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Drugs: Background Study For The Post-war Era

Drugs: Background Study For The Post-war Era image
Parent Issue
Month
January
Year
1994
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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H j ' n vi I oiijwM The Natural Mind: A New Way of Looking at Drugs and the Higher Consciousness, by Andrew Weil. 229 pages, $8.95 in paperback (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 1972 and 1985). The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon: A Quest for Unity in Consciousness, by Andrew Wail, 289 pages, $9.95 in paperback (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 1980). Our Right to Drugs: The Case for a Free Market, by Thomas Szasz, 199 pages, $19.95 in hardcover (Praeger, New York 1992). By and large, our government has lost ts war on drugs. If s hard to talk about it, because war fervor seems to have induced more paranoia than the actual ingestión of illicit drugs. A sober look at the war situation reveáis overcrowded prisons, courts that strike down the more draconian anti-drug legislation, treatment programs that can't meet the need, but mostiy a drug trade that's as big as ever There will be no way to avoid a policy change. Thus, this is a good time for one to thoroughly explore the issues surrounding mind-altering drugs. To do so through a thought-provoking format which is unattended by government-sponsored hysteria, read, preferably in order, the three books listed above. Weil's attributes include the unlikely combination of personal expenences with various drugs, a knack for Eastern mysticism and a background in allopathic medicine at Harvard Medical School. He tends to concéntrate on personal experiences. moral philosophy and pharmacology, by and large leaving heavy-duty political considerations alone. Szasz, on the other hand, trates on the politics. His is the militant libertarían approach. He emphasizes personal autonomy, ndrvidualism and limted government, demonstrating thatdrug prohibition is inimical to such interests. Szasz relies heavily upon Western political philosophies. This is why I suggest reading the books by Weil first, because his emphasis on Eastern ideas about morality and consciousness tends to aug ment and to balance Szasz's Western orientation. It's surprising that Weil came to adopt such unconventional wisdom, given that he attended a very conventional medical school. Dr. Weil began his college career at Harvard in 1960. As an undergraduate he ingested mescaline, LSD, and cannabis, takingextensive notes on his thoughts and perceptual changes. During his undergraduate days Weil saw doctors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert banished from the Harvard community because of their experiments involving psychedelic drugs. The life of Richard Alpert is used in order to Ilústrate one of Weil's fundamental points - that mind-altering drugs like marijuana and hallucinogens can, if properly used, trigger states of consciousness which can subsequently be attained without drugs. After conducting extensive drug-assisted explorations of consciousness, Alpert decided that there was a better way which did not nvolve the use of drugs, and thereafter became Ram Dass, a Hindú Gurú. In 'The Natural Mind," Weil pursues ways to escape the ego-centered, analytical aspect of consciousness which is normally dominant in humans. Though he maintains that drugs can be a catalyst to help one to catch glimpses of unusual states of consciousness, he emphasizes that drugs are not necessary in order to do so He shows how many people, for example adepts in Zen and Yoga, achieve such states without drugs. Weil expands upon this theme in "The Marriage of the Sun and Moon," which was written as the product of Weil's experiences in África, Mexico, and South America He traveled throughout these areas to gather mformation about the context of drug use in non-mdustrialized societies He recounts several humorous situations. Searching in Colombia for tribal herbahsts to prepare for him yagé - a hallucinogenic concoction made from a jungle vine- he was sfymied by repeated encounters with quacks intending to get him so drunk that he couldn't tell that what they gave him wasn't the real thing. In Northern Kenya's Chalbi Desert, he found himself viewing a total eclipse of the sun with a nomadic tribe of camel herders. The nomads had been told that the government would cause the sun to die. Weil presents the sun and moon as metaphors for the two complementary aspects of human consciousness. The sun, which typically predominates, represents the verbal andanalytical aspect; the moon, which normally cannot be viewed until the sun goes down, represents the ntuitive, holistic, and nonverbal aspect. This paral lels the depictions of hemispheric brain lateralization put forth by authors like Robert Ornstein and Cari Sagan, in which the sun is be analogous with the left brain and the moon with the right brain. Weil claims that drugs temporarily eclipse the dominant "solar" consciousness so that one might catch a glimpse of the elusive "lunar" consciousness. He never ceases to emphasize, however, that meditation is a better tooi Jor this than drugs are. Weil lacks the emotional charge and polar biases which one normally finds in the drug debate. With calm deliberation and occasional wit he demonstrates how authorities grossly overrate the dangers and addictive properties of illicit drugs, especially as compared to those of licit drugs like tobáceo, alcohol and caffeine. He does this without waving a pro-legalization banner in the reader's face. Which brings us to Dr. Thomas Szasz, who most certainly does wave a prolegalizabon banner. The title of his most recent book, "Our Right to Drugs: The Case for a Free Market," speaks for itself. Szasz began his career as an author by writing about drugs, reporting on how the U.S. medical profession embraced misconceptions about mental illness. which in turn led to healthy nonconformists being institutionalized and shot up with unpleasant and unhealthy substances. He expanded his inquiry into the realm of illicit drug use in 1 974 with a book entitled "Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers." In "Our Right to Drugs," Szasz makes the case that the ingestión of a mindaltering drug is a personal matter which does not warrant state intervention. How can the citizens consider themselves qualified to choose their elected leaders, Szasz asks, if they can't trust their own judgment about what to ingest or not ingest? Szasz contends that drug abuse s a mere symptom of problems which are deeply ingrained in American society, and that the prohibition of various chemicals does nothing to solve those problems. Instead of recognizing symptoms of larger problems, authorities have blown the dangers of illicit drug use out of all proportion. Ignormg distinctions between use and abuse, they have made illicit drugs a scapegoat, to which the cause of problems like poverty and crime are falsely attnbuted. Policy-makersconvince people that drugs are destroying society, then promise to"gettough" in some innovatively severe way. Henee anti-drug hysteria buttresses the power of politicians by consolidating constituencies whose mernbers otherwise have more disparate nterests. According to Szasz, the drug war really derives from an abstract notion of sin, which might not jibe too well with the constitutional proscription against the alliance of church and state. He portrays drug prohibition as government paternalism in its most refined state People who depend on the state for their values, the author argües, lose their freedom as part of the bargain.

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