Michael Phelps: The Gold and the Green... and the Green

Ah to be 23, the most accomplished athlete in the world and a multimillionaire.  God forbid, you go out and have a good time.  Michael Wilbon leads the chorus of boos and criticism of Michael Phelps' party night at USC.  He wants his feet "held to the fire."  He fairly cites Phelps' 2004 DUI.  That is worthy of opprobrium.  What makes something morally wrong is the harm (or risk of harm) to others.  Smoking weed doesn't make the cut.  Even if you do think that breaking the marijuana laws of South Carolina rises to the level of drinking and driving, One misdemeanor every four years does not a bad citizen--nor bad corporate spokes/role model--make. 

The lesson we should really take away from this is the same one we should take from revelations that Obama and Clinton smoked: drug laws are not rooted in a rational analysis of costs and benefits that should underpin any public policy.  Instead, they are rooted in an irrational pre-modern concept of drug use as a character defect and the fallacious belief that law enforcement can prevent it.  In fact, virtually everyone uses something, whether it's caffeine, or alcohol or nicotine or pot, and in the vast majority of cases, without any significant negative effects.  We, as a culture, are trapped by an arbitrary line drawn between the legal and illegal by a community that no longer exists--that of the early twentieth century. 

The only negative effects that Phelps faces is a loss of income from interests afraid of offending that outdated line and the shrill scorn of analysts like Wilbon, who clearly don't think very deeply about the world in which they live.  Rather than questioning why marijuana is illegal, he channels Carrie Nation, points his finger at a normal 23-year-old doing what 23-year-olds do and says "shame."

Drug abuse is a problem and preventing it merits our collective efforts.  Drug use is not.  People have been using drugs for perhaps 700,000 years and yet life goes on.  The great cathedrals were built, Einstein's theories were proven, Symphonies were written, human rights have been recognized and the moon was visited--all under the influence of something.  This episode is simply the latest and no doubt not the last argument for a radical revision of how we view drugs and drug abuse. 

Comments to Joe Hubris.

Massively correct and well

Massively correct and well written Mr. Hubris. But it should be added that the person who took the photo should be found and then find themselves the focus of the shame placed on Phelps. I would stake my entire fortune on the fact that this guy (or girl) is a user, possibly an abuser, and most certainly an asshole. I hope they burn in hell while watching Phelps swim his victorious laps in a nice, cool, pool...

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