A big part of politics and society, after WWII but possibly somewhat before, is the desire to ape the behavior of the upper classes, with the thought to join them.
Think of the Kennedy’s. Their power and wealth came from populist machine politics and bootlegging. But power and wealth don’t make you high-class. They reinvented themselves as a sort of new aristocrats. JFK married an upper class woman and used his looks and money to promote himself as sort of a new American ideal. This also had the reverse effect of making Democratic politics- machine politics catering to the lower class- a glamorous hobby for rich people, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Drug use was up until the 60’s a disgusting behavior of deviants and criminals. Then upper-class bohemians, many students at expensive private colleges, began to use drugs. Some got arrested; and this led to nice upper-class children getting severe punishments from the legal system, to the horror of their parents. Engaging in illegal behavior is easier if you have a lot of money, so most people were still not willing to use drugs at this point.
The idea was thus promoted that drug laws were outmoded, antiquated, racist, and outdated. Drug use or possession for personal use quickly went from being a felony to a misdemeanor. Socially it became fashionable at best, discouraged but not strongly condemned at the worst. A person unable to control their drug use became a victim of a disease.
Drug use became more fashionable, and less legally risky if not health risky, and the middle classes picked up the habit.
Note that penalties for selling drugs either haven’t changed or have gotten worse. Now- if using drugs isn’t a big deal, why would selling them be? Because selling drugs is not upper class behavior- it is something that people who need money do, and needing money is very much not upper-class. Polite society has to draw the line somewhere, and this is where they draw the line. Minorities lobby for the reduction in dealer penalties, and while they are powerful in leftist politics, nobody wants to go there on this one.
In some story of his, Hunter S. Thompson is about to cross the border into the US from Mexico, but still has some pills in his possession. Being Hunter S. Thompson, he takes them rather than throws them away. And he makes a telling remark- “There are two things I’ve never done with drugs- sold them or taken them through customs.” It’s as if he, lovable and humorous consumer of every drug known to man, even he, draws a rather firm line somewhere.
So we have a country were drug use is rampant, not particularly condemned or ostracized, and when problematic treated as a disease. This is a huge, very profitable market, and there are plenty of people here and abroad who want to get that money, harsh penalties or not. But why should people in Mexico or Colombia pay because of Americans’ class distinctions?
Homosexuality is another example. Homosexuality was not harshly punished in middle America before the sexual revolution, assuming it occurred in private and did not involve minors. It was looked down on though and homosexuals of both sexes were marginal social characters.
Homosexuals were drawn to big cities and those with talent got involved in art and interior decorating, which put them in close contact with the upper classes. Others got into domestic service, hairdressing, or the florist business, not prestigious activities but which also put them in the position of serving the pleasures of the upper class.
Thus homosexuals had the affection of the upper class, particularly upper class women. Just as black liberation was probably aided by the fact that the upper class only encountered black people as submissive servants, gay liberation certainly benefited from the same.
Again there is a sort of line, although it’s blurrier than with drugs. Tolerating homosexuals is very upper class- or maybe more accurately showing affection for homosexuals is upper class. Being a homosexual, not really. Gays, being richer and better educated than average, are not as comfortable with being the mascots of the powerful as blacks are, and they are only dimly aware of it if at all, but that’s what they are.
The health effects of widespread drug abuse are well-known and acknowledged; the health effects of widespread homosexual behavior, that is to say anal sex, are well-known but not acknowledged.
The one other that comes to mind right now doesn’t have health effects, but has devastating financial effects. That is attendance at expensive schools to obtain liberal arts degrees. Let’s be honest, university education for centuries was a consumer item of the rich. Nobody needed to learn Greek or Latin, but then as now if you could afford it you could spend a few years drinking a lot of beer and chasing wenches and pretending to become erudite.
Unfortunately, most people can’t afford it. If you spend a big portion of your parents’ savings on this project, that’s bad, but your parents will have Social Security and probably a paid off house. They could have spent your college fund on vacations before or after retirement, but they spent it on your late adolescence vacation instead. If you borrow a bunch of money for this, you are in big trouble. This problem has become so serious it has actually been in the MSM.
Desire to emulate your betters is probably a universal human trait. In the US it’s used to promote a variety of stupid behaviors, things that don’t hurt you if you have a lot of money but are pretty bad otherwise.
You can’t do whatever you want- not if you’re not rich anyway. Like the dad says in “The Hangover”, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas- except herpes.”