How Americans Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Drug War
t all started in 1914 when bigoted politicians decided that lower-class Americans could not be trusted to use opium wisely. Suddenly Mother Nature went from being a gift-giving goddess to a common drug kingpin. Enter Richard Nixon in the sixties, who decided to further blaspheme Mother Nature by criminalizing a host of additional psychoactive substances that happened to be used by his political enemies.
It's always disappointed me that Americans have thus far hobbled together so little pushback against this denial of a birthright, this outlawing of the freely given gifts of Mother Nature, this unprecedented coup against the therapeutic goddess of humanity. The government took away our right to control our own pain and to control our own psychic condition and Americans seem to have merely sighed, asking their government, "Okay, so you want me to give up my natural birthright? Fair enough. Oh, and you want me to urinate on command to prove that I am faithful to my government? No problemo. Gee, isn't democracy just swell?"
Nowadays, when the DEA asks us to jump, Americans simply say "How high?"
For just one obvious example, browse some mycology pages online. You'll find that many mushroom hunters (professionals and hobbyists alike) want it to be known that they will have nothing to do with psychedelic mushrooms that they happen to come across. "Look at me," they seem to say, "I'm a professional mushroom hunter who is obediently ignoring the most interesting part of Mother Nature at the behest of the U.S. government. So don't expect me to write anything about your tawdry psychedelic shrooms!" Far from screaming bloody murder about their unprecedented loss of human rights, their forced separation from Mother Nature's bounty, many online mycologists pride themselves in pointing out that they study only those plants that their government will allow them to study. Thus they recast their own political timidity as patriotism.
But America's response to this usurpation has been even worse than that. We have rewritten history so that we do not have to confront the fact that we have criminalized Mother Nature in the first place. This can be seen by any regular viewer of the Great Courses program, a collection of videos presenting college courses taught by some of the most popular professors in the world.
Although I am a regular viewer of the Teaching Company's courses, I've yet to see one of their history professors so much as acknowledge the fact that the game-changing Elusinian mysteries of ancient Greece involved the use of a naturally occurring psychoactive substance similar to LSD. I've yet to see one of their biology professors allude to the psychoactive power of mushrooms. I've yet to see one of their anthropologists discuss the crucial role of natural psychedelic medicines in early South American ritual. Nor have I ever seen one of their political science professors ever mention the infamous DEA raid on Monticello in discussing the political legacy of Thomas Jefferson.
I guess this makes sense. It would be too painful for a supposedly free people to remember what we've given up, so we have rewritten history to help us pretend that Mother Nature's pharmacy was never particularly useful to us in the first place. "Humph! Mother Nature: who needs her? Let the government and Big Pharma decide what I need - and when - and at what price, too."
The good news is: modern research is showing us today how so many of the natural substances that our politicians have outlawed are proving to be godsends in therapeutic settings. My hope is that the penny will eventually drop and we'll draw the obvious conclusion from this research, namely that no naturally occurring plant is bad in and of itself, and that, as Terence McKenna once said, it is "ridiculous and obnoxious" to criminalize the freely offered medicines of Mother Nature. Perhaps someday we'll learn the ultimate lesson from today's anti-patient Drug War: that it is both scientifically stupid and a violation of basic human rights to turn Mother Nature into a drug kingpin.
Author's Follow-up: February 14, 2023
Perhaps most astonishing of all is the fact that botanists go along with the Drug War. Michael Pollan is one notable and disappointing example. Has he never stopped to consider that it's wrong for government to dictate which fauna he can legally study? If anyone should see the absurdity (and fascism) in this policy, it should be botanists. To be sure, Pollan is not himself prevented from using psychedelics despite the laws against it, so it's not clear why he thinks prohibition is effective in any case. He is not the only one who can ignore legislation. But the very idea that government could limit his studies of nature should, I maintain, be repellent to him as an American citizen. His motto should be "anything BUT prohibition," as it represents the censorship of science -- never mind the fact that it tells Americans that they cannot think and feel in certain ways. Women protest "Our bodies, ourselves," but surely the more important protest is "Our minds, ourselves," for everything starts with our perception of the world, and when government controls that, we are screwed indeed.
And why does Michael support prohibition? Because he wants to protect a vast minority of young people from themselves, young people whom we have failed to educate about substances but rather attempted to frighten them instead. And what is the result of helping this vast minority? It is that the vast majority of the depressed (and others who could benefit from mind medicine) go without medical godsends -- and those are stakeholders that Michael COMPLETELY IGNORES.
*For Michael's somewhat equivocal stance on prohibition, see page 405 of the hardback version of "How to Change Your Mind."
Buy the Drug War Comic Book by Brian Quass, featuring 150 hilarious op-ed pics about America's disgraceful war on Americans
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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. (For proof of that latter charge, check out how the US and UK have criminalized the substances that William James himself told us to study in order to understand reality.) It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions (like the Vedic), Nazifies the English language (referring to folks who emulate drug-loving Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin as "scumbags") and militarizes police forces nationwide (resulting in gestapo SWAT teams breaking into houses of peaceable Americans and shouting "GO GO GO!").
(Speaking of Nazification, L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates thought that drug users should be shot. What a softie! The real hardliners are the William Bennetts of the world who want drug users to be beheaded instead. That will teach them to use time-honored plant medicine of which politicians disapprove! Mary Baker Eddy must be ecstatic in her drug-free heaven, as she looks down and sees this modern inquisition on behalf of the drug-hating principles that she herself maintained. I bet she never dared hope that her religion would become the viciously enforced religion of America, let alone of the entire freakin' world!)
In short, the drug war 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.
PPS Drugs like opium and psychedelics should come with the following warning: "Outlawing of this product may result in inner-city gunfire, civil wars overseas, and rigged elections in which drug warriors win office by throwing minorities in jail."
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
Bache, Christopher "LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven" 2019 Park Street Press