Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do


Nobody can be

so amusingly arrogant

as a young man

who has just discovered

an old idea

and thinks it is his own.

I'VE BEEN WAITING YEARS for someone to write this book. If someone had, I wouldn't have had to.
I have simply never understood why people should be jailed for actions that do not physically harm the person or property of others.
I have thus always been distinctly in the minority. People I admired and people I abhorred all seemed to agree: on this point I was wrong. I filed my conviction away under "something I'll understand when I'm older." Now I am older. It makes even less sense than it ever did.
From the mid-sixties to the early eighties, although the subject of consensual crimes (mostly referred to as "victimless crimes") was occasionally discussed and a number of scholarly tomes were published (some of them quite good), a comprehensive view of the subject for "just folks" like me never appeared.
Once the "War on Drugs" was declared, however, all discussion stopped. One might as well have tried saying something good about Emperor Hirohito in 1942. ("Nice uniform!")
The image that outraged me into putting my childish notion on the front burner was the cover of a news magazine from the mid-1980s. Workers in a cocaine field were piled like firewood, their white peasant clothing red with blood. They had been gunned down in cold blood by American troops. The workers didn't own the field—they were brought in for the harvest, paid subsistence wages.
But was this cover an expos on the dangers of prohibition? A warning about what happens when rhetoric and prejudice become more important in setting national policy than logic and reason? A bold illustration of why "military solution" is the most destructive oxymoron of all?

I haven't voted since 1964,

when I voted for Lyndon Johnson,

the peace candidate.

No. The headline blared: WINNING THE WAR ON DRUGS. Inside, the war on drugs was touted as though the magazine were covering the landing at Normandy. Page after page, article after article, arrest photo after arrest photo, diagrams, maps, bar graphs, pie charts—today they probably would have included a CD-ROM.
Like the one-sided reports about Vietnam two decades before, in this editorial orgy of support, not one word was written to defend the rights of those who wanted to take drugs. Not one voice was quoted crying in the wilderness, "So they want to take drugs. So what?"
I began researching the topic of this book, hoping desperately it had already been written. (Spending several weeks reading Supreme Court decisions is not my idea of a good time. And then there are those brilliantly written government reports—books, actually—with names such as Federal Recidivism Rates 1989–1990 or my bedtime favorite, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1994.) Alas, I couldn't find a book such as the one you hold in your hands, so I had to write it.
I explored every argument I could find opposing the legalization of consensual crimes. Not one of them held up to logical analysis; not one was supported by history; every solution was worse than the "problem" it was trying to solve.
Then came the dark part of the research—the terrible fact that laws against consensual activities were destroying lives, our society, our freedom, our safety, and our country.
The more I discovered, the more I was reminded of Remy de Gourmont's comment, "The terrible thing about the quest for truth is that you find it."

Ye shall know the truth,

and the truth

shall make you mad.

I hope this new edition of the book causes the sort of controversy caused by asking in 1773, "Why don't we break from England and start our own country?" or, in 1833, "Aren't slaves human beings and therefore entitled to their freedom?" or in 1963, "Shouldn't Vietnam have the right to determine its own form of government?" It's all a variation of "Why isn't the emperor wearing any clothes?"
As Bertrand Russell observed, "Change is scientific, progress is ethical; change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy." Throughout the controversy caused by the hardcover edition, I was buoyed by this from Herb Lock: "You say what you think needs to be said; if it needs to be said, there are going to be a lot of people who will disagree with it or it wouldn't need to be said."
One of the fears about discussing consensual activities is that if you defend a certain practice, you're often accused of being or doing that. Well, if you're wondering about me, why not assume that I do it all? Yes, you can safely presume that I am a drug-selling homosexual prostitute gambler who drunkenly loiters all day with my six wives and fourteen husbands, making and watching pornography while being treated by strange medical practices.
You can also assume my motives to be the darkest, most selfish, and pernicious you can imagine: I'm doing it for the money; I have a pathological need for attention; my mother didn't love me enough when I was three. No matter how many times I say that I'm not advocating any of the consensual crimes, someone will, of course, accuse me of "recruiting" for them all.

Until you've lost your reputation,

you never realize what a burden

it was or what freedom really is.

Although the subject is serious, this book is occasionally funny. I know if I lose my sense of humor about a subject, I am truly lost.
Call it a quirk in my personality, call it a defense mechanism, but in my mind things go from bad to worse to appalling to absurd to funny. Then they start all over again. This, for example, from the 1993 World Almanac and Book of Facts:

Dorothy Ries filed a $40 million lawsuit against Texas evangelist Robert Tilton, saying he continues to send solicitation letters to her dead husband, promising that God will restore his health.

Or take the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart. Every time he slammed his Bible on the pulpit, I knew a thousand more consensual "criminals" were going to prison. When he was caught with a prostitute, he insisted it was the devil's work and asked his congregation to forgive him. Pretty standard Christian-hand-in-the-cookie-jar response. Not very funny. When he was caught a second time, however, he told his congregation, "The Lord told me it's flat none of your business!" Amen, Brother Swaggart! I look forward to the day when I can be similarly amused by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
If one could only remind Reverend Swaggart of Hyman Rickover's advice, "If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't."

When we start

deceiving ourselves into thinking

not that we want something

or need something,

not that it is a pragmatic

necessity for us to have it,

but that it is a moral imperative

that we have it,

then is when we join

the fashionable madmen.

That's the trouble, of course: we have taken sins out of God's domain, where they can be forgiven, and put them in the domain of law, where they can only be plea-bargained.
Not only do we attempt to drag personal morality into the public arena; we put it into the hands of the least efficient organization on earth: government bureaucracy. "The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency," Eugene McCarthy pointed out, "An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty."
How inefficient is the bureaucracy? Well, in sunny California the government spent four years and $600,000 to produce twenty-five drafts of a "wellness guide." Some bureaucratic suggestions for wellness? "Don't buy something you can't afford" and "Don't beat, starve, or lock up your kids." Or this letter, sent from the South Carolina Department of Social Services:

Your food stamps will be stopped effective March, 1992, because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.

Increasingly, in utter desperation of a war lost, the enforcement of laws against consensual activities is being turned over to the military. You may recall then–Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay's 1965 comment:

My solution to the problem would be to tell [the North Vietnamese] they've got to draw in their horns and stop their aggression or we're going to bomb them into the Stone Age.

The problem with declaring war on personal behavior that does not harm the person or property of another is that the military is not just a bureaucracy; it's a heavily armed bureaucracy. The lighter side of the dilemma is illustrated by this news item:

When the army tested a new air-defense gun called the Sergeant York, which was designed to home in on the whirling blades of helicopters and propeller-driven aircraft, it ignored the chopper targets. Instead, the weapon demolished a ventilating fan on a nearby latrine.

I don't make jokes—

I just watch the government

and report the facts.

In war, the first fatality is the truth. The second and parallel fatality is the civil rights of all "dissidents." How much farther can my jaw drop than it did as I listened to then–Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates testify before Congress that casual drug users should not be arrested, but taken out and shot? His reasoning? The country is at war, and all who use drugs are traitors. A good number of people agreed with Chief Gates.
The price of freedom is eternal—and internal—vigilance.
And an occasional laugh.

Peter McWilliams

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