Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe
Drug Warrior censorship at work in American classrooms
f you want to see drug-war self-censorship at work, watch any grade-school teacher speaking about Edgar Allan Poe. Or, better yet, check out which Poe stories they assign their students and which they always seem to avoid assigning. For when it comes to Poe's view on what we would dramatically refer to as "drugs," he had the temerity to describe them unemotionally, as substances that can do both great ill and great good, depending on how they were used.
Poe does not praise drugs, of course, but he understood something about psychoactive substances that the Drug Warrior has long since forgotten: that no substance is good or bad in and of itself, but only with regard to how it is used: in what dosage, for what reason, by which person, under which conditions, at what time and place - etc. etc.
This contrasts sharply with the simplistic Drug Warrior mentality today according to which politically ostracized substances can bring about nothing but heartache. Of course, this often turns out to be true in a drug-warrior society, but only as a self-fulfilling prophecy brought about by our own draconian drug laws, laws that create a violent black market which in turn sells products that are unreliable both as to quality and quantity. Such negative outcomes are rendered even more likely thanks to the lack of objective information about substances that is a natural result of the aforesaid simplistic thinking. When we make blanket statements such as "drugs are all bad," we thereby obscure a world of crucial objective nuances which, if known, could be the basis for an adult's mature decision-making about which substances they can safely use to their own satisfaction in order to accomplish their own priorities in life.
This is why an American Literature instructor will rarely assign Poe's "Tale of the Ragged Mountains," for in it Poe dares to write about a morphine "habitue" who strategically uses his poison of choice, not in order to seduce women and ridicule existing social norms, but in order to enjoy nature with a surreal clarity that most of us can only imagine. The sober American is so tired by the workaday world that he or she may well have trouble distinguishing a maple tree from an oak. But in Poe's subversive story, the mysterious anti-hero, one Augustus Bedloe, finds that his morphine use endows 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.
One can just feel the Drug Warriors squirming in their seats as they read these lines. Not only does the drug in this story fail to "fry one's brain" (as the blatantly mendacious Drug Warrior insists that it should), but it actually focuses the mind, giving it incomparable clarity. Of course, Poe understood that the drug itself was not sufficient to bring about this clarity - the user must bring something to the party, too, especially humility and a willingness to learn. At the same time, however, Poe saw clearly that the drug was what philosophers call a "necessary condition" for this surreal clarity, at least for the individual named Augustus Bedloe in this story. There may well be folks in this world whose innate chemistry permits them to see Mother Nature just as sharply without the use of morphine. But that doesn't mean we should lie about or discount the blatant evidence before our eyes: namely, that morphine, in certain situations, does provide this marvellous sharpening of the senses.
The censoring of Poe on this topic by our teachers of American Literature is "all of a piece" with the way psychologists downplay or ignore Freud's heavy use of cocaine or the way that biographers downplay or ignore Benjamin Franklin's enthusiastic use of opium. None of these stories fit with the Drug Warrior's Christian Science view that we are somehow morally obliged to shun mother nature's psychoactive plants as a means of improving our mood, our cognition or our creativity.
June 14, 2022
It's worth repeating Brian's spot-on asseveration in the two-year-old essay above: namely, the fact that the user must bring something to the party. Americans have been taught to take "drugs" (here defined as psychoactive substances) the same way that they take "meds": that is, to swallow them and wait for something to happen. It's the materialist way to take drugs. But that approach to drug taking is so often the reason for a bad and/or unimpressive "trip": the users have not arranged the "set and setting" in such a way as to conduce to positive psychoactive experiences. This is a case in which the scientific method is no longer our friend, for the scientific researcher wants to evaluate drugs the way they evaluate every other human experience: by seeing what a given substance will do for a statistical Everyman. And in their drugs trial they seek to isolate the substance use from all expectations on the part of study participants. But to do that with psychoactive drugs is a recipe for disaster, for positive and beneficial experiences on drugs like MDMA, shrooms and opium depend entirely on the participant expecting and welcoming the benefits and insights that the substances have to offer. If they go into the experience expecting nothing (especially in the case of vision-making drugs like opium and psychedelics) they could very well be scared and confused by a vision which, in the mind of a prepared user, could lead the way to peace of mind and some degree of enlightenment viz. one's place in the world.
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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