Decisions, Drugs, and Dirty Hands

December 11, 2011

Dirty Hands, Political Theory

We all play the game of “What if?”

Whether we wonder what would happen if we were stuck on a deserted island or what we would do if someone mugged us on the street, we’re all scared of something crazy happening that would affect our whole life.  An event of this magnitude occurs in Nancy Botwin’s life and she has to make a decision on how to support her family now that her husband has passed away unexpectedly.

Hence, the hit Showtime series Weeds is born.  Nancy decides selling marijuana out of her house is the best option to maintain her family’s upper middle class lifestyle.  Selling illegal drugs is wrong in itself, but her work ultimately affects her home life negatively.  The Botwins are always on the run and consequently her children, Silas and Shane, are not raised with the care and stability they need.  Nancy is arguably the cause of her children’s psychological issues because of their unpredictable and illicit lives.  Both Silas and Shane end up dropping out of school and becoming involved in Nancy’s crazy business.  It’s safe to say they would lead normal lives if Nancy did not decide to become a pot dealer.


The issue of Dirty Hands is described as doing something wrong in order to do something right.  This is exactly what Weeds is about- illegally dealing marijuana in order to support family.  Hollis states that Dirty Hands is acceptable if “the ends justify the means.” Do you think Nancy’s actions are justified?  Or do her actions have too much of a negative impact on her children?  Should Nancy try to find a different job?



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13 Comments on “Decisions, Drugs, and Dirty Hands”

  1. weinben Says:

    In the show, Nancy is nothing if not a straight up hustler, making moves and running the game to provide for her children, just like any sensible mother should. Obviously the nature of her business is what makes the situation so entertaining. Is Nancy wrong to attempt to maintain their comfortable lifestyle? No, I don’t think so. That she slings dope is more of a message about our society than the show might let on on its surface. People are so concerned with their public image and class that they will do whatever to maintain the façade that everything is alright. The show also sends a message that the boundaries between right and wrong are blurred more than ever in our time.
    Getting to her kids, I don’t think it’s fair to put all the blame on Nancy. The death of her husband is a huge issue the children have to deal with and the way the kids deal with it is a definite cause of their peculiar habits. If anything, the kids should look up to their mom for being innovative and brave, getting involved in a business filled with real thugs and gang bangers. It ain’t easy but Nancy uses her street smarts to keep her children as satisfied as possible. Also, that she is a single working mother dealing drugs is only funny because she is middle-upper class and white. If she was, say, lower class and a minority, the situation might seem a lot realer, and that speaks volumes on societal stereotypes and values.

  2. elmatts25 Says:

    I think this is an issue of dirty hands, and I don’t believe that the ends justify the means in this case. Nancy knew that what she was doing was wrong, obviously because it is illegal. Initially she was okay with doing something illegal because she felt it was necessary to retain her family’s upper middle class lifestyle. In my opinion, once her children dropped out of school, Nancy’s business venture became incredibly wrong. It is in no way justifiable to allow your children to drop out of school and sell drugs. Although selling drugs might have been an easy – maybe even good – way for Nancy to get back on her feet economically after her husband died, it is illegal and therefore full of risks. In the long-run selling drugs is not a successful career path. In my opinion, the negative impact Nancy’s actions have had on her children make it so that the end goal was not obtained and therefore the means are not justified. Nancy is no longer doing what is best for her family, she is just doing what is momentarily beneficial for her family, economically.

  3. habavol Says:

    Hm, I understand that she’s doing this all to help her children in the long run, but I don’t think this “justifies the means.” As a grown woman, the responsible thing would be to get an actual part-time job or anything to provide for her family. Selling drugs is dangerous for everyone involved and could probably hurt her children more than help them.
    I’ve never watched this show, so I don’t really know all of the details, but I think putting her children in a position like this is worse then living a “poorer” life style.

  4. mbernstein7 Says:

    Clearly, dealing drugs is not the best way to support your children. Obviously, Nancy should have just gotten a normal job like any other sane person and provided for her sons, even though their lifestyle may have had to be altered slightly. However, Nancy’s actions (however fictional) can be justified because of her initial reason for selling marijuana: to support her family after her husband tragically died.

    I think weinben had a great analysis of Shane and Silas’ mental stability. Were it not for the tragic death of Nancy’s husband, Jonah, Nancy would not have been forced into the drug dealing business. A death in the family is definitely a common source of psychological and emotional stress. It can also lead to changes in behavior, which is seen in Shane’s rebellious attitude.

    I do not think that Nancy’s actions were justified because I feel that she should have gotten a normal, legal job. That being said, Nancy is not the sole reason for the problems that her sons face. It is a stretch to say that dirty hands play a role in this situation due to the other contributing factors to Shane and Silas’ changes.

  5. Rainyo Says:

    I have also never seen the show, but I have heard great things about it. In regards to Nancy’s career choice, I think weinben makes a good point in that “the boundries between right and wrong are blurred more than ever in our time”. Whether Nancy’s actions are justified or not lies in one’s own view on cannibus. I mean, it has been deemed “illegal” by our government, and I can’t imagine how many “above the influence” commercials I have seen regarding its negative attributes I have seen, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad. It’s a plant that has been used for thousands of years for various recreational uses. It doesn’t hurt anybody, you can’t die from it, and in recent years has been known to have positive medical attributes. I remember watching a documentary about cannibus use in the medical field. There was one particular individual who stood out to me in the documentary. This guy had an extreme nervous system disorder that seemingly was an extreme form of Parkinson’s disease. He looked as though he was in extreme pain as he thrashed and convulsed in his home. He then smoked marijuana and for the time he was “high” his twitches and convulsion ceased, and he was able to hold a conversation with the documentary crew. So, I personally believe that Nancy’s actions are justified, maybe not in the eyes of the law, but the law isn’t ever necessarily right. Nancy is simply selling a plant to people that the government has deemed bad because of old stigmas/beliefs about the plant that, as we mature as a society, have changed for the better.

  6. masonbear Says:

    In discussion we began by applying the concept of dirty hands to politicians and moved outward. In section we defined Hollis’s definition of dirty hands as an immoral action by an individual that ultimately created a greater good for society (the majority). In deciding whether Nancy’s drug dealing in Weeds is a case of dirty hands first an examination of the overall effect on her family is necessary. The ultimate question is whether the income gained from selling marijuana is worth the sacrifice of stability and repercussions of psychological issues for her children. The answer lies within the family and their view on the question. However, even if the pros outweigh the negative counterparts dirty hands also has to impact society in a positive manner. In general, drug-dealing creates higher rates of crime and addiction. The two negative aspects are inextricably connected. In its extreme form as people become addicted to drugs they steal to support their habit. Due to the higher rates of crime I believe Nancy’s decision of selling marijuana to support her family cannot be categorized as a case of hands. Even if the “ends justify the means” her actions negatively influence the surrounding community.

  7. srubins Says:

    As a television enthusiast and one who has seen many episodes of Weeds, the show truly makes great TV. However, this is not always characteristic of an appropriate real life situation. In fact, it rarely is.

    I believe Nancy’s action are justified given that she is doing it to support her family in need. Yet, the ends certainly do not justify the means. Sure, she has good intentions being she wants to support her family but there are many other more typical, let alone legal, methods that she can go about doing this. Her actions absolutely have too much of a negative impact on her children being that she is repeatedly uprooting them to remain elusive from the police and has additionally, gotten them involved in her business. Both her children wind up dropping out of school as well–where is the redeeming result here?

    Nancy should absolutely find a different job for the sake of her family’s well being. Her children are on their way down a very unfortunate road if she continues to raise them in an environment in which illicit activities and occupations are an everyday part of life.

  8. serena Says:

    This is a strong case of dirty hands. And in this case I believe that the ends might not end up justifying the means. Most of the times when I am presented with a case of dirty hands, there are consequences involving harm to some people, but this is unfortunately different because there are kids involved. Because what she is doing in order to provide for her family, there might be even worse consequences when she is caught and put in prison and her kids have no family to go to. Or if a deal goes bad and the other party lashes out. It might be fine to do this in the short run for the the safety of her children, she should perhaps find something that does not pose such a huge threat, regardless of its legality.

  9. lukeythekid Says:

    I believe that this is a case of dirty hands, not because of any effects on other people that are caused by the sale of weed, but because of the effect that it has on her children. There are thousands and thousands of people who sell weed, either legally or illegally, and one more person will not make a difference. In addition, I do not feel as though the system of providing illegal marijuana to people is inherently bad either. However, whether the sale of weed is moral or immoral is a different story and not the main point here.
    You say that “Nancy is arguably the cause of her children’s psychological issues,” and that her business causes her children to drop out of school. This is absolutely where dirty hands comes into play – Nancy believes that by selling drugs her family is better off, when in reality she may have ruined her children’s lives. Graduating high school and going off to college is the most important financial investment that people make (as we have discussed on several other blog posts), and depriving them of that will absolutely make them worse off in the long run. Regardless of Nancy’s current success, when she is inevitably caught or forced out of the market (as is the case with basically all large-scale criminal enterprises), the family will be worse off, only now without any prospects for the future. The end result is that Nancy has only delayed her family’s financial ruin for a little bit, while ensuring this fate in the process.

  10. thelenj1 Says:

    I do not think the ends justified the means in Nancy’s actions. When Machiavelli talks about dirty hands he is talking about doing bad things to get to good things. This is certainly not what is occurring in the Botwin family. She might have began with somewhat good intentions, but as time went on the decisions she made became to revolve somewhat more around her. She chooses to not only deal, but bring drugs over country borders and mess with people that could result in her death. The show makes it seem like she is always seeking the thrill. The ends for a mother should be to support and be there for your children. Choosing a job that is illegal runs the risk that you will get caught and have to pay the consequences which potentially could be losing your kids. Her kids do not have a stable upbringing because they became involved in their mother’s job and also had to move a lot, so they could not form true relationships with the people outside of their family. If she truly had the best interest of her family at heart she would get a legal job with not as much risk as the one she currently obtains.

  11. jpstern Says:

    I don’t agree that the ends justified the means for the Botwin family. Nancy’s decisions basically tore the family apart. Silas for a large part of the more recent season hated Nancy, while Shane was always dying for his mothers approval. The young Shane was a really innocent kid, but when he discovered his mom was a drug dealer, his life completely changed. He become a much darker person and started using for himself at a very young age. Also, the amount of moving around that the family did because of Nancy was by no means a good thing. Nancy is clearly a insane woman, who makes ridiculously rash and uneducated decisions making it obvious that what she did seriously messed up her and her children’s lives. Therefore, while intermediary “ends” in their journey could be described as easy, fun, and exciting. The ultimate very sharp decline in their happiness along the way makes Nancy’s decisions unacceptable.

  12. Brandon Baxter Says:

    One may argue that Nancy is materialistic because of her struggle to keep up with her upper middle class lifestyle, but I disagree. I think the power of the show is a lot more than just a pretty girl in a nice house selling drugs and going on various sexual escapades. The separate seasons of Weeds are all focused in different areas of the United States and illustrate very different lifestyles. The show mocks these lifestyles many times, but it also shows the pressure of the people within them to live up to defined social norms and expectations. It discusses very sensitive topics like race, social status, economic status, gender, orientation, and more.

    I think the most effective topic they meet is race, and since a comment is too restrictive to cover the entire show so I’ll be brief. The show introduces us to various families within not only the rich-white community, but the African-American community, the Mexican American community, and a few others. It humanizes all of them and places them on an equal playing level. It shows Nancy next to families in these communities often and illustrates how similar they are. How at the end of the day their very basic desires in life are to support their family and find love. Did Nancy mess up her family? Maybe, but does ANYONE have a perfect family? Is there anyone in this world that can avoid the problem of dirty hands without sacrificing their needs? I think not, and I believe there lies the power of this show.

  13. Karsten Smolinski Says:

    The main argument that I have with this blog post is that it assumes that the family would be better off if Nancy had not decided to start selling pot. Being a single working mother with a legitimate job can be just as stressful for a family. In one episode, Nancy even briefly tries to make her cover business, a bakery, into a legitimate business before she realizes that there’s no way it will work. I’m curious as to what you think she could have done as an alternative to dealing pot. She’s a suburban housewife who presumably hasn’t had a job in years. Who’s going to hire her in this economy? This highlights an important part of the problem of dirty hands. Often, its very difficult to say with certainty that one way would have been better than another.

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