- The return of European intellectual life Perry Anderson, LRB
- The age of dreampolitix in America Ross Douthat, NY Times
- Psychedelics versus modern philosophy Bill Rein, NOL
- Does libertarianism favor labor? Arnold Kling, EconLog
- California’s fires (no mention of “property rights”) Claire McEachern, LARB
- Nationalism is not always the enemy of liberalism Asle Toje, American Interest
- Universal Love, said the Cactus Person Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex
- Great list of recent low budget sci-fi flicks Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex
Psychedelics versus modern philosophy
Anyone who studies philosophy has run into the assumption that psychoactive drugs and philosophy go hand-in-hand. Really, after analytic and continental, and whatever other traditions people come up with, there could be another sect, that of “stoner philosophy,” which is something like Mister Rogers, Alan Watts and Bob Ross thrown into a peaceful blender. This is when you’re sitting around getting high, wondering if aliens exist, instead of sitting in a classroom, wondering if other people’s minds exist.
A historical study of this connection, from East to West, would probably scandalize a lot of “serious” philosophers, and show some regular inebriation, but in general, I think the two are opposed (tragically or not). Particularly, the institutionalization of philosophy, when “natural philosophy” and “moral philosophy” etc all became separated some time after Hobbes, is opposed to what it sees as a lay way of thinking about the world. As my philosophy of science professor told me – you become a philosopher when you have your doctorate.
Professional philosophers and “psychonauts” are in opposition to each other. The analytics and continentals have spent centuries building elaborate systems – developing monstrous levels of specificity, so as to make their work completely incomprehensible to the rest of the world – and earning credentials to close the gates of access. Meanwhile, the casual or professional tripper is able to buy a tab for less than $10 and experience, or imagine they experience, market-price existentialism without reading a page of Camus.
The professional philosopher sneers in bad faith at psychedelic profundity because it makes them seem irrelevant.
On the other hand, the inarticulate tripper is not in such a great place. The psychonaut rests on intuition, and is probably not equipt with the critical thinking and logical itinerary to make sense of the journey on the comedown. A trip promises insight but also promises that neither your epistemic priors nor a rational reconstruction will be enough to establish its validity – by its very nature. (Psychedelic knowledge is “revealed,” not “discovered,” right?) You might get an insight that looks good, but is bad, without you knowing it. (I wrote about this in college. Holy shit my writing was bad.)
What happens when you irrationally, psychonautically attach to an idea that’s immune to logical tinkering? If you believe something for irrational reasons you’ll hang on to it for even longer than something that you believed for rational reasons, because new rational reasons can talk you out of a logogenetic idea, but not an irrationally-formed one. Depending on the centrality of the belief, of course.
The psychonaut claims easy knowledge, but could have trouble organizing it in the other, orderly web of belief of his coldly-discovered priors. However, this kind of knowledge has taken a high prestige today, with help from accredited social figures like Steve Jobs dosing LSD. In a way, the win of casual inebriated profundity is a “people’s victory” over the esoteric, pretentious toils of the professional philosophers. If you can figure out Truth by serotonin-fucking yourself on any day of the week then there’s no need to study Heidegger… and there’s even less reason to get a PhD in phenomenology, making institutional philosophy obsolete.
So, philosophers will be opposed to the psychonauts because it trivializes their hard-earned degrees (bad faith), and trivializes all their carefully crafted logic (slightly less bad faith). Psychonauts will be opposed to the philosophers for their specialized field which must explicitly reject such spontaneous routes to knowledge. The people taking psychedelics find themselves fighting some sort of anti-scientific elitism war, doing Feyerabend’s work. The tension is worse with the professional, modern philosophical class, but still exists in general.
A survey of history would show a lot of intertwining, but ultimately, I think the newer age of philosophy has a lot more overlap with other drugs than psychedelics (specifically Epicurean as opposed to elucidatory drugs, e.g. Adderall, analgesics, cocaine) — which is its own interesting question.
- “This was an unprecedented right-wing victory” Michael Koplow, Ottomans & Zionists
- “The problem of disappeared states and regions is that they are still here” Jacob Soll, New Republic
- “The costs have proven steep” Evans, Gandy, and Watts, Aeon
- Thinking through the franchise problem Nick Nielsen, The View from Oregon
- Michael Pollan interview on psychedelics Fresh Air
- Spinelli vs. Hayek Federico Ottavio Reho, EPICENTER
- The Rock Art of Malarrak Archaeology
- How Islam shaped the West Rowan Williams, New Statesman
- Tech platforms and the knowledge problem Frank Pasquale, American Affairs
- Exploring the New Science of Psychedelics Mick Brown, Literary Review
- A new history of Islamic mysticism Kamal Gasimov, Voices on Central Asia
- Within the triangle of politics, philosophy, and religion Aurelian Craiutu, Law & Liberty
Are drugs actually bad for you?
There are a lot of psychedelic substances coming out of tribal cultures and we’re finding them to be of immense benefit for mental health issues in the West.
This is from an interview with Scottish filmmaker David Graham Scott conducted by Chem Squier for Vice. The whole interview is worth reading, and it is about using psychedelics to wean people off of opiates (pharmaceutical and illicit). One of the things that bothers me about proponents of drug liberalization is the phrase “We all know drug use is harmful, but…” because it’s not necessarily true that “drug use is harmful.”
Drug use can lead to addiction, but this is not the same thing as drug use is harmful. In fact, echoing Audrey’s recent post on heroin markets, I would argue that the War on Drugs actually creates the dangers associated with drug use. This is so because the base product that illicit drugs are made from is very different from the product that appears on the streets (or in the pharmacy), and the product that hits the streets is different from the initial base product because of the initial product’s illegality.
Slow down Brandon. Let me see if I can rephrase that last sentence. Drugs are made of plants. Drugs in their final street form are not usually consumed in their natural plant form because drug manufacturers have an incentive to alter the plant to avoid detection by government authorities.
Does this make sense? So cocaine, for example, is snorted in a powder form because it is illegal, not because drug manufacturers are trying to get more people hooked on their product.
Drugs have been with us since we first became human beings. So-called “tribal” peoples have continued to show us this through their long-running practices associated with psychedelics and opiates (and cannabinoids for that matter). In fact, there is some archaeological evidence that drugs were with other humanoids long before we homo sapiens were even around. Aside from the fact that “tribal” peoples still have a lot to teach us about ourselves and about the world in general, their drug use habits also show that there is a distinct, legitimate place in society for the use of drugs. Passing legislation to punish this long-held practice will only make life worse for everybody in society (it is important to note that addicts and recreational drug users are not the only ones affected by the War on Drugs).
Think about coffee. Coffee is essentially an addictive product of a plant that may, in the years to come, be recognized as such. Remember that cocaine was consumed in much the same way coffee was a hundred years ago. Should coffee be outlawed by government?
Lastly, addiction rates have hovered around 2% of a given population since data on vices have been available (the early to mid 19th century). This trend has continued to the present day. The only difference between then and now is that drug markets and drug use have become much more dangerous because of government laws that pretentiously state individuals should not consume a product government agents (drugs users themselves, no doubt) think is bad for society. (h/t Ben Huh?)