I remember watching a nature film back in elementary school. It was on odd animal behavior around the world. One segment dealt with an oasis somewhere in Africa. It was surrounded by date trees, and every fall, the dates…fell. Into the water. And fermented.
And animals came from miles around, every year, to drink that water. Beyond any doubt, they were making the pilgrimage disproportionately to the normal water-drinking, and they were getting seriously loaded. Watching woozy lions and zebra zoning out next to each other was just hysterical. They were damned near high-fiving each other.
I also remembered, later, seeing documentaries on child behavior, on the way kids will spin, run, swing, dance until they are dizzy, and then fall down and laugh (well, sometimes throw up…)
And others on religious celebrations where people chant, spin, breathe in unity, run ultra-marathons, pray and dance, entering trance-like states of altered consciousness…
And what was very very clear is that all over the world, through much of the animal kingdom, it is pretty obvious that we as living things enjoy playing with our heads. Shifting consciousness. Sometimes it is a matter of simple relaxation. Sometimes releasing inhibitions after a long day. Everyone knows that alcohol is the best sexual lubricant, shutting down the voices that say “no”. And making potential partners more fascinating.
(Sometimes too much, of course. There are two reasons I don’t drink. One is that I get terrible hangovers. The other is that the last time I got drunk, back in college, my friends told me later that I’d been making out with the ugliest girl at the party. The fear, of course, was that her friends were saying something similar to her…)
What was clear is that one way or the other, almost everyone wants to enter flow state, put their logical brains aside, shift focus to soft blur or pinpoint clarity or even side-step into hallucinations. I think I had a general sense that this was happening, without a specific sense of unfairness to the laws until I found myself at a party raising “Just Say No” money. And…it was a cocktail party. People were drinking and smoking, and prating wise about how terrible drugs were.
And the absurdity slapped me upside the head. Here were people using substances far more toxic than, say, marijuana, more addictive and at the LEAST just as damaging to reflexes and brain cells, legally enjoying their own poison and pointing the finger at “those hippies” using pot. I remember watching movies, or observing people I knew vomiting, staggering, waking up with horrible hangovers, and asking them why they drank despite these issues. To relax. To be sociable. To forget. Tobacco? To focus. As a “breath discipline” like meditation (really!) or when they were more honest…because addiction.
The surface issue was legality. But go deeper and there was a real sense that those using illegal drugs were MORALLY wrong. Why? Well, because its illegal. But why is it illegal, mommy? Because it corrupts. Is it worse than alcohol, Mommy? Well, people drink to be sociable, not to “get stoned.” Really? Have you asked, Mommy?
And what about those hangovers? I was stunned by the number of people who suggested hangovers were the price they paid, the punishment, the reminder that they had done something wrong. Pleasure without work is just WRONG. And pot…well, it doesn’t punish you as much. Implication…does that mean society needs to punish you, because otherwise people would “feel good” on demand, without having to perform?
Now understand…if there was honesty about this, that’s actually a pretty interesting argument. The rules of ANY society will function first and foremost to contribute to the survival of that society. And getting people to take actions that contribute in that way is essential. Much of our moral structure supports this: note the “hoops” we want people to jump through before a basic animal function like sex is “o.k.” to have. Traditionally, you often need to finish school, have a job, be secure and stable and respectable enough to impress the parents, and on a career trajectory that pleases them (if you’re a guy) or have homemaking skills to raise and nurture the next generation (if a gal). Needless to say, this stuff was never that cut and dried, and even these rules started breaking down in the 1940’s, more rapidly with the advent of reliable birth control in the 1960’s.
Want sex? Jump through THESE hoops first. In other words, connecting the most powerful positive sensation that the human nervous system is capable of processing to being a “contributing member of society.” Frankly brilliant.
What about drugs? I remember being asked to give a “Just Say No” talk to Nicki’s Jr. High class, and wondering what the hell I could say that would be honest. I decided that my attitude there wasn’t much different from my attitude about sex: you shouldn’t be having sex with other people until you are self-supporting. That was the simplest rule I could come up with that made sense to me.
With drugs, it was much the same. Why? Because drugs interrupt the pleasure-pain feedback loop that teaches us which behaviors enhance survival, and which ones lead to disaster. I think it foolish to do this before you have your most basic cultural survival mechanisms in place. Graduation of high school? First job? College? I’m not sure. Let’s say high school at the earliest.
We culturally program ourselves for behavior like sobriety, sexual responsibility and work ethic because they are extremely useful for creating a stable society. And are re-negotiating our relationships with drugs (other than alcohol and tobacco. More or less lost THAT fight), sex (post birth control, and post “we need every baby we can make” the rules are pretty damned fluid), and work (post automation and global outsourcing, we have a situation that has never existed in human history on this scale: we really DON’T need every brow to sweat in order to turn the social wheels). The result? Well, we won’t see it until all the people who were born and raised under the old system are dead.
I won’t see it. Most of you won’t either. But our grandchildren will.
One of the pieces of this is the loathsome obscenity of drinkers, smokers, and their allies demonizing those who use other drugs, even if those drugs are less damaging. Why is it wrong? Because it is illegal. Why is it illegal? Because it’s wrong. Because it isn’t MY drug of choice. Or the choice of the people in my circle. At my church. At my job. In my government.
Wrong because it is illegal. Illegal because it is wrong.
The number of lives destroyed by this logic is incalculable. The fact that if the lawmakers were X, the laws would disproportionately damage non-X communities should be obvious to anyone with a functioning brain cell: that’s how human beings roll.
The fact that X’s then suffer loss of voting rights, disruption of their communities, loss of faith in the legal system, massive economic disruption, family disruption…just awful. And then, of course, are blamed for it. It’s THEIR fault, because its illegal.
Why? Because its wrong. Why is it wrong? Because it is illegal.
Because the people who smoke and drink project their guilt outside themselves, onto others. If THEY, THOSE people, using THOSE substances, are really bad, I’m not so bad in comparison. Hey. It’s legal.
Because its not wrong. Not illegal. And why is it…oh, you get it.
This is vile, illogical and fits right into that notion that we as human animals make our decisions EMOTIONALLY and then justify them RATIONALLY. Even if we cause devastation to the people we define as “wrong” to protect our own self-image. And if those “wrong” ones are another generation, or culture, or race, we get to both protect our self-image AND have a tool of control and disruption to maintain our power through selective enforcement.
That’s another thing cultures do, of course. Decide who will be punished for what, and how badly. If you think that race, gender, and class don’t influence who is arrested and convicted, and how much time they do for the same crimes under the same circumstances…you aren’t dealing with reality.
I’m sick of this, really. This is another of those nightmares from which we need to awaken.
Its wrong because it is illegal. And illegal because it is wrong.
I have to throw up in my mouth, just a little bit.