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Excerpt from Dreams

Mind-Altering Drugs (p. 518)

From chapter "Relationships With Other Sides"

Now this is the point in this book when I am supposed to mention mind-altering drugs. How can I write an entire book about dreams and about communicating with those on other sides (and the sides themselves) without talking about mind-altering drugs? Well, I suppose in some ways I can’t.

It’s hard, though, because to be honest I’ve always been opposed to most especially the recreational use of drugs, for reasons that are both personal and political.

Personally, recreational drug use—including the use of alcohol— has always scared me. There are a few reasons for this. The first has to do with the abuse I suffered as a child. My father, being a devout fundamentalist Christian, did not ingest alcohol or any other recreational drugs. Except when he did. And then only a very few knew. Or knew what he did when he did drink. My sister knew, my sister who to this day cannot stand to kiss a man who has been drinking. And I knew, I who have never been able to date a woman who drinks. He also wrote prescriptions (he was a doctor) for narcotics in that same sister’s name, prescriptions for pills she neither needed nor even saw.

My next significant exposure to recreational drug and alcohol use came at the many rock concerts I went to in high school. There I saw behavior I could not help but see as revolting and undignified. I’m sorry to use a word—dignified—that seems to have fallen so far out of favor, but I am to this day deeply proud that, for all my faults and idiosyncrasies, I was raised to be such (notwithstanding my perhaps too-frequent use of the word “fuck”). At these concerts I saw people throwing up on their own shoes. I saw them passed out in their own vomit. I saw them drunkenly picking fights, and I saw them drunkenly exposing themselves or fucking (and I use that word literally) in public. I saw them incapable of standing, incapable of walking, incapable of speaking. And have you ever had any acquaintances who DUI (dial under the influence), and then spout slurred nonsense at you for as long as you will listen?

I’ve never seen the attraction.

I think part of what ties together the revolting behavior I saw in so many people who were drunk or otherwise mind-altered was a loss of self-control. I very well know there are many senses in which we need to let go of control; indeed, I’ve written extensively about how this culture’s urge to destroy is intimately tied to its urge to control. And I’ve written extensively in this book about how letting go of this control is crucial not only to art and to dreams, but in fact to human and planetary survival. But the giving up of control I’m talking about here is not the same as the loss of control when drunk or otherwise mind-altered. The latter is in fact a toxic mimic of the former. The loss of control so clearly yearned for by this culture is not only a response to this culture’s forms of control, it is also the complement of the same imperative, working toward the same ends. Much like Christianity (which wants the soul but not the body) and pornography (which wants the body but not the soul) are parts of the same whole, and much like Christianity and Science likewise complement and complete each other, the two parts pretend to be oppositional while in reality being dualistic partners along the same constraining line.

I wrote in Walking on Water that responsibility and freedom are necessary and positive complements; responsibility without freedom is slavery, and freedom without responsibility is immaturity. This culture seems to have messed it up severely enough that we have neither, and we end up being a bunch of immature slaves. Artificially lowering the inhibitions of immature slaves does not seem to me a very good way to accomplish much good, either on this side or on others. Add to this what I wrote early in this book about how people will use any excuse to not act against this culture, and we can easily see how drugs would help to defuse, for example, whatever revolutionary fervor the 1960s may have held. It can also help explain why so often these days students will (drunkenly) riot over winning or losing football or hockey games, or will riot when cops try to shut down their keggers, but will more or less meekly accept not only their own forced induction into the wage economy and the sale of their very lives, but also the murder of the entire planet.

We can talk all we want about the potential for liberation through tuning in and turning on (interesting that they used machine language, is it not?) by ingesting mind-altering substances, but if we’re honest, the vast majority of mind-altering substances are not ingested to facilitate better relations between those doing the ingesting and those on other sides (or this side), but rather to neutralize oppressive reality, to allow those doing the ingesting to either numb themselves out sufficiently to continue to participate in their own degradation under the civilized and more specifically capitalist system, where everyone and everything (including themselves) has been turned into a commodity; or to vent just enough anxiety (see the aforementioned riots) to guarantee the pressure of conforming to this system doesn’t become so great that people can no longer bear it, and must either break the system or break themselves.

Just today, I received an e-mail from someone who wrote, “Last year I was so overwhelmed by feelings of apathy and depression that I couldn’t help myself and started getting back into some bad drug habits. If I can’t change anything, I thought, I might as well get drunk/stoned.”

The point is that far more drug and alcohol use is actually beneficial to the system of domination we call civilization than is harmful to civilization and beneficial to life. It’s more a governor that keeps the machine running steadily than it is a sledgehammer used to smash it.

Think how often those at the center of empire have used alcohol or other drugs to extend their control. Alcohol has been used extensively and intentionally against the indigenous. Opium was used by the British to help enslave the Chinese. A US-backed influx of drugs into Los Angeles has helped to depoliticize many potential revolutionaries. It’s a pretty consistent pattern.

It’s also irresponsible to talk about the use of mind-altering drugs within this abusive culture without talking about the positive correlation between the use of many of these substances and the perpetration of violence against women and children. I mention this not merely because of my own experience, but because this experience is all too common. For crying out loud, when most people think of Carry Nation or the rest of the temperance movement, they normally picture a bunch of crazed, hatchet-wielding religious fundamentalists who just wanted to piss on everyone else’s fun. But the truth is that the temperance movement was motivated in great measure by a desire to stop men from beating women. These women had noticed the obvious, that within an abusive, patriarchal culture, the use of alcohol leads to more abuse. Women in the Zapatista movement noticed the same thing, and thus requested that there be no alcohol use in the first Zapatista communities: when the men drank, the men were both lazier and more abusive.

I’m not saying by any of this that the ingestion of drugs and/or alcohol cannot feel good. I’m merely saying that far more is consumed so the consumer can get butt-faced silly than is consumed with any intention of engendering better relationships with nonhumans of any sort, or under ceremonial or sacramental conditions.

Which leads to my next problem with these substances’ recreational use: this culture desacralizes everything and converts it to recreational use. Perhaps fifteen years ago I read an excellent article in the Earth First! Journal complaining about rampant recreational drug use within the radical environmental movement, and pointing out that while many of the activists who read the Journal are fighting desperately against the conversion of forests used sacramentally by indigenous peoples into ski resorts, many of these same activists don’t hesitate to convert plants used sacramentally by indigenous peoples into objects to be consumed for recreational amusement. Not surprisingly, the Journal received a great number of letters to the editor attacking the piece.

It’s not surprising that sacred plants are routinely converted into items to be consumed for amusement, since that is part of what this culture does to everyone and everything; it is attempting to turn the entire world into a giant amusement park for the very wealthy. Rivers are converted into giant amusement park rides by those who have no relationship to them. So are mountains. The rich go scuba diving to see exotic corals before they are destroyed by this culture. I even knew someone who wanted to take a luxury cruise up the Yangtze River before it was destroyed by the Three Gorges Dam. I’ve known others who have taken endangered species tours, wanting to see the creatures before they are exterminated (and heaven forbid they actually work to stop the murder of these others). I’ve even seen books talking about how we need to use the murder of the planet as an opportunity for spiritual growth. And corporate “news” programs routinely turn other people’s devastation into your and my entertainment.

Of course none of this is new. Public executions in the United States were halted in great measure because of the appalling behavior of the spectators, who would rush the gallows to grab souvenir scraps of clothing or flesh from the dead. And we all know about the amusements of the Roman Colosseum.

The point is that within a society that turns everyone into objects to be exploited (as opposed, to get back to a central point of this and all my books, other beings with whom we can and should enter into relationships), it should not surprise us that these mind-altering substances are, too, turned into objects to be exploited.

None of this is the fault of these mind-altering substances.

I want to be clear that in saying all of this I am not attacking the ingestion of mind-altering substances. I am attacking the disrespectful and/or exploitative ingestion of mind-altering substances. And I am attempting to be clear that if we leave the tired Timothy Leary rhetoric aside, nearly all such ingestion within this culture is disrespectful, exploitative, and deeply harmful to social movements working to stop oppression. Put bluntly, within this culture the ingestion of mind- altering substances generally serves empire.