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In Praise of Opium

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

February 23, 2023

elax, I am not here to encourage people to smoke opium every day, any more than I would encourage them to get drunk every day. That said, however, if they have to choose between one of those two vices, they should certainly smoke opium -- provided, of course, that they do not live in a country in which the government is going to do everything it can to persecute them for that latter vice. For, Drug War mythology notwithstanding, the Chinese people smoked opium daily for centuries without adverse effects. It was not until Christians on the other side of the globe took moralistic exception to the practice that we began looking upon those users as "fiends" and "addicts." And, of course, a power-hungry Chinese leadership was more than happy to crack down on a practice that allowed one's population to think for itself and to transcend the mind control of the state.

To learn more about that politically incorrect story, I recommend "The Truth About Opium" by William Brereton1 .

But the points I wish to make in this essay are philosophical in nature, not historical.

I begin by asking the heretofore unspoken question, what is so wrong with opium use?

If everyone on the planet used opium daily, we would have had no world wars. We would have had no Nazi Germanys. We would have had no atomic bombs -- let alone those hydrogen bombs that can despoil half of a continent in one fell blow.

Of course, the reader, like myself, has been taught to tremble before drugs, not to understand them, so I should add for their comfort that this peaceful utopia to which I refer could come about with MDMA as well, which would not have to be used daily and might therefore be more acceptable to folks who have been taught from grade school that they should detest psychoactive medicines.

That said, it is a little odd that Americans in particular should resent the daily use of psychoactive substances, given that 1 in 4 American women are chemically dependent on Big Pharma meds for life. Apparently, then, it is not drug use that Americans fear so much as the mental states that they produce. We are happy when drugs pacify the population, to the point that we actually encourage people to "take their meds" whenever they begin to grow obnoxious to us, but when a substance helps one to think for themselves and to tune out the sales pitches of corporate America, we begin to worry.

In "How to Change Your Mind," Michael Pollan tells us that Richard Nixon outlawed psychedelics because he feared that the users of such substances would be unable to fight in America's wars (particularly in Vietnam). I disagree with Michael - I think it's clear that Richard Nixon's goal was to crack down on dissent, pure and simple. (Otherwise he would have found ways to crack down on alcoholics.)

But the point here is that NO ONE would have to fight wars in the first place if everybody were disqualified from doing so thanks to their substance use. And surely that's a consummation devoutly to be wished. No more war, no more nuclear weapons, no more terrorism in the name of abstract causes. Just people who are ready to think the best of their neighbors thanks to their use of entheogenic substances like MDMA, psilocybin and opium.

It is easy for Drug Warriors to parody such proposals and to decry them as completely unrealistic. Yet no matter how unrealistic they may sound, I have never heard of a more "doable" way to save the world from Armageddon. I only hope that it does not take the nuclear destruction of half the planet to encourage politicians to begin considering such a pharmacological corrective for the apparently innate hatred with which human beings have been infected since caveman days.

In Xerxes' time, it was customary practice to kill all adult males in the villages of one's enemy, rape and enslave all the women, and castrate all the boys. The Persians did this and what's more, "they liked it," as we say. And, of course, their adversaries were just as bad, or just as amoral.

It doesn't take a modern ethicist to tell us that something is very wrong with a species that adopts this default attitude toward "the other." That species is clearly pathological and has to be treated with "strong medicine" if we are to have any hope of eradicating these ultimately suicidal instincts, for such hateful attitudes in a nuclear world are a sure recipe for Armageddon.

So it is not enough to ask if opium is good or bad in the abstract. Nothing is good or bad in the abstract. Opium is not a moral agent, even though Drug War authors like John Halpern insist on blaming the poppy for the problems that human beings have in dealing with it*.

The real question is: Is a world of daily opium use better or worse than a world in which heartless despots fight pyrrhic wars in which they spare absolutely nobody?

Viewed in this light, the philosopher wants to say: BRING ON THE OPIUM!

Related tweet: February 25, 2023

In the 19th century, opium was in the medicine cabinet of the majority of Brits in the form of laudanum and there was no opioid crisis. Another proof that the Drug War causes all of the problems that it claims to be solving.

February 25, 2023

*John Halpern wrote the tellingly titled book "Opium: How an ancient flower shaped and poisoned our world." It's a typical Drug Warrior title. A flower did not poison our world: our world was poisoned by commercial interests, politics, racism, misinformation and lies.

Related tweet: June 2, 2023

"Everything one does in life, even love, occurs in an express train racing toward death. To smoke opium is to get out of the train while it is still moving. It is to concern oneself with something other than life or death." -Jean Cocteau


1 Smith, Wolfgang, Physics: A Science in Quest of an Ontology, New York, 2022 (up)

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John Halpern wrote a book about opium, subtitled "the ancient flower that poisoned our world." What nonsense! Bad laws and ignorance poison our world, NOT FLOWERS!
Drug warriors do not seem to see any irony in the fact that their outlawing of opium eventually resulted in an "opioid crisis." The message is clear: people want transcendence. If we don't let them find it safely, they will find it dangerously.
"Judging" psychoactive drugs is hard. Dosage counts. Expectations count. Setting counts. In Harvey Rosenfeld's book about the Spanish-American War, a volunteer wrote of his visit to an "opium den": "I took about four puffs and that was enough. All of us were sick for a week."
In the same century, author Richard Middleton wrote how poets would get together to use opium "in a series of magnificent quarterly carouses."
It's an enigma: If I beat my depression by smoking opium nightly, I am a drug scumbag subject to immediate arrest. But if I do NOT "take my meds" every day of my life, I am a bad patient.
In "Rogue Agent," the bad guy forces one of his victims to quit her antidepressants cold turkey. Had she been on any other daily drug, the take-home message would have been "drug dependence bad!" But the message here is "get her back on those important meds!" What hypocrisy.

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I've got a bone to pick with Jim Hogshire
In Defense of Opium
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