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November 02, 2005

Connecting the Dots, Part 1

In the most recent entry, I said our species "may have arrived at a critical watershed in its tenure on planet Earth;" however, I didn't specify either the basis for that alarmist statement or just what the specific danger might be. Since I also promised to connect the dots between a four year study of pot users and its most controversial implications, perhaps the best way to begin would be by specifying what I think our biggest problem is and explaining how it's reflected in contemporary American attitudes toward cannabis.

Our species' biggest existential threat- largely self-created, and yet peculiarly beyond discussion- is the accelerating growth in our own numbers. Human population, which peaked at just over six billion near the end of the Twentieth Century, may already be beyond our ability to either sustain or control. This is a vexing problem; one which is at the same time both simple and complex. From the time of Malthus, concern about human overpopulation has periodically evoked sparks of interest which then typically receded after one or another technologic advance seemed to 'solve' the problem.

A good example is the original Malthusian alarm over the possibility that humans could outgrow their ability to feed themselves. Although death from starvation has continued to plague some parts of the planet, it has become almost axiomatic that starvation is never a result of inadequate food production, but rather of its inadequate distribution, usually for political reasons. It's also true that mass starvation is almost inevitably associated with greed, war, and poverty.

Meanwhile, as one limitation of the planet's carrying capacity after another were apparently 'solved' by technology throughout the last century, the number of humans living on earth has continued to grow. Fears of inadequate food production were replaced by fears over energy supplies. Those fears, in turn were allayed by discovery of new oil reserves, supplies of natural gas, and the promise offered by 'renewable' energy in the form of wind, direct solar energy and even ocean tides.

As oil and food distribution fears were allayed by bigger tankers, automated ports, and container ships, other vexing problems of the unequal distribution and consumption of wealth and resources were seen as eventually soluble by 'development.' A breakthrough of sorts occurred when the Cold War ended without nuclear winter in 1989 and it was widely assumed that more developed nations, acting through the UN, could eventually lead to a more peaceful and stable world. Those hopes were soon dashed by a bewildering array of seemingly intractable regional conflicts rooted in an amalgam of racial, tribal, or religious differences. When such local wars became large enough- and especially if they impacted the economies of 'developed' nations- some sort of intervention would occur and a 'peacekeeping' force would be left behind. In more densely populated and poorer parts of the globe- especially those with less direct impact on Western economies- such 'solutions' were slower, less enthusiastic, and usually attended by enormous mass suffering which typically evoked relatively little interest from Western media.

Towards the end of the century, new fears that the planet's ever-increasing use of energy could provoke or accelerate changes in climate were scoffed at as 'unproven;' even as global temperatures (measured reliably and consistently for less than two centuries) began to rise and regional weather patterns became more extreme.

As if that weren't enough, what had been considered a regional conflict in the Middle East was shockingly escalated by an attack so dramatic and successful that it has cast a huge shadow over the world ever since and now seems to be widening into a wholly unfamiliar pattern of World War in which loosely affiliated networks take out their resentments on the developed world by indiscriminate terrorist attacks.

Clearly; if such a scenario doesn't convince us that our emotions play a dominant role in our decision making, perhaps nothing will. At least, not in time to recognize the threat those emotions pose to our survival.

The tie-in to cannabis- and our nation's doggedly unsuccessful attempts to control its use- is that it's perhaps the one psychotropic agent offering the most expeditious approach to a rational understanding of how our emotions interact with our cognition- and why those who see their primary role as 'control' of the behavior of others are so firmly and uniformly in denial of that reality.

In other words, the inability of world 'leaders' to get beyond their ideological bias against "drugs" may both illustrate, and also play a role, in their manifest inability to deal realistically with the growing threats posed by overpopulation, turbulent human behavior and unruly weather.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at November 2, 2005 06:31 AM