« Feds up to Old Tricks | Main | A Reader asks about adolescents and marijuana use »

September 05, 2005

More on Professor Kleiman

I've already mentioned Professor Mark Kleiman several times; he is the UCLA school of Public Policy's  
leading drug policy analyst. As such, he commands considerable attention
in national policy discussions (although no mere analyst ever exerts much
influence over decisions-- but that's another story). He has also been an
indefatigable blogger, displaying a wide range of political and other interests
for several years.

That should allow me to use both his current postings and his archives to
make some specific points about American drug policy: not only how such a
calamitous error has evolved; but how its critical ability to (nearly) immunize
itself against public scrutiny has been part of its armor- and how that ability
was radically expanded after a spurious "war on drugs" was declared thirty-five
years ago.

To begin with my own experience, my first intense exposure to drug policy
details was motivated by a strong suspicion that the policy itself was mistaken;
thus I was open to what I can (only now) see as the most objective primary
and secondary sources then available. My deepening understanding of the 
logic and rhetorical tactics of policy defenders also allows me to understand
that those sources would have been relatively inaccessible to anyone starting
with a pro-government bias.

A more general corollary, only recently appreciated-- and which I have come
to regard as a critical factor in human thought and behavior-- is that whatever
we humans are able to accept as "truth" is critically influenced by what
we already believe. This is a concept Leon Festinger's mid-Fifties notion
of "cognitive dissonance"
attempts  (with limited success) to deal with. To understood CD as a
key element in denial is quite useful. Any attempt to parse it beyond that
by becoming immersed in Festinger's original "experiment" becomes counter-
productive and a source of confusion.

The bottom line is that we all process new information in terms of what we
think we know for sure (observations we believe credible on the basis of
objective evidence) and what we believe-- but have no way of proving. That's
my way  of understanding the critical difference between a scientific
mind-set (which holds honest skepticism to be the highest virtue) and a religious
one (which must ultimately regard blind faith as the highest virtue). 
The critical implication is that, ideally,  any 'secular democracy'
should-- to the extent possible-- abjure religious thinking as a primary
basis for its policy decisions.

Any prohibition enforced by police and punishable by law can immediately 
be seen as based mostly on religious thinking. The degree to which the legal
system is able review and modify sentences opens the door for empirical (non-religious)
thinking to modify policy.

When one applies those ideas to specific American policies, one finds huge
differences in the degree to which they have been influenced- both in formulation
and execution-  by each type of thinking. My contention is that our 
"drug war" is one of the most egregious examples of a public policy dominated
by purely religious thinking to be found in any secular democracy. In other
words, drug war dogma is to the feds what Islam is to the Talliban; 
and-- just as with Islam-- there's always some wiggle room for adherents
claiming to represent a less fundamentalist view.

That's probably enough for today; more examples from Professor Kleiman very
soon. BTW, he and I agree on many other issues; particularly GWB in general
and the execrable White House response to Katrina in particular...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at September 5, 2005 07:32 AM