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Post  ankh_f_n_khonsu on Wed Sep 02, 2009 10:23 am

See Dissident Voice for the complete article:

Drugs and Social Progress Since the Greeks: The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization, 101

Last year, a disenchanted classics major named D.C.A. Hillman published a book called The Chemical Muse: Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization. It was his revenge on the academic community that had censored his thesis, forcing him to remove the section dealing with recreational drug use in Greek and Roman times in order to graduate.

It’s a short but pithy book, aimed at the hypocrisy of the modern U.S. stance on (some) drugs as much as at the stuffy classicists who maintained, in the face of reams of textual evidence, according to Hillman, that “[the Romans] just wouldn’t do such a thing.” I’m not a classicist, but Hillman doesn’t have to work very hard to convince me that Rome’s pleasure-seekers didn’t just drink lots and lots of wine in those saturnalian romps of theirs.

The Chemical Muse is a brief overview of the evidence that the ancient Greeks and Romans were both aware and tolerant of the use of psychoactive substances: opiates, cannabis and other plant-based drugs, while they simultaneously warned of the dangers of “poisoning” (what we would refer to as overdose) and prescribed precautionary remedies for it. In fact, according to Hillman, the only aspect of drug use that was criminal in these societies was the intentional poisoning of another person with a drug.

Hillman is mostly interested in presenting his case from a civil libertarian standpoint; since our own imperfect understanding of civil liberties is largely derived from Classical society via the Enlightenment, he wonders how we can have descended to a position so much less enlightened in this regard than our primitive forebears in the ancient world.

But in his defense of Greek and Roman recreational drug use, Hillman barely touches on what is to me, the heart of the matter: drugs may have stimulated the very visions and insights that gave early poets and philosophers levels of understanding that Western civilization has built on ever since, while systematically purging the parts of those understandings that didn’t gibe with any practice not useful to refining social control and/or increasing the production of profit. Hillman does make note of the pre-Socratics, chief among them Pythagoras and Empedocles, for whom mysticism and rigorous investigation of the natural world were no contradiction. He says: “the roots of Western philosophy reach deep into the fertile soil of the human imagination, where shamanism, divination, and narcotic experiences have held sway for thousands of years.” While this idea alone could easily be the subject of a book, Hillman is more interested in documenting classical references to drug use than to linking it to the production of important concepts and archetypes, from mathematics to theology.

The Greeks themselves were not exempt from the process of ideological exclusion, which probably reached a point of no return when Plato threw poets out of his ideal republic and animism out of nature. Yet, as long as the pharmakon was not actively banned, the visions it produced were tolerated too, although from the misogynistic Greeks with their cautionary tales of murderous Medea or the Bacchae begins its long descent to complete anathema, the tool of witchcraft that would undermine the later Christian social order. Ending up, of course, in the gynocide that European Christianity required for its triumph, which washed right up on the shores of Plymouth and swept over the colonists at Salem.

Much as Hillman would like us to see the current war on drugs as a modern aberration, it’s still a very old story. Perhaps as old as the rise of monotheism: tellingly, there is no society where monotheism dominates in which psychoactive drug use is officially tolerated (and psychoactive is the key here) unless that society has since become much more thoroughly secular than our own. And that’s why drug use is not really a just a matter of civil liberties per se, of the “individual freedom” that libertarians maintain is the true legacy of Western civilization. The issue isn’t whether or not you have a personal right to alter your mood—after all we have caffeine, and we have alcohol and nicotine which are far more strongly addictive and dangerous to health than cannabis, but we don’t have cannabis. Why? Because cannabis can alter your perception of reality, not just your mood.
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Post  neutralrobotboy on Wed Sep 02, 2009 7:17 pm

there is no society where monotheism dominates in which psychoactive drug use is officially tolerated (and psychoactive is the key here) unless that society has since become much more thoroughly secular than our own.

None? I think this is an exaggeration. Off the top of my head, Ayahuasca is officially tolerated in Brazil. Extremely psychoactive drug, and the country's over 70% Catholic... I guess it depends where the cutoff line is. I mean... Depending on assessment criteria, it's not easy to find industrialized countries which are LESS secular than the USA.

Also, I'd be quite surprised to find out that this problem is exclusive to monotheism... But anyhow, it's an interesting topic. I wouldn't be too surprised to find out that drugs had a significant part in bringing about some of the monumental achievements of the classical era. I also wouldn't be too surprised to find out that a good part of it was superior mythology and religious rites. Ahh, and maybe inheriting quite a bit from the mind-boggling achievements of ancient Egypt and the like.

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Post  Khephra on Wed Sep 02, 2009 9:57 pm

neutralrobotboy wrote:Off the top of my head, Ayahuasca is officially tolerated in Brazil. Extremely psychoactive drug, and the country's over 70% Catholic...

Most Brasilians wouldn't recognize Ayahuasca as a "psychoactive drug", though. In my experience, they tend to see Ayahuasca as medicine. Synthetics and isolates like LSD aren't officially tolerated there... However, a Brasilian appeals court recently ruled that "possession of drugs for personal use is not illegal" (CNN).

All said, I agree - the US's prohibition against [some] pharmacology is without precedent, and probably arises from a confluence of factors.

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Post  neutralrobotboy on Thu Sep 03, 2009 3:25 am

Most Brasilians wouldn't recognize Ayahuasca as a "psychoactive drug", though. In my experience, they tend to see Ayahuasca as medicine.

Interesting. I must confess I don't know much about the way it's popularly viewed over there, though I was aware that it's commonly sought out for healing purposes. Thinking about it, their view of Ayahuasca must be different from other plant-based hallucinogens, even. I haven't really done much research on the topic. It's interesting to consider where the lines are drawn and why.

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Post  Khephra on Thu Sep 03, 2009 11:33 am

neutralrobotboy wrote:It's interesting to consider where the lines are drawn and why.

Agreed! Very Happy Sooooo many yummy things to study and reflect upon!

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Post  darktcmdoc on Fri Sep 04, 2009 2:00 pm

I'm surprised no one mentioned the oracle at Delphi....

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Post  ankh_f_n_khonsu on Sun Sep 06, 2009 10:23 am

darktcmdoc wrote:I'm surprised no one mentioned the oracle at Delphi....
Yeah, but the oracle's 'sight' was [?] provoked by "hallucinogenic gasses arising from a nearby spring", which is a bit different from the "plant-based drugs" that the article focuses on. Nonetheless, that does seem like a relevant omission, and maybe it's picked up in the text being reviewed.

This article is definitely making the rounds... it's even been picked up by Warren Ellis.
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Post  gloos on Sun Jul 18, 2010 5:50 pm

The Romans made the first distinction between good and bad magic. The demise of the druids was in many ways desirable to Rome.


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Post  ezavan on Thu Jul 29, 2010 12:37 am

I believe that the prohibition of drug use and the amplified agenda of social control in America are intrinsic. If a wo/man learns, thru hallucinations or meditations, that the authority of her/his own consciousness over the Self is suspect (I.e. dissociation, ego-death, *sudden* Epiphany, connection with the sublime, detachment from previously established values) then what other authority remains inviolable? This lesson is one of the most important that psychoactives can teach, in my opinion. If this lesson became common to a majority of the population, however, it would destabilize and reestablish the entire status quo simultaneously.

Cultural values and government controls here in the west rely on a broad consensus of compliance, the government isn't next door, or even in DC. It is in the belief of it. The most desirable authority is a psychic device. It is in the voluntary ignorance of the plebeians, the complacent slumber of the bourgeoisie, the consistent greed of the wealthy, and the single-minded obediance encouraged by most socially condoned influence. Your chains are loose around your neck, and their weight brings you pain, yet you are so distracted by faroff lights and diversions that it will never occur to you to remove them! In this society, even the king is slave; perhaps most of all!

A psychic gesture of throwing off that authority IS effective; and that gesture is unavoidable after a certain point in sincere experimentation with psychedelics, thus the disapproval. Now naturally this rationale never occurs to the lawmakers or politicians. Already corralled by fear, it is unnecessary for any rationale to occur to them; the masters here are known as "the machine" for a reason. Consider this.

Also, I thought it was common knowledge how thoroughly debauched classical society was, are academics still Trying to defend the sanctity of their precious "Rome"? Even after so much anthropological evidence has surfaced? Good lord what a sinking ship of lies we're in. Shocked
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