Friday, December 7, 2007

Roland, blow your horn!

Recently a number of people have been talking about this article. It's good; you should read it. Every few years an article like it appears. People talk about it. Nothing happens.

One of the things mentioned in the article is how the Bush administration recently shelved virtually the entire statistics-gathering arm of its drug program. Literally and figuratively, the war on drugs has become a policy divorced from results -- whose effects, success, and failure are immaterial to its rationale.

This struck me because a number of years ago, I wrote an op/ed for the Prince (yeah I know) saying some similar stuff. Looking back it, I was amused to see some of my writerly tics in action. Tics, however, is like the understatement of the century. Let's take a look.

A sentence about Nixon's escalation of the drug war:
He wanted a comfortable and reassuring mass of facts stamped with the imprimatur of experts and organized under a hypotaxis of preconceived conclusions advocating the continuation of current policy — proscription, prohibition, punishment and propaganda.
Alliterate much? Four 'p''s in a row was, shall we say, pushing it. "Hypotaxis"? I'm guessing I had read Auerbach like the week before; the word figures prominently in his work. Hypotaxis refers to a grammatical-semantic (grammatico-semantic?) instance of subordination, typically linked by phrases like "in order to" or "although" To use it metaphorically as I did is to suggest that the ostensibly neutral nature of data-gathering was compromised by the ideological persuasion of those who wanted the data for their own preconceived, nefarious use.
It is true that smoking one joint is the carcinogenic equivalent of smoking four cigarettes (due to respiratory technique), but this also means that to duplicate the familiar metric of the pack-a-day smoker a single marijuana smoker would have to smoke five joints — a feat so rare as to be commendable.
..."a feat so rare as to be commendable." How was this published?

In the almost thousand years since Le Chanson de Roland appeared on the planet, countless things have been written and spoken about it. This is the stupidest:
The reigning prohibition of marijuana has nothing to speak for it save the aborted cries of its historical and contemporary failures — as if any abatement or discontinuation would send "the wrong message." Such thinking recalls the behavior of Roland in the 11th century French epic, "La Chanson de Roland." Under attack by vicious hordes of Moors, Roland could not bring himself to blow his famous horn whose sounding would instantly bring help. Impelled by pride and a bizarre code of honor, he delayed use of his instrument until too late, and so perished albeit bravely (albeit foolishly).
A bizarre code of honor, eh? Way to get at the essence of what motivates Roland.

And at last the stirring peroration:
It behooves us — ethically, pragmatically, medically — to legalize or decriminalize marijuana. End this unjust prohibition. Cease this absurd war. Break off this long extenuation of an abject failure. Dissipate this malign ideology. Roland, blow your horn!
I actually still really like the ending EXCEPT the sentence, "Dissipate this malign ideology." It's such a ridiculous thing to say -- I imagine a sorcerer stretching out his hand and incanting Latin as he impressively "dissipates" some dread "ideology" -- that it sort of ruins the whole thing. Dissipate is a weak word in an otherwise strong series of verbs ("end" "cease" "break off"). The Roland tie-in, though, is great -- who would have foreseen such a thing?

1 comment:

  1. No one, Hal, no one. Why on Earth did you connect Roland and drugs, anyways? So weird.