There is much angst in our society over the unwillingness of politicians to compromise in order to get things done. Unfortunately it is hard to compromise if your chances for reelection depend on standing for the principles that got you elected in the first place. I think the polarization in Washington is a direct result of the polarization of our society in general.

We humans tend to look at complex (analog) issues and try to come up with simple (digital) solutions. Liberals are much concerned about the plight of those who are “down and out,” often through no fault of their own, while conservatives are more concerned with freeloaders who are milking the system for benefits they don’t deserve. Both sides downplay the concerns of the other. We need to find a middle ground.

Because we like to see things in black & white, once we have decided on a belief relative to some issue, we tend to overrate the benefits of our solution and oversimplify the problems our solution will generate.

Take the current debate over legalization of marijuana. (Since there will be three marijuana issues on the November ballot, this is a pertinent example.) Proponents wax eloquently over the presumed medical benefits while glossing over the fact that many, if not most, users take it simply to get high. Opponents babble on about gateway drugs, suggesting that opening the door to marijuana will somehow lead to spikes in heroin and cocaine usage.

Most people see the prohibition of alcohol as a dark stain on our history which led to the rise of organized crime and turned ordinary, law-abiding citizens into criminals just because they wanted a beer after a hard days work at the factory. It is generally believed prohibition was a total failure - a misguided incursion into moral regulation that cost society dearly. But there were social costs associated to the re-legalization of alcohol as well. After prohibition was repealed, alcohol related traffic deaths went up, cirrhosis of the liver went up, and the number of alcoholics went up.

I’m not suggesting marijuana (or alcohol) should not be legal, only that we, as a society, need to be prepared for the related costs. There will be more users, and that will inevitably lead to more traffic deaths, and more health problems, particularly as concentrations of THC are increased by various means. Just as chewing coca leaves is safer than snorting or smoking pure cocaine, smoking weed from your backyard is less dangerous than inhaling highly concentrated THC - so called “dabbing.” Setting legal levels will be complicated since, at present, there is no equivalent to a breathalyzer test for pot, and blood tests are obviously more intrusive. We need to address these societal costs. It can be done.

Many years ago my wife & I traveled with my parents in Scandinavia. While having lunch with a friend of my father’s in Oslo, Norway, he offered us a beer with lunch, but refused to have one himself because he was driving and the DWI laws were so strict. Later we visited a patient of my father’s in Reykjavik, Iceland. Her twenty-something year old granddaughter picked us up at the hotel, took us to her grandmother’s house, fed us a wonderful dinner, and doubled as a bartender for the evening. When I asked her if she wouldn’t join us for a drink, she said, “Oh no, I have to drive you back to the hotel later.”

We need to develop a more mature attitude toward complex problems in this country, recognizing the pluses and minuses of any changes, and finding reasonable compromises to deal with them. To obtain a functioning government, we must elect moderate candidates who are more interested in solving problems than in party loyalty.

- James W. Rhoades writes a column for The Neosho Daily News.