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January 04, 2009

An Untold American Success Story; Part 8

The last entry dealt more extensively with shamans than with the psychedelic agents that had excited their interest, thus I still have that deficiency to contend with. Along the way, I’ll probably be as likely as ever to take on obvious drug war absurdities whenever that opportunity arises. I should also note that the challenge of writing a summary of what I’ve learned from studying applicants for the (contested) right to use marijuana legally in California has enhanced my knowledge of several academic disciplines in ways I could not have imagined. In that connection, the very existence of the internet and the increasing power of Google to search it have been invaluable.

The last fifteen or so years have witnessed the beginning of a golden age of Information Technology, one in which more of the total knowledge accumulated by humans has been made more accessible to more people than ever. In many respects, a moderately fast modern computer and an internet connection now provide twenty four hour a day access to a library of unprecedented size; the down side is that an enormous amount of misinformation is included; thus one must also have some means of sorting out “truth” from that which is false. Thus we return to what has always been square one of cognition: what to believe?

In an earlier entry , I explained why I think that only in the past century or so (less than the metaphorical blink of an eye), have we accumulated enough evidence to place our faith in empirical science rather than ANY religious belief. In a very real sense, the information explosion we now find ourselves in gives our species the power to transform human society at a time when such a transformation was never more desperately needed. Whether that happens, and the speed at which it might occur, are both obviously unpredictable; but that need to change and its urgency have never been more obvious.

Another requirement, perhaps most critical of all, is that we abandon our futile search for an absolute system in which to believe. The connection between that need and drug policy should also obvious, but unfortunately, is not. Our brain, the organ that makes our species unique among life forms, is the only one capable of accumulating, storing, and retrieving information for later use. Over the past three centuries or so, the growing impact of those uniquely human abilities on our planetary habitat has been enhanced to a point where we are now literally able to threaten most planetary life with destruction; yet we remain as incapable of rational regulation of our own behavior as ever.

Rather than inflaming partisan emotions, the purpose of the last two links was to show how easily one can find evidence of intractable human conflicts and how easily they can escalate beyond rational compromise. I could just as easily have cited ongoing conflicts between Republicans and Democrats, Pakistan and India, North and South Korea, or any one one of several (violent) sectarian religious disputes. To state the obvious as succinctly as possible: irrational belief in the power of force to solve problems is itself a problem we need urgently to address. Thus do we need to change the way we think. Not only should we discard ALL religious absolutes, but we must also find an ability to sniff out new forms of religious thinking before they seduce millions of followers while, at the same time, remembering that reason can be only means of persuasion allowed.

To return to the question of why drug policy is important, ours is one of criminal prohibition that continues to insist that it's one of "control." It's based on the myth that it's a form of public health, yet it's a potent force for spreading AIDS and Hepatitis C. While we trumpet a need for the "rule of law," widespread police corruption by illegal drug markets has been just as obvious as the failure of alcohol prohibition in America, yet the two phenomena are rarely compared, except by known drug policy opponents.

Are we capable of change we can believe in? The hour is late.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at January 4, 2009 05:10 PM