David Brooks, His “Higher Pleasures” and the Kids in Jail

Left Margin

David Brooks, His “Higher Pleasures” and the Kids in Jail

Carl Bloice
January 9, 2014
Black Commentator

David Brooks couldn’t just give up on marijuana and stop using it on
his own; it had to be a group experience. He says, “We all sort of
moved away from it,” and it “just sort of petered out, and, before long,
we were scarcely using it.” That was mainly “because we each had had a
few embarrassing incidents,” wrote the New York Times columnist in
response to the vote decriminalizing cannabis use by the voters of
Colorado. He doesn’t give any other examples with respect to “our
clique” but his own embarrassing moment was a real corker. “I smoked one
day during lunch and then had to give a presentation in English class,”
he wrote. “I stumbled through it, incapable of putting together simple
phrases, feeling like a total loser.”

Not a good show. What did he expect was going to happen? Hardly an
auspicious beginning for a budding public philosopher (or, as pundits
have taken to calling themselves: “thought leaders.”)

So David Brooks inhaled. Apparently quite a few times. And he didn’t go to jail.
And now he allows that locking people up for having a little weed in
their possession is “excessive.”

“The Brooks column is particularly infuriating because in just a few
hundred words it perfectly captures why marijuana needs to be
legalized,” wrote Matt Taibbi in the Rolling Stone. “Here’s this
grasping, status-obsessed yuppie who first admits that that he smoked an
illegal drug without consequence in his youth, then turns around and
tells us, as a graying and bespectacled post-adult, that it would be
best if the drug remained illegal for the masses.”

Taibbi continued, “Would David Brooks feel the same way about drug
laws if he was one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans arrested in
weed-related incidents every year (it was over 700,000 people in 2012)?
If he’d been prevented from getting a student loan or getting a state
job because of such a bust? If he’d lost a professional license, or had
his property seized, or even had a child taken away from him?”

Frankly, I found most of the reporting and commentary on the recent
case of the kid that got off easy after killing four people while DUI
missed the point. I wasn’t as concerned with the sentence the young man
got as with the hardly even mentioned larger implication of the case.
If “affuelza” can be argued as a justification for lenient
sentences after breaking the law then what about the millions of people
behind bars – some for life – for infractions far less severe than
intoxication manslaughter? If being rich means special privilege (what?
when?) before the bar, what about the disproportionately black and brown
and largely working class youth languishing behind bars?

Nicole Flatow, deputy editor of ThinkProgress Justice, got this
right when it comes to marijuana: “People are jailed, fired, and barred
from voting for marijuana,” she wrote last week. “Under federal law and
the laws of most states, marijuana possession, distribution, conspiracy,
and other related offenses are crimes. They carry jail time. They go on
your criminal record. They carry all of the collateral consequences
that accompany a host of other crimes in this country, including as a
barrier to employment and voting, revocation of professional licenses,
loss of educational financial aid, lost access to public benefits and
food stamps, and can even bar the adoption of a child. This New York
City art teacher is fighting for his job back. These teens died in jail.
And while Colorado and Washington just made history with their
legalization measures, arrest and punishment for drug crimes including
marijuana has increased exponentially over the past 40 years, changing
the course of countless lives.”

“Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana”
continued Flatow. “Brooks smoked pot. Heads of state have smoked pot. To
many in America’s privileged class, their marijuana phase is just a
blip in their life history, which did nothing to obstruct their life
path or career aspirations. They are not the ones who suffer from
marijuana criminalization. If you’re black in America, you’re four times
more likely to be arrested for marijuana, even though all races use
marijuana at the same rate. In some states, the disparity is as high as 8
to 1. The overwhelming majority of these arrests are for possession. If
you’re poor and black, or if you live in a particular inner city
neighborhood, your arrest is a near certainty. Take New York. In 2011,
the New York Police Department stopped thousands of young black men
under the city’s aggressive stop-and-frisk program. And the number one
reason for arrest as a result of these stops was marijuana, even though
marijuana is decriminalized in New York.”

Although Brooks goes so far as to say that he doesn’t have “any
problem with somebody who gets high from time to time,” he opposes
letting go of cannabis prohibition laws.


“But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so
what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture?” Brooks asks.
“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.”

I always find it amazing that whether it be in the bedroom or the
den, “conservatives” like Brooks so often want to use the law to enforce
their own perception of what is morally correct, what are “satisfying
pleasures” and what they deem “lesser pleasures.”

I’m sure there are many people out there thinking it might have been
better if Brooks had not stopped at the sitting-around-giggling stage
of his early pot experimentation. If he hadn’t he might not come off so
often as self-righteous and, well, priggish. He might more often spare
Times readers what Michelle Goldberg described in The Nation as his
“wistful, self-satisfied moralism.” (As in: “We graduated to more
satisfying pleasures. The deeper sources of happiness usually involve a
state of going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning more
about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense of
satisfaction and accomplishment.”).



BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist
Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National
Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.
Bloice is one of the moderators of Portside. Other Carl Bloice writing
can be found at leftmargin.wordpress.com.

About leftmargin

Journalist and Columnist View all posts by leftmargin

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