Friday, January 10, 2014

Pot, taxes, society, freedom

A version of these musings found no resonance on  To keep things brief, I provide only my main points.

1. To begin with - marijuana legalization.

a. The problem with current law are the sentences disproportionate to the crime of carrying pot - I fully sympathise.

b. My point was not received with sympathy, that the dailykos-type liberal would support all kinds of regulations on companies selling a product one-tenth as dangerous as pot - say, Monsanto with GMO foods, or fast-food companies selling sugar- and fat- laden obesity-promoting products.

2. Both dailykos-type leftists and libertarians subscribe to the same notion of freedom - "if my actions don't cause physical or financial harm to anyone, I should be free to do it."  This is a common American cultural notion (and is being globalized, to the detriment of the world).

a. I believe any definition of freedom requires balancing the individual and society.

b. I do not claim to know where that balance lies; I just know that it is necessary.

c. The notion of freedom mentioned above is trivially shown to be mistaken.

Any ecological system has a "carrying capacity" - it can sustain indefinitely a certain level of some type of human activity.  But once that level is exceeded, human activity requires regulation. Hence, e.g., automobiles are required to have catalytic converters.  The Los Angeles air quality management district put restrictions on wood-burning fires.  Fishing and hunting are largely regulated.  The action of no one individual causes harm; the action of individuals below a certain total threshold causes no harm; it is the collective action of a large number of individuals that causes harm.

3. I believe the legalization of pot does not take into account society's interests.  It is based purely on the same mistaken notion of freedom.

4. Libertarians argue that taxation is theft, taxation is immoral, etc.; and logically speaking, they are correct, if we ignore the existence of society in our definition of freedom.   Dailykos-type leftists who accept the common American notion are, at best,  reduced to trying to justify majoritarian coercion with regard to taxes, or futilely quoting, "taxation is the price we pay for civilization". 

5. The reason why society has a say in your freedoms -  that you survived beyond age 10, that you have a language to speak, that you do not have to create the world anew, but have the fruits of ages of civilization and culture available to you, is because of the existence of human society.  This obligation is recognized in traditional cultures, as far as I know.

a. Far too many traditional societies go unbalanced opposite to the American way - society has too much primacy over the individual.

6. To mention the "hot" topics on - I think gay marriage is better for society than any alternative, and is consonant with individual freedom.  I think pot legalization is on the whole bad for society, and use of pot is harmful to the individual (maybe less harmful than alcohol - but that is no justification.   Alcohol is too deeply embedded in the culture to do anything about.  Now we'll add pot to the mix.)

7. Apart from legal control, society can exert other forms of control - such as loss of social status, ostracism, etc..
a.   Grameen Bank and such micro-lending schemes have found a way to monetize a poor person's social capital - the borrower's social standing falls if they do not repay the loan.

b.  Such mechanisms require that one acknowledge society exists and gives it some importance.  This is seemingly difficult in the atomized American urban culture - though, on the other hand, everyone cites "peer pressure" among the young.  Growing up in India, I feel that my peers were quite accepting of differences - but I do not know if this is vanishing in India too.