Drugs are an escape from reality. You don’t need to pack any bags, go to an airport, or interact with anyone. You hardly need money to do them, and by extension, you hardly have to do any productive work to receive them. All you need is $10 and an empty room, then take a small tablet, inhale a few fumes, or eat a couple grams; you’re off to space.
But society doesn’t benefit from this transaction. You don’t buy any products or participate in the social world in any way. Societies hate that. Or, to put it more succinctly, collections of people hate this sort of behavior. Why?
To explain this we must first agree with an axiom; that societies naturally self-perpetuate. If you agree with this than we can move forward. I argue that we all participate in a large feedback loop for survival and societal stability, we feed into the self-perpetuation of society in a few steps:
- We wish to follow the path of least resistance (leads to easier life plus a greater likelihood of rewards). So we do what our parents/peers/superiors expect of us.
- In the process of this we adopt commonly accepted political beliefs/philosophical outlooks from our peers/superiors,
- We then are captive to this life path and try to work within the legal framework of our community (if it is reasonable to do so) to continue it.
- Finally, we then pass this pathway along to our offspring or close associates, repeating the cycle
So, how does this relate to drugs? Personal drug use is an antithesis to this social behavior. Doing drugs is saying to society that the life plan they set for us is not enough. Every drink, every cigarette, and every gram of mushroom consumed is an escape from the reality which has been constructed. Drug use is a desire for a feeling that society cannot give. And it is only recently that modern society has had the ability to root it out (rather than co-opting it, as was done in the past). But many people still don’t care; they continue to inhale anything they can get their hands on.
We do drugs because our family, friends, or coworkers have failed in their argument that their fabricated reality is better than your synthetic one.
One aspect of ideology is to give you a purpose in life. With this purpose society hopes that you engage with them willingly and wholeheartedly. Here are some examples of life purposes espoused by classical liberal ideology:
- religious enlightenment
- higher learning (self-edification)
- self-improvement (physical)
- personal glory (societal success)
Note something strange about all these life purposes? The method to achieve them are inherently social even if the result is personal.
- Religious enlightenment? Go to church
- High Learning? Go to college
- Self-Improvement (physical)? Go to the gym
- Personal Glory? Have kids OR pursue a workaholic career
Sure, it is possible to do all these things without interacting much with society. But that isn’t what we envision what it takes to lose weight. We think of going to the gym where other people exercise. We don’t envision some young man sitting in a quiet room for hours and hours a day reading books all alone. When we think of higher learning, we think of a social experience, we think of college.
Drugs Are For Loners
So, from a social point of view drugs are not a good vacation. They are too cheap and offer an experience completely external from a shared experience. Worst of all, you hardly have to work to receive them. Because you see, people get upset when individuals actively participate in completely personal experiences. People get upset when you opt out. Take a look at some words we use to describe people who decide to pursue completely personal experiences.
- Those who live in the wilderness by themselves: hermits
- Those who live in a neighborhood but avoid contact with others: shut-ins
- Those with no friends in public school: loners
- Those who interact socially with animals too much (and thus humans too little): crazy-cat-lady
- Single women: cougar (very predatory connotations)
- Someone who drinks alone: alcoholic
- Someone who frequently does drugs alone: drug addict
Coming up at 11. Local legend St. Seraphim the Hermit dies in a bear attack.
In modern times we certainly are anti-drug use. So long as that drug use meets two criteria
- It is not related to any medical need
- It is entirely solitary. If it is done in a group then this group must be on a fringe of the mainstream culture.
So that’s great. Now how did we think about drugs historically? Well for the most part drug use was a-okay.
Historically, We Loved Drugs (Sweet!)
In the past, there may have only been a couple drugs available to one ancient culture/tribe at any given time. Most of the available drugs were either “Entheogenic” (psychoactive drugs like mushrooms… or toad licking), alcohol, opium, or tobacco.
Drugs were used to commune with the Gods or to celebrate coming of age, birth of child, religious festival, etc. Entheogenic drugs were used solely for religious or cultural purposes. They are a way of inducting someone into the tribe by forcing them into a religious experience. Thus proving the reality of the religious tale. For example, the Mesoamerican societies used mushrooms to have their citizens ‘see’ the reality of the spirit world. They are guided there by shamans who lead the inductee through their spiritual journey.
The purpose of this drug use is to solidify within the participant the reality of the religious order which they live within. I mean sure, you can spend your entire life listening to stories of giant bird man (Huitzilopochtli) who will send you to heaven if you die in an honorable way, or, you can trip on mushrooms and see it for yourself. I think the latter option is far more convincing to a young, impressionable Central American tribesmen.
This is similar a for Southwest Native American tribes who used peyote and strong alcoholic drinks to induce a spirit adventure, or Amazonian tribes who conjured up the very inventive “Ayahuasca” mixture which makes you go on a very intense and long lived journey of talking rocks and candy flavored trees. They are all part of this grand argument, that the reality their tribe wants you to believe is more real than any other. And the shaman is the one who takes you there.
But what about tobacco, alcohol, or opium? What role could they play in which they would be allowed?
Native Americans smoked tobacco as a social ritual and opium was treated as a medical cure so it was restricted to certain castes of people (generally warriors so they keep fighting). Using opium for pleasure certainly must have existed beyond that but, like alcohol, what can you do about it? As China learned the hard way with their British forced-trade adventure.
Alcohol usage was always something that commoners engaged in as water quality was quite poor. In Ancient Egypt (as in Rome and the world over), being drunk was acceptable but drinking to the point of being uncontrollable was frowned upon. This perception would remain worldwide until water quality in the society improved and people were required to work jobs with greater coordination (the industrial era). Naturally this excludes the Islamic states which banned alcohol consumption.
In sum, societies do not like to see their productive members falling to dependence of drugs, but, the reality is they could do very little to stop it. The State was not nearly as powerful as it became in modern times and the gains to be had from stopping individualized drug use were minimal. Tribal societies could easily police this behavior (which they did), but feudal societies could not or did not care what commoners did so long as the crops were harvested on time.
But as time went on and the feudal era passed, the State became ever more powerful. Humans were required to engage in more dangerous, more demanding jobs, and it was no longer beneficial to have your entire society subdued in a haze of drug addiction. This desire to stop “drug abuse” coincides with the rise of advanced ideological thought, industrialization, increased state power, and women’s suffrage. That is, the 1800s.
Now-A-Days, We Hate Drugs (sad face)
The 1800s saw with it a large movement to stop drug abuse (specifically alcohol, as other drugs were seen as medical ‘cures’). The United States and England both saw nearly parallel movements of “temperance,” or, the complete removal of alcohol from daily usage. Temperance movements sprouted worldwide with varying degrees of success. While the forceful removal of alcohol from society was admittedly a complete failure, what it highlighted was a push from society, as in a group of individuals, to stop drug use.
It was a key turning point in human history where people now say that drug use for pleasure is not completely okay. Sure, we have hip hop and rap artists exonerating the virtues of drug use daily, but to even consider that as a ‘portion’ and not as ‘whole’ means that we’ve changed. For some reason we have decided that there is more to life than synthetic moments of euphoria. That there are greater things in life to be experienced.
Maybe it is because we now have the material wealth necessary to find those new enjoyable things (rafting, reading, cooking, etc).
Or maybe it is because our parents, our friends, and our peers all have convinced us that drugs are no longer worth it. Maybe they have finally began winning the argument that you cannot exclude yourself from society, that your life can produce more meaning if you engage with others rather than with yourself.
Maybe we are entering a stage in our societal evolution where the escape from reality and the consequences therein are worse than reality itself…
But before I agree with that, let me take one more drink; I feel a buzz coming on.
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