There is an old saying that “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

The pursuit of that principle explains a wide range of human behavior, and in many cases, misbehavior. It merely explains the behavior. It does not justify most of it. A good bit of the behavior can be bundled into the philosophical concept of what is often referred to as “the human condition.” It seeks to explain and often to justify human failures on the basis of the innate quality of human frailty.

Being dissatisfied with one’s current place of residence, occupation, physical condition, financial position or state of mind is not a new phenomenon. Said dissatisfaction can explain wars, drug addiction, alcoholism, abortion and a whole host of other marginally accepted and hotly debated behaviors. When the debates heat up and eventually overheat, governments, legal systems and other man-made regulatory devices are called on to justify the behavior in question — or at least try to mediate the debate.

Historic documentation of the Incas’ propensity for peyote, the early colonies’ cultivation of tobacco, Prohibition-era manufacture of white lightning and teenagers sneaking around to the back of the barn and rolling corn silk cigarettes illustrate the historical pursuit of an altered state of mind. The contemporary manifestations of that pursuit explain the current Mexican drug wars, the most recent efforts to control the marketing of tobacco products and the teenage alcoholism epidemic. Each are driven by the individual desire for a mind-altering experience and collectively create what sociologists lump together into the column referred to as “social problems.” In the old days, these problems were dealt with by the soothsayers and snake oil salesmen. Today they have created the entire industry known as mental health care.

The more volatile manifestations of the pursuit of the “greener grass” today occur in the legal status of these behaviors, and there have been several very recent illustrations of the “boiling over” state of these debates.

The most graphic example recently is the murder of a Kansas City abortion doctor, ironically murdered as he attended church services. There is probably no more socially divisive issue on the planet than the cultural effort to justify the termination of fetal life. It is the ultimately selfish pursuit of “greener grass” at the expense of the ultimately helpless and defenseless.

The evolving discussion over the legal status of marijuana will almost certainly result in its eventual legalization for the same reason that alcohol and tobacco remain legal… its potential to generate tax revenues. That potential can only be realized because there is a social demand and willingness to pay for a drug-induced mind altering experience.

While governments and legal systems usually end up seeking to mollify the masses, which in a democracy is their stated purpose, the regulation of the human condition was dealt with simply and succinctly on a mountain a couple of thousand years ago. There were reportedly two parties present, God, representing himself, and Moses, representing the indolent masses. Since the human condition must account for free will there was a need even then for a regulatory document. It was etched on two rocks in Roman Numerals. About half the people disagreed with it then, too.

Today, the debates simmer on and at least half the people usually disagree with what is conjured up to replace the two rocks. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

John Kliebenstein is circulation and operations manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesdays. E-mail him at john.kliebenstein@