Monday, July 31, 2006

Vice Versa

I saw "Miami Vice" the movie yesterday. It was entertaining enough, but during the whole movie I could only think about one thing. How could anyone volunteer their life and sanity to work undercover in drug enforcement?

I found it sad. Not lame - heartwrenching. Here are some of the bravest, most dedicated law enforcement officers this country has, and they lose their lives over something as trivial as keeping someone from taking a toke off a fat boy. There's something fundamentally wrong here.

Are drug lords vicious animals that should be put down with no more thought than a rabid dog? Probably, although I've never met a real life drug lord. But given the violence going on at the Texas border, it does appear that they are monsters with no care for the lives of others, even those uninvolved in their dirty little war.

But why does the drug trade attract such scum? Because there are immense riches involved. Amounts which put to shame most country's GNP. To be a drug lord is to be one of the richest people on the planet, where you can literally buy *anything*.

Why is the drug trade so profitable? Because it is illegal. Illegal means that legitimate business, regulated and taxed businesses, will not touch it. Illegal means that only those individuals willing to break any law are willing to handle the production and distribution of the merchandise.

The demand for drugs doesn't appear to change appreciably whether or not the drug is illegal. The drug purchase rate in Amsterdam isn't appreciably different than the estimated rate in the U.S. (estimated because it is difficult to get accurate data on illegal drug demand in the U.S., whereas in Amsterdam, where many drugs are legal, the demand is easy to calculate. If you want a proxy in the U.S., look at alcohol and tobacco sales figures). There always has been, and always will be, a reasonably high demand for recreational drugs.

By making the production, distribution, and sale of many drugs illegal, we funnel that demand into some very narrow channels. Only the most barbaric winners of the darwinian selection of ruthlessness get to run the international drug operations. Only the worst of the worst prove themselves worthy to receive the billions of dollars we are willing to spend on illegal drugs.

And if it were just about money, that would be bad enough - worth discussing how much better off the world would be if those dollars could be funneled into government and legitimate private businesses instead.

But it isn't just about the money. It's about the lives lost. The lives of some of our best law enforcement personnel, who could be infiltrating terrorist cells instead of drug rings.

And that's a tragedy.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

License To Breed

A recurring theme that comes in discussions with my friend is the concept of a "license to have children." (Yes, my friends are an eclectic and irreverent rationalist lot - I love my friends.)

The basic premise is this. You need a license to drive a car. You need a license to cut hair. But any dumb ass in the world can have kids on a whim.

We should require a license to have kids.

The prerequisites could be prenatal care instruction, basic child psychology, and a personality assessment of fucked-upedness to see how much you'd screw up any offspring with your issues. Remedial psychotherapy to establish base levels of self-esteem, emotional equilibrium, and thoughtfulness (ie, maturity) could be government subsidized for those who flunked the initial exam.

The idea isn't crazy. There is a tremendous amount of experimental evidence demonstrating that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children - child abuse, sexual deviance, violent aggression, abandonment, and anti-education poverty mindsets are passed on to children via upbringing from parents with these problems. Why inflict more generations of such pain upon children? It isn't necessary, and can be helped.

But there are problems with the concept. I'm not talking about the immediate aversion to the idea by the majority of humanity who believe that having children is their "God given right" - these are the ones who I wish weren't having children in the first place.

No, the main problem is around an aspect of human nature that is so intrinsic, so embedded in the norm (rather than some pathology like those listed above than can be remediated).

This aspect is the abuse of power.

If there is a truism that has withstood the test of time, it's that Power Corrupts. In the case of child licensing, the question is - Who decides? Who gets to make the rules for who gets the license?

Any system put in place to license the production of children places the decision making power of who gets to have kids in the hands of a few. Even a well meaning, well drafted initial concept would evolve (devolve?) over time as it is "tweaked" by those in power - those who reward loyalty, who buy influence, who crave power.

Like most human systems to date, this would be yet another tool for those who have to have more, and those who have not to have even less. The inverse square law of nature plays out over and over - the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Those with the power to grant children would grant it to those like them, and gradually withold it from the rest.

If we could devise some balance of powers scheme, like our tripartite government structure, then perhaps the concept could work to a degree. But alas, it seems to be yet another utopian dream, the planned society gone astray once again.

It's too bad - so many children suffer today, only to grow into adults needing psychotherapy - only to become the next generation of parents to fuck up their children.

But given human nature, I'm not sure that Breeding Licenses are the way out.