This literally just dawned on me while watching TV 5 mins ago and I felt compelled to step in here and write it up…
I think the ultimate argument against the legalization of drugs is to look at the fast-food industry and what it has done to us.
In this paper I use “fast food” to mean “unhealthy food” or “fatty food”.
This comment isn’t meant to condemn fast food as “evil” or drugs as “bad”. I’m really not passing judgement on either, I’m trying to make a point beyond that. Why are fast food or drugs even an issue? Why aren’t they just pass-time hobbies that effects very few people?
Take a step back and look at obesity in America:
What would America look like if, hypothetically, there was no fast food.
Would we still have obesity? Sure, just like we had it at the turn of the century or during the great depression, but it would be at a scale 1/10th of smaller than it is now because of scarcity; Unnaturally tasteful food wouldn’t be as accessible.
Obesity is a Disease They Say…
If you watch enough Discovery Health and “Worlds Fattest Man” shows, you hear it over and over again: Obesity is a disease. It is no longer a personal choice or the result of overeating, it’s an uncontrollable disease.
I don’t believe that.
Before you interpret that as me saying “You are a liar, I don’t believe you!” let me continue.
Obesity is the result of finding your happiness in food.
It isn’t a disease like diabetes. It’s the (unfortunate) result of humans doing something very natural: trying to find happiness.
As a human being we seem to be programmed to seek out happiness, which is good. Some of us think happiness is always winning arguments, so we argue constantly. Others think that happiness is having a ton of money and others think happiness is sitting in a tent up in the mountains meditating.
Happiness is relative.
Bogged down by day-to-day living and sometimes not thinking we have the capacity or time to achieve our ultimate dreams, we lower our expectations for what we think we can accomplish to become happy. For some folks that is drinking a 6 pack of beer after work, smoking cigarettes or eating the cheesiest pizza you’ve ever seen while watching their favorite sitcom.
The people that choose food as their most accessible means to happiness eventually deal with obesity in one form or another; diabetes, loss of mobility, stroke, etc. The point is that this person didn’t set out to be fat or not have any self control, they were merely trying to find happiness and food (for whatever physiological reasons) was the best way for them to get there given their circumstances.
Unfortunately for a growing number of people food is becoming a faster path to happiness than many other alternatives as food companies continue to engineer more unnaturally flavorful foods:
What About Drugs?
When I say “legalization of drugs” I am referring to harder drugs like cocaine, meth and so on. I don’t want to weigh in on the marijuana argument as there seem to be very compelling arguments on both sides of the fence and honestly I know more people that abuse alcohol than marijuana. Other smarter people can have that debate.
If harder drugs find their way onto the legal market that means greater accessibility.
As we’ve seen with fast food, greater accessibility of “happiness-inducing” elements eventually drives addiction in a large majority of people seeking happiness in any way they can find it. Larry might stop eating double big macs at lunch because he finds a hit of meth puts him on cloud 9 for example.
Obesity seems to be a function of unhappiness; or more specifically, people seeking happiness via food.
Drug abuse is the same thing: people seeking happiness through drugs (either through the high or escape from real life).
It makes me feel bad that we live in a world where so many people are happiness-starved that they find their sole source of pleasure from such a destructive element. Legalizing harder drugs and putting them out there to be sampled by people craving “feeling good” is a dangerous and unnecessarily destructive thing to do.
I know I’ve heard the “The government should just legalize all drugs, tax them and control them!” argument more than a few times. It sounds more like an interesting sociology experiment to me than a well thought-out idea.
In a controlled lab-experiment, yea, maybe legalizing drugs is fine. People choose healthy alternatives just as often as unhealthy ones, but the real world with our stresses and concerns is nothing like a controlled experiment.
What is the Solution?
The solution is to prove to each and every person that there are better alternatives out there for them. Unfortunately “prove” and “alternative” are two arguments in an equation that will be different for each person.
Sometimes you see an overweight person or someone with a drug problem pick up running and get addicted to it and become completely curred of their addiction. That is because they found an alternative version of their life that was “better” to them than the drugs.
Other times you see people with a problem that go to rehab for 6 months and have an entire team to help them succeed and still fail; that is because they do not see any alternatives yet that seem better than the problem they are trying to conquer.
At the root people will need to want to feel better and do better than they currently are for anything to change. That is a fact we see reiterated over and over again: you can’t force anyone to do anything.
One sure-fire way to hamstring any effort towards success though to is give them destructive alternatives that improve their happiness level that they will perceive as an improvement in their life. (“improvement” here is relative of course).
If I’m 450 lbs and work infront of my computer all day and you tell me “get up and run and lift weights and eat less!” I tell you “when I run my lungs are on fire and my arms hurt when I lift weights and I love food!” – how is your suggestion helping me be any happier?
Then if you tell me “you can lose weight by doing small amounts of meth and it makes you feel amazing” – as a pleasure-seeking being, since you haven’t shown me a positive alternative to my current problem of overeating, I might just try that and fall in love with meth. Now you haven’t solved the problem, if anything it’s much worse now even though I’ll lose weight.
The happiness-improving alternatives need to be positive; providing destructive happiness-improving alternatives we hinder everyone’s success.
How do You Know?
I don’t, no one does. I can only guess based on what I see and what I see is a growing number of people that are grabbing at anything they can get their hands on to make themselves feel happy. Unfortunately for our health, that “low hanging fruit” that is easiest to grab is food.
Our vices (food, drugs, sex, money) can really be anything. It is different for each person, but what I think makes fast food so unifyingly horrible is that we all have to eat and hey, if we have to eat, why not eat something delicious.
What do I Want?
I want everyone to be as happy as they can manage. If you are reading this and it is getting uncomfortable to read, then I imagine you have an unhealthy habit that seems to be your biggest source of happiness. What I would want for you is to spend some serious time thinking of alternatives that could potentially be better than that habit.
A lot of times you have no idea what the alternative can be. For sanity sake, I want you to forget “eating better” and “exercise” as the alternatives, because very few people actually like those two things.
Try and be creative, try and think of something random. Learn to play the violin; take a pottery class; learn to tango. You literally never know what it is that you will pick up that will feed your happiness and eventually replace your addiction until you try it.
My guess is that you already know what it is and in some cases could be a very scary answer like leaving your spouse, quitting your job and hitchhiking across the country.
I know a lot of folks get taught by Hollywood that the only way to fix your life is to do something drastic and life-changing and when you are done with that life-changing road trip suddenly everything is better.
That is crap.
You can change your life by keeping your house clean. You can change your life by learning a new language. You can change your life organizing a neighborhood bake-off.
It is amazing the change in trajectory your life can change with simple simple changes and the best part is that you feel that change relatively quickly. Sometimes in days, sometimes in weeks, but you’ll feel it none the less.
Life is really a beautiful experience. I want everyone to experience a single moment of bliss to know that feeling, to know it exists and then decide if you want to chase it or ignore it.
Update #1: Daniel Miessler makes and interesting suggestion:
I think the key is that people who don’t have creative outlets or otherwise acceptable ways of being happy are naturally sucked into certain types of activities, e.g. eating for pleasure, shopping for pleasure, etc.
I would be curious to discuss with a psychologist that deals with abusive/addictive personalities to see if creative outlets for folks have been successful treatments. I am totally on the fence about this, if there were some data to back it up, I would easily believe it. Suppressing entire portions of our brain (e.g. creative side) I imagine would manifest itself in a pretty unhealthy way and addiction makes just as much sense to me as depression.
Update #2: In response to reader Terio’s reply, I (hopefully) clarified the purpose of this article being about helping people realize that Happiness is much closer than they realize and not exclusively a piece on drug legalization. I understand that it is a hot-topic and a lot of readers are not getting past it in the article to the end without making up their minds first that I am indirectly trying to condem it. If it helps, replace “drugs” in this article with any other vice that people commonly abuse to feel happy (hoarding, gambling, etc.) and it may be easier to see the bigger point I wanted to make without getting bogged down with the baggage surrounding drug legalization.
Update #3: Something interesting to add to this discussion are the findings from a recent British study that show alcohol to be more harmful than cocaine, heroin and other hardcore drugs. I am curious if the study accounted for accessibility of the substances when looking at the negative impacts they have as well as breadth of impact. If it didn’t, then I think it’s a compelling argument supporting the points I made above; more specifically, that if a destructive, artificial “happiness-inducing” substance is made available, a subset of society will abuse it in hopes of chasing more happiness and that can be very destructive.