Its occurred to me recently that being a 29 year old in the year 2008 is very different from being in your 50’s or 60’s. Where one had the cold war, television, Vietnam and LSD we have the Global War on Terror, the Internet, Iraq and MDMA. The world is both very much the same, and very different all at once. I’ve tried to speak to my parents from time to time about things like Vietnam or the civil rights movement to try and get a grasp on how we got here, but I haven’t been all that helpful in helping them understand the world as my generation sees it.
They’ve done their part by accepting my invitation to come to Burning Man, visiting me in Australia and coming to the underground speakeasy The Pound here in Montreal. Its time I did my part of showing them what life is like for generation X/Y.
Mom, Dad, this is for you.
I’m not really sure where to start so I’ll start with the taboo. Illegal narcotics. Its a good place to start because it also touches on a lot of other things that have shaped us, like politics and the Internet.
We grew up in the eighties when Ronald and Nancy Regan sat on a sofa in the White House living room and very ernestly told us that drugs, all drugs were bad, evil, the path to ruin. All this while CIA sponsored cocain smuggling financed secret US military actions in South America – not that we knew that as kids. When you went to 7-Eleven to buy a slurpee the violent video game machine kept flashing “Just Say No” with a big American flag after displaying the high scores. Teachers told us to stay away and we heard incredible horror stories about what could happen if you did drugs.
And then we did them anyways. Why? Because back in the 60’s all of you did, and it looked like you had a really good time. Guess what we discovered? We discovered that for the most part drugs like marijuana were harmless fun, at times inspirational and revelatory. They also didn’t seem to lead to heroin or cocane use, except for a handful of people, yet even amongst that sub group many didn’t end up embroiled in violent gangs or any of the other terrible things that were supposedly in store for us.
Now not all of us use drugs, and not all of us use them to the same extent. Its a big complicated field. Its worth noting that drugs these days are a lot more sophisticated then they were back in the 60’s. Genetic engineering, basement chemical labs and hydropnics are pumping out things that make your drugs look like Colonel Sanders special herbs and spices.
Fortunately about the time I started getting into psychedelics was also about the same time that the Internet was beginning its rise into popular culture. If I wanted to know what a drug did, how to use it, side effects, legalities and piles of other information all I needed to do was go to a site like Vaults of Erowid and it was all there. Plain, honest facts.
I think the War on Drugs, which we all know is a sham was one of the key pieces in destroying the credibility of leaders and institutions in the eyes of my generation. It certainly was for me. For years being told that these things were bad, and then discovering that really drugs could be a lot of fun – and at times downright transcendental – well if they lied about that, what else were they lying about?
I first tried marijuana in Thailand – and it didn’t blow my mind. I did it again when I got back to Canada and started to enjoy it. At first I smoked whenever it was available – the economics of scarcity taking hold in my mind. “Enjoy it while it lasts.” Then I realised at some point that this underground economy was just as organized and stable as any over the table product and that’s what it became. We don’t worry about pot. We don’t think twice about it. Here in Montreal people smoke right out on the street. The law is a sham, which doesn’t speak well for the law.
Also on the list of things I’ve tried are magic mushrooms, speed (never again), LSD, salvia and MDMA. The last two are worth some discussion since their widespread use is a bit more recent.
Salvia is one of those old shamanic drugs that’s found its way back to us technofreaks who left the jungle behind long ago. Its prophetic, transcendental and certainly not fun and games. If God was going to give me tablets I think he’d do it in a salvia trip. Most people try it, don’t like it and run crying for mamma. I did it a couple of times, watched reality and ego deconstruct themselves and came back to reality shaken. I’ll do it again, but its not a ride for the feint of heart.
Now for MDMA or ecstacy. Well shit, here’s a drug that’s gotten a lot of undeserved bad press. Now admittedly its still new enough that we don’t know about potential long term effects, but in the past couple of decades that its been popular not much bad has happened. In fact medical studies saying that it could be harmful have been rigourously debunked by peer review. Yet again the government has tried to control something and in the process alienated A LOT of people.
What does ecstasy do? Plain and simple it vapourizes social tension and paranoia. Masks and personas just melt away. People become incredibly honest and are willing to display and discuss their inner most selves. Its pretty clear why there was a lot of excitement in the theraputic community when it first appeared, but then it became a party drug and… well.
So there is an entire subculture of people, dancing, hugging, talking about life and being nice to each other, and its all illegal. Weird.
I think you’d be hard pressed to find people in my generation who believe that drugs should be illegal. Regulated sure, but illegal? Its preposterous. Yes there are people who take it too far and hurt themselves or others, but its a lot easier to deal with these things out in the open then under an air of secrecy. Information is the key, not prohibition. We’ve been thrusting chemicals into our brains for millennia – we’re not going to stop because some guy in a suit in TV tells us to.
Speaking of which;
Up next – government and politics – why we don’t appear to care.