical morality very strongly. The Bible does not condemn use of alcohol per se — the Psalms even praises God for having made “wine, which maketh glad the heart of man.” Using a natural substance for simple pleasure is no where identified as a sin. But loving pleasure more than loving God is a sin, as the Apostle Paul told Titus.
Drunkenness — or any other excessive behavior such as gluttony — is a very serious sin. The examples provided us, as in the case of Noah, show this to refer to the use of a substance to such excess that it dominates the individual and/or compromises volitional control over their actions. This is a sin. I believe this principle is true also with regard to marijuana use.
The Bible of course gives very clear warnings in this regard, and I think does teach that abstinence is a wise decision, if not of necessity a moral one.
I agree that we need to repent and turn back to our founding principles, or we are due for judgment — which may already be coming. “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”
“I agree that we need to repent and turn back to our founding principles, …”
To clarify a possible difference on this particular philosophical point, it depends on what founding principles one means (and to a significant extent my sort of traditionalism is against the exaltation of principles over particular people, culture, ethnicity, tradition, etc). America as a propositional nation is part of the problem not part of the solution in my view, so if the return means viewing things like the Constitution, the founding/founders, and the Old Republic as essentials to which we must return then that isn’t something I would pursue.
On the specific issue of marijuana legality it is a difficult individual policy issue, mostly because of our postmodern liberal context. I would probably tend to side with the libertarians policy-wise, but only in circumstances where it was clear that pot smoking is not one value-neutral individual choice among many but rather is a morally destructive act to be shunned and discouraged, even to the extent of morally advantaging the shunners with no obvious harm caused by the shunned (in other words, the pot smoker would, all other things equal, be considered in the wrong). I don’t think siding with the legalize-pot lobby is likely to go that way (I feel much the same way about many issues, the gun lobby and envirnmental lobby providing good examples of issue-groups with which I may superficially share goals but which are so corrupted by liberalism that I can’t possibly side with them). The current methods of shunning and discouraging drug users do of course have their problems, and indeed part of the more basic problem is that liberalism has eliminated shunning and discouraging to such an extent that nothing but strict law has any efficacy any more. So one of the things to do is bring back the social practice of shunning and discouraging immorality, bringing economic and social consequences back to immorality, etc.
I think it best to leave the marijuana/drugs matter behind at this point, before I exceed the reasonable patience of our respected hosts. But I would like to pick up on your first point.
We are indeed referring to the same thing in the matter of ‘founding principles,’ vis-a-vis, of Western Civilization. Although, to wit, I would love to see this country return to its political/Constitutional/Federalist roots; I’m just not naive enough to believe it will ever happen. We crossed the Rubicon on this long ago. To focus on it would be to focus on symptoms rather than the illness.
I believe our first concern should be returning to a believe in and reverence of that Almighty Being whose blessings made us the great civilization we were, as ably articulated by the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer. We have obviously departed from the worldview where the final reality is a personal, rational, and holy Being to Whom we are individually and collectively acountable.
“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God,” as the Scriptures warn us.
I believe that most Americans at least still hold to this, however imperfectly and ineffectually — we have allowed those who are overtly hostile to the very concept of the Divinity to seize the reins of power. And we will all pay for it.
Only a spiritual revival can ‘save’ us, and even then it would represent a temporary reprieve. Judgment undoubtedly will come, as it must, based on our rejection of God and His revealed standards — and, I would add, based on how the nations regard the state of Israel.
A correction is in order on my statement of May 23, 2003 02:00 PM, para 3. I erroneously attributed the quote beginning, “I believe that a man is naturally entitled …” to General Washington. That statement was evidently made by Mr. Lincoln. It’s widely quoted as his, though I haven’t been able to find an exact citation. But it’s not from the General and I apologize for the mistake.