Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Author: Peter McKnight, Vancouver Sun
Published: Monday, June 02, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Vancouver Sun
Contact: [email protected]
The holy war is upon us, but don't go looking for the men with the black beards. This jihad is entirely domestic, a homegrown product of hysteria and heresy that's far more menacing than a motley mob of misguided Muslims.
Okay, a little less alliteration, I promise. The holy war I'm talking about is, of course, the war on drugs, which is now heating up thanks to the federal government's marijuana bill.
Though the bill is astonishingly innocuous -- it would merely decriminalize, rather than legalize, possession of less than 15 grams of ganja -- it has nevertheless provoked outrage on both sides of the border.
United States drug czar John Walters warned that decriminalization could lead to snarls at the border, and Canadians opposed to the liberalization of drug laws have trotted out the usual litany of scary scenarios lifted directly from the script of Reefer Madness.
The gloom and doom prophecies fly in the face of all available evidence: One-third of North Americans have tried marijuana, and few have experienced any problems. And on a societal level, potent pot has caused much less strife than potent potables.
The apocalyptic talk surrounding the pot bill is all the more curious given that our culture is not, contrary to popular belief, against drugs.
We live in the most pro-drug culture in history.
Have a problem with that beer belly? Pop a pill for that pot. Find you can't relax? Take a downer, man. Feeling a little down? Down some Prozac, or some Viagra, depending on what it is you're trying to get up.
Our love affair with chemicals reveals that the war on drugs isn't really about drugs at all.
Instead, the war is waged because recreational drugs have become a metaphor for moral corruption, a kind of secular sin in a culture that has largely left religion behind.
But why should recreational drugs be singled out for such ignominy in our pharmaceutical-friendly culture? The answer is simple: Unlike prescription drugs, which are taken for ostensibly therapeutic purposes, recreational drugs are used for no other purpose than to induce pleasure in the user.
And the seeking of sensual pleasure was always a great sin in theocratic cultures.
When religion reigned, non-procreative sex occupied the position now held by recreational drugs. Sex is a good thing, the Roman Catholic Church assured its flock, but only if it ultimately leads to children. Preventing reproduction through contraception amounts to using sex for sensual pleasure, a most devilish business.
The Puritans took that one step further and condemned anything that appealed to the senses. Hence they became iconoclasts -- destroyers of religions icons -- because icons excited the aesthetic sense and could therefore produce sensual pleasure.
Though Christianity ramped up the war on sensual pleasure, the birth of the war goes back to the birth of Western thought.
The ancient Greeks were no strangers to sensual delights, but Plato thought of purely physical love as rather base. Plato admonished his students to seek a much higher, spiritual and intellectual love -- Platonic love -- not corrupted by the senses.
And even Plato was beaten to the punch by the Indians and Chinese, whose Hinduism and Buddhism encouraged followers to transcend sensual pleasures to attain higher states of being.
While our culture prides itself on having long ago cast off the yoke of "primitive" religious restrictions, the historically ingrained cultural instinct to prohibit sensual pleasure survives.
That instinct is strongly evident in the hostile reaction to any attempts to liberalize marijuana laws. Marijuana use represents the clearest modern example of seeking pleasure for pleasure's sake -- mere hedonism -- and we certainly can't have any of that.
And since the war on pot is just one more battle in the continuing war on pleasure, it is also a holy war, a jihad on joints.
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