• Conservatives' Anti-Science Attitude

    • Posted on Mar 22, 2015
    Here's this morning's (Sun. 3-22) Courier column. It's a bit more of a polemic than I usually write, but I'm getting weary of fantasy-based beliefs that seem pervasive.

    By "conservative," I don't necessarily mean Republicans, but anyone who decides that their beliefs are absolute and certain, and defends them vociferously against the facts.   
    They "conserve" their beliefs, based on certainty.  

    Even scientists fall victim to this temptation, as Johann Hari points out in his "Chasing the Scream" book on our failed "war" on drugs.  

    Conservatives’ rampant anti-science attitude began, I think, when curious and smart souls (aka scientists) began gathering data that shook long-established beliefs.  

    It’s certainly not new.  

     Galileo and Darwin, in 1610 and 1859 respectively, shifted the very ground upon which most people’s beliefs were anchored.  The earth moves around the sun?  Species appear and disappear depending on whether they adapt?  All of nature constantly changes, including humans?  Say it ain’t so, people said, and still say, though thankfully not a majority worldwide any more.  

     Except hard-right conservatives, who seem intent on maintaining their own ignorances. In spite of mountains of data, conservatives refuse to believe what science plainly reveals.   What they do instead: Ignore, deny, or re-interpret data to fit their delusional beliefs, roughly in that order. 

    Scientists search for facts grounded in research using a method which yields 
    truths that can be replicated and therefore used worldwide for all manner of applications and theories.   This “scientific method” deserves respect partly because it works, and partly because anyone with tools and knowledge can use it to make further discoveries, and have now for centuries.  

     Though hardly perfect, it’s the best means we have of finding reliable and valid facts.  We ignore and deny it at our peril.  

     That’s the malady of all true believers:  Certainty.  Scientists, if they stay true to their calling, admit new facts that change their world view.  

     A case in point:  the drug “war” that has ruined millions of lives world-wide.  Two recent books make a powerful case against current anti-drug policies.  “Chasing the Scream,” by Johann Hari, and “High Price,” by Carl Hart, reveal that hysteria rules this country’s attitude toward addictive substances, not science. 

     America’s Prohibition (1920-1933) was the first result, which developed into a full-blown national disaster.  Gangsters, bootlegging, mob killings, turf wars, and an enormous uptick in prison populations ruled that era.   

     As Mark Thornton (Professor of Economics at Auburn University) notes: 
    “Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became "organized"; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant.”

     If that sounds familiar it should.  Our current drug policies have become a full-blown national disaster as well. Drug lords, smuggling, gang killings, turf wars, and an enormous uptick in prison populations rule our era. 
    Prohibition is not working, and never has.  

     The most compelling account comes from Hari’s “Chasing the Scream” book, a highly readable account of how we’ve failed to either eradicate or control addictive drugs.  Hari reveals how politicians have ignored or dismissed solid research that points toward an entirely different approach. 

    The source of addiction is only partially chemical “hooks.” In fact, addictions exist with no chemical hooks at all—take gambling, for one example.  Feeling alone, outcast, berated, and punished does more to create addictive behavior than actual drug chemistry.   
    So what do we do to addicts?  We abuse, punish, imprison, and berate them. 

    We need a national awakening on drug policy, and it won’t come from conservatives.   

     A solution that has already worked once in this country needs to be brought back:  End prohibition.  When alcohol prohibition ended, so did the crimes committed because of prohibition. 

     The same would happen, both Hari and Hart insist, if we ended prohibition of banned substances. This doesn’t necessarily mean legalization, but it could mean de-criminalization.  It has begun with both Colorado and Oregon’s easing of marijuana restrictions.   That should continue nationwide.   

     It won’t come easily or quickly, but it has to come.   Science will help show the way, and a few enlightened conservatives might step up to help.  

     One can always hope.   

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Conservatives/Liberals
    • alcohol
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • Recreational Marijuana Wanted But Not Needed?

    • Posted on Aug 27, 2014
    This appeared in today's (8-3) Waterloo Courier.  It expresses my ambivalence toward all consciousness-altering drugs.  We do want them but don't need them--and if you're tried using them to make you happy, you know what I mean.  They can be a break, an escape, a short good time, but will betray you if you let them take over.   

    So legalization is a mixed bag, though overall it makes sense.   


    “What’s the rush?” PBS Anchor Judy Woodruff asked last Sunday during a “Meet the Press” discussion on legalizing marijuana.  

    Then she realized her pun, guffawing along with panelists.  What she meant:  “Why are we in such a hurry to legalize a potentially addictive and dangerous substance?”

    The other meaning of “rush” caused the laugh, since it refers to the effect of mood-altering substances, along with “high,” and “buzzed."

    Many drugs have this effect, some more immediate and intense than others:  caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and, arguably, sugar among the legal, and marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, and heroin among the banned.

    However, marijuana also works as a serious medicinal drug for a host of ailments, high or no high.  Few question its genuine benefits for cancer patients, people in chronic pain, glaucoma sufferers, among others.    In fact, 23 states including Iowa have legalized its active ingredient for medical use.  This should have happened years ago. 

    The marijuana rush, however, creates other issues.  

    Both Washington and Colorado have legalized recreational marijuana, and other states are watching, as are the feds.  As last Sunday’s NY Times editorial put it,  “It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.  The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.”

    So we’re moving toward a whole new attitude toward casual use of marijuana.   

    Is this a good thing? Smart people disagree about this because there’s potential for harm in any drug that alters consciousness. 

    Most of us seek to feel good, and drugs work as a shortcut, since feeling joy (as opposed to a rush) comes from a complex of causes:  Mood, genes, family, friends, engaging work, meanings you seek and values in which you believe.  All chancy and subject to intrusions of bad luck. 

    Drugs bring feel good-ness without discipline and commitment, and actually can provide a higher high than anything “normal” life provides. Pills, potions, and powders are the fool’s gold of happiness, and a certain percentage fall into addiction.

     Addicts tend toward depression long-term, since they don’t grow beyond their need for more highs.  

    So anyone who believes in hard work to reach long-sought goals that bring satisfaction and joy beyond a buzz  is better off without constantly seeking artificial highs.

    The high gets old; joy doesn’t.          

    However, if you want a drug that ruins lives, kills people by the thousands, where overdoses are common in every emergency room, we already have alcohol. 

    Along with tobacco, we struggle with these drugs’ effects constantly. They’re  a scourge, ruining lives with disease and depression.    

    On a scale of harm, marijuana probably ranks down there with sugar, whichcontributes to diabetes, obesity and tooth decay, but it’s only mildly addictive.  We give it by the pound to children, after all. 

    Given how we treat alcohol and tobacco, legalizing recreational marijuana nationally only makes sense, and will certainly lift a burden from courts and prisons.    Granted, not for kids under 21, and not to be treated as completely harmless.   Like alcohol and tobacco, it must be controlled and regulated. 

     Still, I have one reservation:  why waste time with rushes and buzzes when real joy is there for free, with no health issues?   My personal challenge concerns finding a life balance, and consciousness-altering drugs make finding balance between escape and work, joy and rushes, ever more elusive.  Highs are tempting, at times irresistible. 

    Substances that offer highs will be sought after and used, as any trip through a bar Saturday night will reveal.  Yet do we need yet another temptation to get buzzed? 

    Probably not, especially one as “cool” as legal marijuana will become.  Stoner parties will become the rage for awhile.   

    We don’t need it, really. But we sure seem to want it.  





    Posted in
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • alcohol
    • Hot Button Issues
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

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