David Brooks: I enjoyed pot, but you shouldn't

Here's patrician blatherskite David Brooks with an "I smoked weed, but am happy to see you jailed for it" sentiment: Weed, Been There. Done That.

In my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana. It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly together. I think those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our friendships ... most of us developed higher pleasures. Smoking was fun, for a bit, but it was kind of repetitive. ...

But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

This column really gets to the heart of what's wrong with David Brooks. He sees criminalizing millions of people, and all the associated social and financial costs, as a tolerable "subtle" disincentive to something he himself enjoyed. Moreover, the reasons he gives center on the fact he stopped enjoying it when he gained the privilege of access to greater things. He even downplays the alleged medical downsides in favor of what amounts, literally, to a puritan distaste for "lesser pleasures."

(And what was the first high pleasure brought into it? Track. A sport so enmeshed with drug abuse that a pro victory or record cannot occur without suspicion.)

Brooks' is a mild, parochial, condescencing banality. No-one mistakes the things he says, or writes, as influence. But we should still be thankful that the social institutions his kind of banality serves are relatively minor evils—and that they're tumbling around him.

Update: a response from psychiatrist and author Gary Greenberg, who writes that he was one of Brook's youthful smoking buddies. I think it's apocryphal humor, but it's brutal in any case:

I still get high from time to time. It helps me deal with the kids, makes me more playful and my knees ache less when I get on the floor with them. ...

Funny thing. I didn’t know before this morning that I was the “full-on stoner” who was one of the four reasons Dave gave up weed. Sorry as I am to hear that our frolics are now his shameful 4 a.m. memories, after all these years of silence, it’s nice to know I mattered to him, that I was a significant part of the moral life of someone so important and with such a strong “sense of satisfaction and accomplishment”—an achievement I guess I made possible by teaching him that “one sort of life you might choose is better than another sort of life.” ...

[Brooks] knew exactly how to go all bar mitzvah boy, how to talk to authority, how to flatter and impress and toady, even stoned to the gills, like his inner Eddie Haskell was deeper down than the pot could get. And it worked. The cop let us go, told us we were lucky he knew Dave and that we were white kids from Radnor...

Read all of it. It's very funny!

UPDATE: Greenberg confirmed that he was making it up.

Notable Replies

  1. I like that he says this, "Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture?" after saying that marijuana was nothing more than harmless, mild fun and frolic for him.

    Do you want our community to allow HARMLESS, MILD FUN? DO YOU, YOU COMMIE TERRORISTS?!?

  2. You let David Brooks off too lightly. The War on Drugs is the most racist, evil policy the US has engaged in since at least Jim Crow.

    Millions of lives destroyed. Tens or hundreds of thousands dead. This should shock the conscience. What Brooks is saying is outrageous, and he and others like him should be called on it.

  3. There are plenty of totally functional alcoholics out there, too.

    Agreed, probably more than we'll ever know. I'm just not sure that they function anywhere near as well as those that consume marijuana as regularly. For one, most people can stop regularly consuming pot with little or no side effects. Certainly nothing like delirium tremors, etc. that almost all alcoholics have to deal with when/if they quit.

    Also, I think that brain functioning is superior on pot than it is with alcohol. Lots of "functioning" alcoholics have injured and killed themselves and other people while working dangerous jobs:

    http://www.ias.org.uk/Alcohol-knowledge-centre/Health-impacts/Factsheets/Alcohol-accidents-and-injuries.aspx

    You don't see that with most marijuana usage. You also don't see violence and menacing with marijuana like you do with alcohol usage:

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/transport/drink-fuelled-train-crime-down-one-third-since-ban-on-alcohol.23038873

    Granted, there's anomalies and I'm sure there's some dangerous potheads out there who'd be much higher functioning without marijuana, but I don't think that's the norm. There's research that supports this as well:

    " ... The Scripps scientists discovered that eleven months of binge alcohol consumption that produced a blood alcohol level sufficient to be considered intoxicated decreased neurogenesis by more than fifty percent! Furthermore, the decrease in neurogenesis lasted for many weeks of abstinence. You might think that alcohol binging also caused more cells to die; actually, this did not happen. That old urban myth is simply not true. The only change observed was a decrease in the production of new neurons. The authors suggested that these changes might produce a long lasting vulnerability within the hippocampus that may well predispose these young adults to neurodegeneration later in life.

    In contrast to the effects of alcohol, a series of publications during the past few years suggest that stimulating the brain's marijuana neurotransmitter system appears to have the exact opposite effects upon neurogenesis in the hippocampus of both young and old laboratory animals and humans, i.e. neurogenesis is increased by stimulation of our brain's marijuana receptors.

    When we are elderly, our brain displays a dramatic decline in neurogenesis within the hippocampus. This decline may underlie age-associated memory impairments as well as depression. Research in my laboratory has demonstrated that stimulating the brain's marijuana receptors restores neurogenesis. Thus, later in life, marijuana might actually help your brain, rather than harm it. ... "

    Source for quotes above ... read more here:
    Alcohol vs. marijuana in the brain
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-food/201012/alcohol-vs-marijuana-in-the-brain

    EDIT: You might also find this interesting:

    Source for quotes below (A very good read and VERY well sourced, IMO):
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722956/

    " ... Alcohol at 0.75 g/kg (slightly less than four standard drinks) causes high levels of impairment in psychomotor performance and medium-to-high levels of impairment in such tasks as critical flicker fusion and short-term memory. Alcohol impairs pursuit tracking, divided attention, signal detection, hazard perception, reaction time, attention, concentration, and hand-eye coordination.

    Alcohol also reduces the perceived negative consequences of risk-taking, which can increase willingness to take risks after drinking, the amount of risk-taking behavior while driving, even at low alcohol doses, and the incidence of road traffic accidents while driving drunk.

    ...

    Surprisingly, given the alarming results of cognitive studies, most marijuana-intoxicated drivers show only modest impairments on actual road tests. Experienced smokers who drive on a set course show almost no functional impairment under the influence of marijuana, except when it is combined with alcohol.

    Many investigators have suggested that the reason why marijuana does not result in an increased crash rate in laboratory tests despite demonstrable neurophysiologic impairments is that, unlike drivers under the influence of alcohol, who tend to underestimate their degree of impairment, marijuana users tend to overestimate their impairment, and consequently employ compensatory strategies.

    Cannabis users perceive their driving under the influence as impaired and more cautious, and given a dose of 7 mg THC (about a third of a joint), drivers rated themselves as impaired even though their driving performance was not; in contrast, at a BAC 0.04% (slightly less than two “standard drinks” of a can of beer or small 5 oz. glass of wine; half the legal limit in most US states), driving performance was impaired even though drivers rated themselves as unimpaired. Binge drinkers are particularly likely to rate themselves as unimpaired, possibly because they tend to become less sedated by high doses of alcohol. ... "

  4. Raita says:

    What makes using pot or other drugs a "lesser pleasure"? Just because it tingles your receptors directly and not indirectly through different experiences (which can be harder to accomplish if you, for example, suffer from clinical depression)?

    I've never understood the people who smugly imply that they're better people than us drugs users because they can enjoy life without the use of drugs. Well, good for you! I still want to use the drugs, though. I can also do all the other awesome things in life, like have sex, spend time with loved ones and be in nature, and at the same time get the pleasure of various state-altering drugs.

    Opiates are my favorites. Why couldn't I just use them the rest of my life? When the product is clean and it's administred safely and in reasonable doses, opiates are very safe. The only problem is the fear of not getting the drugs and having to go through withdrawal (sucky, I tell you). But that would not be a problem if it they were legal. People use opiates for pain very safely, why couldn't the same be done for people who want to use it to improve their life?

    I'm a much happier person, now that I'm a daily opiate user. I went through a couple of years long phase of psychedelics, stimulants, dissociatives and weed, but I've now mostly settled down with various opiates (with maybe the occasional stimulant), which simply feel the best. I'm actually able to function. I have energy to do things. I feel motivated to study and improve myself. I don't have panic attacks. I'm not anxious. I can actually be around people and talk to them. I've made friends. It's great. So what's the problem?

    Is it because it's "cheating"? Sometimes it feels like some people are jealous that drug users are able to feel good, and would rather have us suffer instead. Because it's "natural". Well, if it's natural to be depressed and anxious every living moment because your past was fucked up and you were bullied and raped, then fuck natural. Some people are lucky enough to be able to feel okay. But for us that are hindered by crappy experiences, isn't it better to cheat so we can be productive members of the society?

    Now, it's worth noting that not every person uses drugs to be able to function, but all do it in order to feel better or do better, in some way. Sometimes the risks certainly outweight the benefits, but most often it's the other way around - and that should be for the user to decide, anyway.

    Now that's a strange thought. A drug doesn't inspire same thoughts in everyone. Not only does everyone react differently to each drug, but the insights depend wholly on what goes in your brain and what experiences you've managed to scoop up in the there. This is especially true for psychedelics, but also weed and other psychoactives.

    That's also how bad experiences while tripping happen. It's not because of some "bad batch", it's because there were more troubling thoughts tucked away in the corners of your mind than you thought, and you weren't quite prepared to face them.

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