Andrew Sullivan quotes a reader making the familiar point that drug prohibition often seems to be motivated less by a concern for the harms of addiction than by sheer puritanical terror of pleasure. It occurred to me that as often as we invoke that impulse, I’d never thought much about its origins. But it makes a lot of sense now that I do. Societies run on incentives: Penalties and disapprobation for bad behavior, praise and rewards for hard work, good deeds, and the like. Anything that’s a source of private pleasure threatens to loosen those constraints. And if you’re inclined to think the social order is highly fragile, a precariously thin chain binding our bestial natures, then you’ll be disposed to see drugs more or less the same way 15th century bishops saw the Gutenberg Bible. The puritanical impulse, seen this way, need not be anti-pleasure as such; it just consists of the demand that society be the only dealer.
The Haunting Fear that Someone, Somewhere May Be Happy
December 1st, 2006 · 2 Comments