The Drugged Up Birth of Modernity

Below is a passage from a book I got for my birthday. I was skimming through this tome and came across a note from one of the later chapters. It discusses a theory about how new substances, caffeine and sugar, helped cause changes in mentality during colonialism, early modernity, and industrialization. I first came across a version of this theory back in the late ’90s or early Aughts, in a book I no longer own and haven’t been able to track down since.

So, it was nice coming across this brief summary with references. But in the other version, the argument was that these substances (including nicotine, cocaine, etc; along with a different kind of drug like opium) were central to the Enlightenment Age and the post-Enlightenment world, something only suggested by this author. This is a supporting theory for my larger theory on addictive substances, including some thoughts on how they replaced psychedelics, as written about previously: Sugar is an Addictive Drug, The Agricultural Mind, Diets and Systems, and “Yes, tea banished the fairies.”. It has to do with what has built the rigid boundaries of modern egoic consciousness and hyper-individualism. It was a revolution of the mind.

Many have made arguments along these lines. It’s not hard to make the connection. Diverse leading figures over history have observed the importance changes that followed along as these substances were introduced and spread. In recent years, this line of thought has been catching on. Michael Pollan came out with an audiobook about the role coffee has played, “Caffeine: How Coffee and Tea Created the Modern World.” I haven’t listened to it because it’s only available through Audible and I don’t do business with Amazon, but reviews of it and interviews with Pollan about it make it sound fascinating. Pollan has many thoughts about psychedelics as well, although I’m not sure if he has talked about psychedelics in relation to stimulants. Steven Johnson has also written and talked about this.

As a side note, there is also an interesting point that connects rising drug addiction with an earlier era of moral panic, specifically a crisis of identity. There was a then new category of disease called neurasthenia, as first described by George Miller Beard. It replaced earlier notions of ‘nostalgia’ and ‘nerves’. In many ways, neurasthenia could be thought of as some kind of variant of mood disorder with some overlap with depression. But a passage from another work, also included below, indicates that drug addiction was closely linked in this developing ideology about the diseased mind and crippled self. At that stage, the relationship wasn’t entirely clear. All that was understood was that, in a fatigued and deficient state, increasing numbers turned to drugs as a coping mechanism.

Drugs may have helped to build modern civilization. But then they quickly came to be taken as a threat. This concern was implicitly understood and sometimes overtly applied right from the beginning. With the colonial trade, laws were often quickly put in place to make sugar and coffee controlled substances. Sugar for a long time was only sold in pharmacies. And a number of fearful rulers tried to ban coffee for fear of it, not unlike how psychedelics were perceived in the 1960s. It’s not only that these substances were radicalizing and revolutionary within the mind and society as seen in retrospect. Many at the time realized these addictive and often stimulating drugs (and one might even call sugar a drug) were powerful substances right from the beginning. That is what made them such profitable commodities requiring an emergent militaristic capitalism that was violently brutal in fulfilling this demand with forced labor.

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The WEIRDest People in the World:
How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous
by Joseph Henrich
Ch. 13 “Escape Velocity”, section “More Inventive?”
p. 289, note 58

People’s industriousness may have been bolstered by new beverages: sugar mixed into caffeinated drinks—tea and coffee. These products only began arriving in Europe in large quantities after 1500, when overseas trade began to dramatically expand. The consumption of sugar, for example, rose 20-fold between 1663 and 1775. By the 18th century, sugary caffeinated beverages were not only becoming part of the daily consumption of the urban middle class, but they were also spreading into the working class. We know from his famous diary that Samuel Pepys was savoring coffee by 1660. The ability of these beverages to deliver quick energy—glucose and caffeine—may have provided innovators, industrialists, and laborers, as well as those engaged in intellectual exchanges at cafés (as opposed to taverns), with an extra edge in self-control, mental acuity, and productivity. While sugar, coffee, and tea had long been used elsewhere, no one had previously adopted the practice of mixing sugar into caffeinated drinks (Hersh and Voth, 2009; Nunn and Qian, 2010). Psychologists have linked the ingestion of glucose to greater self-control, though the mechanism is a matter of debate (Beedie and Lane, 2012; Gailliot and Baumeister, 2007; Inzlicht and Schmeichel, 2012; Sanders et al., 2012). The anthropologist Sidney Mintz (1986, p. 85) suggested that sugar helped create the industrial working class, writing that “by provisioning, sating—and, indeed, drugging—farm and factory workers, [sugar] sharply reduced the overall cost of creating and reproducing the metropolitan proletariat.”

“Mania Americana”: Narcotic Addiction and Modernity in the United States, 1870-1920
by Timothy A. Hickman

One such observer was George Miller Beard, the well-known physician who gave the name neurasthenia to the age’s most representative neurological disorder. In 1871 Beard wrote that drug use “has greatly extended and multiplied with the progress of civilization, and especially in modern times.” He found that drug use had spread through “the discovery and invention of new varieties [of narcotic], or new modifications of old varieties.” Alongside technological and scientific progress, Beard found another cause for the growth of drug use in “the influence of commerce, by which the products of each clime became the property of all.” He thus felt that a new economic interconnectedness had increased both the knowledge and the availability of the world’s regionally specific intoxicants. He wrote that “the ancient civilizations knew only of home made varieties; the moderns are content with nothing less than all of the best that the world produces.” Beard blamed modern progress for increased drug use, and he identified technological innovation and economic interconnectedness as the essence of modernity. Those were, of course, two central contributors to the modern cultural crisis. As we shall see, many experts believed that this particular form of (narcotic) interconnectedness produced a condition of interdependence, that it quite literally reduced those on the receiving end from even a nominal state of independence to an abject dependence on these chemical products and their suppliers.

There was probably no more influential authority on the relationship between a physical condition and its historical moment than George Miller Beard. In 1878 Beard used the term “neurasthenia” to define the “lack of nerve strength” that he believed was “a functional nervous disease of modern, and largely, though not entirely, of American origin.” He had made his vision of modern America clear two years earlier, writing that “three great inventions-the printing press, the steam engine, and the telegraph, are peculiar to our modern civilization, and they give it a character for which there is no precedent.” The direct consequence of these technological developments was that “the methods and incitements of brain-work have multiplied far in excess of average cerebral developments.” Neurasthenia was therefore “a malady that has developed mainly during the last half century.” It was, in short, “the cry of the system struggling with its environment.” Beard’s diagnosis is familiar, but less well known is his belief that a “susceptibility to stimulants and narcotics and various drugs” was among neurasthenia’s most attention-worthy symptoms. The new sensitivity to narcotics was “as unprecedented a fact as the telegraph, the railway, or the telephone.” Beard’s claim suggests that narcotic use might fruitfully be set alongside other diseases of “overcivilization,” including suicide, premarital sex (for women), and homosexuality. As Dr. W. E Waugh wrote in 1894, the reasons for the emergence of the drug habit “are to be found in the conditions of modern life, and consist of the causative factors of suicide and insanity.” Waugh saw those afflictions as “the price we pay for our modern civilization.”24

Though Beard was most concerned with decreased tolerance-people seemed more vulnerable to intoxication and its side effects than they once were-he also worried that the changing modern environment exacerbated the development of the drug habit. Beard explained that a person whose nervous system had become “enfeebled” by the demands of modern society would naturally turn wherever he could for support, and thus “anything that gives ease, sedation, oblivion, such as chloral, chloroform, opium or alcohol, may be resorted to at first as an incident, and finally as a habit.” Not merely to overcome physical discomfort, but to obtain “the relief of exhaustion, deeper and more distressing than pain, do both men and women resort to the drug shop.” Neurasthenia was brought on “under the press and stimulus of the telegraph and railway,” and Beard believed that it provided “the philosophy of many cases of opium or alcohol inebriety.”25

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Also see:

The Age of Intoxication
by Benjamin Breen

Drugs, Labor and Colonial Expansion
ed. by William Jankowiak and Daniel Bradburd

How psychoactive drugs shape human culture
by Greg Wadley

Under the influence
by Ed Lake

The Enlightenment: Psychoactive Globalisation
from The Pendulum of Psychoactive Drug Use

Tea Tuesdays: How Tea + Sugar Reshaped The British Empire
by Maria Godoy

Some Notes On Sugar and the Evolution of Industrial Capitalism
by Peter Machen

Coffee, Tea and Colonialism
from The Wilson Quarterly

From Beer to Caffeine: The Birth of Innovation
by Peter Diamandis

How caffeine changed the world
by Colleen Walsh

The War On Coffee
by Adam Gopnik

Coffee: The drink of the enlightenment
by Jane Louise Kandur

Coffee and the Enlightenment
by Stephen Hicks

Coffee Enlightenment? – Does drinking my morning coffee lead to enlightenment?
from Coffee Enlightenment

The Enlightenment Coffeehouses
by David Gurteen

How Caffeine Accelerated The Scientific Enlightenment
by Drew Dennis

How Cafe Culture Helped Make Good Ideas Happen
from All Things Considered

Coffee & the Age of Reason (17th Century)
from The Coffee Brewers

Philosophers Drinking Coffee: The Excessive Habits of Kant, Voltaire & Kierkegaard
by Colin Marshall

Coffee Cultivation and Exchange, 1400-1800
from University of California, Santa Cruz

Another Way

Health is a longtime interest of mine. My focus has been on the relationship between mental health and physical health. The personal component of this is my depression as it has connected, specifically in the past, to my junk food addiction and lack of exercise at times. When severely depressed, there isn’t motivation to do much about one’s health. But if one doesn’t do anything about one’s health, the symptoms of depression get worse.

It’s for this reason that I’ve sought to understand health. I’ve tried many diets. A big thing for me was restricting refined sugar and simple carbs. It’s become clear to me that sugar, in particular, is one of the most addictive drugs around. It boosts your serotonin which makes you feel good, but then it drops your serotonin levels lower than before you ate the sugar. This creates an endless craving, once you get into the addictive cycle. On top of that, sugar is extremely harmful to your health in general, not only maybe resulting in diabetes but also suppressing your immune system.

Most addictive behavior, though, isn’t necessarily and primarily physical. The evidence shows that it’s largely based on social conditions. That has been shown with the rat park research, with inequality data, and with Portugal’s model of decriminalization and treatment. Humans, like rats, are social creatures. Those living in optimal social conditions have lower rates of addiction, even when drugs are easily available. I’m sure this same principle applies to food addictions as well. It also relates to other mental illnesses, which show higher rates in Western industrialized countries.

This occurred to me a while back while reading about the Piraha. Daniel Everett noted that they didn’t worry much about food. They ate food when it was there and they would eat it until it was gone, but they were fine when there was no food to eat. They live in an environment of great abundance. They don’t lack anything they need.

Yet it’s common for them to skip eating for a day because they have something better to do with their time, such as relaxing and socializing. Everett had seen Piraha individuals dance for several days straight with only occasional breaks and no food. Hunger didn’t seem to bother them because they knew at any moment they could go a short distance and find food. A few hours of a single person hunting, fishing, or gathering could feed the entire extended family for a day.

The same thing was seen with their sleep patterns. The Piraha rarely slept through the entire night. There were always people awake and talking. They didn’t worry about not getting enough sleep. They slept sporadically through the night and day, whenever they felt like it. According to Everett, the Piraha are a happy and relaxed people. They don’t seem to fear much, not even death, despite living in a dangerous environment. They have a low anxiety existence.

Modern Westerners also live amidst great abundance. But you wouldn’t know it from our behavior. We are constantly eating, as if we aren’t sure where our next meal is coming from. And we obsess over the idea of getting a full night’s rest. Our lives are driven by stress and anxiety. The average Westerner has a mindset of scarcity. We are constantly working, buying, consuming, and hoarding. The only time we typically relax is to escape all the stress and anxiety, by numbing ourselves with our addictions: food, sugar, alcohol, drugs, television, social media, etc.

That has been true of me. I’ve felt that constant background of unease. I’ve felt that addictive urge to escape. It’s not healthy. But it’s also not inevitable. We have chosen to create this kind of society. And we can choose to create a different one. Addiction makes us feel helpless, just as it makes us feel isolated. But we aren’t helpless.

As Thomas Paine wrote at the beginning of this country, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” Imagine a society where we could be at peace with ourselves, where we could have a sense of trust that our needs will be taken care of, to know that there is enough abundance to go around. A world where the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed, and the poor lifted up. All of that is within our means. We know how to do it, if only we could imagine it. That would mean creating a new mindset, a new way of being in the world, a new way of relating.

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I was thinking about a particular connection to addiction, mental illness, and other health problems. This is part of the isolation and loneliness of a hyper-individualistic society. But American society adds another dynamic to this in also being highly conformist — for various reasons: the entrenched class hierarchy, the strictly oppressive racial order, the history of religiosity, the propagandistic nature of national media, the harsh Social Darwinism of capitalist realism, etc.

Right before this post, I was writing about authoritarian libertarianism. There is a weird, secret link between the extremes of individualism and the extremes of collectivism. There is a long history of libertarians praising individualism while supporting the collectivism of authoritarians.

Many right-wing libertarians are in love with corporatism which was a foundation of fascism. Corporations are collective entities that are created by the public institution of government through the public system of corporate charters. A corporate charter, by government fiat, doles out special privileges and protections. Business often does well under big government, at least big business does.

This dynamic might seem strange, but it has a certain logic. Carl Jung called it enantiodromia. That is a fancy word for saying that things taken to their extreme tend to become or produce their opposite. The opposite is never eliminated, even if temporarily suppressed into the shadow and projected onto others. It’s a state where balance is lacking and so the imbalance eventually tips the other direction.

That is the nature of the oppositional paradigm of any dualistic ideology. That is seen in the perceived divide of mind (or spirit) and matter, and this leads to Cartesian anxiety. The opposition is false and so psychologically and socially unsustainable. This false ideology strains the psyche in the futile effort to maintain it.

This has everything to do with health, addiction, and all of that. This condition creates a divide within the human psyche, a divide within awarenesss and thought, perception and behavior. Then this divide plays out in the real world, easily causing dissociation of experience and splintering of the self. Addiction is one of the ways we attempt to deal with this, the repetitive seeking of reconnection that the can’t be satisfied, for addiction can’t replace the human bond. We don’t really want the drug, sugar, or work we are addicted to, even as it feels like the best substitute available to us or at least better than nothing. The addiction eases the discomfort, temporarily fills the emptiness.

It is worth noting that the Piraha have little apparent depression and no known incidents of suicide. I would see this as related to the tight-knit community they live within. The dogmatic dualism of individual vs collective would make no sense to them, as this dualism depends on a rigidly defended sense of identity that they don’t share with modern people. Their psychic boundaries are thinner and more open. Social hierarchy and permanent social positions are foreign to them. There is no government or corporations, not even a revered class of wise elders. Inequality and segregation, and disconnection and division are not part of their world.

You might argue that the Piraha society can’t be translated into lessons applicable to Western countries. I would argue otherwise. They are human like the rest of us. Nothing makes them special. That is probably how most humans once lived. It is in our nature, no matter how hidden it has become. Countries that have avoided or remedied the worst divides such as inequality have found that problems are far fewer and less severe. We may not be able or willing to live like the Piraha, but much of what their lifestyle demonstrates is relevant to our own.

This can be seen in the Western world. Lower inequality states in the US have lower rates of mental illness, obesity, teen pregnancies, homicides, suicide, etc as compared to higher inequality states. Countries with less segregated populations have greater societal trust and political moderation than countries with highly segregated populations. In modern societies, it might be impossible to eliminate inequality and segregation, but we certainly can lessen them far below present conditions. And countries have shown when social conditions are made healthy the people living there are also more healthy.

The world of the Piraha isn’t so distant from our own. We’ve just forgotten our own history. From Dancing in the Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich discusses how depression becomes an increasing issue in texts over the centuries. If you go far back enough, anything akin to depression is rarely mentioned.

She puts this in the context of the loss of community, of communal lifestyle and experience. During feudal times, people lived cheek to jowl, almost never alone. As family and neighbors, they lived together, ate together, worked together, worshipped together, and like the Piraha they would wake up together in the night. They also celebrated and danced together. Festivals and holy days were a regular occurrence. This is because most of the work they did was seasonal, but even during the main work season they constantly put on communal events.

Like the Piraha, they worked to live, not lived to work. Early feudal villages were more like tribal villages than they were like modern towns. And early feudal lords very much lived among the people, even joining in their celebrations. For example, during a festival, a feudal lord might be seen wrestling a blacksmith or even playing along with role reversal. The feudal identity hadn’t yet solidified into modern individuality with its well partitioned social roles. That is partly just the way small-scale subsistence lifestyles operate, but obviously there is more going on than that. This involved the entire order and impacted every aspect of life.

Let’s consider again Paine’s suggestion that we begin over again. This was stated in the context of revolution, but revolution was understood differently at the time. It implied a return to what came before. He wasn’t only speaking to what might be gained for he had a clear sense of what had been lost. The last remnants of feudalism continued into the post-revolutionary world, even as they were disappearing quickly. Paine hoped to save, re-create, or somehow compensate for what was being lost. A major concern was inequality, as the commons were stolen and the public good was eroded.

Even though it wasn’t how it typically would’ve been framed at the time, the focus in this was public health. Paine on occasion did use the metaphor of health and sickness — such as when he wrote, “That the king is not to be trusted without being looked after, or in other words, that a thirst for absolute power is the natural disease of monarchy.” The monarchy wasn’t just about the ruler but about the whole social order that was ruled over, along with its attendant inequality of wealth and power. The sickness was systemic. As with the human body, the body politic could become sick and so it could also be healed.

It never occurred to the American revolutionaries that the problems they faced should be blamed on isolated individuals. It wasn’t limited to a few malcontents. A growing unease spread across colonial society. Even as we think of our society having progressed much over the centuries, we can’t shake the mood of anxiety that continues to spread. Surrounded by abundance and with greater healthcare than our ancestors could have dreamed of, we manage to lead immensely unhealthy and unhappy lives. We are never fully content nor feel like we like we fully belong.

As individuals, we hunger for our next fix. And as a society, we are rapacious and ravenous toward the world, as if our bountiful wealth and resources are never enough. Early colonial trade was strongly motivated by the demand for sugar and now we find present neo-colonial globalization being driven by the demand for oil. Sugar and oil, along with much else, have been the fuel of restless modernity. It’s an addictive social order.

The corrupt old order may have ended. But the disease is still with us and worsening. It’s going to require strong medicine.

No, The Poor Aren’t Undeserving Moral Reprobates

What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients
by Bryce Covert and Josh Israel, Think Progress

“According to state data gathered by ThinkProgress, the seven states with existing programs — Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah — are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ferret out very few drug users. The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is 9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent. Meanwhile, they’ve collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort, and millions more may have to be spent in coming years.”

This goes back to my thoughts on the scapegoating of the poor, most especially poor minorities. It is minorities who are used as the symbol of and proxy for poverty, even as most poor people are white. It is poor minorities that get called welfare queens, even as most people on welfare are white. Besides, most people only go on welfare temporarily and most public assistance goes to people with employment.

The poor, of all races, are supposedly lazy. The more well off think that, if they just worked harder, all of their problems would be solved. That is obvious bullshit. As I’ve noted, the poor are the hardest working Americans around. The problem is that they are working too hard for too little.

The other trope is that the poor, especially those on welfare, are stuck in their situation because of low moral behavior. They are criminals, drug addicts, etc. We could argue about correlation versus causation. It is unsurprising that impoverished, unemployed, and sometimes homeless people turn to crime and even drugs. But what we should be careful about the assumptions we make. Why would we assume poor people are doing more drugs when drugs are an expensive habit?

Similarly, we find in reality that it isn’t poor minorities who use most of the drugs in our society. White people do as much or more drugs than minorities in general, although of course minorities get targeted, profiled, and arrested more for drug crimes. The wealthier demographics of our society have high rates of drug use, because of the simple reason that they can afford it and can avoid the legal consequences.

I’d like to see us do random drug testing of wealthy people. I bet the rates would be off the charts. Why the double standard?

When we consider other data, we find an interesting pattern. The poor are better at identifying the emotional experience of others, which is to say they are better at empathizing. Related to this, the poor give a higher percentage of their money to charity. If we are looking for undeserving moral reprobates, maybe conservatives are looking in the wrong place.

To Put the Rat Back in the Rat Park

The environment we live in and that we help to create, individually and collectively, is more powerful than we can comprehend. We are just beginning to scratch the surface of this understanding.

Modern life has isolated us to such an extent that we forgot that humans are social by nature. There are no individuals as isolated islands and to think that way is self-destructive. Individuals are mere expressions of society, each of us a particular manifestation of a shared humanity. To separate the individual from society is to attempt to capture a wave in a bottle by filtering out the water.

The addict is the ultimate individual. Within his addiction, he is alone. This is the ideal of our atomized society.

Still, there are always other choices. The threat to society isn’t the drug addict, but the addictive mentality. We are addicted to our isolation, not realizing that it is our isolation that makes us and keeps us addicted. Addiction contributes to a sense of fatalism and hopelessness, that we have no choice, but we always have choice.

This self-destructive society was created by us and it can be uncreated by us. There are many possibilities that we could create in its place. However, first, we must acknowledge our responsibility as members of of this society. We have to allow ourselves to feel the wound of disconnection so that we can be reminded that underlying it is the longing for human relationship.

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The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think
By Johann Hari, Huffington Post

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexandernoticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.

After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.) [ . . . ]

The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander — the creator of Rat Park — told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.

Substance Control is Social Control

Substance control is social control. And social control always targets minorities first. The minorities targeted sometimes change. The methods remain the same.

Many Americans say, “But I’m not a minority”. What short memories we have. Those minorities of the recent past, just a few generations ago, were the grandparents and great-grandparents of most Americans today. They were ethnic Americans, what the likes of the KKK disparaged as “Hyphenated Americans”. They were German-Americans and Irish-Americans and many other ethnic ancestries as well.

Besides, it never is just about minorities. That is simply where it begins. The tactics of oppression used against minorities, in time, are used against the entire population. Social control is about controlling all of society, not just keeping those minorities in line. Other people’s problems are our problems, that is what history demonstrates, and yet we never learn from history.

Many Americans in the past supported Prohibition because it was sold as targeting those other people, the ethnic Americans, immigrants, and Catholics. In the generations following, the War On Drugs was sold as targeting blacks and Hispanics (at an earlier time, Chinese were targeted with the early prohibitions on opiates; also, interestingly, the Scots-Irish in places like Appalachia who in the past were targeted by the Whiskey Tax and Prohibition also now are targeted by the War On Drugs, as Appalachia has become a major center for the growing of marijuana and the production of meth). It is true that these were the primary targets, but in the end all citizens became targets. It is the same as with the Cold War and the War On Terror. When the government gains that much power, it never ends with the original justification. This is how police states are always formed.

Ignoring that, everyone knows Prohibition was a failure. It wasn’t a secret. It was one of the worst public policies in all of American history. Yet the War On Drugs was started several decades later, as if this time substance control would be different. Actually, it was an extension of the same substance control policies for the earliest drug prohibition began in 1914, five years before alcohol prohibition began. As the minorities targeted change, so do the substances prohibited. Nonetheless, the fundamental pattern is the same, repeating the same tactics and problems, and in the end failing the same basic way.

Repeal always happens when it is found too many white people, especially middle class white people, are getting harmed by the policies intended to only harm the minorities and ethnics. When these policies are formulated, those in power try to protect those of their perceived group, their demographic, their class, race, and ethnicity. During Prohibition, for example, the ban wasn’t on consuming alcohol in one’s home but rather the making and purchasing of alcohol. An important distinction. The wealthy had or built large cellars prior to Prohibition and filled them with alcohol. All alcohol bought before Prohibition began was legal to drink in one’s home. Besides, it would have been near impossible to prove when some rich guy bought the alcohol in his cellar and certainly he was given the benefit (i.e., the privilege) of the doubt. Rich white people weren’t the target.

Anyway, few revenuers would have been stupid enough to target the politically well connected. If they did attempt that, their careers would have been short. The same is true now with the War On Drugs. The police target poor minority communities, even though the wealthy do plenty of illegal drugs and even though whites use and carry drugs more than blacks (not to mention more likely to carry illegal guns). There wasn’t much attention given to the police confiscation of property in relation to drug crimes, until they attempted this on some wealthy and well connected people.

There is another interesting angle. I’m not an anti-tax libertarian or anarchist. Still, I can’t help but notice that there is a connection between tax laws and social control. Taxation isn’t just about procuring the funding for government and its activities. This also relates to why there are so many tax lawyers and tax loopholes that help the rich. Almost any category of law mostly targets those least able to avoid and defend against government oppression. Social control is the greatest tool of the privileged and wealthy, a tool that they use mostly against the most undreprivileged and disenfranchised (and, in the case of jury duty, targeting of underprivileged minorities just disenfranchises them further which is the entire point).

When the government couldn’t get bootleggers on their bootlegging, they implemented tax evasion laws. That is reminiscent of why the government went after the Whiskey bootleggers after the American Revolution. And it comes back to the War On Drugs, when tax evasion charges are often added on top of charges of possessing and dealing drugs. Of course, these tax evasion laws in their use toward substance control have disproportionately impacted minorities, yet more social control for non-WASP Americans.

That is also one of the weaknesses of substance control. Once the government makes the tax evasion argument, the public might start wondering why we don’t legalize the substance and just tax it (even many local government officials start asking that as well, when their tax revenue is negatively impacted). Economic hard times brings home this realization in the minds of Americans. Government oppression often becomes less tolerable when the general public is also experiencing economic oppressiveness.

On a positive note, I was considering some past thoughts I’ve had on minority communities. The focus of mainstream media, a majority white perspective (and a professional upper class perspective at that), reports on such issues with particular frames and interpretations. Even mainstream academia often fails on this account. There is a social capital that exists in the most poor minority communities that people not living there can’t see or even comprehend. It is entirely outside of their sense of reality.

I have two examples in mind that I’ve recently made note of: family structure and socioeconomic class, often portrayed in terms of “broken families” and “welfare queens”. On the issue of marriage and family, here is some commentary I made in my post Black Feminism and Epistemology of Ignorance:

Blacks and women, most especially black women, are among the poorest people in America and in the world. Being poor, in some ways, makes them more likely to act in ways that are considered caring and humane. To be on the bottom of society, an individual is more dependent on and interdependent with others.

This could explain why middle and upper class people, both black and white, don’t understand the family structures and support systems of the poor. All they see are marriages under stressful conditions, calling the families weak or broken, but they don’t see the strength of communities surviving under almost impossible conditions.. The ignorance of this judgment from privilege hit home for me when I read the following passage from Stephen Steinberg’s “Poor Culture”:

“More important, feminist scholars forced us to reassess single parenting. In her 1973 study All Our Kin, Carol Stack showed how poor single mothers develop a domestic network consisting of that indispensable grandmother, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a patchwork of neighbors and friends who provide mutual assistance with childrearing and the other exigencies of life. By comparison , the prototypical nuclear family, sequestered in a suburban house, surrounded by hedges and cut off from neighbors, removed from the pulsating vitality of poor urban neighborhoods, looks rather bleak. As a black friend once commented , “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.””

Those rich in wealth are poor in so many other ways. And those poor in wealth are rich in so many ways. It depends on what you value. People can’t value what they don’t see and understand.

And on the issue of poverty and unemployment, I explained an insight I had in my post Working Hard, But For What?:

These people believe in the American Dream and try to live it best they can, under almost impossible conditions. They aren’t asking for handouts. They are solving their own problems, even when those problems are forced on them by the larger society.

Take gangs, for example. Most gangs are what white people would call militias. When the police fail in their job, gangs do the job for them. If you are a black who is targeted by the police and everyone you know is targeted by the police, you’ll organize in order to protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighborhood.

That is how community forms when all of the outside world is against you, when life is difficult and desperate, where daily living is a fight for survival. When there are no jobs available, poor minorities make their own jobs. When there are no police to protect them, poor minorities police themselves. When the larger society is against them, they make their own communities.

There is a strength that comes from adversity. This was demonstrated by ethnic immigrants in the past, such as the close-knit bootlegging community of German-Americans in Templeton, Iowa. People who have had histories of disadvantage and/or oppression sometimes learn amazing skills of social adaptation and survival. They develop forms of social capital that those more privileged lack. If the economy really tanked or our society fell into disorder, the present American underclass would handle the challenges a lot better than the more well off whites would.

This directly relates to why the American Dream has always had life breathed into it primarily by immigrants. They actually believe in the ideals of our country, whereas most native-born Americans are too cynical to take it seriously. When the Templetonians illegally sold alcohol or now when the poor black guy illegally sells weed, they are working harder than most upper class white people. Those upper class white people have no fucking idea what hard work really means. It means doing whatever it takes to make a living, to pay the bills, to support one’s family. Sometimes that means working in the black market (not just selling drugs, but also taking cash for doing yard work or car repair), and at other times it means working two or three legal jobs (when such jobs are available).

Social control ultimately fails because it makes those at the top lazy and weak, while forcing those on the bottom to become ever more innovative and persevering. Some people become so dependent on racial and class privilege that it becomes both a personal weakness and a moral hazard. They see their position in society as a strength when in actuality it is their Achille’s Heel. If we are to look for positive change in our society, we need to look further down from the top.

Sweeping Social Problems Under the Rug

Why do some people think that laws, the police, and prisons can be the solution to almost everything? Why do some people think that banning and criminalizing a problematic behavior will solve the problem and banning something will make it go away?

Sometimes such a response is the only one available.

Child abuse is an obvious example. But, even in that case, it would be better to spend money on preventing child abuse by breaking the victimization cycle than merely to imprison child abusers after the fact. We don’t want to decriminalize child abuse. Still, that doesn’t mean prison is the only answer.

Slavery is another example. It is a good thing we legally abolished slavery. But we have to be honest with ourselves by its effectiveness. There still remains a large and widespread slave trade in the world. According to some data, there are more slaves today than existed in the past. Slavery is still even occasionally discovered in the United States, typically involving those at the edge of society who are afraid of trying to escape and contact authorities.

There are other examples that are even more obvious failures.

Prohibition didn’t eliminate alcoholic consumption and alcoholism. If anything, it caused it to grow worse and added mass gang violence to the mix. Illegalizing prostitution hasn’t closed down that market. I don’t know that prostitution has increased, but I doubt it has decreased because of its illegal status. The War on Drugs is the clearest example of failure, maybe worse than Prohibition because it has lasted so much longer. Drug use and addiction is higher than it has ever been, even as more people are in prison for selling and using drugs.

On the other hand, some countries have successfully used a combination of legalization and decriminalization. Instead of sending people to prison for being addicted to drugs, they send them to drug rehabilitation. These countries probably also have better public healthcare, especially mental healthcare, than the United States has. They seek to deal with the problem at its root, and at least in some cases they’ve actually decreased drug use and addiction.

In a country like the United States, trying to ban all guns probably would be about as effective. It is better to keep such things as drugs and guns on the legal market. That way, there can be more oversight, transparency, regulation, and control.

When something is on the black market, it may be a libertarian fantasy of an unregulated market, but it rarely leads to positive results for the larger society. Drugs on the black market can be dangerous because a person doesn’t actually know what they are buying. Guns on the black market get easily sold to criminals, gangs, cartels, terrorists, etc. The trick is to make the legal market more profitable and attractive than doing business on the black market. Black markets often form when the legal market fails.

So, why do conservatives think that banning abortions will end all or most abortions? They would have a reasonable argument if that was the case. However, the data doesn’t show that abortion bans leads to a decrease and sometimes it leads to an increase, just like with drug use.

Conservatives will point to conservative states that have decreased their rate of legal abortions. That is simply because they’ve forced women’s clinics that do abortions. No one is keeping the data on how many women in those states go to other states to get abortions, how many go on the black market, and how many try to do it themselves.

Making abortions illegal does decrease the rate of legal abortions, but going by the country comparisons it appears simultaneously increases the rate of illegal abortions. This is common sense, and conservatives claim to love common sense. If conservatives actually care about saving the lives from “baby-killers”, then the last thing conservatives should want to do is push abortions onto the black market and to have women trying to give themselves abortions with coathangers. It doesn’t just likely increase the abortion rate, but also the dangers involved. Women die because of botched abortions. Sometimes, even when the woman isn’t harmed, botched abortions still lead to birth where the baby is deformed or has brain damage.

Who would argue the War on Drugs is successful because the rate of legal recreational drug use has decreased, even as the illegal recreational drug use has increased? As we now fill prisons full of non-violent drug users, are we going to start to fill prisons also with women who seek abortions?

Sweeping problems under the rug doesn’t solve the problem or make it go away.

Psychedelic Drugs Medical Treatments

I was surprised to see this video from the mainstream media. It’s a news report about an important topic and they even discuss actual scientific research. Scientists have been researching the effects, uses and benefits of psychedelics off and on for about a half century now, but it’s nice to see the mainstream media finally catching up.

Fictional Worlds and Fictional Drugs

Fictional Worlds and Fictional Drugs

Posted on Jun 30th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
I was thinking about the relationship of drugs, emotions, and society.  I was thinking of several different fictional futures that give different takes on this.

The most classic example is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  The drug of choice in that novel was soma.

“Benighted fool!” shouted the man from The Fordian Science Monitor, “why don’t you take soma?””Get away!” The Savage shook his fist.

The other retreated a few steps then turned round again. “Evil’s an unreality if you take a couple of grammes.”

Kohakwa iyathtokyai!” The tone was menacingly derisive.

“Pain’s a delusion.”

“Oh, is it?” said the Savage and, picking up a thick hazel switch, strode forward.

The man from The Fordian Science Monitor made a dash for his helicopter.”

Later, Huxley experimented with psychedelics and saw their positive potential.  So, he wrote the utopian novel Island.  The people of the island use a mushroom called moksha medicine.

“Is there any connection,” Will asked, “between what you’ve been talking about and what I saw up there in the Shiva temple?”

“Of course there is,” she answered. “The moksha-medicine takes you to the same place as you get to in meditation.”

“So why bother to meditate?”

“You might as well ask, Why bother to eat your
      dinner?”

“But according to you, the moksha-medicine is dinner.”

“It’s a banquet,” she said emphatically. “And that’s precisely why there has to be meditation. You can’t have banquets everyday. They’re too rich and they last too long. Besides, banquets are provided by a caterer; you don’t have any part in the preparation of them. For your everyday diet you have to do your own cooking. The moksha-medicine comes as an occasional treat.”

Philip K. Dick wrote about the mood organ in his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but the mood organ isn’t a physical drug.  It uses a Penfield Wave Transmitter and so can instantly alter one’s brainwaves.  By dialing different numbers one can create the desired state of mind: 
“well-disposed toward the world”

“businesslike, professional attitude”

“self-accusatory depression”

“awareness of the manifold possibilities open to me in the future”

“The desire to watch TV, no matter what is on it”

“ecstatic sexual bliss”

“pleased acknowledgement of husband’s superior wisdom in all matters”

“creative and fresh attitude toward one’s job”

Similarly, in Larry Niven’s Known Space novels, he introduced the Tasp.

The puppeteer addressed himself to Speaker-to-Animals.
“You understand that I will use the tasp every time you force me to.  I will use it if you attempt to use violence too often, or if you startle me too much; you will soon become dependent upon the tasp; if you kill me, you will still be ignobly bound by the tasp itself.”
“Very astute,” said Speaker.  “Brilliantly unorthodox tactics.  I will trouble you no more.”
“The puppeteer is right,” said Speaker.  “I would not risk the tasp again.  Too many jolts of pleasure would leave me his willing slave.  I, a kzin, enslaved to a herbivore!”

In George Lucas’ THX 1138, everyone is forced to take drugs that suppress emotions including sexual desire.

“Take four red capsules, In 10 minutes take two more. Help is on the way.”

The Matrix trilogy is a bit different.  The Matrix is an illusion, the ultimate dystopia.  In this case, the two pills are symbolic of choice, and the red pill is more of an anti-drug as it induces waking to reality.

Morpheus: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

In case you’re interested, there are many other fictional drugs.  I could describe the drugs in William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, but that would be a complicated endeavor and it doesn’t quite fit in with these other fictional drug stories.

Access_public Access: Public 17 Comments Print Post this!views (346)  

` : `

about 2 hours later

` said

Burroughs did ask the question “what would you do?”
he described Drugs as something which acted as a surrogate, something which replaced a genuine need.
Any need could be partly fulfilled or obscured with some drug.
The question “what would you do if you were faced with absolute need,” puts the reader in a position of trying to have compassion for another .
“absolute Need,” becomes a kind of analog for faith and for biological impulse.
for Burroughs, we are all addicts in one way or another, and the cure is a painful look at what life really is. Burroughs artfully works his own experience of addiction into his fiction through introduction and tricking the reader into believing that the writers own addiction is equivalent to the experience that he writes about in the first person.

The Antidote for W.S.B, was a drug that plunged the patient into absolute hell, forcing him or her to experience all the pain of Absolute Need. once the crisis was over, the patient could easily recognise the shallow fakery of any addiction, and also have a brutal compassion for every desiring, addicted being.
“Naked Lunch” tries to reveal the Horrors of Samsara and Karma, without diving into direct engagement with Buddhist texts or sanscrit terms.

I think that in many ways a drug described in fiction is a fictional drug. One could watch “Reefer Madness,”  and understand the fear of insanity  and decadence while rcognizing that  the movie is not very accurate in describing  the way pot affects people.
It could be said that every character in a novel or story  functions as an agent for a part of the authors own mind or cosciousness. In that way the drugs which effect the characters are also agents of the authors own sense of reallity.
I am curious about the promotion of SSRI drugs and how they seemed to Prromise to remove all the unreal worries and anxieties. In reallity i have heard some success stories, but i’ve also seen at least one person go from writing a lot of poetry to writing in his or her own blood and threatening to “jump.” (after Prozac)
I know enough behavioral Psychologists and MIT Bio-chem majors to understand a little about why this can happen.

Another compelling and culturally signifigant Fiction with Lots of Drug Use is the “Teachings of Don Juan,” by Carlos Castenada. Actually the first four books are relevant. he wrote others, later but Journey to Ixtlan was the one which earned him a PhD. after wards he was did credited and later people came to believe that not only were the books fiction, but so was the author.
My adoptive mother, who was an anthropologist claimed that she had met him several times at conventions in the sixties, and that he was “evasive,”
The Red Pill Blue Pill  in the Matrix most resembles the promise and the reallity of mind bending drugs from the Sixties Seventies Drug culture.
peace.
bill

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 5 hours later

Nicole said

Bill, that’s very interesting… thanks, tremendously insightful.

Ben, do you mind my asking why you’re exploring this today? I’d know better how to respond if I understood your “take” on this.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 7 hours later

Marmalade said

Nicole,

Its been on my mind recently, but I don’t remember what started my contemplations in this direction.  I wanted to blog about something and actually was intending to blog about something else, and yet for some reason this topic was calling out to be written.  The fictional drugs were on my mind because I was thinking about our relationship to reality and emotions.  The fictional drugs are just metaphors.  I wasn’t thinking about real drugs.

I was wondering what do people truly want.  If it were a real choice, would be choose the red or the blue pill?  Would people want reality even if it was harsh?  Would people want truth even if it meant discontentment?  Personally, which pill would I take?  I don’t know.

I was also wondering about the realities we create.  If we idealize happiness above all else, what kind of society is built on that ideal?  If pain, suffering, and discontentment could be entirely eliminated from human experience, would a truly good world result?  Or is there a purpose served by these emotions our culture judges as negative and useless?  If people never struggled, would society lose a depth of insight?  If artists never became imbalanced, would great art no longer be made?  If people didn’t feel discontentment, would people no longer strive to make the world better?  If people felt no dissatisfied longing, would religion lose its inspiration?

I was feeling particularly compelled by the dystopian visions.  There is a connection between how we relate to our emotions and how we relate to people.  It seems to me that a society that encourages or demands emotions to be suppressed and controlled will engender a government that suppresses and controls the populace.  And then there is the world we live in where certain drugs are encouraged or even enforced in some cases and other drugs are harshly banned.  What does our present society’s relationship to drugs say about our relationship to eachother?  What future are we creating?

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 8 hours later

Marmalade said

Bill, thanks for the nice long post!  And especially thanks for describing Burroughs’ take on drugs.  I didn’t emphasize it in this blog, but addiction is definitely an important issue.  Addiction isn’t just about drug use.  It represents an actual need.  How this all relates to faith and compassion is also very important.  The possibility of selflessness when faced with suffering comes to mind.  The Burroughs’ story I’m thinking about is  The Junky’s Christmas.  The main character’s suffering because of addiction allows him to recognize and respond to the true suffering in another.

You mentioned SSRIs.  I was reading something about psychiatric drugs.  I can’t remember which specific class of drugs the author referred to, but the author was mentioning how meds can sometimes interfere with the healing process.  I have some personal experience with psych meds, but this is an issue I don’t feel entirely sure about. 

I don’t know too much about Castenada.  I did read some of his books years ago.  Its writers such as him that helped create idealization around psychedelics.  Psychedelics are an entirely different kind of drug.  They are quite the opposite of many popular drugs in that they aren’t addictive.

Julie : Waterbearer

about 10 hours later

Julie said

Ben,

This topic really cuts me to the core.  It is so relevant, to me and to our society.  I was shocked when I read a couple of months ago that Risperdal (an antipsychotic) ranks 13 on a list of the top 20 most highly prescribed drugs in the United States.  I’m sure antidepressants were in the top five. 

What does this say about our society?  That we find life and living so damned painful that the only way we can cope is through pharmaceuticals? 

There was a time in my life that I needed antidepressant medication desperately, but the side effects were almost as bad as the illness.  I thank God I was able to get off them. 

Of course, for my son and millions like him, antipsychotic medication is the only way he is able to function somewhat normally at all. 

Still, there were times in the past several months when my son displayed psychic knowledge during his psychotic illnesses.  I would really like to find out if anyone else has known of such a thing and if there is any thought in the scientific world of studying whether psychosis is the result of any inability to integrate an actively functioning “Sixth Sense” – would we all go crazy if we could “see dead people”??  I’ve been meaning to post this on the Psychology thread, but so far haven’t had the guts to bring it up.  It’s just too close to home at the moment. 

Blessings,
Julie

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 10 hours later

Marmalade said

I took Risperdal for a while a long time ago.  It was a powerful med.  I was taking it for what the psychiatrist diagnosed as borderline thought disorder.  I’ve since tried to research what borderline thought disorder even is, but haven’t figured out what I was precisely being diagnosed with.

I’m also curious about the possible relationship between ‘abnormal’ experiences and psychiatric illnesses.  I do feel that the purpose of concensus reality is to filter out most data.  I truly doubt most people could function if they saw reality unfiltered.  I can’t even imagine what society would be like if people regularly had paranormal experiences.

You’ve hit upon a central theme in my own thinking.  Do we want reality?  And, more importantly, can we handle reality?  If not, then maybe its wise that we don’t see reality clearly.  I’ve heard the theory that maybe repression is a healthy response to trauma.  Afterall, from societys perspective, the functional person is able to compartmentalize their lives.  I do have a sneaking suspicion that the seeking of happiness and the seeking of reality are somewhat at cross-purpose to eachother.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

excellent point, Ben, you put your finger on part of my uneasiness about the whole pursuit of happiness thing. One of my disciplines is to embrace the now, even aspects that I want to reject. This is hard for me at times and I admit that i still often switch off the news because I find it unbearably harsh. But a work in progress. Which pill would I choose, red or blue? Like you I am not sure. I’d like to think I’d go to Zion but the Matrix is so attractive…

I hear you too about borderline thought disorder. Sounds a little like borderline personality disorder, which seems to translate into “girls being themselves and not conforming to societal expectations” (have you  all seen  the movie Girl Interrupted?).

I don’t think most of us could handle reality unfiltered. We are easily overwhelmed.

Julie, I hear what you are saying. It is a risky business to put something out there on the God Pod when it gets very close to home. Jay used to do that a lot but I think that he had a very rough time with how the problem of evil thread went at some points, so I respect totally your reluctance to explore something so important and tender in this forum. As much as we try to keep things on an even keel, people are people, and are not always sensitive … Thank God for anti-psychotics, but that must be so difficult…

Anti-depressants… it scares me how many people are put on them and how difficult they can be to get off. I can totally understand using them to get you through a rough patch but we are really badly over-medicated as a society. Ritalin is another over-prescribed drug, against “boyness”, which I don’t think is a disease… schools are badly set up for boys, fix that and Ritalin would not be needed.

Ben, what do we truly want? You have heard me quote from Lao Tsu about knowing at the centre of our beings who we are and what we want. But you and I know so many who are cut off from that inner knowing, who live lives of “quiet desperation” and conflictedness.

I have mixed feelings about psychedelics. Some people, like one of my new Montreal Gaia friends, feel they have found so much insight and peace through using them regularly. But there have been quite a number of casualties of “bad trips” and people hoping to get  a short cut to enlightenment who instead come to a dead end. 

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

Drugs are just extreme forms of the human desire to both control experience and free it.  But obviously this isn’t limited to drugs.  Concensus reality is very powerful. 

This is my main interest in psychedelics.  Such drugs have a way of causing one never to look at concensus reality the same again.  There is a good reason that they’ve often been used in traditional religions.  And there is good reason that they were administered by shamans in rituals.  Psychedelics shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Psychedelics are a strange class of drugs.  DMT, for instance, is found throughout nature and exists within every human brain… its been used in traditional cultures probably for longer than any of the major world religions have existed, probably longer than civilization has existed… and, yet, the US government has illegalized it.  Psychedelics are non-addictive.  If you take LSD right after having taken it previously, it has little to no effect.  Some psychedelics potentially are antidotes to addiction.  Lives are destroyed everyday by the legal use of the drug alcohol when there are drugs that could help people be free from alcoholoism but which are illegal.

What is the problem with this situation?  It largely comes down to our inherited monotheistic worldview.  In traditional cultures, psychedelics (along with alcohol and tobacco) had a place within the community.  They were controlled by being used religiously.  The rules surrounding traditional drug use weren’t arbitrary laws but were based on an experential relationship with the plant spirit of that drug.  The shamanistic use of psychedelics isn’t just about freeing our perception from normal reality because its also about supporting an important tradition within the community itself.  As soon as direct contact with the spirits is lost, religion becomes lifeless and so too the community.  Monotheism which says drugs are bad or even evil is also the very institution that desroyed the shamanistic cultures and hence destroyed the shamanistic traditions that taught the safe use of drugs.  Our society has a problem with addiction because we’ve lost contact with the spiritual experience that is the heart of a community.

I’m not trying to be a proponent for drugs here.  What I’m trying to point out is the situation of our experience being controlled.  Does a boy have a right to act like a boy or should he have his maleness controlled with Ritalin because its not socially acceptable?  Do we have a right to spiritual experience or must alternative experiences be controlled and punished?  Who gets to control my emotions, my experience, my perception… me or the government?  Are these dystopian visions where everyone is forced to take specific drugs really that far off or just around the corner?  Will we even see it coming?  We are an addictive society that looks to drugs for the answers to our problems… why would we resist such a future?  And already technology is on the market that can control brain functioning without the clumsy use of actually having to ingest something.  If our reality was being controlled, how would we even know it?  Our brains become entrained to tv every time we watch it which is essentially a form of addiction, but do most people think of themselves as addicted while watching tv… why?

Why is concensus reality so powerful?  Why does it seem where not able to handle reality unfiltered?

I have a theory about this.  Every culture has its consensus reality including traditional cultures.  Even psychedelics can be integrated into a concensus reality and even used to support it.  The drive for concensus reality seems a natural impulse.  Afterall, we are social animals.  Evolutionarily speaking, objective truth has limited value.  In order to survive, a human doesn’t need to know much.  All that a human needs to know is some practical knowledge about his immediate environment and community.  A humans just needs to know two basic things… what their niche is in whatever eco-system they find themselves in… and what is their role in the community they are born into.  Even today, the same basic rules for survival apply.  The average person doesn’t need to know that much.

So, if this is the case, how did humans manage to create such a complex society and amass so much knowledge.  Its not entirely unnatural.  We are omnivores and primates that have a wide diet often also have curious natures.  We are survivors because we are explorers.  Even so, we’ve come a long way and this can’t explain the explosion of civilization that happened thousands of years ago.

I like Paul Shepard’s idea that civilization is contrary to human nature because we’re still “beings of the Paleolithic”.  He sees modern humans as psychologically stunted and I’d guess that this relates also to the lack of initiatory rites in our culture.  Maybe we project parental roles onto our governments because we’re not fully matured adults ourselves.  The desire for concensus reality is natural, but it becomes even more emphasized in a larger society where control of the masses becomes more difficult.

As I wasn’t trying to romanticize about drugs, neither do I want to romanticize about the past.  My basic point is that reality and truth are only of minor significance to humans, and this is no less true now that we’ve seemed to have taken control of our collective destiny through civilization. 

This is a dilemma for me personally.  I idealize truth and reality, and yet nature doesn’t idealize truth and reality.  Why does truth and reality matter?  Why not submit myself without resistance to the consensual reality of my culture?  Why not just pick some ideology and base my life upon it without question?

The thing is I know that, if I did, I’d probably be happier… more contented, more successful, etc.  Why should I resist my own human nature, my own upbringing?  There is only one reason.  And that is if I believe that I’m not limited by my human nature.  So, what is beyond the human desire for consensus reality?  What is reality?  And why are certain rare humans so drawn towards what is beyond that they’re willing to sacrifice everything else?

Julie : Waterbearer

1 day later

Julie said

Ben,

you’re asking so  many important questions, truly I’m in awe.  Gonna take a while to process it though, but wanted to let you know I appreciate what you have said here and will respond eventually once it filters through my seven layered brain … 1) reptile, 2) primate, 3) ego-centered infant, 4) depressed teenager, 5) adult survivor, 6) free thinker 7) seventh layer – hey, where’d it go?  I left it here a few minutes ago, I could’ve sworn I saw it last week …

nikki…..hey are you coming to LA on the 12th or not???  Can’t you wait and come in August for the Beach Party???? Pul-eeeze???

Julie : Waterbearer

1 day later

Julie said

Okay – found the seventh layer of my brain.  Here you go:

 

Drugs are just extreme forms of the human desire to both control experience and free it.  But obviously this isn’t limited to drugs.  I agree.  I was attracted to religious experience for the same reason – control (via aligning myself with the powers that be) and freedom (to be free from the confines of the material world.)  Concensus reality is very powerful. 
What is the problem with this situation?  It largely comes down to our inherited monotheistic worldview.  In traditional cultures, psychedelics (along with alcohol and tobacco) had a place within the community.  They were controlled by being used religiously.  The rules surrounding traditional drug use weren’t arbitrary laws but were based on an experential relationship with the plant spirit of that drug.  The shamanistic use of psychedelics isn’t just about freeing our perception from normal reality because its also about supporting an important tradition within the community itself.  As soon as direct contact with the spirits is lost, religion becomes lifeless and so too the community.  I agree.  Monotheism which says drugs are bad or even evil is also the very institution that desroyed the shamanistic cultures and hence destroyed the shamanistic traditions that taught the safe use of drugs.  I’m not sure what you mean, that monotheism says drugs are bad.  Drugs as we know them today are a relatively new invention, not known at the time of Christ, for instance.  I feel the social need to control people’s experiences relates more to the corporate need to control the work force and maintain us in a state of monotonous predictability.  Workers having epiphanies don’t show up and count beans from 9 to 5 very well.  Our society has a problem with addiction because we’ve lost contact with the spiritual experience that is the heart of a community.  Absolutely. 
I’m not trying to be a proponent for drugs here.  What I’m trying to point out is the situation of our experience being controlled.  Does a boy have a right to act like a boy absolutely! We have been emasculating our boys for years or should he have his maleness controlled with Ritalin because its not socially acceptable?  Although, I believe there are environmental factors causing structural changes in the our children’s brains resulting in autism and ADHD that make it impossible for some children to sit still, be quiet and focus enough to produce written work as is expected by the schools, and for which they are being medicated.  What is needed is to find the cause of this and eliminate it if possible.  Do we have a right to spiritual experience yes definitely or must alternative experiences be controlled and punished?  Who gets to control my emotions, my experience, my perception… me or the government?  You – unless you are a danger to yourself.  I know – there’s a very fine line there.  Civil liberties versus civil protection – seat belts, motorcycle helmets, vaccinations all fall in this category.  Are these dystopian visions where everyone is forced to take specific drugs really that far off or just around the corner?  Speaking from my own experience, we are actually erring on the side of caution at this point.  It is next to impossible to have someone involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness unless they have a gun in their hand.  I have heard of parents lying to police and saying their psychotic child threatened them, just to get them hospitalized on a 72 hour hold.  Otherwise the police can’t take them in.  Will we even see it coming?  We are an addictive society that looks to drugs for the answers to our problems… why would we resist such a future?  And already technology is on the market that can control brain functioning without the clumsy use of actually having to ingest something.  If our reality was being controlled, how would we even know it?  Our brains become entrained to tv every time we watch it which is essentially a form of addiction, but do most people think of themselves as addicted while watching tv… why?  True….I will never forget the line from “The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane” in which Jodie Foster says, “television is stultifying.”  I no longer watch tee-vee and I feel much more free and alive for it.  Even some of the gas pumps here have video feeds, it makes me sick.  They’re everywhere – the grocery checkout too – and this week I saw a dentists’ office that had t.v.’s next to the patient’s chairs – I guess to make them feel better?  No thanks. 
Why is concensus reality so powerful?  Why does it seem where not able to handle reality unfiltered? I would have to venture a guess that this is the way God created us, at least at this point in our evolution.  I have always sensed there is much more “behind the curtain” and felt quite frustrated that I couldn’t access it.  More comes through now, though, than in the past, so I’m pretty sure that if and when I’m ready, I will experience more input. 
I have a theory about this.  Every culture has its consensus reality including traditional cultures.  Even psychedelics can be integrated into a concensus reality and even used to support it.  The drive for concensus reality seems a natural impulse.  Afterall, we are social animals.  Evolutionarily speaking, objective truth has limited value.  In order to survive, a human doesn’t need to know much.  All that a human needs to know is some practical knowledge about his immediate environment and community.  A humans just needs to know two basic things… what their niche is in whatever eco-system they find themselves in… and what is their role in the community they are born into.  Even today, the same basic rules for survival apply.  The average person doesn’t need to know that much.  True.    
So, if this is the case, how did humans manage to create such a complex society and amass so much knowledge.  Is that what is known as Complexity theory?   That systems constantly evolve to more complex states as they go along?  I think that is part of our divine nature.  To expand out into more complex forms and then collapse again into primordial parts, then reassemble again….like LEGOS.  Its not entirely unnatural.  We are omnivores and primates that have a wide diet often also have curious natures.  We are survivors because we are explorers.  Even so, we’ve come a long way and this can’t explain the explosion of civilization that happened thousands of years ago.
This is a dilemma for me personally.  I idealize truth and reality, and yet nature doesn’t idealize truth and reality.  Oh, but it does.  Go camping alone in the wilderness and you will be thrust into NOTHING BUT total reality.  Survival.  Snowstorms.  Grizzly bears.  Whispering spirits of the mountain gods.  Woo-hoo!  Seriously, I would argue that the reason for our collective angst is that we are completely out of touch with reality, a la your comment about t.v.  What is less real that American television, American food, and American politics?   Why does truth and reality matter?  Because they are true and real.  Why not submit myself without resistance to the consensual reality of my culture?  Why not just pick some ideology and base my life upon it without question?  Because you are too smart for that, Grasshopper. 
The thing is I know that, if I did, I’d probably be happier… more contented, more successful, etc.  Why should I resist my own human nature, my own upbringing?  There is only one reason.  And that is if I believe that I’m not limited by my human nature.  Your human nature is to grow, create, and become.  It is society that tries to limit you.  So, what is beyond the human desire for consensus reality?  Because we can only process so much data before we blow our circuits.  What is reality?  What you perceive – even the things you think you can almost perceive, but not quite.  Even the things you WANT to perceive and can’t.  All those are real.  And why are certain rare humans so drawn towards what is beyond that they’re willing to sacrifice everything else?  Because, as my son says, we are THPE-THUL.  That’s why we’re in THPE-THUL Ed. 

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

Hey Julie, yes, I need to come to LA from the 11th to the 13th, cause I have IAKF meetings to run in the area and have made promises to everyone in the association that I’d do it . Hope it still works for you – if not, I will make other arrangements . PM me your phone info and we’ll finalise everything directly one way or another ok?

I wish I could come to your beach party in August but besides my trip to Scotland which is already booked, all my trips this year revolve around work, and work gets too busy in Aug-Nov for any more travels…

Ok, now to respond to Ben’s and your responses…

Yes, there are definitely huge problems with the level of addiction in this society, to uppers and downers, Ritalin and prescription drugs of all kinds, cigarettes, alcohol, pornography, sex, TV, the music industry, compulsive consumerism, sports, politics … the list is depressingly long.

all of these take us away from reality and ourselves and God.

we do need to engage with spirit, engage with life, God, our true selves.

the noise is deafening. i too have stopped watching TV many years ago, and commercial radio. i have chosen not to medicate myself when depressed but to deal with it more directly.  (Note – this does not mean I think medication is never a good idea. Sometimes it’s the best way to heal or deal with whatever. Just not for me, so far)

we have lost our way as a culture. as individuals we need to find the way back.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

1 day later

Marmalade said

Julie,

I’m not sure what you mean, that monotheism says drugs are bad.  Drugs as we know them today are a relatively new invention, not known at the time of Christ, for instance.

I was primarily thinking about psychedelics, but Muslims and certain Christians are even against imbibing alcohol.  Many of the religions that Christianity destroyed probably used various plant-based drugs.  The Greek mystery religions that Christianity replaced quite likely used psychoactive plants.  Some have theorized that the Gnostics partook of psychedelic mushrooms.  Anyways, certainly various drugs (recreational and religious) were known of at that time.   As for the shamanistic religions Christianity butted heads with along the way, a plant spirit that acts as a mediary to the otherworld is in direct competition with Christ’s role as a mediary to God.  Some of the ‘witches’ who were killed probably were knowledgable of plant-based drugs, maybe even psychedelics.

I feel the social need to control people’s experiences relates more to the corporate need to control the work force and maintain us in a state of monotonous predictability.  Workers having epiphanies don’t show up and count beans from 9 to 5 very well.

Yes, that too.

Although, I believe there are environmental factors causing structural changes in the our children’s brains resulting in autism and ADHD that make it impossible for some children to sit still, be quiet and focus enough to produce written work as is expected by the schools, and for which they are being medicated.

Have you heard of Dr. Leonard Sax?  He writes about this.

You – unless you are a danger to yourself.  I know – there’s a very fine line there.  Civil liberties versus civil protection – seat belts, motorcycle helmets, vaccinations all fall in this category.  

I agree there is a balance.  I’m neither arguing for or against drugs, nor for or against government involvement.  I’m just looking at the possibilities of where the world might be going.

Speaking from my own experience, we are actually erring on the side of caution at this point.  It is next to impossible to have someone involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness unless they have a gun in their hand.  I have heard of parents lying to police and saying their psychotic child threatened them, just to get them hospitalized on a 72 hour hold.  Otherwise the police can’t take them in.

You may be right.  That is outside of my personal experience.  But I understand where you’re coming from.  My mom just retired from working in the public schools, and she noticed a big difference in how kids are treated now as compared to the past.  Basically, a teacher can do very little to control a child.  Even if a kid who is larger than the teacher is hitting the teacher, the teacher can’t do anything but passive self-defense without possibly getting sued.  But passive self-defense is nearly impossible with a full-grown kid which means the teacher just has to let themselves be beat up until several other people can help to subdue the kid.

True….I will never forget the line from “The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane” in which Jodie Foster says, “television is stultifying.”  I no longer watch tee-vee and I feel much more free and alive for it.  Even some of the gas pumps here have video feeds, it makes me sick.  They’re everywhere – the grocery checkout too – and this week I saw a dentists’ office that had t.v.’s next to the patient’s chairs – I guess to make them feel better?  No thanks.

TV can be problematic, but its not without benefits to society.  Modern civilization wouldn’t be possible without it.  I try to keep it in context of all the challenges of our culture.  Despite its potential for addiction, its not our biggest problem and maybe not even inherently problematic.  I was just using it as an example of how pervasive and subtle addictive behavior is in our culture.

Is that what is known as Complexity theory?   That systems constantly evolve to more complex states as they go along?  I think that is part of our divine nature.  To expand out into more complex forms and then collapse again into primordial parts, then reassemble again….like LEGOS.

I don’t really know much of anything about complexity theory.  That complexity is an evolutionary impulse seems like a possiblity.  That is similar to an Integral view of development.  At the moment, I don’t know if this possibility makes sense to me or not.  There does seem to be some truth to it.

Oh, but it does.  Go camping alone in the wilderness and you will be thrust into NOTHING BUT total reality.  Survival.  Snowstorms.  Grizzly bears.  Whispering spirits of the mountain gods.  Woo-hoo! 

By nature, I was meaning our biological natures.  But nature as you’re meaning it is something else.  What I’m wondering about is the relationship between our biological natures and our ‘spiritual’ natures.  I feel there is something other than biological impulses, but I’m not sure exactly what that is. 

Seriously, I would argue that the reason for our collective angst is that we are completely out of touch with reality, a la your comment about t.v.  What is less real that American television, American food, and American politics?

Maybe so.  At this point, I start to wonder even what the word ‘reality’ means.  How is something more or less real?  And when we refer to spiritual reality as real reality, what are we referring to?

Because you are too smart for that, Grasshopper.

Thanks for the vote of confidence.  🙂

Your human nature is to grow, create, and become.  It is society that tries to limit you.

I’m curious as to what human nature means to you.  How do you see human nature as different from society?

Because, as my son says, we are THPE-THUL.  That’s why we’re in THPE-THUL Ed.

Well… that clears everything up.  :):)

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

Thanks, Ben, I’m glad you brought that last up. What do you and your son mean by those enigmatic letters, Julie?

Ben, spiritual reality, and that includes the inner world of things like Love and Longing for beauty, is more real because it is eternal. The things we think of as real in this world are fleeting. Blink your eyes and that image on the screen is gone, turn around and that band that was so popular is villified and scorned, tomorrow the green leaves of the tree will be autumn glory and then they will be dead and blown away… but spirit and the things of spirit go on forever, and shine on beyond space time. Plato had a glimpse of this when he thought of the Real and Forms… you’re probably familiar with his thinking.

I don’t know how Julie differentiate human nature from society, but to me, the aggregate of society is a much lower common denominator than any individual human spirit –  our True  Selves are far beyond what we can imagine while societal “norms” try to shackle us and limit us to far, far less than we can think, do and be.

Yes, there is good in TV. Things are not good or bad in and of themselves, usually. But for many the minuses outweigh the pluses, in terms of not just all the garbage they consume through all the commercials and other kinds of dreck they watch, but the overwhelming passivity and anti-social nature of the thing. For all the important downsides of computer addiction, at least it is a far more interactive and social activity…. 

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

2 days later

Marmalade said

Nicole, this…
“Plato had a glimpse of this when he thought of the Real and Forms… you’re probably familiar with his thinking.”
…and this…
“our True  Selves are far beyond what we can imagine while societal “norms” try to shackle us and limit us to far, far less than we can think, do and be.”
…remind me of Jung.

Jung has influenced me to a great degree.  I love his view of archetypes which are often underappreciated and misunderstood.  I tend to think that archetypes are platonically more real than everyday perceived reality and especially more real than collective/consensual reality.  Jung was always wary of groups.  He was wary of his followers creating an institute in his name and he was wary of his typology being systematized for large-scale use.  Jung definitely believed that its best to trust in one’s own direct personal experience.  But I don’t know what Jung thought about tv.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

yes, yes, Ben, archetypes, it’s been so long I’m passionate about them too.  Jung too! He is so cool. I think he was very right to be wary of institutes and systematised thought. We see the problems with Wilber and the II, don’t we? Direct personal experience is in fact the only way we can really engage reality. i wonder what he would have thought about tv, good question…

Julie : Waterbearer

3 days later

Julie said

Ben & Nicole,

Awesome discussion ~ covers so much I can’t wrap my noodle around it yet, but in the meantime, I can at least decipher “THPE-SHUL” – it’s “SPECIAL” with a lisp…. :))

Love ~

Nicole : wakingdreamer

4 days later

Nicole said

LOL Julie! yes of course… I’m thpeshul too :):)

I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on Jung, archetypes etc

Cannabis: Drugs and Developing Minds

New study suggests cannabis use by teens damages brain worse than suspected

I was amused by this article.  It’s the type of thing that would feed some people’s fears.  “OMG!  Pot is destroying our children’s minds!  The fear-mongering of the Just Say No ads was right!  That really is how your brain looks on drugs!”

Yeah, yeah, yeah… well, everything effects the brain, especially the developing brain.  The brain keeps developing even during the decade when most people go to college, start drinking heavily and start experimenting with drugs.  Heck, your diet and environment effects your brain.  Children who grow up poor (malnourishment and environmental pollution) grow up to have many physical and mental health problems (such as lowered IQ).

And you think illegal drugs are the main problem?  Recent research shows that cigarettes and alcohol are more harmful than marijuana.  Also, research shows that prescription drugs given to children (such as the popular Ritalin) can permanently alter their brain functioning.  The prescribing of drugs to children has increased massively in recent years.  There are more kids taking legal drugs than illegal drugs (although they may be taking legal drugs that are prescribed to others which is the biggest drug problem in schools).

I don’t think kids should be smoking pot, but kids shouldn’t be doing many things (whether by their own choice or by the choice of adults).  In the big picture, though, I don’t think marijuana comes even close to being one of the bigger issues to worry about.