April 19, 2004

If you want to send a message...

Posted by shonk at 01:42 AM in Politics, Words of Wisdom | TrackBack

Curt’s fisking of Voltaire and Chomsky reminded me of that old Samuel Goldwyn remark: “If I want to send a message I’ll call Western Union” (yeah, that’s right, Samuel Goldwyn, not David Lynch, who recently and badly paraphrased it). Which is good advice for any artist, especially in these “the personal is the political” times.

Incidentally, googling that phrase is an interesting experience, one I’d recommend. Of course, there’s the odd writer commentary, but I was surprised to see two different articles on the Drug War pop up. The first, by Vicki Rosenzweig, is really more of a rant than a proper article, but it makes a good point:

I’d like to remind the US government of that principle. Or, if Western Union seems too old-fashioned, call a press conference. Create a Web page. Buy full-page ads in the newspaper, or hire someone to do flashy television ads you can run during ballgames.

Don’t write your message on the dead bodies of the American people.

This in regards to the Clinton administration deciding, circa 1998, not to support needle exchange programs because it might “send the wrong message”. Now I’m against federal funding for needle exchange programs, but that’s because I’m opposed to federal funding of pretty much anything, not because of the message it sends. As Rosenzweig says,

The message from the administration is “If you use drugs, you will die, and we won’t try to save you, because then someone else might use drugs too.” Do they really think people try heroin because they see someone, thin and pale, and think “well, he’s not dead yet”?

On the other hand, drug warrior Lamar Alexander uses the “Western Union” quote in quite a different context:

The political scientist James Q. Wilson has pointed out that when it comes to making policy, a common attitude is “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” Yet when it comes to illegal drugs, sending a message may be the most important thing we do. If we have learned anything about drug use over the last twenty years, it is that drug use is closely linked to the attitudes toward drug use that prevail at any time.

Which is true, but then Alexander immediately starts fleeing anything approaching reason:

What worries me most about the debate over drug legalization, and the successful efforts to decriminalize marijuana in California and Arizona is the message that is sent. How can we expect our children to harden their resistance to drugs when all around there are voices telling them that, under some circumstances, mood and mind-altering substances are permissible?

That’s not quite the decriminalization message there, buddy. Rather, the message, if any, is that maybe bureaucratic busybodies oughtn’t be able to decree what we can and can’t do with our own bodies. Something Alexander, as someone who thinks that the risk of more people hurting themselves is “too high a price to pay” for freedom. Mind you, that’s not more people getting hurt by others, either through aggression or some other means, that’s more people hurting themselves (okay, admittedly he tosses in some stuff about crack babies and drugged-up drivers, but if that were a major concern he’d be leading the push for the re-instatement of Prohibition, seeing as there are orders of magnitude more FAS babies and drunk drivers than crack babies and stoned drivers).

The healthier attitude, in my book, is Billy Beck’s (wow, two Beck references in an hour; this must be a sign of…something):

And when I see a person “consigning” hundreds of millions of people to all the legal and institutional predations of the war on drugs on behalf of insinuated concerns for dopers — which I don’t believe for a split-second — it’s the most natural thing in the world for me to completely dismiss him as a serious person, because his concern is so obviously misplaced that the very next question goes to his mental competence.

Preach on, brother man.


Somehow I'm not suprised that this is Lynch's idea of Hollywood political/social activism. But, hey, at least it's not the Scientologists.

Posted by: Curt at April 20, 2004 01:27 AM