Over at the Center for American Progress, Eric Alterman has written an article
comparing Milton Friedman and Gore Vidal. Alterman is a great writer and thinker, but you know me: when people start talking drugs, I get very picky.
While we're remembering birthdays and death days, let's take a moment to remember that Jerry Garcia would have been just 70 on Wednesday. It's ironic that the one thing that all three would have agreed upon was the libertarian freedom that allows a man or woman to indulge in dangerous narcotics. The fact of our losing Garcia so early in his life suggests, at the very least, that the vexing questions of our society such as how to deal with drug abuse and treatment cannot be solved on the basis of ideology, whether Friedmanite, Vidalesque, or Deadhead.
So I sent him a letter that I am very sure he won't publish:
I know you were trying to make nice with your "dangerous narcotics" comment in this week's Think Again column, but I must take issue with it.
Why is it we feel obliged to modify the word "narcotics" with "dangerous"? There are many things that are far more dangerous than narcotics, and yet no one feels the need to focus on this one aspect of a behavior. No one says, for instance, "Dangerous space flight." Yet space flight is far more dangerous than narcotics.
You imply that Jerry Garcia's youthful death was due to his use of illegal "dangerous" narcotics. Garcia died of a heart attack. He was obese. He was a chain smoker. He was diabetic. I suspect that these explain almost everything about his early death. If his detox from opioids were responsible (if untreated, blood pressure does increase slightly), the effect was minor and would indicate medical malpractice by the doctors at his treatment facility.
There is no doubt that drug laws do great harm to society. But so too does the social stigmatization of illegal drugs and illegal drug users. Part of this comes from focusing on one aspect of drug use and placing all the blame for a drug user's death on his illegal drug use. All this does is perpetuate the status of illegal drug user as outsider. And that doesn't help anyone.
The problem here is that if we can't get thoughtful liberals like Eric Alterman to see their biases, we have a very long row to hoe.