The California State Capitol disproves the idea that great civic architecture attracts great civic leaders, that the strength of our civil religion corresponds to the symbols of our devotion.
The columns and pilasters, the arched windows and drum walls, the red curtains and green tones, the granite dome and gold rotunda—all of these things are too good for legislators not good enough to exercise what makes good government possible, restraint.
Take, for instance, the attempt to further restrict the sale of electronic cigarettes.
As a nonsmoker, I neither consume nor crave nicotine.
But I would sooner smoke and exchange pipes—I would sooner accept the ceremonial pipe of peace and prayer—than inhale the secondhand smoke of partisan rhetoric; of so much hot air against a product that is legal yet seemingly licentious; of fulminations against a practice, vaping, that is less dangerous to high schoolers than reading most high school textbooks.
I would sooner stamp these books with the Surgeon General’s Warning than stamp out the freedom of speech, or the rights of companies to market and sell their products to adults.
Put aside, too, the fact that the pages of these books eschew facts, that they emit a contact high of nonsense and confusion, that they perpetuate what they purport to cure: ignorance.
If California criminalizes what is legal and legalizes what is criminal, it will define deviancy up.
Permissible sins like drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco will become impermissible acts of defiance; deviant afflictions of a class of people whose virtues—whose faith in God and country—are vices.
When the least deviant people are the most penitent, for fear that their failure to express remorse will land them in a penitentiary, when tobacco is not the currency of prison but the reason people go to prison, we will have liberty in name only.
That scenario grows more probable every day.
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