Though the author is showing symptoms of the Drug War Virus
The lies of the Drug War have biased almost every author who writes on the subject. I have yet to read one single pundit on this topic (with the notable exception of the much maligned Thomas Szasz) who, in my view, has not been duped into believing at least one major Drug Warrior lie, no matter how reasonable the rest of their argumentation may seem when it comes to castigating the many sins of the so-called Drug War. One Drug War lie that the leftists always seem to "swallow whole" is the idea that there is this bad thing out there called "drugs" which must be stopped, since these substances are only used by psychologically flawed people as crutches. This is certainly the tone that Julie Holland strikes in the opening to her new book entitled "Good Chemistry: the science of connection from soul to psychedelics," though she obviously does not class psychedelics as drugs in this strictly negative sense.
Holland points out, correctly enough, that human beings are obliged to be gregarious by their very nature. But she then proceeds to imply that people who use these, quote unquote, "drugs" are simply trying to get the "high" that comes from social interaction without actually interacting, thereby avoiding real life and the full emotions that it can bring.
Now, don't get me wrong: there are many people who commit the mistake highlighted by Holland, especially when we class excessive cell phone use as a kind of "drug abuse," as the author does.
Holland's mistake is to suggest that this is the only possible use of these substances that we call "drugs." The author would certainly agree that cell phones can be used responsibly, but she implies that there is a class of drugs whose use is prima facie evidence of pathology. This is plain wrong. Gabor Mate makes the same mistake. In this way, both of these authors turn one particular problem into "the" problem par excellence, thereby confirming the Drug Warrior's superstitious creation of a bugaboo known as "drugs" that is all-powerful in creating suffering and mischief - meanwhile jettisoning the previous scientific understanding that good and bad must be attributed to people, not to substances.
Sigmund Freud relied heavily on cocaine to help him achieve self-actualization, both by publishing prolifically and interacting regularly with the folks around him. To imply therefore that cocaine use and responsible living are somehow mutually exclusive is just a Drug Warrior lie, one to which leftists frequently succumb in their unthinking desire to pathologize all human behavior and thus render it amenable to their professional medical ministrations.
Benjamin Franklin was a regular user of opium, but no one ever suspected that socialite par excellence of attempting to avoid social encounters. Franklin's use of opium seems particularly odd to Drug War Americans, who diligently censor that use from Franklin's bio, because they have forgotten that there was a time when Americans still judged people by how they actually behaved, rather than by the substances that they may or may not have had in their bloodstream.
It is really just a kind of Christian Science slander to say that certain of mother nature's substances can be evil without regard for the way that they are used, or else to imply that such substances can only be used in one way, and that is irresponsibly. This lying Drug Warrior mentality reached its apotheosis in the 1980s with the highly mendacious ad claiming that "drugs" fry your brain, an anti-nature piece of propaganda that is actually the opposite of the truth in the case of most so-called "drugs." Cocaine sharpened Freud's brain, it did not fry it. Opium increased Benjamin Franklin's creativity, it did not dull it. Richard Feynman kept alert with what the Drug Warrior might today deride as "speed," but today he is considered the very type of genius, not some druggie who "wasted his talents," as the Drug Warrior likes to say in moralizing about those Americans who dare to use substances of which politicians do not approve.
Both the left and the right have fallen for the Drug War lie that certain plant medicines can only be regarded as "crutches." This idea can be maintained only by purposefully ignoring the facts. I'm not just talking about the fact that great people in history "used drugs," but that whole religions were founded based on the worship of psychoactive plants and the insights that they provided. The Vedic religion was founded in order to worship the highly psychoactive natural medicine known as soma. The Eleusinian mysteries involved the use of psychoactive medicine and inspired such Western luminaries as Plato and Aristotle. The MesoAmericans claimed great insights from the ritual use of plant medicines prior to the devastating arrival of the Conquistadors (who, unlike today's disingenuous Drug Warrior, made no secret of their contempt for what they considered quite literally to be devil plants and fungi). The idea, therefore, that most psychoactive substances are "crutches" is merely a provincial bias of American authors, authors who have been duped into thinking that America's peculiar and socially determined attitudes toward drugs tells us something about the drugs themselves, when all they tell us about is American society in the time that it is under observation.
That's the problem with the Drug War, in general: it leads us to ignore pathological social arrangements when diagnosing problems and to focus instead on the one-size-fits-all cause known as "drugs". Thus social arrangements never get fixed - cities lie forever in disrepair and children fail to get properly educated -- much to the glee of conservatives and to the consternation of liberals.
The fact is that there is no such thing as "drugs," as defined by the Drug Warrior, just as there were never any "devil plants" in MesoAmerica, despite the Conquistadors religious belief to the contrary. There are no plant medicines that are bad in and of themselves, without regard for the way that they are used: by whom, and when, under what circumstances, for what reasons, etc.
When authors imply otherwise, they pave the way for despots and officious do-gooders to punish Americans, not based on how they actually behave, but on what plant medicines they choose to use, thereby violating the natural law upon which America was founded and simultaneously establishing Christian Science as the state religion, insomuch as the theology of that sect insists that its votaries use prayer rather than "drugs" to combat whatever ails them.
Unfortunately, Julie Holland ignores this despotism in the opening of her new book by falsely claiming that a whole raft of psychoactive drugs were criminalized in the early 1970s because they were being misused by young people. That's just plain wrong. Richard Nixon criminalized those drugs in order to destroy his enemies, period, full stop. That's why the Drug War did not simply educate or remonstrate with substance abusers, as it would surely have done if it was interested in public health: it removed those "abusers" from the voting rolls by charging them with a felony. The antics of the anti-war Flower Children were just an excuse for this vicious and anti-scientific crackdown on so many therapeutic godsends of mother nature. Had Nixon cared about the country's health, he would have launched a war on tobacco and alcohol, two drugs which kill thousands every year-- unlike the so-called epidemic of drug abuse in the late 1960s and early 70s, which injured very few but committed the much greater sin of unnerving the political establishment.
The evidence is clear: the term "drugs" is a political term, designed to cast infamy on plant medicines of which politicians disapprove, often for sinister strategic reasons, as in the case of Richard Nixon. So we're bound to go wrong when we write books in which we imply that these evil "drug" substances really exist, just waiting to snare the unwary American -- especially when we claim that these thoroughly evil bugaboos exist as an evil category in contradistinction to a group of emphatically blessed substances known as "medicines," meaning drugs from big pharma that we're obliged to take daily for a lifetime if we're good Americans and obedient patients: substances which are somehow immune from the moral censure of the Drug Warrior. It's this make-believe distinction between evil drugs and blessed medicines that dupes today's Drug Warrior (and indeed the vast majority of the American population) into totally ignoring the great American addiction crisis of our time: the fact that 1 in 8 American men and 1 in 4 American women are addicted to Big Pharma antidepressants.
To do her credit, this is one Drug War injustice of which Julie Holland is clearly aware, as revealed by her discussion on this topic with Dr. Richard Louis Miller in the book "Psychedelic Medicine." That's why I purchased "Good Chemistry" in the first place, because the former book had revealed Julie Holland to be one of the rare psychiatrists who had both acknowledged and denounced the addictive status quo of her profession. I'm still hoping that the author's new book will provide useful insights on how the psychiatric pill-mill can be shut down and replaced with psychedelic therapy, even though her opening pages, in my opinion, doffed one too many hats in the direction of Drug Warrior sensibilities and presumptions. Still, as Julie herself acknowledges, psychedelic therapy seems to be on the way in America now, even sooner than later, which is not only fantastic, but amazing considering the extent to which the Drug Warrior virus has spread across America, causing muddled thinking everywhere it goes.
Let us know what you think. Send your comments to me, Brian Quass, at email@example.com. Thanks! Please be sure to mention the title of the essay to which you are responding.
Drug War Author Blog
I hate to flatter myself, but sometimes I think I am one of only a handful of people who recognize the full scope of Drug War evil. (Actually, there are probably a lot more than that, but most of them apparently know better than to speak up about their misgivings -- hence the culture of silence one encounters when attempting to get modern philosophers to even discuss the topic: see Speaking Truth to Academia"). Who, for instance, talks about the censorship that drug war ideology causes in "free America"? And yet this censorship is all around us in any bookstore. Francis Fukuyama has written a wonderful new book about the current trend toward illiberal thinking (Liberalism and its Discontents), and yet in the opening chapters, he mentions "the right to drugs" with implied derision, failing to recognize that the word "drugs" is a modern term created by drug warriors to denigrate certainly politically demonized substances -- a pejorative description that drug warriors hypocritically adopted for psychoactive plant medicine after passing a constitutional amendment to let their beloved alcohol completely off the hook for the 95,000 deaths that it causes in America every single year.
But Francis is hardly alone when it comes to authors who are "reckoning without their host" on this topic. Almost every author and academic who writes today on modern cultural and legal issues seems to consider that the drug-war provides a natural baseline for analysis, as if it's normal to criminalize godsend plant medicine and as if that criminalization in no way affects their analyses of the topics that they cover.
1) Take the late Father Joseph Koterski. He produced an otherwise wonderful 24-lecture series for Great Courses entitled Natural Law and Human Nature in which he never once mentioned the DRUG WAR! Not once. And yet we live in a country in which there was a coup against natural law in 1987 when Reagan's DEA stomped onto Monticello and confiscated Thomas Jefferson's poppy plants in violation of the natural law upon which Jefferson founded America. For those who don't see the connection here, it was John Locke himself (TJ's "go-to man" on natural law) who wrote that human beings have a natural right to the land "and all that lies therein." To put it another way, human beings have a natural right to access the plants and fungi that grow all around them. And yet the good father has nothing to say on this score.
2) In his unfortunately very popular book on addiction, In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Gabriel Maté writes extensively about "drug problems" like addiction, but he claims that they are almost always the cause of "inner pain." What? Was Benjamin Franklin suffering inner pain because he was an habitue of opium? Were HG Wells and Jules Verne suffering "inner pain" because they took regular hits of coca wine to help them focus and write great stories? Sure, there's plenty of inner pain to go around in the world, but we should not blame that pain for all the trouble that the drug war has caused by outlawing all the godsend medicine that folks relied on in the past to carry on despite said inner pain.
3) In Blue Dreams by Lauren Slater, the author seems to be making one long implicit argument against the drug war -- and yet she does not seem to realize that the drug war created the psychiatric pill mill upon which, according to her own testimony, she appears to be hooked. Instead of recognizing the fact that the drug war has limited her to a ridiculously small and addictive pharmacopoeia for mood treatment, she embraces modern SSRIs as a worthy part of her own mood therapy program, even though she readily admits that it has led to unwanted weight gain and a variety of other personal side effects (including, I might add, the demoralizing fact that the expensive dependence-causing pills has turned her into a "patient for life"). If only drug warriors would cut psychoactive plant medicine the same kind of slack that Slater cuts for Big Pharma meds. Instead, Slater embraces the assumption of many researchers today (a view held by the Heffter Research Institute and MAPS: the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) that Big Pharma anti-depressants are just fine, thank you very much. It's just that some users don't respond to them. In other words, folks like Laura essentially blame the failure of antidepressants not on the drugs, but on the users, in the same way that the dairy industry taught us to blame intolerant milk drinkers for their own gastroenteritis, rather than the milk itself.
If Slater really understood drug war injustice, she would be pushing back with all her might against the psychiatric pill mill. Instead, her book reads like a peon to Big Pharma, essentially saying, "You're doing great, but maybe we can eke out your assistance by tweaking the drug war here and there." Like most authors today, she fails to realize that the drug war is wrong root and branch, that it represents a wrong way of looking at the world.
4) Sometimes authors do not simply ignore the drug war, but they implicitly support it. John Halpern's support for the drug war policy of substance demonization is clear in the title of his 2019 book: Opium: How an Ancient Flower Shaped and Poisoned our World. Here Halpern blames a flower for the evil that was actually caused by immoral British agents who sought to create addictions in China in order to earn money. Flowers do not poison the world, John. People do. But by demonizing the flower instead of the evil men who used it, Halpern gives a free pass to greed and ignorance. Had greed not been at play in 19th century and if honest and non-hypocritical substance education had been universal, there would have been no problems with opium use -- except in the minds of sinophobes and WASP prudes, who prefer alcoholic stupor to dream-rich opiate imagery.
5) Then there are authors who support the drug war perhaps unintentionally by coming up with good reasons why drug warriors do bad things. Thus in Good Chemistry by Julie Holland, the author tells us that Richard Nixon outlawed psychedelics because he was worried about the nation's health. In How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan comes up with his own justification for Nixon's actions, the slightly more plausible notion that Nixon wanted to make sure that young people were physically ready to join the fight in Vietnam.
With all due respect to Julie Holland, if Nixon were truly worried about health, he would have cracked down on cigarette smoking and drinking which kills half a million Americans a year -- as compared to the nearly zero deaths via psychedelics. Moreover he would have sought to educate users, not charge them with felonies that would ruin their lives. It's not impossible that Nixon, like a 20th-century Chicken Little, had been fretting that psychedelics would render young people unfit for military service (although Nixon was trying to end the Vietnam War at the time), but even if true, his fears were informed by total ignorance of the substances involved, which he sought, like all drug warriors, to demonize a priori rather than to understand.
For as I learned at the dinner table as a teenager who naively broached the subject of marijuana facts, Americans (and my parents) prefer to fear "drugs" rather than to discuss and evaluate them honestly. That message was eloquently communicated to me by the pin-drop silence that followed my well-intentioned faux pas.
The author has been accused of being "reactionary" for comparing the modern drug warrior to the Conquistadores of yore. Here is his response:
There is an ideological current running through western culture that can be discerned from Columbus to Donald Trump, wherein we, the west, think we know what's best for other countries. When the Conquistadores shut down the mushroom cults in South America and killed thousands of the adherents, the act was motivated by the same self-assured scientistic and religious hubris that America demonstrates when it travels overseas today to eradicate plants that have been used responsibly by other cultures for millennia, and doing so without a care in the world for the feeling of the locals. The motivation is philosophically the same, then as now, as is the goal: to spread western ways around the world and make the world safe for alcohol and tobacco and Christianity and give them a monopoly.
I believe using the term "conquistadores" is important to show how modern drug warrior attitudes are not appearing out of nowhere, as if by magic, but that they are part of a western intolerance toward other cultures that dates back many centuries, at least to the time of Emperor Theodosius II when he outlawed the psychedelic-fueled Eleusinian Mysteries in 389 AD. For while the west has largely abandoned the intolerant church, they have not abandoned the intolerance associated with it.
To summarize: I did not mention "conquistadores" randomly and in order to shock, but rather to highlight a thread of intolerance toward other cultures and "other ways of being" that runs through western history. For again, the drug war mentality did not spring like Venus, ready-made out of a clam shell. It came from a European Christian culture that has long felt it acceptable to run roughshod over the religious and cultural practices of non-westerners. We shouldn't hide this fact from our adversaries in an effort to sound conciliatory, but rather get them used to hearing the truth, that, unbeknownst to themselves, they are perpetuating a reign of western intolerance for other cultures that has been going on now for millennia.
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Bloody disgusting fact: The Drug War brought over 2,000 deaths to Chicago in 2021 by incentivizing the hugely profitable sale of psychoactive medicine in poor communities. And now Trump and his fellow fascist drug warriors want to use that violence as an excuse to KILL drug dealers via execution! Any community leaders supporting the drug war are complicit in this genocide. For as Heather Ann Thompson wrote in The Atlantic in 2014: "Without the War on Drugs, the level of gun violence that plagues so many poor inner-city neighborhoods today simply would not exist."