2004 September 08 Wednesday
Drug Legalization, TV Watching, Laziness, Sex, Obesity

Steve Sailer has an article in The American Spectator arguing his belief that legalization of marijuana would make teenagers even lazier and fattier than they already are today.

The problem with marijuana is not that it's some wild and crazy thing, but that it's middle-age-in-a-bong. Smoking dope saps the energy from youth, turning them into sedentary couch potatoes.

The parents of America already have a hard enough time getting their teenagers -- and, increasingly, their adult children who have come back home to live -- off the TV room floor when they are perfectly straight. Parents understand that changing laws to make marijuana more readily available -- and, let's not kid ourselves, that's what these "reforms" would do -- would create an even more inert and obese generation of young people.

Legalization would lower costs, increase ease of access, and make it easier to get away with smoking pot. It therefore seems reasonable to expect usage to go up and drive and ambition to go down. Quite a few recreational drugs cause brain damage. So the short term effect of drug use is not the only effect. See my FuturePundit web log's Brain Addiction archives for posts on what has been discovered via brain scans of how various drugs damage different parts of the brain.

I do not personally buy the libertarian argument for legalization. My problem with it is that I see society as a kind of contract. We have a contractual obligation to our fellow citizens to not impair out ability to take care of ourselves and to respect the rights of others. Also, as a purely practical matter the more people who are impaired the more the rest of us will have to pay taxes to support them. Libertarian arguments against the welfare state are irrelevant because the majority of the public support the welfare state. Higher levels of irresponsible behavior by some people will always cause costs for the rest of us.

On a kinda related note the Rand Corporation think tank has just released a study providing evidence that TV watching leads to earlier sexual activity by teenagers.

Adolescents who watch large amounts of television containing sexual content are twice as likely to begin engaging in sexual intercourse in the following year as their peers who watch little such TV, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

In addition, the study found that youths who watch large amounts of TV with sexual content are more likely to initiate sexual activities other than intercourse, such as “making out” and oral sex. These adolescents behaved sexually like youths who were 9 to 17 months older, but watched only average amounts of TV with sexual content, according to the study published in the September electronic edition of the journal Pediatrics.

“This is the strongest evidence yet that the sexual content of television programs encourages adolescents to initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities,” said Rebecca Collins, a RAND psychologist who headed the study. “The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior.”

“Television habits predicted whether adolescents went to ‘second or third base,’ as well as whether they had sex for the first time,” Collins said. “The 12-year-olds who watched a lot of television with sexual content behaved like the 14- or 15-years-olds who watched the least amount of sexual television. The advancement in sexual behavior we saw among kids who watched a lot of sexual television was striking.”

Researchers from RAND Health found that television shows that included only talk about sex had just as much impact on adolescent behavior as shows that depicted sexual behavior.

“We found little difference whether a TV show presents people talking about whether they have sex or portrays them having sex,” Collins said. “Both affect adolescents’ perceptions of what is normal sexual behavior and propels their own sexual behavior.”

On a positive note, the study found that one group — African American youth — that watched more depictions of sexual risks or safety measures was less likely to begin engaging in sexual intercourse in the subsequent year.

Why are black kids different in their reaction to TV? Does TV sex provide some feeling of satiation for them? If so, why? If that is not the explanation for their different reaction then what is? Or is the difference more in the kids who do not watch much TV? Are the kids black kids who do not watch TV different than the white kids who do not watch TV in some way that accounts for the difference?

Another question: Are boys who watch more TV different on average in personalities from boys who play more video games? Also, are boys who spend more time on the internet on average smarter or different in personality than the boys who spend either more time watching TV or playing games or outside playing sports?

Also, different youthful subcultures developing around TV, games, internet, and outdoors activities?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 September 08 02:28 PM  Human Nature

smp said at September 8, 2004 3:48 PM:

On the other hand, legalization might also remove the allure of doing something "illegal and cool" and turn some segment off. It would also allow for a more balanced discussion on the pros and cons - the no comprimise "weed is evil" message, combined with the cynical view of anything the authorities say, gives most kids the impression that it must be great.

Another point is that ganja is not hard to acquire. Those that want to smoke the herb probably already do so. I doubt use would climb much, although there might be a temporary spike as people try it again, and then remember why they stopped in the first place.

Finally, while the popular image of the "pothead" equates to the droopy eyed, tie-dye wearing, PS2 addict who doesn't get out in the sun much, I can tell you that I and many of my professional colleagues enjoy a joint now and then, and it doesn't stop us from contributing to society and driving the "new economy" and making billions for the venture capitalists that have invested in our companies.

At any rate, it's certainly "better" for you and society than alcohol.

Did you actually look up any information or demographics on countries that have decriminalized?
Did use go up or down or stay the same?
Did health problems go up or down or stay the same?

Derek Copold said at September 8, 2004 4:06 PM:

While I share your and Sailer's concerns about the deleterious effects of marijuana, I disagree that legalization will increase its use among underaged youths. I remember when I was in high school, it was far easier to score a "dime bag" than a six-pack. Drug dealers don't card.

I'm actually pretty stoned right now! said at September 8, 2004 6:13 PM:

Sailer is probably right in his assessment of what some of the likely effects of marijuana legalization would be, but absent from the discussion is any accounting of the social and economic costs of maintaining the largely irreducible and huge shadow marijuana economy that tears apart poor and minority communities (and of course to a lesser extent affluent families here and there), consumes law enforcement resources, fills jails, millions of $ in useless government ad budgets and anti-drug bureaucracies, &c. Is it sensible and/or fair to maintain this system just because we are already too fat and lazy? maybe sensible, probably not fair. in any case, it's not so easy as freedom vs. social contract.

to go a bit further, even, it's quite plausible that even as legalization makes use more widespread, it could actually help reduce some of the social problems caused by marijuana use, as it would be easier to keep from minors (as Derek notes, it's much easier to buy pot than alcohol if you're underaged, 'dealers don't card'), and resources now devoted to enforcing largely ineffective punitive laws (not to mention new revenue streams from pot and pot-related taxes!) could be used for outreach and education about responsible marijuana use as well as treatment programs for abusers. as it is, marijuana use can't really be openly discussed or represented as a substance that can and should be enjoyed in a certain 'responsible' way (like alcohol), and its effects on physical and mental health circulate mostly as speculation and hearsay among user instead of as science/medicine/fact/whatever. legalization could help people make more informed and responsible decisions about their marijuana use as well as allow us to productively refocus some of our most important public resources, even as other parts of the body politic do become a bit less... active. speaking of which, I am too stoned and tired, I am gonna lie down for a bit!

John S Bolton said at September 10, 2004 3:20 AM:

Legalization of such drugs would be contrary to the interests of the drug-dealers who run mexico, who seem to have undue influence on the policies of our government, unless it is just a coincidence.

noone said at September 10, 2004 6:56 AM:

Libertarians have a positive genius for unintended consequences.
As drug addiction is now a federaly subsidised "disability",legalization will prompt the Dems to send waves of interns out to sign people up door-to-door much as they did in the mid to late 60's.And libertairans will complain bitterly about this while refusing to acknowledge any connection to their own legalization policies.
Much as they currently bemoan the cost of government while insisting mass immigration has nothing to do with taxes and spending,etc,just as the Greens denounce urban sprawl while avoiding one of the principle causes of urban sprawl(immigration).

Don't tread on me said at September 10, 2004 8:18 PM:

Maybe weed affects different people in different ways. I always find that it enhances my mental abilities in specific ways -- ways that I understand are relatively rare. I have no problem with being different, but find that Sailer's one-size-fits-all prescriptions rubs me in just the wrong way that led me to libertarianism (small "l"). The ways the buddlies affect me help me to earn a living, to think through scenarios, to carry on an internal conversation which easily translates to a narrative that helps me in my consulting and selling roles. Without it, I sometimes doubt that I could have excelled in my undergraduate studies, obtained the best benefit from my graduate degree from Stanford, or made my comfortable "f**k you" money upon graduation. Each to his own, I always say, until the bastards pass a law. If you have a problem with it, don't smoke it.

Richard said at September 11, 2004 6:26 PM:

I may be the only one here who has teenage kids. These kids don't have tv and are homeschooled. Still, they have friends and we live in a small town where everyone knows everyone's business.

Most of the kids are pretty feckless and I don't know if they are druggies, but if they are not, I can't see the drugs making thme worse, and it may even help.

I homeschool my kids because my memories of high school are of a stupid soft gulag and I can't blame any kid who would not smoke a joint as soon as he/she could.

If legalization tips us over the edge, we deserve to go.

I like SS's stuff and Randall, your blogs are great, Still, you guys gotta get out more.

Randall Parker said at September 12, 2004 8:38 PM:

Don't tread on me,

One problem with recreational drugs is that people differ in the extent that they can handle them without becoming dysfunctional. There are probably genetic variations that explain these differences. But the differences exist. That someone smart enough to go to Stanford for grad school can still function well enough to support his family tells us little about how the population at large respond to marijuana (or coke or heroin for that matter).

My worry is the people who are below average. Over half the population have an IQ less than 100. What about them? They are going to want to do the same things you do but with less capacity to function as a result.

This is my problem with the whole cognitive elite advocacy of drug legalization. There is an obliviousness to to cognitively less able. Drugs is one of the issues (immigration being the other major one) that led me to decide that libertarianism is based on assumptions about human nature that are wrong. Libertarianism ends up being flawed for the same reason that communism is flawed: It is incompatible with human nature as it really is in the real world.

Still, I don't think that recreational drugs are a net harm for all users. I've certainly come across evidence that there are people who actually function better on some illicit drug. Some small fraction of heroin addicts will probably commit suicide if they have to stop and can function as addicts. Some people naturally live in perpetual anxiety or mental pain and illegal drugs help make their lives bearable. Yet I also see far larger hordes of stoners who are too lazy to get a job to support their families or they smoked so long their memories are shot. I've known such people. The huge underclass of America are my greater concern and I would rather try to restrict drug access for everyone if that is what it takes to protect some members of the underclass and prevent some people from entering into it.

lark said at September 13, 2004 5:28 AM:

"We have a contractual obligation to our fellow citizens to not impair out* ability to take care of ourselves..."

Call me a libertarian, but I don't recall agreeing to any such societal contract.
Let's see now... If weed makes me less capable of caring for myself, weed should be illegal. If watching TV makes me less capable, TV should be outlawed. If I'm dumber than average, my kids will probably be less capable, so I shouldn't be allowed to have kids. I might believe in something that the government says makes me less capable -- I shouldn't be allowed to think that.

Now, me, I would say I had a moral obligation to my fellows to be responsible for _myself_. If I impair myself, the consequences should be _my_ responsibility.

I do agree with you that "Higher levels of irresponsible behavior by some people will always cause costs for the rest of us.", but that behavior is properly handled by punishment and charity, not government support. Thinking of government as the proper method to engage against stupidity is just about the stupidest possible way to handle stupidity -- we don't need any more stupidity, and no government is capable of distinguishing between "war on stupidity" and "hiring more stupid people to manage our stupidity problem".

And there _is_ no "huge underclass" of mental and ethical incompetents. (Yes, I know some, too.) Most of us are bad at something, but thinking that the government will therefore be better at it ... clearly, one common incompetency is in thinking about government.

I'm not libertarian enough to think there is _no_ role for government in this, but I just don't think you can derive an adequate theory of good government if you start with the premises that people are too dumb to know what's best for themselves and that government will be smarter.

Richard said at September 13, 2004 7:41 AM:

"My worry is the people who are below average. Over half the population have an IQ less than 100. What about them? They are going to want to do the same things you do but with less capacity to function as a result."

They already do it. Granted, what Die Trailervolk use may not be as elegant (say, a gallon of ripple vs. a snifter of courvoisier), but they can do it to their heart's content and they do.

I remember barracks life back in the 70s. Even with dire penalties and cid agents all around, building 4706 was high enough to attract anti aircraft fire. There was a group of lads who were supposedly high on a bootblacking compound legally purchased from the PX. My guess none of these guys ever thought of going to Harvard Med before starting on their altered conscious adventures and after, I am not sure they had any thoughts at all.

Hey, what's the point of being part of the underclass if you can't lead a stupid and irresponsible life anyway. For those who fear the degenerate are going to degenerate, sorry, the bus has already left.

Randall Parker said at September 13, 2004 10:16 AM:


You state your dreamy ideal as this:

but that behavior is properly handled by punishment and charity, not government support. Thinking of government as the proper method to engage against stupidity is just about the stupidest possible way to handle stupidity

Here's your problem Lark: You can't convince the majority of voters to agree with you. The public at large does want to see people who have damaged themselves to be taken care of by the state.

The big "L" Libertarian position on drugs, like the big "L" Libertarian position on immigration, will have the effect of making government bigger and the non-governmentally mediated burdens on the populace (e.g. crime, car accidents) larger.

crush41 said at October 2, 2004 10:52 PM:

"You can't convince the majority of voters to agree with you. The public at large does want to see people who have damaged themselves to be taken care of by the state."

Preferenced to no care at all, but it has been my experience that such 'care' further perpetuates the problem. My ex met her current dealer through the probation process.

This seminal idea has been met with resistance by my peers as being "an intolerable form of coercion" but I'd like to get a response from IQs with double-digit leads on my own:

Exorbiant fines for drug use or possession, accompanied by federally run modern-day debtor prisons in which the inmates function on a token economy (token in the sense that it would not be subject to tax or income statements but would be otherwise dollars towards honoring the fines). Tokens would be earned through a sole means--hard labor (guranteed by the state)--and would be credited to an account rather than dispensed physically to the inmates (thereby prohibiting any sort of trading/robbing). In addition to working towards the relief of debt and subsequent release from incarceration, the tokens would also serve as a means for sustenance. Food, entertainment (ie reading material, tv time, etc), cell comfort (with the default being isolation in an empty cell) and any possible amenities could be acquired only through token purchases. The potential benefits being the transforming power of physically demanding work, a rudimentary but real-time demonstration of value-creation, a true deterent to 'stoned slackers' who otherwise fear no substantial drug-use reprecussions, nearly self-supporting 'rehabilitation', and substantial, mandatory withdrawal from the drug environment. Repeat offenders would be met with exponentially higher fines--perpetual forced labor for drug involvement.

phat said at February 6, 2005 7:33 PM:

i'm a 30 year old that is 6'1 and weight 284 can you please help me answer this . i have been drug free for about 4 1/2 weeks.

CIARA said at April 15, 2008 11:46 AM:

DRUGS SHOULD BE LEGALIZED! I fuckin do em and im fine. Im in trouble because of it. THE STATE CAN FUCKIN KISS MY ASS! If it werent for drugs being aginst the law i wouldnt be in states custody and in treatment for over a year.

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