or, the hippies were right, but too soon.
Scroll down to the Epilog (last page) if you want the tl;dr summary. But there are some good bits in the rest.
Personal safety experts say that in a crisis one should never run away from danger, but run towards safety. Far too much of the energy going into trying to stabilize our living conditions goes into fighting against things, and far too little goes into creation.
Capitalism creates. Its creative power is immense, all the houses and buildings and cars and food and money and what you want, Capitalism creates. Along the way it destroys, but we value what it creates, we love what it creates, we worship what it creates, and so we permit it to exist.
The alternatives to capitalism do not create, because they are not allowed to. Ask anybody the biggest hurdles in building a green house or a green car, and the answer is the same: bureaucratic regulatory hurdles. In the UK it’s two major forces: green belt legislation which makes buildable land ten times as expensive as farmland, and building regulations which require (more or less) big square boxes two or three times the size we can actually afford. To live sustainably is, generally speaking, a crime.
You can see it again in transportation policy. In a bicycle world, the paperwork required to get a car on the road (“you could kill a person with that thing!”) would be a nightmare. And, yes, you can put a bicycle on the road legally, but you can’t get road away from cars. We could have put bicycles on sidewalks with a risk of bike-person collisions (bruises), but instead we put them on road, with the risk of car-bike collisions (death.)
The regulatory frameworks prevent and punish individual and community action towards genuine sustainability.
Bad laws come from bad myths too.
So I want to talk about the worst laws we have: drug and sex laws.
Generally speaking, drug laws come from the State, and sex laws come from the Church. Both are evil and, increasingly, a source of unnecessary constraints.
First, some history. I’m a member of an ancient nepalese Hindu sect called the Nath Sampradaya. It’s a siddha sect, renown for its tantra and alchemy. Tantra and alchemy = sex and drugs.
You can dress that up as much as you like, but that’s what it boils down to at the most basic level. There’s mythology around “mercury pills” and “nectars of immortality” and there’s the practical lived reality of “drink this potion, kid, it’s good for you.”
The old term for Yogis is “those who have drunk the soma and know.”
I had massive post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from having two mentally ill parents. In my early 20s, I discovered what psychologists had known since the 1970s: MDMA (ecstasy) treats PTSD. So I did a lot of ecstasy. That, plus meditation, plus therapy, put me back on my feet with a trauma load that should have left me a vegetable on anti-psychotic meds. Then I met my guru, who’d eaten her own weight in LSD during the 1960s, then gone to India and got enlightened. I asked her “what do I do about drugs?” and ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.
So, for me, both my mental health and my spirituality have always been intimately tied up with doing what is against The Law. Fortunately, as my consciousness stabilized on both axis in my late 20s and early 30s, I got into a position where drugs were becoming less important, less fun, and my use tailed off (I think I’ve tripped about three times in the last five years) the simple truth remains: if you like the work, if you like the clarity, if you like the fact I’m out there in the territory battering my head against the hardest problems we have as a species, you owe a debt to Ms. MDMA and Mr. LSD, who are better parents than my real ones were. Drugs are the tools that I used to raise myself.
Yes, there was a lot of meditation, a lot of tai-chi, a lot of initiation, a lot of damn hard work on behalf of a lot of people who helped me survive and helped keep me straight, but the flat-out truth is that the Israeli army is feeding it’s traumatized combat troops MDMA, but if you’ve been shot at or raped or had half your family die, a doctor can’t prescribe it. Even though it works. If you want to survive, you break the law, endangering your entire supply chain, and hope that outside of a clinical environment, the alchemical potion cures you rather than kills you.
This is what we’re putting people with PTSD through because kids like dancing.
Portugal decriminalized possession of personal-use quantities of all drugs about ten years ago. So far, both use and social harm are down. I still feel bad for people risking their liberty to make these things available to people, but the argument about drug decriminalization has to be held in the light of Portugal’s experience. They did it. It was not a disaster, it was good.
You want to save some money in the UK? I’ve an idea: Portugal-model decriminalization and release of the prisoners held on possession and small-scale dealing charges. I haven’t run the numbers, but I suspect it’s a substantial saving.
Now let us return to deep ecology again for a moment. The environmental footprint of about all the mushrooms an average community could handle is approximately nothing. Some cowpats on a field, or a few fishtanks with boiled barley. This is not fundamentally hard. Chemicals like MDMA and LSD require lab synthesis, but LSD particularly has so much bang for the buck (ten kilos a year would supply the entire world) there’s negligible environmental footprint.
Friends, romans, countrymen: how much better would your life be if you could legally get high any time you wanted?
How much better would your life be if we could build pleasure-and-safety infrastructure around drugs? Proper MDMA therapy centers. LSD temples. Skilled professional trip-guides who know the territory and how to help people get the best from their psychedelic experience.
What, you say, of the casualties? Those with allergies or latent psychological problems? To this there are two answers: firstly, we already have casualties because people are still taking drugs. Decriminalization in the Portugal model reduces use, likely reducing casualties. And we could build effective support infrastructure to detect problems early, dissuade use by likely casualties, and help pick up the pieces again. This is to say nothing of the horrific death tolls from alcohol and particularly tobacco. Secondly, we perform this cost-benefit analysis with cars, space travel, and all other technologies. In the UK, particularly, the flat rejection of evidence-based drug policy tells you all you need to know about the political case to be made for drugs: “we don’t like it, and we’re not going to talk about it or learn about it or anything.” The upsides, just in management of PTSD, need to be clearly examined alongside the downsides if a clear decision is to be made.
For me, drugs were matters of personal survival when I had PTSD, and now they are matters of religious freedom. One of the reasons I can’t teach effectively in a western context is because much of what I have to say would be illegal. You just can’t tell young people who want enlightenment to do a couple of years of meditation, then a graduated course of MDMA and LSD. Tim Leary tried it; did not go so well.
Consider then the calculus in an age of austerity. We can’t afford prison. We can’t afford great careers for most. We can’t afford university for many who would previously have had it. We have nothing to offer young people to believe in, because our societies are ethically bankrupt having destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan on the basis of a pack of lies told after 9/11 by the Project for a New American Century and their friends about the origins of the attacks with the State governments of Afghanistan and Iraq. Or was it weapons of mass destruction? Or the war on facial hair?
If you want to see young people’s lives filled with hope and meaning, return to the values of the sixties. Let them get high, let them dance under the light of the moon with police protection not police harassment, and let them find their own inner meaning. When your culture does not have progress as an option, hedonism (or, indeed, headonism) is not such a bad alternative, given that it is green, clean, generally good for people in intelligent moderation, happening in bad ways already, and if you would like to know what young people think of this option?
Gupta, are you really suggesting we meet our cultural crisis by decriminalizing drugs, encouraging youth hedonism, and acting as if life was supposed to be fun?
We have nothing else to offer these kids. Maybe we should consider taking the boot off their neck.
Yes, yes I am. Because minimum wage jobs, dole, and self-education by internet because you can’t afford university are a lot more fun if you can get high with your friends at the weekends, watch Carl Sagan videos on Youtube, and really learn how your bodymind works free of all cultural conditioning.
And now to sex.
We live in a profoundly sex-negative culture. If you want to understand how sex-negative, try talking about a really, really great sexual experience you had to somebody. I was not always a fat middle-aged man, once upon a time I was a youthful tantric adept, hammering my way through the practices with some extremely suitable partners. I took sex even more seriously than I took drugs, and to-this-day people I sleep with are astonished because I do what I want in bed, and expect others to do the same.
I was never polyamerous – my sect is pretty clear that if you’re a householder, the correct approach is to have a single partner for life, and I’ve always hoped to achieve that. There’s more than one social norm that goes with tantra. But I was consciously sexual and I want you to think about the reaction those words cause.
We live in a culture where the average youthful experience (or at least idea about) sex involves drinking to the point of near blackout, seizing some suitable opportunity, and then screwing. There is an entire cultural concept around awkward early-morning escapes from unsuitable partners, waking up alone, and so on. This stuff is not conscious sexuality: it’s blattering the superego flat so that the id can have some fun.
Id, by the way, is German for “It.” The not-self. The thing in the pants. The thing which is Not Me because, well, Dr. Freud, you’re an asshole.
It is you, you just don’t understand it properly.
So most of our values about sex come from four interlocking factors.
Firstly, we evolved. We evolved in a pre-birth control, teenage-mothers, no-STD-treatment environment. Consequently we are innately wired to consider sex as a high-importance activity, something with very large, very real consequences. Technology has made sex lower-risk than it was, and so there’s some mismatch between our thinking and our instincts.
Secondly, The Church literally demonized sexuality for ages. And this happens in a lot of different religions, cultures and times. It’s not unique to Catholicism, but it was done in a particularly savage way. Lilith and Pan were the only available sexual archetypes, Adam and Eve commonly being assumed to be thrown out of the garden for fucking even though there was precious little else to do there. To see the damage this does, you need only look at the self-hatred of some gay men, or the Bad Girl archetype, which equates hotness with emotional misery. These are echos: rejections of a part of the self which culture, parenting or society rejects, consciously or unconsciously. This is trauma, and unsurprisingly, under good conditions, drugs can help resolve it.
Thirdly, we are doing a lousy job finding people to spend time with children, because the economy demands too much from parents. The sense of children as a burden pervades many women’s relationship experience – the need to find a man who can shoulder the burden of having a child. They have become expensive, they are no longer assets, men no longer want a brace of strong sons to till the land in their old age, generally speaking. This has changed the basic negotiating positions between the genders in horrific ways.
Finally, it’s a minefield having seriously consciousness-altering sex in this culture at this time. Most of the people doing serious tantric practice have awful encounters with the deep-rooted psychological blocks bred into us in this culture, and as a result, there’s a strong disincentive to open up sexuality fully. The kind of sex which changes one’s priorities in life is typically accompanied by psychological overheads which make one wonder if one was crazy to start.
Imagine if we had a Sex Council in much the same way we had an Arts Council. Imagine if our culture considered sex to be a critical cornerstone of human happiness, and encouraged people to enjoy it. Imagine if, my god, we accepted that people have sex, that people enjoy sex, that sex is weird, that it’s fundamental to most people’s identities, and that we can enjoy it with more safety and more freedom from negative outcomes than almost any culture before us. Imagine if the ratio of sex to violence on TV was closer to the ratio of sex to violence on the internet.
We could be in the middle of a conscious sexual revolution, an expansion of possibilities every bit as exciting as what is happening in technology, rather than breeding a culture of thuggish and predatory young men, and blind-drunk women dancing around their handbags waiting to be carried off by prince charming.
America is at roughly 8 planets of consumption – if everybody lived like that, we’d need eight planets.
Europe is at roughly 4 planets of consumption.
One area of legal enforcement: drugs.
One area of social enforcement: sex.
Environmental footprint: next to nothing.
Difference in human well-being: huge.
We are at a point where we cannot afford to ignore what makes people happy. Many of the things which make people happy are intensely expensive and difficult to arrange: first class free education and health care for all, for example.
But we could stop wasting money criminalizing drug use. We could start consciously accepting how primary sexuality is to the human experience.
And these things would harm very few, greatly benefit billions, and save government money.
Toxic culture, toxic law.
US teens marked permanently as sex offenders for sending pictures of their boobs to their boyfriends.
People with Multiple Sclerosis doing jail time for medical marijuana.
Construction of small, green, off-the-grid homes is either simply illegal or carries a hundred thousand pounds of planning and zoning overheads.
Shared infrastructure (roads) is heavily prioritized for cars, and you can’t even redesign the car to be light, cheap and efficient without tens of millions in regulatory compliance fees.
It’s not impossible to do this.
500 years of sex and drugs
We took a wrong turn in history. I don’t know where. I have my suspicions. Developing massively destructive technology without a planetary philosophy of peace just can’t go well.
To get people down to one planet living, we have to give something back to replace the failing, poisonous pleasures of consumerism.
Sex and drugs fit the bill to a T. Economically and environmentally affordable, resources currently wasted in their suppression, and universally or very nearly universally important to people, if you choose to count caffeine, alcohol or tobacco.
If you think about it, this is all perfectly obvious. But the conditioning against this perspective – a hedonic perspective, as Tim Leary would have called it – makes a perfectly reasonable stance sound absurd.
And that, when you get right down to it, is what’s killing the planet and fucking up the world. The perfectly reasonable steps required to sort this mess out, be it degrowth, regulation of dangerous technologies, massive investment in efficient resource use, permitting people to do what makes them happy, growing food in reasonable, rational ways and so on… All these things are unspeakable in the public sphere, as serious policy proposals, because of a dominant ideology who’s crucible was Europe in the collision between faith and reason a few centuries ago.
It might take 500 years of living right to fix it. We should start immediately.
The hippies were right, about nearly everything.
We know how to fix most of what’s wrong with village life at a public health level: the Big Five will do it.
* stop smoking
* biosand water filter or better for drinking water
* rocket stove or better for smokeless cooking
* sulabh toilet or better for sanitation
* improved agriculture like One Acre Farm
Ivette Perfecto’s work on total global organic food yield (80% more than we have now) makes it clear we can feed the world sustainably. Birth rates drop as soon as infant mortality drops, so implementing these measures will sort out population growth.
For the rich west to step down to a sustainable level of consumption is going to require unthinkable changes in culture and society. Decriminalizing drugs and accepting that people have sex, and that this is a Good Thing are simple, cheap ways of making life more fulfilling in an age when material stuff could get a lot scarcer.
We could meet the Developing World in the middle as we come down from the oil high, and they come up from colonialism.
What’s stopping this is massively negative and stupid irrationally ingrained beliefs in our culture. Normally I think that talking about those belief systems is a waste of time, and frequently dangerous to boot, but today I woke up with a mind to speak my mind, and have.
We owe it to each-other, and to the planet, to fix drug policy and to end the hypocrisy around sex. There are few free lunches in our predicament, but this is one.
This is not a belief I hold in a shallow way, this is my lived experience in my 20s and early 30s. I’m heading for 40 now, and beginning to codify and solidify my work, and it was time to come clean about this, and fit in one more piece of the puzzle.
Human life is good, but much of what is best about human life is suppressed in our cultures. We can change that and the financial crash is an ideal time to do the hard renegotiating around sex and drugs which has to be done if the young are not to be crushed flat by the old for one more economic cycle.
There. I’ve said it.
Over to you.