Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Alcohol and Other Drugs

Last time we talked about Novelty, and the idea that an interest in "what happens next" is what separates life from the basic thermodynamic chemical reactions that we derive our energy from.

So what about the use of mind-altering substances to increase our sense of novelty? Surely, the warm glow and shared laughter of friends having a bottle of wine together can be thought of as an innocent way of making the world seem more "novel" to them, at least for a little while? Don't the many other kinds of "systematic derangement of the senses" , whether they be the act of a lone participant or part of a large group's shared experience, and whether they be substance-induced or achieved through other trance-based or ritualistic means, speak to our desire to break out of the limited here and now, to be plugged into something larger, more novel?

But of course, the subject of alcohol and other drugs is a complex and sensitive topic. I remember a science fiction story by Bruce Sterling in which a near-future person marvels at what a "sledgehammer drug" alcohol is, leaving them mystified as to its popularity back in the twentieth century, and preferring other much more subtle substances to alter their minds. It's interesting that even the phrase "alcohol and other drugs" could seem designed to place alcohol at the "less dangerous" part of the equation, when it's no secret that alcohol is a habit-forming and potentially lethal drug: much more so, in a number of people's opinions, than marijuana, for instance. We might ask why alcohol is even legal, when we look at the damage it does every day.

I've remarked before that I find it fascinating that even though I have no personal experience with psychedelics, I hear regularly from people who feel my approach to visualizing the dimensions helps them to understand the visions they experience while under the influence of these substances. To which I've sometimes added, I also find it interesting that I never hear from people that my approach to visualizing the dimensions helps them to understand what they saw after drinking a case of beer. The conspiracy-minded observer of this situation might ask how these decisions as to which mind-altering substance is legal and which are not came to be made. After all, drugs like opium, heroin, and cannabis were legal in the nineteenth and early twentieth century: Coca-Cola, for instance, quite famously contained 9 milligrams of cocaine per glass up until 1903! And the use of psychoactive substances like peyote, mushrooms, and ayahuasca is well-documented back many thousands of years to the dawn of civilization.

Last summer, Wired Magazine published an article about the controversy over Alcoholics Anonymous and how it works, and an editorial about alcoholism that showed how alcohol messes up the brain's ability to predict bad consequences (including the addict's inability to predict what will happen if the abuse continues), and how it suppresses neuroplasticity, an important part of our mental processes we just looked at in Changing Your Brain.

Am I saying alcohol should be abolished? No. Prohibition, like the current war on drugs, only makes criminals of innocent people and provides a healthy profit for organized crime. And for me, the point of using the phrase "alcohol and other drugs" is that it points out that alcohol, like any other mind-altering substance, needs to be treated with respect, because over-indulgence can have serious consequences.

One of the running themes for this project has been that my approach to visualizing the dimensions can provide persons who are trapped in self-destructive cycles a way out: this is the subject of songs like Addictive Personality, Positive Vibes, and See No Future. Which takes us back to my 1983 concept album, Alcohol and Other Drugs, which I want to show you some of the songs from this month. Sponsored by the Saskatchewan Alcoholism Commission, these songs were part of a show which toured the high schools of Saskatchewan during the 1983 to 1984 school year, and the show was presented live by the Globe Theatre's touring company before over 30,000 Saskatchewan teenagers back then. We're going to start with Side One, Cut One: We All Are Chemicals.

Enjoy the journey!


Here are links to all of the songs I created videos for:
We All Are Chemicals
Gimme a Beer!
Just a Shy Guy
Trying to Escape
Livin on the Edge of the World
Insidious Trends

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