To Overthrow the
System if I'm
High On Drugs?
A Question Before
The Case Presented Against Drug Use
The popular image of the drug-user, promoted by typical and mainstream news outlets, is someone who has become a slave to their addiction. Whether through a news report or even in its entertainment programming, television portrays drug users as unreliable, irresponsible, and a problem to everyone they know. They detest labor or any type of activity, being compelled to action only to satisfy their need of intoxication. Drug users do not participate positively within their community, their friends and family, or society at large -- they are thieves and cheats, destructive to themselves as they are to others. The United States National Institute of Drug Abuse, in an article on drug abuse, wrote the following description of "drug addiction..."
This message is spread within so many governmental agencies: the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the US Ad Council. Even the US president Barack Obama has come out to make some strong statements against drugs: "Drug use endangers the health and safety of every American, depletes financial and human resources, and deadens the spirit of many of our communities." [*2] The ONDCP recently published a "2010 National Strategy," which describes the "focus" of president Obama's tactics...
The official, government message, like in times of war or conflict with unions, reflects the official, capitalist message. Everywhere within the social and culture sphere, the anti-drug idea has become aggressive and dominant. Private, non-profit "charities" carry on the slogans of the government -- they are the new right-wing militia groups distributing pro-war propaganda, but it is now "pro-drug war" propaganda. Such organizations include Partnership for a Drug Free America, American Council for Drug Education, and National Families in Action. According to the American Psychiatric Association, "the television networks ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, ESPN, and WB have produced their own antidrug public service announcements." [*4]
Everywhere the same message is the same: drugs need to be kept illegal and out of the hands of the public, because drug use destroys people; drug use turns people into unproductive, cruel, anti-social beings. This is the message that finds itself through news reports, television shows, commercials, and the radio. So the question naturally comes up: how am I going to overthrow the system if I'm high on drugs? If drug use prevents the individual from becoming active, then it will prevent them from being able to overthrow all authoritarian and coercive institutions in society -- by they the government, the church, or capitalism.
Our revolution is a struggle for a new world where everyone is provided with complete liberty and full opportunity; where the social life of civilization is determined by voluntary cooperation between associations, and not through domination and repression. The fight is against the force and control that has been practiced by authority for thousands of years. We need every bit of energy and strength for our combat in the class war, whether we are union-organizers, propagandists, or protest and confrontation groups. Is it possible for drug use to be compatible within this kind of lifestyle?
Getting High as a Positive, Social Activity
Drug use, unlike most issues, can be divisive among revolutionary organizations and groups. In some circles, it is promoted and encouraged. And in other groups, it is despised and hated. The reason why it would be disliked or discouraged should be clear: since we need all of our energy and efforts united in our revolutionary struggle, anything that slows us down should be left behind. If drug use is one of those things, we should likewise abandon it.
What is the purpose of intoxication and inebriation, whether from alcohol or marijuana? What is the intent of the individual who voluntarily takes a substance in order to alter their sense of consciousness? These should be the first questions asked when wanting to know its on the individual. But when looking into reasons, we find no single purpose, but a variety. The largest group of users may very well be looking for gratification and pleasure: they want a way to relax, to calm their spirits, to soothe their mind. And from here, there are many other reasons, such as those who want enlightenment and the expansion of their conscious thought.
Focusing strictly on its primary use, it is certainly true that drugs have the effect of a recreational activity. Pharmacology's definition of "drug" is "a chemical substance used in the treatment, cure, prevention, or diagnosis of disease or used to otherwise enhance physical or mental well-being." [*5] Like any hobby, whether it's reading or jogging, travel or hiking, a drug causes the brain to release dopamine and Serotonin -- the chemicals of the brain responsible for happiness and emotional well-being. This is the intention of altering one's mode of thinking; it acts as a relief for stress and pains.
Does this really serve the purpose, though? Can drug use really relieve stress, uplift spirits, and give confidence and hope? These are questions ultimately left up to the individual using the substance. We know that it is ultimately the person engaging in the act of recreation who can decide whether they are enjoying the act or not. We know that this must be the case, since there is no scientist who has yet proved something that is universally disliked by all peoples, or universally admired by all peoples -- from concepts such as death to morality to social organizations.
Even if we were to find one preference that is unanimous among a single group of people, it wouldn't be the same as the desire from ten years ago, nor would it be the same by the end of the next decade. Everyone wants coats in winter, but summer attire might be a variety of different desires. So it is with drugs and intoxicants. According to Stanton Peele, alcohol and addiction researcher, moderate alcohol consumption has the effect of "better mental health on some indicators, such as reduced anxiety and depression, especially in response to stress." One other result was: "better work performance, measured in reduced absence or disability;" and "better work performance, measured in higher income." [*6]
Alcohol is not the only substance that has improved the performance and activity of its users. In a 1989 study of a power company, it was found that Marijuana-only users were absent from work 30% less than non-users. [*7] In a study from 2002, 77 people "who had smoked cannabis at least 5000 times in their lives" were compared with 87 non-users. Their investigation on cognitive functioning found that "few significant differences were found between users and controls on the test measures, and there were few significant associations between total lifetime cannabis consumption and test performance." [*8] Another study conducted in 2001 by the same group of scientists had produced the same results. [*9]
In a 2003 study, which compared people who "had smoked cannabis a mean of 18,000 times" with non-users, had these results: "We found no significant differences between the two groups on reported levels of income and education in their families of origin." [*10]
In a 2009 study, a sample size of 1,353 Norwegian youths, aged between 13 and 27, was examined for the relationship between cannabis use and criminal behavior. The report found significant criminal behavior with cannabis, but finally concluded, "...when eliminating all types of drug-specific charges from our models, we no longer observed any significant association with cannabis use." That is to say, except for being charged with possessing marijuana, those who use marijuana have no greater likelihood of being arrested. [*11]
This interpretation is required. By pointing out how Marijuana users are more likely to be charged with possessing marijuana is meaningless -- the scientists are saying "Marijuana Users are More Likely to Be Marijuana Users." Why would such an unscientific approach be taken with drug use? Because of the overall, dominating atmosphere of anti-drug ideas within the capitalist industry of healthcare.
Even research published by the National Criminal Justice Department in the United States supports these conclusions. In one study published in 1978, researchers reported...
There that shows similar results from 1997, in which 37 people were examined "who had smoked marijuana on at least 5,000 separate occasions." This was also republished by the above-mentioned, government agency. The researchers describe the results...
It is interesting that the government department actual republish these findings over and over; yet, none of these ideas make it into the public message. The Drug Enforcement Agency, Drug Awareness Resistance Action, National Institutes of Drug Abuse, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and so on, and so on -- all of them are selectively feeding society negative information about drug use. Domination of the media has always been the style of any form of monopoly that sees itself threatened.
Life as Work and Play
What we find in many of these studies is that the users of drugs are capable of achieving their desired end: pleasure, relaxation, and ultimately, happiness. It is not a guaranteed path, with each person's results matching everyone else's. But, there is strong evidence that drug use, like any other recreational activity, can produce the desired effects on its participant. The activity of jogging, for instance, has been measured to cause the brain to release Endorphins and to cause a "high," just like if you were taking any drug. [*14] Physiologically, whether you choose to smoke a joint or go for a jog, the mechanism of pleasure operates identically.
Our question, then, is no longer whether drugs specifically are capable of hindering or helping the Social Revolution. Rather, our question is this: is the pleasure and happiness of society's revolutionaries harmful or helpful in changing the world? Life is a model of work and play. Any person who insists on spending all of their energy and time to one subject, sooner or later, will be broken by their devotion. Peter Kropotkin argued that consumable goods, like food and clothing, and even luxuries, are just as essential to production as capital -- as they provide the essential fuel for the laboring class. Quoting the great Anarchist thinker...
In psychological terms, one might say: stress builds up through our interaction with the world, and we must release it by recreation, or "play." The researcher Peter Gray describes the effect of playing upon pre-civilized peoples...
As visionaries and revolutionaries, we are expecting to reorganize the social order so as to prevent misery and maximize happiness. It is a struggle that is as old as humanity; and given the amount of work it will take, the amount of stress we must endure, it is certain that we are going to need to relieve our pains. A life that is nothing but working, even if it is devoted to a grand and beautiful goal, will cause the decay of the individual. The individual soul needs liberty to grow bright, but with opportunity to fully practice its liberty, it can burn like a thousand suns.
Try as they might, a person can spend every day giving and working, struggling and laboring. If they do not take a moment to relax, they will collapse; they will lose their strength, and soon, their work will produce fewer and fewer results. They will have less and less ability to change the system. To withhold from taking pleasure is like to withhold from taking a moment to inhale, or to refuse time to sit and eat. It is not a situation that can be extended indefinitely; and by the very harshness of such an existence, the individual, more than anyone else, should be able to tell the effects of such labor on their own person.
If we seek the revolution, and we know that it is going to require years and decades of struggle, then we must be able to continue our activity for a very long time. We must be able to resist all institutions of authority, both government and capitalism, for as long as our bodies will allow us to be active. To accomplish this, we need to be able to take moments to breath, to relax, to sleep, to eat, and of course to play. This could take multiple forms, whether it's using drugs, literature, physical exercises, socializing, or any other form of recreation. Since our revolution is against authority, we should ourselves refuse to be authoritarian -- we should refuse to tell people what form of recreation best suits them or what will make them into "ideal, perfect citizens."
In many ways, we can see practical preferences for drug use over other recreations. The members of the squatting movement, for instance, often will drink at protests. [*17] More than just a curiosity, it is an interesting concept: at the same time that an individual is indulging in pleasure, they are also actively resisting the authority of the state and capitalism.
Within the drug-user's mind, the chemical is melding with their receptors and their nerves, while the hands of the activist are busy working, organizing, and resisting. The drug delivers pleasure by itself, leaving the hands and the body free to do as they please. This means an individual can be enjoying themselves at the same time they are revolting. This is as opposed to non-drug means of pleasure, such as exercise, film, music, or socializing, which distract the hands and the body from organizing a revolution. Work and play within the same act: this is one of the significant advantages of using chemical intoxicants.
Vincent van Gogh, who brought to life fantastic images in his paintings, was an excessive drinker of absinthe. [*18] Paul McCartney revealed that much of the music produced by the Beatles was influenced by heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and LSD. [*19] William S. Burroughs, the writer and poet, earned a $3,000 advance for selling the rights to Naked Lunch, which he spent on drugs. [*20] Carl Sagan, the astrophysicist, [*21] as well as the musician Louis Armstrong [*22] were users of Marijuana. And according to the research of archaeologists in 2005, Native American peoples have been using peyote for spiritual purposes for over 5,700 years. [*23]
It is certainly true that while drugs can provide a way to relax the mind, like any other form of recreation, they can be used as a distraction to the mind -- not to improve the situation of the individual, but to help them escape from it, at least emotionally. This can be true of drinking, gambling, smoking, eating, exercise, socializing, and sex. We should not train ourselves to abstain from some of the most deeply-moving and meaningful experiences of human life. It is better that we should discover a way of moderating, so we can optimize the overall result of our activity, in terms of work and pleasure.
There are always going to be those who propose this question, "But what about those who have used drugs, and have found themselves destroyed by them? What about those who wanted to become better, and only became worse?" My response is this: if drug use is the problem, then more drugs is the solution.
In an animal model, Marijuana use reduces the individual's dependence on morphine, which means it can have applications in reducing dependence on heroin and other opiates. [*24] Ibogaine is another drug that is prohibited by the US government, whether for personal or medicinal use. Despite this, Ibogaine is one of the most powerful ways for ending dependence on heroin. [*25] Another drug, Buprenorphine, is also miraculously powerful in fighting heroin addiction, [*26] but it is so withdrawn from the public and so protected by authorities, that it is practically illegal for the people who need it.
The sight of a neighborhood wracked with hard drug use is awful, whether it is crack-cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin. These problems are not going to be solved by withdrawing our research and practice of drug use. They can only be solved by fighting prohibition of drugs. It is almost as to say that we are inconvenienced by bad weather, therefore, we shall not study meteorology -- we are overburdened by famine and hunger, so therefore, we shall not study chemistry or biology. If there is going to be a solution to those who have developed an unhealthy lifestyle, it is going to come with the abolition of drug control, not with its expansion.
Furthermore, those who develop problems with drug use tend to have overall social and personal problems. Consider the heavy opiate addiction among those in American slums, or those in slums from the 1800's in British-dominated China. Are these people who had every opportunity, full liberty, and a world lending them a hand to take claim of their right to happiness? Of course not; they are burdened by unemployment, low wages, repressive governments, violent police, exploitation by the vendors of food and the landlords, domination by a very few who live off of the labor of the many.
If you were to take away drug use from those in poverty, they would be just as hopeless, depressed, and deprived of motivation and vision -- drug use, as an internal act between the conscience and a substance, does not form the person; it is the environment, their interaction and involvement with the community and society at whole, that most greatly influences their decision-making. If the sight of life is too much to feel, then it is natural to keep your vision always blurred.
If we are going to create a real revolution, every revolutionary participating must have the full opportunity to explore themselves -- and the act of painting a portrait may be as stimulating as taking a dose of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Only the participant of art knows why it has meaning; only the beholder of beauty knows why there is attraction; and only the individual can judge what is or is not pleasurable to them. Everyone else believes that they know, but only the one experiencing the act can absolutely know. We need not go to the point of advocating drug use; it is only certain that substance use should be accepted, wholly and fully, among the revolutionary culture.
*1. "NIDA InfoFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction," published by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), WhiteHouseDrugPolicy.gov.