February 17, 2020
What We Mean When We Say 'Drugs'by Ballard Quass
How the drug war is a creation of language
The term "drugs" as used in the West is really just a pejorative epithet designed to stigmatize naturally occurring psychoactive substances and those who use them. The superstitious metaphysics underlying this stigma is identical to the mindset that countenanced witch hunts in the 14th through 17th centuries. It is the metaphysics of Christian Science as applied to psychological states, the unverifiable notion (i.e., opinion, or faith) that it is in some sense wrong to avail oneself of psychoactive substances to alter consciousness, and that those who do so are, in some sense, devilish.
That this belief is superstitious is easily seen, since those who use this term pejoratively have almost always done so in wilful ignorance of the precise function (or even identity) of the psychoactive substances in question, implying that a mere detailed knowledge of psychoactive plants placed a woman (and today a drug "user" of any sex) under grave suspicion of non-Christian behavior and intent.
When a "witch" of the old school imbibed extract of mandrake and similar trance-inducing substances, it was (at least according to the stuffed shirt Witch Warriors of the time) in order to commune with devils. But from the witch's point of view, it was surely to seek personal transcendence, whether to engage in what she took to be divination, or simply to relax. When a rock star imbibes plant-based substance, it is also to transcend his or her customary personality and inhibitions on stage, this time not for divination but for vocational success.
Yet psychology insists that anything a star could do on stage using a substance could be done twice as well without that substance.
What wilful self-deception! This is not to say that every rock star or mad comedian REQUIRES substance use (though surely the probability rises as the art form entails an increasingly dramatic split between the artist's on-stage persona and their off-stage behavior, as do both rock-and-roll and hip-hop, and increasingly so, as yesterday's behavioral outrages become today's norms). There are a vast variety of people, and in many cases, the social, cultural and familial stars and planets will so align as to allow the performer to be his or herself on stage, completely, without any impulse to hold back, requiring no chemical incentive other than the baseline chemistry provided by his or her daily metabolism.
But if the vast majority of us are really going to let our hair down, it is completely understandable that -- barring 21st-century laws and mores to the contrary -- we would want to achieve some form of the ecstasy of the witches of yore to help us "let go," such that our "nay-saying" childhood (in which we were psychologically tortured, albeit unintentionally so, by the implicit and/or explicit condemnations of parents, family and friends) are not allowed to stop us from bringing out the Jimi Hendrix in ourselves.
But psychology ignores the ancient need for transcendence, stubbornly insisting, with the drug warrior, that we can get all the transcendence we need by simply "telling ourselves" to be happier -- for that's what the whole self-help genre field consists of (not to mention the whole field of psychotherapy itself, at least until the pill-popping paradigm took hold): words, to tell us how to be happier, as if rationality could control our feelings, a central tenet of Western society, which is just plain wrong upon the slightest serious reflection.
Nor is a poor upbringing a necessary prerequisite for seeking transcendence through plant medicine -- at least for those who wish to explore what they are truly capable of in life, those who reject the Christian Science credo that it is somehow wrong to adjust mood via plant medicine.
Even Freud knew better. He did not attempt to improve his life by talk therapy. He engaged in the psychological real politik of cocaine use, early and often, a fact that psychologists ignore at their own peril, thus keeping their discipline out of touch with the real impulses of humankind.
All because the psychologists believe in this thing called "drugs," by which certain substances (i.e., psychoactive plants) are superstitiously believed to possess nothing but evil qualities: the same know-nothing credo that motivated the witch hunters, who cast a jaundiced eye on any woman who dared so much as learn about psychoactive plants, let alone used them.
The word "drugs" works wonders for law enforcement. Imagine if we saw a SWAT team ramrodding a house while a helicopter flew overhead, all because the owners of the house possessed PLANTS! Then it would be instantly clear how tyrannical the onslaught was. The police and politicians know this: that's why they never talk about a war on plants, but rather a war on "drugs." This is how the police departments grow in wealth: the darker they paint this whipping horse of "drugs," the more money is thrown there way by way of funding and forfeitures -- and the American people sit by idly, lulled into complacency by the malevolent use of a synonym.