Getting Off the Roof for Marijuana and School Choice

This would have been an extremely busy week in my world even with five days to spread it out, and we only had four.  Lacking the mental space to take on a detailed topic and not wanting to leave another publishing slot empty, I thought I’d spend a few words on an image that’s come to mind a couple of times in the last week.

Hard-core conservatives (perhaps existing only theoretically, at this point) might be said to have a no-jump policy, thinking society ought to move only in careful steps.  One problem with this view is that jumping can be healthy and productive.  Sometimes it’s necessary.  Another problem, a more-libertarian one, is that we should not presume to have the right to stop other people from jumping, and if enough of them do it, they bring us along for the ride.

But context matters.  It’s one thing to jump when you’re firmly on the ground.  It’s another thing to jump when you’re standing on a slanted roof.

This sort of contextual no-jump policy should apply to a broad variety of topics, the most current of which is the legalization of marijuana.  Our society is not well.  We’ve eroded the family and watched other social supports fall away.  Drug abuse and overdoses are considered to be at crisis proportions, and various mental illnesses proliferate.

Through this messy culture is a firm rail making the recreational use of marijuana illegal.  To be sure, people go over and under the rail with great ease, and on principled grounds, we can most certainly argue that the rod is inappropriate.  It’s there, though, and our society has developed around its presence.  Taking it away all at once is reckless.

So, let’s get down off the roof, and then you can jump.  Let’s rebuild our society so that we have more implicit protections via our families and communities, and then removing the no-drugs rail will not be so risky.

The concept came up in a somewhat different way while I was having a discussion with some folks about school choice and the obligations of society.  My view is that we should take a step away from seeing our obligation as the funding of a specific educational system (a network of school districts guided by state and, recently, federal agencies) and instead see it as the funding of education generally, allowing for increased school choice.  A libertarian in the group objected that taking money by force to fund anybody’s education is a form of theft, because he never opted into that “social contract.”

As a theoretical matter, he might have a point, but we are where we are.  He was born into the contract, and he can’t disclaim the parts that impose an obligation on him while continuing to enjoy the benefits of living in a society that privileges education.  Moreover, that society has led people to structure their lives around presumed rights of access.

So, let’s get down off the roof.  If we’re standing on the firm ground of a society that genuinely sees education as an individual responsibility and that is structured around more-local funding and decision making, more families will be willing to bear the responsibility of their own children’s education.  The “social contract” of living in a community that gives government some responsibility for education will be much more explicit… and much more avoidable.

In this contentious, divisive era, we can see more clearly than at any other time during my lifetime how quickly we all back into our corners and demand an ideal.  Let’s get down off the roof.

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