Sometime way back in the ’60s or early ’70s I had a revelation I still remember: America can’t have a rational public discussion about drugs, because if you’ve used drugs, you’re dismissed as biased and if you haven’t, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Now that America is finally learning how to discuss marijuana in public, David Brooks provides a third variant: Someone who thinks he understands drugs because he and his friends got stoned back when they were kids but “grew out of it” – and still doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
On Brooks’ little trip down Memory Lane, he recalls being stoned and saying silly stupid things (“that’s the point”), smoking during lunch and embarrassing himself when he had to give a presentation during English class. Then, he writes, he and his buddies grew up:
“We were in the stage, which I guess all of us are still in, of trying to become more integrated, coherent and responsible people. This process usually involves using the powers of reason, temperance and self-control — not qualities one associates with being high.
“So, like the vast majority of people who try drugs, we aged out. We left marijuana behind. I don’t have any problem with somebody who gets high from time to time, but I guess, on the whole, I think being stoned is not a particularly uplifting form of pleasure and should be discouraged more than encouraged.”
Therefore, marijuana should remain illegal, he concludes, though he doesn’t say it so directly. Michelle Goldberg, in The Nation, notes that “somehow, he’s written a whole column about the drug war that doesn’t once contain the words ‘arrest’ or ‘prison.’ It’s evidence not just of his own writerly weakness but of the way double standards in the war on drugs shield elites from reckoning with its consequences.”
What struck me was not just Brooks’ amazing smugness, which is part of his charm, but the fact that he seems to ignore the distinction between adolescent and adult drug use. He “outgrew” marijuana, which is all about getting wasted and stupid, and “graduated to more satisfying pleasures.” He doesn’t say so, but I’m guessing those pleasures include fine wine and an occasional single malt. I’d also guess that he doesn’t use wine in the finer haunts of Manhattan in quite the same way he and his friends used beer back at the frat house. He doesn’t drink to get wasted; he doesn’t get drunk before making important presentations, he doesn’t drink and do stupid, unproductive things.Brooks, who apparently learned all there is to know about marijuana by the end of freshman year, seems never to have considered that adults can smoke in moderation just as they drink in moderation, that productive, engaged adults can and do use marijuana without becoming stupid stoners incapable of living serious lives. I would have thought he got around more than that.