Here is his Comment of the Day on the post: US Priorities: Make War On Cheese, Not On Drugs.
I’ll have a few comments at the end.
Full disclosure: I have not used marijuana, but I have had its effects described to me in detail by people who have. My understanding of it is that it has at least two separate and notable effects, which can vary based on the particular strain. One of them is a relaxing effect, although some strains actually increase anxiety at some point after use. However, the relaxing effect makes it suitable for medical purposes such as treating seizures. The other effect I am aware of is an increase in the brain’s divergent thinking patterns; that is, it increases random association, enhancing creativity and making experiences more vivid. A user can increase this effect deliberately by increasing the quantity inhaled or ingested to the point where coherent thought is difficult, but this requires very high levels of intake. I am told that it is not chemically addictive, or toxic except inasmuch as inhaling smoke in general is toxic, but more on the level of incense rather than cigarettes.
In my opinion, people have a right to use the substance provided they do not take actions that put others at risk by doing so, such as driving. I see no reason to ban the substance, but one can certainly ban taking actions that become dangerous under its effects. As a transhumanist, I see nothing inherently wrong with using a form of technology to alter one’s mental state artificially. Marijuana does not seem like a harmful or dangerous way to do so, as long as one is responsible. I agree that people who use marijuana, or alcohol, for that matter, can become very boring and less able to have interesting conversations, although sometimes the opposite happens; it depends on who the person was to begin with and how they react.
On the other hand, the ethics system that I subscribe to and through which I come to the above conclusions is based on promoting consciousness. One of the root problems with this world is that humans get very easily addicted to mindsets, experiences, or control. Addictions are blind spots, limitations that a consciousness has picked up that allow it to be manipulated by the world instead of being its own master. An addiction occurs when a mindset, experience, or form of control automatically becomes a person’s first priority in certain situations even where the person would intellectually judge it to be subordinate to a more important goal. It is possible to get mentally addicted to pretty much anything: alcohol, marijuana, candy, sex, adrenaline, attention, solitude, et cetera. To a certain extent we all have addictions in that when our lives are changed we feel uncomfortable and stressed, but toning addictions down is part of empowering ourselves.
That being said, my ethics system leads me to disapprove of the use of marijuana (or other drugs, for that matter) as a means to induce apathy to escape the stress that would otherwise lead a person to self-improvement. My worldview draws a distinction between joy and well-being. Joy is a positive feeling towards one’s current circumstances. Well-being, however, I define as regularly developing new abilities or improving one’s point of view, or any sort of change that results in a person having a more harmonious relationship with the world and being able to promote harmony for other individuals. Here is where the “it’s the journey, not the destination” cliche comes in. Joy may be the destination that people try to reach because it is associated with a state of increased harmony, but consciousness, the process by which people try to reach asymptotically-increasing states of harmony, is what makes us people in the first place, with all the associated awareness and abilities, and it is consciousness that I prioritize.
Long story short: it’s okay to use drugs to augment one’s ability to improve oneself (especially if one has a disability that requires the use of drugs to bring mental functions within human normal), as a tool (yes, sometimes a crutch) to access mindsets you want to use but can’t invoke at will, or as a neutral form of recreation. Using drugs as a substitute for self-improvement so that one can stagnate without feeling bad about it is pathetic and not empowering at all.
I hope this post has been coherent, but I have an internal vocabulary that has developed in partial isolation, so if there is any confusion that you want resolved, please let me know.
It’s me again. Just a few notes:
- One thing I always appreciate about EC is that he never makes a typo. I am awash in envy.
- I have been shocked at how many commenters on the main post never have used pot. Either I am not as strange as I always thought I was, or this blog does not attract anything close to a representative cross-section of America.
- I should have mentioned in the original post that the Federal government still regards pot as illegal. However, with its first confirmed former pot-head as President ( Clinton didn’t inhale, remember), and the “base” of the Democratic party as well as most reporters clearly in favor of Stoned America, I think the eventual legalization is a certainty.
- Alcohol is not chemically addictive either, except for the minority of the population that doesn’t metabolize booze properly, those we call alcoholics. However, there are many alcohol addicts who are not alcoholics, and they are psychologically addicted, and seriously so. Psychological addiction to a drug can be and often is both indistinguishable from the physical kind, and just as destructive to them and those who depend on them.
- I am dubious about the substantive beneficial effects of pot, John Lennon and Timothy Leary notwithstanding. The use of marijuana for genuine palliative purposes is obviously valid; it is also obviously being abused.
- I endorse the Squid’s penultimate sentence, but I think that this kind of drug use should never be discussed without the adjective “irresponsible” prominently displayed. For this is why discouraging such use is a legitimate, indeed crucial, government function, and a function the government cannot perform while approving the conduct, and, as we all know is coming, profiting by it. The government has to promote responsible conduct from its citizens, because irresponsible conduct does material harm to society.