FOR HUFFINGTON POST USA
Thomas Roberts recently wrote on a topic that has long interested me: is the banning of mind-altering, psychedelics substances akin to repression of free thought and expression? Roberts thinks so, as the title of his work makes clear: "You Have a Constitutional Right to Psychedelics."
Consider, for example, how the repression of many religious experiences is anathema to a culture such as ours. No one may tell you how to pray, or what to feel when you pray.
And yet, when adherents of certain faiths engage in what for them are sacred practices - Rastafarians smoking ganja or Natives ingesting peyote - we are confronted with a legal and moral dilemma: should drugs that are generally forbidden be permitted in such cases?
The easiest and wisest answer is that the drugs should be legal - problem solved. But issues still arise in our soon-to-be-post-prohibitionist climate. We are not there yet, so we have to haggle with morality watchdogs. It isn't hard to do. Those of us who have studied up on drug use can attest to how research has shown - again and again - that ritualized and ceremonial drug use (often with religious currents) is much less likely to be troublesome. Hence Jews, at least those who are more traditional, do a good job of keeping alcoholism at bay. The same goes for Natives with peyote, whose experiences with that substance differ markedly from their struggles with alcohol, the white man's poison.
Rather than belabor the anthropology of drug use, however, I would tackle another point - the ramifications of which are sure to emerge over the coming years as the war on drugs dies a slow and ignoble death.
When, during the Enlightenment, westerners decided that priests and other religious figures had no business telling people how to pray, which deities to pray to, or even to pray at all, the issue was much larger than religion. Freedom of speech, thought and inquiry were also on the rise. This continent (North America) and above all one nation (The United States) were at the forefront of these advances. Born in the Enlightenment, America is rooted in it perhaps like no other country.
No one had a right to tell people what to believe, what to think or how to think. Of course, laws still had to be obeyed, and we settled on a reasonable approach to most (if not all) issues: as long as you obey the laws in place, you are free to challenge them, voice your disagreement, and work for their repeal.
So even in a climate that bans drugs, people have had the right to question prohibition.
But we are starting to experience another challenge, so look for it in the news, on the streets, and in college dorms: forbidding the ingestion of certain drugs - such as LSD, marijuana, and magic mushrooms - amounts to forbidding the thought processes these drugs initiate. Anyone who has used psychedelics can attest to the effects they can have on one's thinking.
Whether or not you approve of these - albeit temporary - fluctuations of consciousness is not at issue. The issue is more straightforward: to ban these experiences is - plain and simple - repression of thought.
Consider for example the argument put forth by John Stewart Mill, possibly the most serious and sophisticated advocate of freedom that ever lived: the only way to test the value of an opinion, or of a behavior, is to let people experiment with it - not just debate it, but do it. See? Repression is self-defeating because someone must always be the arbiter. Mill believed that no human being, or group of human beings, should ever have such power.
He was right.
As we are now moving toward a post-prohibitionist setting, this issue will arise - again and again - with drug use as the focus. Appeals made to our Enlightenment traditions of free thought, inquiry and conscience, will, finally, carry the day in one more sphere (as it has, for example, more recently with homosexuality).
Question for the day: were the 20th century acidheads better, truer Americans than Nixon, Reagan and the other Republicans?
History will have to decide.