2 from AL D

A Couple from Arts & Letters Daily:

While I've been gone, Arts & Letters Daily has been carrying on as usual with collecting fine and interesting articles. Here is one against legalizing drugs, at least always and in general. I cite it for two reasons: because it runs down one of our favorite writers, Theodore Dalrymple, and because it does so in part through citation of Aristotle:

To accept the addict’s account at face value does not require a bleeding heart. The problem of moral weakness was frankly recognized and brilliantly analyzed by the tough-minded Aristotle who put great emphasis in both his ethical and political theories on a psychological phenomenon he called akrasia. This Greek term literally means “without power,” and it refers to a lack of mastery over the self—a state of helplessness in respect to one’s appetites, passions, and impulses. It is defined in contrast to the concept of enkrateia, which represents the exact opposite kind of character—the person who has obtained mastery over himself, and who can control and regulate his passions and impulses. The dieter, for example, who follows his self-imposed regimen strictly and faithfully, is displaying enkrateia, while the dieter who goes off his diet because he cannot resist the lure of a strawberry milkshake is an example of akrasia....

Aristotle’s analysis is helpful in seeing where Dalrymple’s treatment of the addict falls short, since the concept of akrasia allows us to recognize that there will inevitably be large groups of human beings who will be unable to control their own lives—a group that will naturally exhibit all the signs of the impetuous personality.... In Aristotle’s political theory, such human beings are classified as “natural slaves” who must be governed by others because they are completely unable to govern themselves. Today we find Aristotle’s theory objectionable, despite the fact that in even the most advanced societies many people are “enslaved” to drugs, to alcohol, to gambling, and to sex. Indeed, Aristotle could rightly point out that no society has ever existed that achieved the complete elimination of the weak-willed and the impetuous, if only because each rising generation will consist of children who, by nature, lack the self-mastery that can only be achieved by the right upbringing—if even then.
In modern America, due to our own cultural baggage, Aristotle's concept of "natural slaves" is one that is normally not well explained or thoughtfully considered. This is one occasion when it is well done. The writer has a good point, as well: it is America's business to set men free. That is what America is for.

There are occasions when men are almost free, but for one addiction that drives them -- we have all known men like this. They are not "natural slaves" but to alcohol, say. Insofar as the state helps them achieve the discipline they require, it is making free men out of slaves; that is to say, it is doing the one thing that is the highest purpose of the state.

Yet to avoid trampling the freedom of others, or even that one man's freedom, it must be done carefully and thoughtfully. If you are to free him, you must help him to achieve self-mastery, not throw him in prison. If that cannot be done, and there are many addicts who are not ready to move out of their addiction -- here is where Dalrymple is right to say that their chief problem is that they do not want to do so -- then the state is not helping him achieve a greater freedom. It is just locking him up.

The reasons to do that are not legitimately "to help him." The notion that imprisonment is or can be rehabilitative is one of the worst errors of our society; it is a historic error of thought that has been disproven by experience. Our whole prison system is built around the error, which leads to massive failures and needless expense, and worse, to having a huge subset of "free" Americans who are employed in guarding other Americans. We have not found a workable alternative to our prison system, but I remain convinced that we need one. I would rather return to the days of hanging people for everything from grand theft up, than continue as we are; or to consider another form of dealing with crime that we have not yet tried.

On a much lighter note, a report from a lecture series on Mencken. Well, sort of:
Hamilton’s lecture was just the first of three in the Mencken celebration. Saturday afternoon, Anthony Lewis gave the keynote address. Lewis was for a columnist for the New York Times for more than 30 years, and is unabashedly liberal. He began his lecture, “Beyond Scorn,” by acknowledging that he was very fond of scornful Mencken, but knew less about the man than most in the room. Lewis instead railed against the Bush Administration, against CIA “black sites” in Europe, against alleged torture of war prisoners, against the denial of habeas corpus to Guantanamo Bay detainees. “Scorn is not adequate for the profundity of today’s disasters,” he said.

Lewis did bring the lecture around to Mencken. He doubted that the tools of the writer who skewered William Jennings Bryan and Warren G. Harding, describing the latter as “of the intellectual grade of an aging cockroach,” would suffice in this moment in history. “Mencken’s work is unequal to the scale of today’s disasters,” he said.
At least things were better in the Q&A session.
A man in the back of the room raised his hand, and Lewis called on him. He was not the typical Mencken fan. Typical Mencken fans are old; this guy was young. Typical Mencken fans dress in suits on Saturdays; this guy wore a neon pink hat, sunglasses, and a fanny pack. Typical Mencken fans ask silly questions meant to be jabs at Bush; this guy asked, “Can you give some examples of the sexual torture that you talked about?”
It is true what they say. There is nothing like the pursuit of knowledge.

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