he title sounded promising: "The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the antidepressant myth." Here was someone who was going to uncover the insidious link between the Drug War and the great American addiction of our time: namely, the fact that 1 in 4 women are hooked on Big Pharma drugs for life because the Drug War outlaws all better medications!
But I was wrong. I could tell just by reading the book's very first sentence:
"Brahms is the best antidepressant."
What? That is the kind of vapid bromide that only an indoctrinated Drug Warrior could come out with. It's absolute nonsense. If such feeble advice really worked ("listen to Brahms, exercise, eat right, focus on the positive"...) I would be the happiest man on earth, because that's about all the help I've gotten from "psychotherapy" over the years - before, that is, they decided to drug me instead and thereby make me a patient for life on a big pharma antidepressant that's been found to be harder to kick than heroin.
Like almost every nonfiction writer today, Dr. Kirsch reckons without the Drug War. In other words, he writes as if he's living in a free country, where psychoactive medicines are legal and he can therefore generalize about them meaningfully. But the inconvenient truth is that almost all psychoactive medicines have been criminalized. Instead of acknowledging this fact, Kirsch keeps opining about the value of "meds," apparently thereby referring to the handful of substances that can be legally prescribed for mood and/or mental improvement. He completely ignores the fact that there is a vast pharmacopoeia of drugs that are completely off-limits, both to therapist and patient. His silence on this topic suggests that he's in full agreement with the Drug War lie that such substances have no beneficial uses whatsoever, no matter how, when, why or where they are used.
So when he concludes that psychotherapy is better than "meds," it's unclear what he means. I could gladly endorse the idea that psychotherapy is better than the currently available drugs for depression, but that is not what Kirsch seems to be saying: He seems to be saying that psychotherapy is better than any kind of drugs, while simultaneously implying that no "drugs" are worth even mentioning unless they have not been criminalized by the government. And yet the kinds of psychoactive drugs that we're talking about here have inspired entire religions in the past, a fact that Kirsch does not seem to know, as he is likewise ignorant of the fact that MDMA and psilocybin have been showing great promise for treating depression, even in 2012 when this book was published.
Kirsch does understand the simple psychological fact that hope leads to happiness -- the ability to have something to look forward to -- and yet he fails to draw the obvious conclusion from this fact, namely that drug use -- the intermittent use of coca, opium, psychedelics, MDMA and all manner of psychoactive plants -- necessarily fights depression in that it provides hope. If I am struggling today emotionally, but know that I can look forward, say, to a weekend in which I deeply enjoy nature with the non-addictive use of morphine or coca, etc., then I will not be depressed -- I will have hope. Moreover,, just because a substance is potentially addictive does not mean that it has to be used addictively -- unless we're talking about Big Pharma meds, of course, in which addiction seems to be a feature, rather than a bug (as is implicit in the advice: "You gotta keep taking your meds!")
But Kirsch can't see this because, in line with Drug War ideology, he accepts that demonized substances can have no beneficial use for anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances whatsoever. It is thanks to that lie that I have spent my whole life as an eternal patient of Big Pharma, shunted off onto highly addictive meds. And why? Because the government wanted to protect me from addiction?
Kirsch does not realize that the condition that we call "depression" today is a creation of the Drug War. No one had to see a doctor for sadness in the past because the world of psychoactive medicine was free. Now anyone who wants to medically improve their mind or battle their depression is forced to go to the monopoly holders on mind medicine - a monopoly- which exists because of the very "illness" metaphor which Kirsch otherwise denounces as invalid. When will writers on this topic start asking themselves the million-dollar question when it comes to drug laws: Cui bono? (I'll tell you who benefits: the healthcare industry! Why? Because substance prohibition gives them a fabulously remunerative monopoly on mind medicine.)
Speaking of the "mental illness" metaphor, Kirsch denounces it on scientific grounds, but the fact is that depression as an illness does not make philosophical sense, for if Big Pharma has really cured depression, then they ought to be able to tell us what that cure consists of. Am I cured when I become a good consumer and stop thinking about killing myself, or am I cured when I start to "live large" in the world, enjoy mother nature, and feel sympathy for other people, etc. ? Judging by the tranquilizing effects of the Big Pharma antidepressants that I've taken for decades now, Big Pharma's definition of "cure" is quite different from my own. Therefore their pills may cure something, but they do not cure my depression as I define that word: namely, a condition that keeps me from "living large" in the world.
Kirsch says he enjoys being controversial, but frankly he has not yet begun to be controversial. If he wanted to truly be controversial, he'd connect the dots of his own argument and admit that the Drug War itself causes depression by denying human beings the right to access mother nature and the kinds of medicines that have inspired entire religions.
Instead, he condescends to the chronic depressed like myself, telling us that we need to listen to Brahms -- or exercise -- or meditate and then, hey presto, we'll be happy. But this advice rests on the following causal fallacy: "Because successful happy people do X (listen to Brahms, exercise, and/or meditate), then doing X will make a person creative and happy." This is the fallacy behind all self-help books, of which American bookstores are full these days thanks to the Drug War, which outlaws all REAL mind cures.
Author's Follow-up: August 5, 2022
I think "talk therapy," as Kirsch seems to recommend, can be very valuable indeed. Who could not benefit from discussing their life concerns with an empathic human being? The problem is that Kirsch thinks that talk therapy and drug therapy are two completely different protocols and that never the twain shall meet. This, of course, is probably true if by "drugs" we mean Big Pharma medicine. But the fact is that there are plenty of demonized psychoactive medicines out there that have the potential to help "talk therapy" actually succeed like it was always intended to succeed, by rendering the "patient" honest and self-aware in a way that is completely impossible for them without such pharmacological prompting. Sure, not everybody requires such assistance, but for some it is a godsend. Indeed, many "patients" who have engaged in talk therapy while "on Ecstasy," for instance, claim to have made more progress in one pharmacologically aided session than they had previously made in several years' worth of drug-free counseling.
When I look back on the counseling that I myself received as a young man, I can say for certain that I was not honest with my highly paid interlocutors -- but not because I wanted to lie to them. In fact, I did not even know that I was being dishonest with them, that's how ridiculously NON-self-aware I was at the time. It's so plain to me now that I needed a medication back then (a "drug," if you must) that would help me get outside my very narrow thought processes and see myself objectively, not as my "self" but as a kind of third person whose thoughts and behaviors could be analyzed dispassionately. Only then would I have been able to do much more than mutter and say commonplaces during my psychotherapy sessions.
What I'm advocating here is what I call "pharmacologically savvy shamanism," in which we stop ideologically scorning psychoactive medicines and begin using them advisedly for the benefit of human beings. But this can only happen when otherwise smart people like Kirsch disabuse themselves of the big Drug War lie: namely, the idea that most psychoactive substances can have no positive uses for anyone, anywhere, at any time, for any reason whatsoever, and that such substances can simply never be used safely, no matter how hard we might try.
These are all lies, of course. There are no such things as substances like that, except in the minds of Joe Biden and his Office on National Drug Control Policy, which actually forbids its members from even considering beneficial uses for the substances that America has criminalized.
These considerations lead us to the mother of all ironies: the fact that the only way for a nuclear-armed world to survive and for its people to be truly happy (at very least to the point that they will refrain from shooting up grade schools) is for people to START USING DRUGS -- start using them advisedly, that is: especially empathogens, which teach us, experientially as it were, to love our fellow human beings and to see ourselves objectively, without the blinders of "self" that nurture and nature have securely fastened to our mind's eye by the time we are adults.
One of the many benefits of this "pharmacologically savvy shamanism" is that it would get rid of the whole concept of "patient" when it comes to mental and mood issues, because the drug-aided talk therapy that I'm advocating here could benefit anyone who wishes to see their world more clearly and define their life goals with the help of a friendly empath. Of course, those who have Christian Science scruples against drug use are free to abstain, yet there are so many potential mood and mind medicines out there that researchers have been dutifully ignoring in deference to the Drug War that it seems silly to me for someone to prejudge the utility of this class of medicines based on drug-war ideology -- especially as that ideology has been promoted through censorship and lies, like the blatantly false idea that psychoactive substances fry the brain the moment that they are criminalized by pharmacologically clueless politicians.
The truth, as always, is the opposite of what the Drug Warrior says, for the only drugs that are known to fry the brain (by conducing to anhedonia in long-term users) are Big Pharma meds like SSRIs.
Antidepressants in the time of the drug war are like cars in a time when combustion engines are outlawed. Such "cars" may bounce you from point A to point B somehow, but we wouldn't be taking them seriously except for the prohibition on combustion engines. Re-legalize NATURE!
America's "health" system was always screaming at me about the threat of addiction from drugs. Then what did it do? It put me on the most dependence-causing meds of all time: SSRIs and SNRIs.
Here's one problem that supporters of the psychiatric pill mill never address: the fact that Big Pharma antidepressants demoralize users by turning them into patients for life.
Rather than protesting prohibition as a crackdown on academic freedom, today's scientists are collaborating with the drug war by promoting shock therapy and SSRIs, thereby profiting from the monopoly that the drug war gives them in selling mind and mood medicine.
5% of proceeds from the sale of the above product will go toward getting Brian a decent haircut for once. Honestly. 9% will go toward shoes. 50% will go toward miscellaneous. 9% of the remainder will go toward relaxation, which could encompass anything from a spin around town to an outdoor barbecue at Brian's brother's house in Stanardsville (both gas and the ice-cream cake that Brian usually supplies).
You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at abolishthedea.com. Brian is the founder of The Drug War Gift Shop, where artists can feature and sell their protest artwork online. He has also written for Sociodelic and is the author of The Drug War Comic Book, which contains 150 political cartoons illustrating some of the seemingly endless problems with the war on drugs -- many of which only Brian seems to have noticed, by the way, judging by the recycled pieties that pass for analysis these days when it comes to "drugs." That's not surprising, considering the fact that the category of "drugs" is a political category, not a medical or scientific one.
A "drug," as the world defines the term today, is "a substance that has no good uses for anyone, ever, at any time, under any circumstances" -- and, of course, there are no substances of that kind: even cyanide and the deadly botox toxin have positive uses: a war on drugs is therefore unscientific at heart, to the point that it truly qualifies as a superstition, one in which we turn inanimate substances into boogie-men and scapegoats for all our social problems.
The Drug War is, in fact, the philosophical problem par excellence of our time, premised as it is on a raft of faulty assumptions (notwithstanding the fact that most philosophers today pretend as if the drug war does not exist). It is a war against the poor, against minorities, against religion, against science, against the elderly, against the depressed, against those in pain, against children in hospice care, and against philosophy itself. It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions, Nazifies the English language and militarizes police forces nationwide.
It bans the substances that inspired William James' ideas about human consciousness and the nature of ultimate reality. In short, it causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, meanwhile violating the Natural Law upon which Thomas Jefferson founded America. (Surely, Jefferson was rolling over in his grave when Ronald Reagan's DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 and confiscated the founding father's poppy plants.)
If you believe in freedom and democracy, in America and around the world, please stay tuned for more philosophically oriented broadsides against the outrageous war on godsend medicines, AKA the war on drugs.
PS The drug war has not failed: to the contrary, it has succeeded, insofar as its ultimate goal was to militarize police forces around the world and help authorities to ruthlessly eliminate those who stand in the way of global capitalism. For more, see Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley. Oh, and did I mention that most Drug Warriors these days would never get elected were it not for the Drug War itself, which threw hundreds of thousands of their political opposition in jail? Trump was right for the wrong reasons: elections are being stolen in America, but the number-one example of that fact is his own narrow victory in 2016, which could never have happened without the existence of laws that were specifically written to keep Blacks and minorities from voting. The Drug War, in short, is a cancer on the body politic.
Rather than apologetically decriminalizing selected plants, we should be demanding the immediate restoration of Natural Law, according to which "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being." (John Locke)
Andrew, Christopher "The Secret World: A History of Intelligence" 2019 Yale University Press
Aurelius, Marcus "Meditations" 2021 East India Publishing Company