Friday, October 29, 2010

The quest for freedom and safety: Why I donated $100,000 to YesOn19

The common theme uniting most of my efforts is the desire to be free. One of the reasons I'm so interested in startups is that they give people the freedom to create, independent of the institutional limitations found in large companies. This is why unexpected new ideas and techniques (such as new languages or development practices) often appear first in startups. Of course the startups don't always succeed, but at least I'm free to pursue my own ideas, even if others don't believe in them. And when a startup is successful, it can provide a great deal of financial freedom to the people who built it.

Internal freedom is also very important, though often less obvious. If we are always held back by our own fears and self-limiting beliefs, then we aren't really free. That is why my previous post on serendipity is largely about escaping ego-fear and other negative limitations.

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Philosophically, I agree with that. However, if we don't feel safe, if we can't go out in public without fearing for our lives and the lives of our family, then we aren't really free. Since becoming a parent, I've come to understand why parents often seem especially fearful. Our children are so precious to us, and we must keep them safe. I can understand the impulse to simply make more rules, to build taller walls, and to lockup anyone who seems scary.

I think the real point of Benjamin Franklin's quote is that when we destroy freedom, we are ultimately destroying safety as well. This is most apparent when we examine the disastrous effects of drug prohibition.

Not only is prohibition an attack on our basic right to control our own bodies and minds (a philosophical point which most people probably don't care about), but prohibition also provides a multi-billion dollar subsidy to violent criminal organizations that threaten our physical safety and security, something everyone cares about.

The drug cartels have already overrun much of Mexico, and that violence will inevitably spill over in to the United States if we continue subsidising them with one of the world's most lucrative monopolies.

The alternative path is to begin restoring individual freedom and responsibility, defund the drug cartels, and instead shift those dollars towards roads, parks, public safety, and other beneficial causes. This is the solution offered by California's proposition 19, the "Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010".

Some politicians have argued that proposition 19 is "flawed". To me, this seems like a weak defense of the status quo from politicians afraid to stand out on a controversial issue. Of course it's not perfect -- no law is perfect. However, the current system of drug prohibition is much, much worse. "Perfect" is not one of the options offered on Tuesday's ballot. We can either choose "much better" (Yes on 19), or "keep the current, disastrously bad, system" (No on 19). 

If proposition 19 passes, the immediate effect may not be that significant due to federal challenges and such. However, I believe the long-term effects will be enormous. Prohibition is a disaster. Many politicians will admit to this fact, however most of them have been too timid to actually do anything about it, to lead the country towards safer, saner policies. In this case, the voters must lead, and the politicians will follow. Even if 19 does not pass (Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight gives it "even odds" of passing), it will still mark an important shift in the debate over drugs, especially if YOU vote for it.

And that's why I decided to donate $100,000 towards the Yes on 19 campaign. It's tempting to wait for the "perfect" solution to the drug issue, but meanwhile millions of lives are being destroyed by the current system. That's evil.

Here are a few more thoughts on the issue:

If you would like to be part of the solution, please share this or other articles, and encourage your friends and family to show up at the polls on Tuesday and vote "YES on 19" (assuming they live in California). Also, donate to YesOn19 -- it's not too late (ads are still being purchased).