Re: Drugs - what makes them do it?

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Tue Jan 11 2000 - 10:20:54 MST

"J. R. Molloy" <> writes:

> >>From Wired News:
> >he said. "They are achievers, employed, and with
> >disposable income. What makes them do it?" If Britain's drug
> >czar can't answer that question, then who can?
> Their longing to transcend existential angst makes them do it.
> >Drug users are achievers, employed, and have disposable
> >incomes... then why the war against drugs?
> >BM
> Drug use threatens the ruling class, which itself remains immured in
> existential angst.

These are the common responses I tend to hear to explain the WOD from
the non-party line point of view, but I don't buy them much. If
longing to transcend existential angst makes people take drugs, why do
they not start to meditate? If drug use threatens the ruling class,
shouldn't we see a war on printing/internet too? (not just a dislike
for "yellow press" or moral panics about child porn but a serious
concerted attempt to get rid of the evil stuff). If the ruling class
was so upset about people finding ways out of existential angst, why
are they not cracking down on religions and comedy?

I think we need to think a bit more carefully about the problem than
spouting what is essentially the "non-conformist party line" (the
above claims can be found practically verbatim in the writings of RAW,
Leary et al). After all, as transhumanists we need good arguments
ourselves as well as an understanding of why people act the way they

Existential angst is really just the idea that ordinary life has a
negative emotional valence - which doesn't seem to hold true in
general. People have a large variability in emotional states and
personalities. I actually laughed aloud when I read Sartre, and he
claimed that people who did not feel existential angst actually were
repressing it. My personal theory is that much of existentialism was
founded by people who would have benefited from prozac :-)

A more likely set of reasons for people taking drugs is a combination
of pleasure- or novelty-seeking, peer pressure, cultural conditioning
as well as (conscious or unconscious) self-medication. Then what
happens of course dependens on the interaction of the drug, person and
environment, the outcomes can be quite variable.

Now, the attempt to suppress drugs is an interesting social
phenomenon. I have no doubt that there are people much more in the
know about the history of drug legality worldwide, but overall it
seems that banning drugs as substances of abuse was something that
occured relatively recently, in the 30's and 40's if I don't
minsremember. Of course alcohol has a longer legal history but may
fall under other sociopolitical forces, as did opium during the opium
war (where banning it was very much a statement about foreign

What was the reasons for the bans? I think (here the historians might
help) that concerns about public health was the major official
reason. Before this time, public health was a problem that was too
hard to deal with, but at this time it appeared more and more possible
that it could be fixed by a benevolent state and hence that it should
be fixed; hence the anti-drug stance previously taken mainly by
smaller organisations could now be implemented nationwide.

But why regard it as a public health problem? Part of an answer might
very well be that it is a public health problem or at least looks like
one. But a deeper reason would be the anti-hedonic streak we find in
western culture; this in turn seems to date back to the emergence of
Christianity with some memes from the Romans, Greeks and other
groups. However, the history of *that* is beyond my skills as an
amateur archeologist :-) To backtrace a bit, puritanism certainly
played an important role here. The idea of keeping pure, the idea of
having healthy citizens to act as cogs in the national machine. Note
that this has nothing to do with *controlling* them (that was the duty
of other aspects of the emerging etatist worldview, such as public
schooling instilling "democratic values" or whatever the local system
called its basic memes). You don't need to assume that keeping people
away from drugs makes them easier to control (I would say the opposite
seems almost to be true) to see that from a puritanical etatist
mindset drugs would be bad - the people should find their happiness in
God/working for the common good rather than drugs, and if they do
drugs they might no longer be the good citizens the state needs.

Then we have the self-supporting dialectics of the WOD, which I guess
everybody understands quite well by now. It is roughly the same
phenomenon as the war against doping in sport or the politics of
eastern block: one cannot deviate one inch from the partyline (or you
are viewed as a traitor or weak point), and if an approach doesn't
work, it was because one didn't try hard enough. Finding alternatives
would undermine the legitimacy of the current approach, which becomes
more and more entrenched as various institutions, careers and
structures are built on and for it. The nice thing about this kind of
development is that it tends to break down due to its own weight
sooner or later. The bad thing is that it tends to hurt a lot of
people when it does.

Of course, this won't satisfy the paranoids among us :-) They now know
I'm really an agent of THEM, trying to keep the doors of perception

Hmm, got a bit longer than I intended. My flu seems still to affect my
writing inhibitions, making them somewhat erratic (I answer some
posts, but maybe not the ones I ought to answer). Interesting. Worth
doing a study on...

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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