Essay date: February 18, 2023

How Thomas Nagel Reckons Without the Drug War

a philosophical review of Mind and Cosmos

'Certain things are so remarkable, that they have to be explained as non-accidental if we are to pretend to a real understanding of the world.' -Thomas Nagel

n 2012, the American philosopher Thomas Nagel published "Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False." His purpose in writing this politically incorrect book was "to defend the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life." For, according to Nagel, "it is prima facie highly improbable that life as we know it is the result of physical accidents along with the mechanism of natural selection." Nagel argues that the latter notions have become doubtful in light of what we now know about the astonishing complexity of cellular life and the genetic code. "Certain things are so remarkable," the author tells us, "that they have to be explained as non-accidental if we are to pretend to a real understanding of the world."

Of course, Nagel could get away with saying that in 2012, if only just. Not only was he one of America's best known philosophers, but he was nearly 80 years old at the time of publication and a lifelong atheist into the bargain. It wasn't easy for origin scientists to dismiss his ideas out of hand or to shame Thomas by labeling him a creationist. Thomas Nagel is still listed as a bona fide philosopher in Wikipedia despite his apostasy. That said, however, the researchers who helped inspire his book have not fared so well. Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer and David Berlinski have all been libeled as pseudoscientists in Wikipedia, apparently with the help of an organized hit team of digital materialists who police the Wiki platform to ensure that non-materialist explanations of life are never taken seriously by readers. In "Mind and Cosmos," Nagel decries such ad hominem attacks as "manifestly unfair."

By this time, of course, the wide-awake reader (you, perhaps?) are asking themselves: What does this have to do with drugs?

Well, just this: Nagel tells us that he does not believe in a divine being. He says that he lacks the "sensus divinitatis" that seems to naturally incline some people toward such belief. (He champions what philosophers call "neutral monism" instead.) But here's the problem. Nagel, like almost all philosophers (and scientists too, for that matter) reckons without the Drug War. I mean that, if Nagel were to imbibe certain psychoactive substances, he could very well have an experience that would inspire him with this sensus divnitatis, which he now so glibly tells us that he lacks, as if that shortcoming (assuming that it is one) was predetermined and unchangeable, world without end, amen.

But if our modern-day accounts of psychedelic experiences prove one thing (the accounts of drug researchers like James Fadiman and Stanislav Grof), it's that such seemingly unchangeable aspects of one's personality and understanding of life can be changed under the properly guided influence of psychedelic substances - obviously not always and for everybody, but they can be changed.

My views about the origins and meaning of life were certainly influenced by the mesoamerican imagery that I saw "in my mind's eye" during my peyote trip four years ago in Arizona. The mental slide show of pre-Columbian iconography suggested to me very strongly that life and consciousness were somehow a unified whole and that I was not a brain in a vat and that life is, indeed, far more than the sum of its parts. Why else would the consumption of a cactus give me visions of a bygone culture that I never thought about consciously in my waking life? To be sure, my psychedelic experience did not "prove" that the world was a unified whole, that consciousness was in some sense fundamental, but it gave me plenty of experienced-based reasons to think so.

But Nagel, again like almost all philosophers, would never even THINK of using the word "philosophy" and "drugs" in the same sentence, except perhaps with the goal of tossing off some throwaway line designed to cast the latter term in a dubious light in fealty to the Christian Science metaphysic of the Drug War. The idea that drug use could tell us something about the world is entirely alien to Nagel*, who seems never to have even heard of the well-documented psychedelic research referenced above, which dates back to the 1950s, when LSD was successfully being used to fight alcoholism. This, incidentally, is why the Drug War has lasted so long: because scientists are blind to the censorship (and self-censorship) that substance prohibition naturally imposes upon science and philosophy. When you outlaw and demonize substances for a long enough time, the world forgets that such substances ever had positive uses in the first place, especially when you give the children of such cultures teddy bears and gold stars for "saying no" to time-honored medicines that had inspired entire religions in the past.

My personal belief is that there is no philosophically acceptable way for science to escape the mystery of life, despite the ongoing attempts of materialists to look at the universe and soberly tell us: "Nothing to see here. It all had to be this way, after all." Nagel himself said that ultimate reality may be unknowable and that science may have to settle for the notion that life just "had to be that way," i.e., the way that we find it. But no curious mind is satisfied with that answer. It amounts to the materialist positing a causeless cause, or inexplicable initial state of the universe, and that presumption is itself every bit as mysterious as the idea of a deity. An uncaused cause baffles the mind, and yet both materialism and theism ultimately embrace it. It's just that materialists take a sort of "Copenhagen approach" to the problem of first causes, saying that to discuss that topic is beyond their bailiwick. This in itself is not problematic. The problem is that they then go on to talk as if they have explained life, forgetting that they have dogmatically ruled out the discussion of life's principal mystery, namely, how did we get something out of nothing in the first place?

It's all well and good to say that such questions are "meaningless," but that's a philosophical conclusion, not a scientific one - in other words, it's a conclusion that is open to credible refutation.

Nagel, it might be said, is coming to the anti-materialist idea of wholeness the hard way. Instead of being experientially convinced of the concept by drug use and/or a sensus divinitatis, he has reasoned his way thither by cold logic and brave honesty. And this is to be commended in a world where non-materialists are regularly libeled as "creationists" by diehard materialists.

This is a truth that I learned to my cost at a summer retreat one year ago. I had woken up on the wrong side of the bunk bed one morning, so when I joined the crew at breakfast, I launched into a less-than-lighthearted monologue about my pet peeve: namely, the fact that neo-Darwinists would not calmly debate evolution with their critics but rather preferred to yell at them and evince all manner of intolerance toward opposing viewpoints. Little did I realize that the dude sitting across from me that morning was a dyed-in-the-wool neo-Darwinist himself.

The bad news is: he yelled at me and evinced all manner of intolerance toward my opposing viewpoints.

The good news is: he thereby proved that I wasn't crazy, that my complaint about neo-Darwinism was justified, and that Thomas Nagel was right: materialists were indeed being "manifestly unfair" toward their philosophical opponents.

*This is less excusable than it might at first sound, considering the fact that the philosophy of William James was inspired and based on his experiences with psychoactive substances such as laughing gas.

Author's Follow-up: February 18, 2023

Nagel refers to the religious motivations of Behe and Meyer, but reminds us that their arguments must be accepted on their own terms. He might have said the same thing about the materialists, however, like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. The ferocity with which they defend materialism seems inexplicable unless one considers that they are fighting to defend a world view and not simply a scientific theory. Materialism as they champion it seems to be a religion itself, insofar as it is held to contain (either potentially or actually) the answer to every single question about the world. True, this religion does not worship a god, but it comes close to worshiping nature in a kind of animism, so great is the materialist's belief in the power of inanimate objects to coalesce and ultimately produce wonders: wonders that boggle the mind -- the latter, however, being a mere epiphenomenon according to the consciousness-spurning gospel of materialism.

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old time radio playing Drug War comedy sketches

You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at 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.

Brian Quass
The Drug War Philosopher

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.

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)
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