‘Everybody Must Get Stoned.’ So wrote the 2016 Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature, Mr Robert Zimmerman (professional name: Bob Dylan). It would be more accurate to say that since time immemorial mankind has been seeking intoxication.
In 1956, another man of letters, Aldous Huxley, wrote: ‘All the naturally occurring sedatives, narcotics, euphorics, hallucinogens and excitants were discovered thousands of years ago, before the dawn of civilization. This surely is one of the strangest facts in that long catalogue of improbabilities known as human history. It is evident that primitive man experimented with every root, twig, leaf and flower, every seed, nut, berry and fungus in his environment. Pharmacology is older than agriculture.… The presence of poppy heads in the kitchen middens of Swiss Lake Dwellers shows how early in his history man discovered the techniques of self-transcendence through drugs. … There were dope addicts long before there were farmers.’
The ANC’s Covid-19 lockdown has been cruel and stupid, causing the deaths of many poor black people. But the rawest emotions have not been over their plight but over the ban on cigarettes and alcohol. I have never smoked (thank goodness) but I do drink, and so am part of the ancient quest for intoxication, and probably addicted to alcohol. Friends addicted to nicotine are suffering.
The government’s ban on cigarettes and alcohol during Covid-19 is illogical. It is true that both cause great harm and loss of life. But so do sugar and motor vehicles. Sugar causes obesity and diabetes, the number-one killer of South African women – a far bigger killer than cigarette smoking. So why not ban all sugar, chocolates, cakes and soft drinks, and prohibit fat politicians from entering government? The trouble is these measures would probably cause more harm than the sugar. If we banned all motor vehicles, thousands of lives would be saved from road accidents but the costs to the economy and subsequent loss of life would be enormously higher. Similarly, there have been enormous costs from the banning of cigarettes and alcohol.
Gangsters who don’t pay tax
The ban on cigarettes hasn’t stopped most addicts from smoking but simply forced them to change to more expensive and worse cigarettes distributed by gangsters who don’t pay tax. There isn’t even a very good argument on health grounds in the instance of Covid-19. The statistics of death suggest that cigarette smokers get some protection from the disease. See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/04/23/smokers-four-times-less-likely-contract-covid-19-prompting-nicotine/ Maybe something in the smoke suppresses the immune system and stops it getting dangerously over-excited from the virus.
What about the more profound problem that people down the ages and all over the world want to get high?
They find the sober world boring or frightening or lonely or meaningless and want to escape from it into a (temporarily) happier, more meaningful, more interesting, friendlier world by putting certain chemicals into their brains.
How should civilisation deal with recreational drugs and booze?
Prohibition in the US was a disaster, doing nothing to prevent alcohol consumption but elevating the Mafia to a central position in American life, which it has never since lost. Countries that do ban alcohol, such as Saudi Arabia, do not fill one with confidence. The personal lives of famous teetotallers and non-smokers do not provide much encouragement either. Hitler is an example. If some religions, such as Islam, ban drugs, others encourage them, and their holy men use them to transcend this earthly ground to a higher spiritual realm, where visions are revealed to them.
What’s to be done?
Usually, it must be said that the wit and wisdom of those under the influence of drugs or alcohol are more apparent to themselves than to people observing them. However, some poets and song writers claim drug-induced inspiration. What’s to be done?
Nobody knows. Nobody ever has. Surely it is hypocritical to ban heroin and cocaine while legalising alcohol, which does far more damage? My feeling is that all recreational drugs should be legalised but heavily regulated. This would immediately end the problem of drugs and crime, even if it would not solve the problem of drugs and health. I’d like to ban all advertising of drugs, cigarettes and alcohol but I’d start mumbling if someone said, ‘You mean you’d stop all advertising, here and abroad, of South African wines?’
The fact that humans have been getting stoned for thousands of years is no reason why getting stoned should be legal. Humans have also been murdering each other for thousands of years, but nobody suggests that murder should be legalised. (Killing people in war is not classified as murder.) Nor is drug taking always a ‘victimless crime’; the alcoholic or drug addict often harms other people. On the other hand, booze is central to the pleasures, refinements and social fabric of Western civilisation, and other civilisations.
I’ve got no grand solution. Lift the ridiculous and damaging ban on cigarettes and booze, legalise dagga sensibly, and maybe other drugs too, as carefully as possible, with rational regulation. A bit feeble, I know, but I can’t think of anything better.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR