The Pope Is Against Marijuana Legalization




Papa non fumigant [The Pope does not smoke] (I assume).

Me neither, but I tend to disagree with his recent comments on marijuana legalization. He said that

“even limited attempts to legalize recreational drugs ‘are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.'”

We need to look into what the ‘desired effects’ are.

“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!”

If, as I assume from the above statement, Pope Francis thinks that “the problem of drug use” is that people take drugs, then he is right—but also wrong.

Apparently, humans in all kinds of civilizations, long before the advent of Christianity, have been taking psychoactive substances. There seems to be a basic impulse in humanity to change the perception of reality, be it for the purpose of ritualistic religious practice or much more mundane motives.

Papa don’t preach!

In essence, Pope Francis is making a moralistic argument: drugs are just wrong.

Make no mistake: I am as terrified of the recent reports of flesh-eating ‘bath salts’ zombies, the sight of ‘meth mouths’ with rotting teeth, or the human decay caused by heroin addiction.

These are indeed harmful substances. Hard drugs. Most reasonable persons would agree that it is a bad idea to get involved with them.

But I think it makes sense to put marijuana in another category. If you look at the statistics on deaths caused by substance abuse, alcohol is the obvious outlier. There are no recorded deaths from marijuana consumption. You can read an article on the matter from American Scientist here.

The ‘War on Drugs’ has failed

As a practical matter, prohibition has failed.

In the U.S., the so-called war on drugs has dragged on for decades, and it is clear that it is unwinnable, just like the similarly silly concept of a ‘war’ against terrorism.

Should one not be worried about terrorism and not do anything about it?—absolutely not! Should one abandon the issue of drug addiction and leave addicts to their own devices? No.

What I am getting at here is that the strategy needs to be revised.

Just as much as I see the problem of terrorism rather as a task for police and intelligence services (but without violating everybody’s civil liberties, like the NSA), I think that the problem of drug abuse is more a task for medical professionals and health education.

This approach would also reduce the steady flow of people into the out-of-control American prison-industrial-complex which disproportionately jails young men of color for non-violent drug offenses and puts them in an environment full of violent hardcore criminals. And this is a manifestation of systemic racism, or, as one famous book on the subject calls it “The New Jim Crow.”

Legalize, tax, educate

My policy prescription would involve the legalization of drugs, their subsequent taxation, and the reallocation of funds used for the ‘war on drugs’ to health education and treatment of addicts.

A pope who has built his reputation as an advocate for the poor should understand this.





Pope Francis Recognizes The Problem Of The Filter Bubble

Pope Francis recognizes the problem of the filter bubble

Image: “Papa Francisco en marzo del año 2013.”, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The current spiritual leader of the Catholic Church is aware of the Internet, at least he does not sound as if he considers it to be ‘a series of tubes.’ He recently called for a “culture of encounter” which would be facilitated by the Internet. In his view, the opportunities for communication on the Internet are “something truly good, a gift from God.”

More worldly scholars of Internet history would surely add that engineers and scientists had a bit of a hand in this, too. But he’s the Pope, so I should probably not be too nitpicky, after all. I agree that the Internet has that positive potential.

But he also recognizes to important problems or challenges of the flow of information as we know it online.

Real-time news makes reflection more difficult

First, a flood of information is rushing at us so quickly that it is difficult to pause and reflect on a complex topic. Twitter, so to speak, is the anti-book. There is something to that, I believe. The experience of picking up a monograph at a university library and taking meticulous notes is very different from the constant flows of information we expose ourselves to on social networking sites. One mode of information consumption is for gaining a deeper understanding, the other is rather a way to keep up-to-date with current events.

Filter bubbles narrow our thought

Second, the Pope recognizes what Eli Pariser has described at length in his book by the same name as the “filter bubble.”

“The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests [emphasis mine].”

I think that he is right there, too. Everyone taking in a lot of information has to filter sources to some degree. You can never read the whole Internet. Not even on one single day. Because the next day, there are a gazillion new articles to read and updates to check. It is just impossible.

But of course there is also the phenomenon he is talking about. People tend to screen out opinions which they disagree with quite often. And except for professional news and politics junkies, we are probably all more or less guilty of this.

If, in the American context, you are a person who agrees with the outlook on the world put forward by the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Fox News as a whole, you are unlikely to be also an avid follower of commentators who tend to disagree strongly with almost anything they say.

And this is understandable to some degree. On the one hand, dispute and disagreement can be fun. On the other hand, being outraged all day long can also be quite exhausting.

On the Internet, you can often just delete people or websites from your news feeds and they seem to magically disappear.

This is all fair and well to get rid of people who are verbally abusive online. There is not exactly a scarcity of those on the Internet.  But regarding discourse on any number of subjects, just having one (fact-based) opinion to draw conclusions from, is really risking intellectual poverty.

On the positive potential of the Internet and the challenge of filter bubbles, I find myself agreeing with the Pope for once.

Read more:

Pope Francis tells the Internet to chill out.” (Audra Schroeder, The Daily Dot, 2014/01/23)