Monday, 17 December 2012

Sunday Sermon: "Breaking The Taboo"

Hello Everything. Thank you for the dance of life. As we face the new week bless our lives, our work, our relationships, meditations and actions, that all things may work together for the good. May thy will be done. Amen.

Hello everyone. I haven't been much of a preacher lately and don't expect to be for a while as I'm simply not finding the time to do this kind of thinking and writing justice. But I do have something to say today which is of great importance to everything on Earth.

The world's major nations are currently conducting a war - not a metaphorical war but a real war - against three of God's life forms. It's an incredibly expensive yet ineffective war, a very destructive war and a war which is holding civilisation back in a variety of important ways. It's referred to officially as "The War on Drugs" and the life forms I refer to are Cannibis (a genus of three species actually), Papaver somniferum (better known as the opium poppy) and the four species of the South American family Erythroxylaceae, better known as the coca plant.

There are dozens of other species involved as well - funguses and flowers, leaves and roots. But cannabis, opium and coca are by far the main ones. I am also leaving out the constantly expanding range of laboratory contrived substances, which are mostly the result of criminal innovations to keep their markets supplied. That is, they basically produce laboratory alternatives to drugs which grow naturally. Crack is to the coca plant what moonshine overproof rum was to booze under prohibition, to parallel effect.

All of these species of course have been around for millions of years and share in the gloriously diverse ecological flowering with which our planet is so blessed. Our own species has been interacting closely with cannabis, opium and coca from a very early time as evidenced by their cultivation at, in their respective geographical areas, the very earliest times of human settlement. It is arguable from the evidence that cannabis was the very first species that humans cultivated, or at least among the very first complex of cultivated species. We might infer by this that hominid interaction with these species (coca aside, which is a New World crop) goes back a lot further than that, perhaps millions of years.

These species have some specific relevance here as they are variously suspected of playing a role in the development of early religious (basically shamanistic and ecstatic) life. Cannabis and opium are the two main candidates for early references to 'soma' in Eastern texts, and may have both played the role at different times. They may also be the basis of the myth of the Tree of Knowledge, and plenty have speculated as to the role of these psycho-actives on the development of human consciousness.

Such speculations might have some substance. We do know that humans are ritualistic, metaphorical dreamers, after all. But I can't help suspecting that the main role these drugs played in the thousands of years of human existence, in a world of violence (with other creatures if not each other), infection, hazardous childbirth and minimal dental care, was as a pain killer. They would have been very useful indeed, essential even.

References and evidences for human use and/or abuse of these plants abound throughout all of studied archaeology and throughout the history of world literature right up to modern times. Use  of these substances was considered normal by many of our favourite authors and most revered figures of history and thought. Up until the 1950s they were found in all manner of over-the-counter products. Strangely however, despite this saturation of the human experience there are no scriptural edicts against the use of these substances in any scriptural tradition I am aware of. If there are any somewhere, I would very much appreciate them being brought to my attention. No one, anywhere, until very recently, saw any moral problem with any of these plants.

Scripture has no shortage of moral statutes, including laws about very specific activities like which food to eat and how. The Koran denounces alcohol, and there are biblical recommendations for 'sobriety', generally seen to be referring to booze, which upon its invention must have appeared like an unnatural interloper into the human pharmacopeia, much as we might see laboratory produced drugs today. It's fair to suggest that the reason alcohol was targeted by ancient moralists, as contrary to other drugs, is that the latter were just too normalised and too essential to question. They required no technology to produce, everyone had constant, permanent access to them and they were mind-bogglingly useful. Alcohol, on the other hand, took special knowledge, was expensive to produce, was not available to all and hence potentially elitist, and meanwhile was likely contributive to violence and social mayhem as it is today.

So far I have ignored one particular elephant in the room. The substances humans derive from cannabis, opium and coca can, like alcohol, be very dangerous. They are habit forming, have variously possible medical side effects, can greatly reduce energy and motivation and at worst (opium and coca at least) can be overdosed on (though this would have been extremely difficult to do without modern processing techniques). People have very good reasons to be concerned about drug use and it is likely that throughout the big history this essay is covering drugs were a problem among a portion of the population, even if they were broadly seen as useful and necessary, or at least inevitable. What I am not trying to say is that good people who are concerned about drug use in society should stop being so concerned. The problem is real.

For these people; these people who want to keep the young away from drugs, reduce the levels of drug dependency in society and encourage people to appreciate the greater fullness and capacity of a life without drugs, the first thing that needs to be done is stop the War on Drugs. For the War on Drugs, like alcohol prohibition in America when it had its turn, must actually take responsibility for much of the problem. Another famous example is China, where in 1729 opium was banned. Under prohibition opium consumption and the opium trade blossomed exponentially, with the British East India Company playing the role of our modern drug cartels, leading to the Opium Wars from 1839-1860. In all cases, as is well argued in the documentary, "the situation (of drug proliferation) has not caused the War, the War has created the situation."

This is not a marginal issue. In terms of importance for the overall human project, ending the Drug War is high on the list of global priorities. The human, social and economic costs are stupendous. There are tens of thousands of casualties annually (I'm just talking about the violence here), ecological areas devastated from aerial poisoning, millions of people who could be easily helped incarcerated and criminalised instead, and the ongoing beneficiaries are criminals, extremists and the corrupt among police and bureaucrats. Unlike other critical issues however such as the education of the world's women or the long-term management of the biosphere, this is a great improvement in the economy and society of the world which can be made now, with no overall cost, and actually an economic dividend to boot. Ending the War on Drugs is all win.

The War has not merely failed but produced an enormous global drug market. A lot of qualified people have been saying this for a long time. In a recent documentary funded by Richard Branson and including a number of high profile people including world leaders, these facts are laid bare. Bill Clinton, an ex-drug warrior himself, says frankly, with not a little guilt on his face, "If you try to solve the problem with more policing a lot of people will die and the problem won't be solved." The theme, indeed, is ex leaders speaking out, which points to the problem of political will. Jimmy Carter is also featured, and we can put money down that after his presidency Obama will also talk about how the Drug War is lost. We actually need current leaders facing the facts.

It is not my intention to outline all these facts here, and I don't want anyone to change their minds because they read this essay. I do encourage people to watch this documentary, do their own research and to consider this issue very carefully. When you do see the facts, as so many people have, share the documentary and, in its own terms, break the taboo.

For The House of Every is breaking the Taboo. It is time to end the War on Drugs and start approaching the problem of drugs with empathy and compassion, with a view to helping people, rather than an approach of judgement and condemnation, with a view to the state incarcerating all the sinners. Religion must accept a large dose of the blame for maintaining the moralistic political environment which has, despite all growing evidence of its failure, maintained the war. So any religion which is more interested in helping others than condemning them should also, in my view, break this taboo.

Here is the full documentary, narrated by Morgan Freeman. It is about an hour long so you'll want some time to watch it.

But that isn't a song, and we still need a song. Let's see...

Everything, my complaint to you is that you have not given me the infinitude of time in which to get to know you as well as I would like. Nevertheless, thank you for every moment. Bless my readers with open, clear hearts and minds, that they may consider the issues I raise carefully for themselves and come to the correct conclusions, for the overall furtherance of your will. So be it.

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