Friday, September 28, 2007

Reality Vs Wishful Thinking

There is an article up at CNN about a psychologist's new book, where he argues that letting teens drink in moderation responsibly curbs binge drinking when they go off to college. This does seem to work in countries such as France and Italy where kids do drink moderately on social occasions and the rate of adult alcoholism is lower. By not treating it as a forbidden fruit, it becomes less "sexy" to overindulge. Our just say no policy actually creates alcohol problems.

This is a very American characteristic. We don't give a shit about what is most effective, as long as we feel morally smug by our words and policies. On a whole range of issues, we can make moral decisions on a societal right, but stop at that point and try to figure out the best way to get there.

We want to lower the rate of abortion. Those of us who are pro-choice do as well. What is the best way to get there? The answer is to go to countries with low abortion rates and figure out what policy they have that is successful. Same with alcoholism, abuse of drugs.

The answers are often counter intuitive for the American palate. Being open about sexuality can create teens who are very careful when they have sex, are more careful about having sex, and abortion rates drop dramatically since there is a social stigma in having not sex, but unprotected sex.

Abortion is even a better example than booze and drugs for this American way of thinking. You could walk up to a rabid pro-lifer and tell them that you could reduce the abortion rate by 75% by educating kids about sex, about birth control, drumming into their heads the facts about the birds and bees.

They instead will scream about abortion, demand it get banned, while millions of abortions needlessly happen. The issue is complicated by moral superiority. Abortion is a side issue. They want to punish people for having sex. Screaming about abortion helps that goal continue. If there was a 100% fail safe guaranteed condom, they would be opposed to it being given out to kids. They might do the nasty after all. Sure, by denying it, there would be abortions legal and otherwise, but that is the price you have to pay to be holier than thou.

Passing out needles to drug addicts to prevent the spread of AIDS only encourages them. AIDS should be their punishment.

Our drug policy is to lie to kids about marijuana, then act shocked when they didn't believe the truth about harder drugs like heroin and meth.

A glass of wine (slightly watered down) with a nice dinner for a 14 year old won't kill them. They will learn to enjoy a drink or two with a meal, and associate moderate drinking with adult hood.

It also should be noted that our fucked up foreign and domestic policies are not isolated from our cultural dysfunctions when it relates to drugs/alcohol/sex. When we act stupidly on those issues, it impacts our decision making ability in other areas. Bush and Cheney wanted there to be WMDs in Iraq despite lack of real evidence. So, they were there. We want tax cuts to magically pay for themselves, so they do.

We should read Gabriel Garcia Marquez books for our hit of magical thinking, and stick to just what works in the policy world.