Essay date: July 19, 2022

Heidegger on Drugs




This false way of thinking about being leads us to think that there is a 'real' self that will always come forward and shine, as it were, were we only to remove all external interference from things like 'drugs.'

sometimes think that western philosophy is just a project to flatter the sedentary rich. Anyone who finds both the time and the interest to ask the question "Do I really exist?" has got a lot of time on their hands, after all. They're not bringing in a harvest, or resting after having done so. They're not glorying in the exquisite intricacies of Mother Nature. They're rather abstracting themselves - dogmatically, as it were, and to the maximum extent possible -- from all human emotions and motivations and questioning if their self truly exists in the vacuum thus created. But merely asking this question presupposes that the self is a neat quantum kernel, one that can be separated from all the experiences and motivations and personal history that some of us believe created it. Indeed, some would say that what we call "the self" is nothing but the creation of these influences, or rather these influences combined with the specific genetic heritage of the person in question.

This seems to suggest what Heidegger was "getting at" when he blamed the philosophical world for uncritically speaking of "being." It is meaningless (or worse, misleading) to speak of "being" without acknowledging the role of the modern technological zeitgeist in limiting and directing the way that any specific individual is allowed to "be" in the world. In other words "being" is not a neat little kernel whose unfraught existence can be assumed when one is speaking philosophically about a given society; "being" is rather a creation of a society and so must be examined with a critical eye toward revealing the way that society has defined this critical term. Heidegger could have stopped here, concluding that the moral of the story is that humankind should start purposefully constructing a society that provides the highest potential for "being" in the world, or what he called 'dasein'. Unfortunately, he believed that this ideal society had already been created and was ready at hand: it turns out that the best society for this purpose was (surprise, surprise) that created by German civilization.

What does this have to do with the Drug War?

When one erroneously considers the self to be a quantum nugget, as did Descartes, it follows that the "truest" self is that which is least influenced by extraneous inputs. This is how modern philosophy dovetails with Christian Science, for they both see no point in those disassociative states created by opium, coca and psychedelics -- this despite the fact that said states have inspired the creation of entire religions in the past. Modern philosophers want to discuss the "real' self, and that means the "drug-free" self, based on their flawed definition of the term "being" (not to mention, of course, their hypocritical and willfully mendacious definition of "drug-free"). Heidegger was on the right track here as well, for he acknowledged the role of mood in determining "being." Many modern philosophers, however, want to excise the word "mood" from their discipline and shunt it off to the Psychology Department, thereby emulating those physicists who dislike admitting the role of human cognition in influencing events. These latter materialists wish to replace the admittedly strange-sounding explanation of the double-slit experiment with an even stranger-sounding one of their own : namely, that the world is made up of an infinite number of multiverses, the consideration of whose collective existence will (or so we're told) justify our belief in cause and effect and the ultimate clocklike nature of the world we live in (or at least the clocklike nature of our particular universe, for we're also told that other universes may act according to different laws, god help us).

What practical effect does this have?

This false way of thinking about being, as a quantum nugget, leads us to think that there is a "real" self that will always come forward and shine, as it were, were we only to remove all external interference from things like "drugs." Such thinking naturally leads to (or at least inspires) reductionist science, leading researchers to assume that the true answers are those found as completely out of context as possible. Is a depressed person happy? Don't look at his mouth or facial gestures to find out: look at his neurochemicals!

The absurdity of this view is clearly seen in the following two instances from modern life:

1) Modern doctors today actually ask the absurd question, "Can laughing gas help the depressed?" It is, of course, true, prima facie, that laughing gas can help the depressed. What such doctors mean to say is: "Can laughing gas REALLY help the depressed?" -- by which they mean, "Can we associate a single specific neurological change with the happpiness being reported by the laughing gas enthusiast?" If not, then laughing gas is not "really" making people happy. It is a mere "crutch" ("crutch" being but a custommade pejorative to slam those therapeutic interventions whose success cannot be demonstrably attributed to a reductionist cause).

2) Until recently, philosophers have asked the absurd question, "Do animals feel pain?" Again, this would seem to be a prima facie truth (at least as regards mammals) considering how the screeching and pain-aversion strategy of our domestic pets strikes such a chord with ourselves as officially sentient beings. Of course, what philosophers mean to ask is: "Do animals feel pain in any way that will show up in a neurological scan or biochemical scan and therefore be REAL?" (If not, then presumably the philosopher will have to lecture the hysterical beast for 'shrieking inadvisedly', just as the above-mentioned reductionist doctor must lecture the patient for becoming happy unscientifically through using laughing gas.")

To make my final point about western philosophy's simplistic understanding of "being" (and the nonsensical attitudes that inevitably follow therefrom), let's consider some lines from a politically incorrect short story by Edgar Allan Poe. In "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains," Poe describes an artistic but moody young man named Augustus Bedloe who walks off into the highlands, under the influence of an immoderate dose of morphine. As he begins to lose his way in the dense and foggy forest southwest of Charlottesville, Virginia, he describes the drug's onset as follows:

"In the meantime the morphine had its customary effect- that of enduing all the external world with an intensity of interest. In the quivering of a leaf- in the hue of a blade of grass- in the shape of a trefoil- in the humming of a bee- in the gleaming of a dew-drop- in the breathing of the wind- in the faint odors that came from the forest- there came a whole universe of suggestion- a gay and motley train of rhapsodical and immethodical thought."


Now, the reductionist westerner will read this and gasp: "Oh, that's bad. He's using drugs to attain a special state of mind. If he tried, Augustus could surely appreciate nature intensely without using 'drugs'" (just as the depressed guy mentioned above could supposedly be happy without laughing gas if he only tried).

Now let's ask the opinion of someone who, 1) has never heard of the Drug War, and 2) who believes that the existence of moods, regardless of their origin, does not render a "self" inauthentic. Moods are rather one part of the definition of the self. From such a point of view, the beholder would read the above lines and gasp: "Give me some of what HE'S using! Why aren't we requiring the use of this drug in botany classes -- or in the treatment of depression!!!"

Of course, the Drug War has taught us to believe that potentially addictive substances can never be used advisedly by idiot human beings, and so the duly propagandized westerner will decry the above response as heresy and hedonism (the more so in that the American government's propaganda arm, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, officially refuses to even consider positive uses for "drugs" for fear of thereby encouraging "drug use"). But the real point here is that the idea of the pristine "being," uninfluenced by moods and society, is a lie. There is therefore nothing inauthentic about experiencing the world "on drugs," unless we harbor a sort of Christian Science grudge against all psychoactive medicines based on some metaphysical beliefs that we won't even admit to ourselves.

This is an as-yet unrecognized reason for the Drug War's staying power: the fact that philosophy defines the geniune self as an isolated quantum nugget, thereby giving rise to a reductionist ontology that logically obliges us to spout nonsensical pieties like, 'Robin Williams could have been so much better if he didn't use 'drugs'" (again as that latter word is hypocritically defined by society). The fact is that Robin Williams would not have been Robin Williams had he not used drugs -- but that's something that the west can't see thanks to its false belief in a self that is authentic only to the extent that it is considered as an abstraction, unpolluted by mood and environment.

Putting aside Heidegger's Teutonic boosterism, his views on "being" tell us that the ideal world is one that best allows us to "be" creatively in the world, according to our "likes" (as defined by nature and nurture). It tells us neither to say yes or no to any psychoactive substances (from MDMA to SSRIs). It does reveal, however, that the notion that "drug users" are somehow inauthentic is a belief, not a deduced fact, let alone an ontological truth. Indeed, the whole problem with our modern undrstanding of "self" and" being" is that they presuppose a limited number of ways in which a person CAN "be" in the world -- as, for instance, in the age of the Drug War, one can only be authentic without using substances that are included in the hypocritically and politically defined category called "drugs."

As a 63-year-old depressed guy for whom all useful medicines have been criminalized by drug-hating American materialists, I will only add: "Let me be inauthentic, then! Legalize MDMA and Nitrous Oxide, and I'll be sure to tell everyone I meet that the joyous person they are encountering is inauthentic and unscientific! Just give me the damn stuff at long last!!!!"

Next essay: The Drug War and Armageddon
Previous essay: Science Fiction and the Drug War

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You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at abolishthedea.com. Brian has 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, Nazi fies the English language and militarizes police forces nationwide. 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.

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.

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