Monday 2 July 2007

The Truth About Illegal Substances - How Easy Is It To Just Say No?

This is dedicated to those of you damaged by a reality that you did not deserve.

Should I or Shouldn't I?
Anyone who has had any kind of an experimental life has wrestled with the question of what to tell your kids when they ask about all those experimental things and whether or not you did them. There's no question that you don't want your kids to make certain mistakes you made in your life, but a little reflection reveals that you're not sure that some of those experiments were even mistakes. Are some truths against their best interests, or should you be held to the same high standard of truth that you demand from them?

The Official Line
One's familiarity with altered states is a particularly tricky one. The official line is a pretty simple one to toe; not only is the use of many associated substances actually illegal but it also has left a trail of well-documented, discarded lives across our popular culture. This is an important argument, and it's a good thing that it is regularly and consisently presented to children in school and in the media, but it is not the whole story. It leaves out one very important fact, that is avoided by nearly every parent and educator hesitant to leave choices to those who will be most affected by them. That fact? Substance use can make people feel very good, and it can help them go remarkable places and do remarkable things.

Stoner TV
The example that comes foremost to mind is what I call Stoner TV, one of the best nights of storytelling through television that is currently available to the more heliotropic organisms that inhabit the media consumption spectrum. Anyone who has explored any kind of altered state of consciousness can squint easily through the numerous barely veiled references to the finer side of substance use. Stoner TV is clearly a set of productions strongly influenced by innumerable illegalities, but, in the current march of popular culture toward all that was once taboo to the masses, it is a trip that is now out there for everyone to scrutinize. Perhaps our first clue from HBO should have been Tony Soprano taking peyote in the Vegas desert in the run-up to the extraordinary finale, but if The Sopranos was the ultimate study of our visceral earthly relationships, the trio of John From Cincinnati, Entourage on the road in Colombia, and Flight of the Conchords must be the inevitable metaphysical extension.

Testing Positive
Depending on your history, this may or may not be news to you, but, for the uninitiated, let's look at some of the elements of just the season premieres of these shows for a moment. We have, in no particular order, Pablo Escobar, surfing, levitation, a child resurrected from brain death, a healing bird, an idiot savant, getting to plan a bunch of explosions, an argument against why the girl our boy scored at a party didn't get it on with our boy knowing his best friend and her ex was in the room, the world's most annoying, loyal, and yet strangely magnetic music groupie, reflections on celebrity, and, my personal favourite, the sights, smells, sounds, and social norms around the taking of dumps.

To Hell In a Handbasket
Decent people of the world, there is bad news in the wind. You know all those bad substances around and all those bad people who ingest them? Well, I hate to tell you this but, since pretty much the beginning of your time, you've been giving them an awful lot of your attention, letting them make your toys and put songs on your lips. Now, you are even giving them your hard-earned money by letting them pretty much dictate the flow of much of your leisure time, and, in the ultimate no-no for decent folks, you're letting them influence your children. The world, surely, has gone to pot. And the kicker, that has always protected one of the biggest little secrets of history? If you haven't been there, you'll never get it, and therefore, if knowledge really is power, you'll never be able to defeat it.

The User's Dilemma
Because these substances, for some, are the ultimate forbidden fruit, offered coyly but seductively by an almost irresistibly attractive Muse, who invites the perpetually smitten into herself for pleasures so memorable that they would consider giving up all of life's responsibilities just to experience, or even remember with any degree of accuracy, the sweetness and intensity of sensation wrought by those pleasures. Even if your physical life is being destroyed on one hand, when the high produces the most profound, impacted moments of creativity and clarity, and the most direct, visceral experience of all that makes up this world, what a dilemma it must be if, like some of our artists, troubadours, and storytellers, the effective communication of those points of insight enables you to live life in a way that only very few will ever know? What if, further, the quality of the lives of thousands or more, as dependents and employees, depend on your being able to taste that fruit, not only to bite into that original apple of temptation but to share its sweetness with those you want to reach?

Tempted By The Muse
Certainly, the bitten Apple we share with the Muse is, in many respects, the enemy of what we are taught to think is serious work, as we are led by the hand around a path that leads all the way back to our natural primitive selves, whose preferred state is to do just as we please. Imagine a world with everyone running around doing what they pleased! Could we have ever built the things we now enjoy so much we can hardly live without?

Timing is Everything
The happy accident of these individuals so smitten, and everyone with the potential to become like such individuals, against all the odds that govern the laws of probability and physics, is that, in this time of our collective development, the pool of inspiration runs bountifully deep. The ease of manufacturing and distributing psychotropic substances means more access than ever to the most captivating invitations of the Muse. Add to that tools wielded by idle hands but active minds, all the wonderful new gadgets and props that allow us to tell stories of where we have been taken and what we have been allowed to see, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that something very interesting is happening on our screens, speakers, and stages.

The John Conspiracy
John From Cincinnati is just an example, but it is a good one. For the initiated, each scene, each word spoken, each note played, practically drips with narcotics. The score alone (calling it a soundtrack would be like calling wisdom intelligence), is music university. Add to that storytelling that looks without flinching deep into the eyes of the human creature, and you have proof positive that the creators of this show understand something at once truly wonderful and very, very dangerous; how to spellbind, and therefore how to receive and then re-transmit the song of the Muse and instill into anyone lucky or unlucky enough to be really listening that precious feeling of being understood. John, the goofy, brilliant, childlike, idiot savant messiah of the show, is Jesus, the one who can see straight through the secrets and all the layers into the soul of the person and the heart of the matter. He is also the Muse, the one who can allow others to see the same things. What John sees there, what he allows us to see there, is The Truth. While The Truth may well set us free, those who bring it to us, who really let us understand it, who bring to us a program with such messages, can also use it to enslave us, whether they actually intend to or not. How's that for mind control, all you decent folks? What if John or one of his ilk ever took over from Jesus? Imagine all the decent folks now hot on Jesus' trail running after some bunch of stoners. A scary thought indeed.

The Magic Medicine
There is actually a reasonably good argument to be made that most illicit drugs are just an alternative form of medicine. The conspiracy theorists might even have us believe that it is because the drug is so good that those who understand the power of the medicine have made that it more difficult to get by making it illegal, thereby protecting the status who use it to excel. Like any conspiracy theory though, this line of thought assumes that someone else can actually control my mortal soul, just by controlling what I consume. I don't know about you, but I like to think that I control my own mortal soul.

Mind the Dosage
That said, I do agree that we have to be cognizant about who we let medicate us. If there really were an omnipotent illuminati bent on controlling our minds and destinies, running a major pharmaceutical conglomerate would be a pretty good place to start. Medication affects our judgement, makes us feel not only better but differently. But, on some level, we are all medicated, by what is in what we eat, what we drink, what we breathe, the sounds that penetrate us, the light whose full spectrum our senses glimpse, and the countless sub-atomic particles that crash through us without any awareness on our part. With all this medication that is beyond our control, as individuals if not as a species, it's quite a natural tendency to want to focus on a kind we can control. If you have been sick and believe that medication helps, you also know that there is a right way and a wrong way to take it. If we accept that good medication, be it herbal, spiritual, or pharmaceutical, can positively affect our health, and we accept that a prescription is nothing more than an informed opinion on the dosage, are we not compelled to accept also that the power to heal is not within the exclusive realm of the medical profession?

Winning The Love of the Muse
The good news, from one who knows, is that no matter how powerful the substance, the most one can ever hope to accomplish under its influence is to ignite a spark of creativity. It takes much more to actually sustain the flame. To invite a girl out on a date bears no guarantee whatsoever that she will give you her heart. That takes work, time, and real understanding, and, even though your success may be partially measured in moments, it is not only the sparkling moments of chemistry that will determine the quality of the relationship. The same is true with using illegal means to court the Muse. You may be able to get her to appear, agree to take you places, and perhaps even sleep with you, but she won't stay with you if you've turned into a beast by morning.

Fundamental Change
Equally, the use of such substances cannot change the fundamental person, although they can certainly change the way the affected person appears to others. The person may behave differently, perhaps even foolishly, and may seem focused on a different set of goals, but the chances are pretty good that what might be affecting them is that they have no way to meet those goals, and all the drugs have done was to help them realize that. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, often times, these substances don't make you less of yourself, they make you more of yourself. Every time you take drugs, your world changes because your perspective changes, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Standard wisdom says that a change is as good as a rest, and I suspect that for this is true for many recreational drug users. Whether it goes beyond recreation may very well depend on how well adapted the person is to change.

Recognizing the Matrix
I'm no doctor, but in my view, this is important to remember in trying to help those lost souls who have ventured so far that their lives have changed for the worse. To find the real person, the most stripped down, original version of the person, inside the damaged shell, is to see the real problem, which almost certainly has nothing to do with the drugs. Only then can one truly put oneself in a position to help. As it stands now, the common conception among people who don't or have never used drugs of people who have or who do, is that the whole enterprise is undertaken in order to escape from reality. In fact, like a scene from The Matrix, I'd venture to say that many people who have dabbled might actually see themselves more as the movie's children of Zion, grinning knowingly from their own actual reality at all those who live in The Matrix but don't know it. If that reality is one that has harmed the damaged, then it is that reality in which they must be healed.

Altered States, Natural World
All this then to say that, for some, just saying no is not going to be quite as simple as memorizing by rote a personal three-word mantra. There are some very provocative ideas, interesting places, and powerful subjects that altered states allow people to explore. I've heard the odd stoner say that the great thing about being a kid is that you are stoned all that time, you just don't know it, and you don't need chemicals for it. What any stoner wouldn't give to feel like s/he did when s/he was stoned all the time and not know anything about it or need anything to bring it on! That elusive high is really just about feeling things deeply, feeling the world deeply. If our children, and the weaker among us, are not encouraged to explore with feeling and enthusiam every corner of this unmedicated reality, this wonderful land of the make-believe, the deliciously bizarre, and the impossibly mysterious that already exists within our daily reality, and encouraged further to bring to bear their natural, playful curiosity and creativity -- which preclude the need for and even the want of artificially altered states -- then won't they be at least somewhat justified in doing what they can to find secret peepholes into that other world, just to see what it's like? I think that world through the peephole, outside The Matrix, is a lot like the world in which our children live, a world the same as the one we live in but altered by perception. Instead of using altered states to understand a natural world, the point really is to use a natural state of understanding to alter our world.

After all, it's quite a world.

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