[edit: maybe not as clear as I intended, but when I say “drugs” that includes alcohol]
Following from my experience in Christiania, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on drug use, given its prevalence in what for the sake of brevity I will call “hippie” circles.
I am something of a worshiper of Mind. I believe our brains are the most unique and precious things we have. We know that people are able to do amazing things with the right combination of talent and training. I further believe that being mentally gifted burdens you with a certain responsibility. Great mind is a precious things to be used and maintained wisely. I don’t actually believe that people are totally free to dispose of themselves as they wish – we all have a responsibility towards society to do whatever good we can do, and greater ability entails greater responsibility.
So what does this have to do with drugs? Well that’s simple – I dislike drug use because it damages people’s minds. I have met plenty of regular users who insist that it’s all groovy, but observing them rather contradicts that claim. Of course there are some who take the hard stuff and end up really fucked up, everyone knows about that. But even people who are heavy cannabis smokers seem dulled to me, they loose the keen mental edge that I appreciate so much.
Furthermore, I do not believe that drugs do much to widen the human spirit. Traditionally in drug-friendly circles, drug use has been seen as mind-expanding. Indeed, there are a number of substances which seem, from reports, to give certain people new and exciting perspectives. But these are not substances to take regularly, and not everyone derives any benefit. For every person who has a life-changing experience, hundreds do not. It’s not like you drop some acid and suddenly become a great artist or visionary. There are no shortcuts – great mind is something that needs training and hard work and talent. For that matter, even those who do gain new insight tend to be artists – drugs apparently do not support the kind of clear rational thinking needed for scientific progress. Indeed, how many great scientists have been known to be regular drug users!
Of course, excess is also part of the problem. Many people use drugs occasionally without being any worse for it – alcohol being the most obvious one. But certain environments encourage and condone excess, for instance smoke a lot of weed is acceptable in certain circles (while drinking comparable amounts of alcohol would be cause for concern).
I actually think alternative movements lose a lot to cannabis and other drug consumption. We live in a world where powerful forces seek to impose increasingly authoritarian controls and engage in socially and environmentally destructive behavior. To fight back we need every bit of ingenuity we can muster. We need minds at the top of their game, not languishing in a purple haze. We need to treasure mind and encourage and nurture rationality. Hell, even the enormous amounts of time that are wasted when people sit around stoned could be put to better use!
Maybe surprisingly, I’m actually very much in favour of the legalization of cannabis. My reasoning is that the very fact that cannabis is illegal encourages its consumption as a form of rebellion and helps normalize it’s use in counter cultures. This makes it very easy for people to consume a lot more than is good for their brains, because use is seen as part of the habits that mark you as belonging to a counter culture. Legalization would, I feel, remove that aspect. Certainly in the Netherlands cannabis legalization has meant that most local people smoke little or not at all, and nearly all cannabis is consumed by tourists who find it exciting just because it’s illegal back home.
I feel, moreover, that there is a lack of respect and appreciation for mind in “hippie” circles – especially the scientific mind. In fact I feel many movements have something of an anti-intellectual, even anti-science streak. This is quite worrying given the importance of the scientific method to gathering reliable data and informing rational and effective decisions. And of course there is a need for talented and well trained minds to put it into effect. Too often I have heard calls for trusting intuition and feeling, when many scientific discoveries are surprising and important precisely because they are counter-intuitive.
In the end, the best we can do is value minds – avoid excess and be nice to your brain cells, they are your most valuable assets! Taking drugs (including alcohol) can be fun, but isn’t ever going to make your more clever!