I’ve been thinking about drugs lately. It almost seems ridiculous to think so much about them, given that I don’t do them and don’t really want to, but it’s important to me to think about what kind of person I am and why.
If I choose a certain life path, avenue or even just set of activities, I want to know why, and whether that’s an end in itself or a manifestation of something else. It helps me understand myself better and also the way in which I might or should interact with other people. I know plenty of people who take a live and let live tack, but that’s never made much sense to me. If there’s something that you think is immoral or stupid or ridiculous or, on the other hand, important or true or significant, then other people living their lives differently might rightfully prompt you to have certain opinions about them. If, however, the differences are only varied ways of approaching a universal goal of some kind, that’s entirely different, and the distinction is important. I mean, life is a series of normative claims anyway, about how you think life ought to be lived. What is universal, what is objective and what circumstantial, subjective or coincidental is up to each of us to figure out. The point remains that there seems little point in have a coherent, intelligent, logically consistent worldview if you don’t apply it to the world.
The conflict is as follows: I don’t drink or do drugs, I have no intention of doing either, and I don’t think that it’s a particularly good idea. Yet, I know the history of drugs and enhanced consciousness, pain relief, art and various other aspects of human existence, so I would feel inconsistent Puritanically dismissing all of it.
Sometimes, when I’ve been thinking about something deeply for a long time, I encounter a common saying or a basic analysis that explains almost everything I was confused about. This, of course, makes me feel rather unintelligent, but I’m willing to accept that in the search for understanding.
In this case, it was a random AlterNet article about Paris Hilton that only partially talked about drugs. Nonetheless, there was a particular sentence that stood out to me. “Paris Hilton wants to use drugs, either to get in touch with reality or to escape from it.” It might very well be that obvious, and it completely failed to occur to me, probably because I’ve had a very particular type of experience with drugs and alcohol (alcohol is a drug; why don’t people realize this?), and the dialectic didn’t make any sense. But obviously, what I have a problem with is not drugs themselves, it’s their consequences. What they do to people, what people do with them. And if they were used for something else, maybe I wouldn’t mind so much.
So, here’s the deal. I value thoughtfulness, intelligence and engagement with the world. Using them to disengage, to forget, to not have to think deeply about yourself, is evidence that you don’t think those values are always worth upholding. In which case, we disagree, and I will form opinions based on that fact, because those are deeply important to me.
If not, great. I know, as I said, about all of the incredible artists, writers, poets and musicians who were able to engage reality in new and fantastic ways. I know about the scientists who were able to use drugs (on themselves and others) in order to understand the human brain, consciousness and perception better. I know about the political statement that taking some drugs makes, and how important that can be. I know the good it can do people, and I respect all that. Michael Pollan says something great about this:
“Obviously, 99.9 percent of the time, drug experiences are not making any contribution to culture whatsoever, and they're usually a complete waste of time and can also lead to all sorts of problems. So I liken them to mutations: you put out enough novelty in the world in the form of insider experience, and some of it is bound to be really productive, in the same way that if you put enough mutations into a gene or an organism, some of them are going to produce incredible advances.”
That kind of rigor and thoughtfulness, I really respect, and I share his opinions. I don’t think that drugs can do any of that for me, so I don’t do them. But I hear about people being productive and intelligent and thoughtful with their drug use, not letting it consume but rather enhance their life, and I can give my support.