Drugs, Revisited

My second-most popular blog post of all time, as measured by site hits, is my article on the death of notorious drug addict Amy Winehouse. In that article, I outlined exactly why doing drugs is an act of self-abnegation.

The article rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Some felt that I was attacking the whole concept of psychiatric medication. I wasn't. I am actually a strong supporter of psychiatric medication, when it is required. Such medications are a boon for our society and have helped many great people overcome problems and go on to lead not only healthy lives, but amazing lives that have had grace and impact.

Some felt that I was attacking the concept that drug addiction is a physical disease, and not a mental one. I was. My opinion is that drug addicts are a class of people who are mentally (not physically) incapable of properly evaluating short-run pleasure/pain versus long-run pleasure/pain. There exists medical and psychological evidence to support my viewpoint, although I concede that it is not universally accepted one way or the other.

Jeff's Objection - Part One
Some felt, as loyal Stationary Waves reader Jeff felt (see his full comment in the original article's permalink):
However any time you try to speak about an entire classification of people as a whole, then you can’t make all encompassing statements like those which you are making. People are people… period. They will come from any direction imaginable and do things for any reason imaginable and judgments like those you are choosing to lie down could only be made on a person to person basis. More so, those types of judgments could only be made by somebody who knows the subject very closely and even then you would have a personal bias. You are making assumptions about stereotypes… hardly informative about anything at all except for your own personal motivations and hardly insightful into the minds of either addicts or artists. 
 The above argument I have heard many times, and I summarize it as follows: "Judging and generalizing is mean." I accept that judging and generalizing rubs its victims the wrong way. However, I also respond as follows (and this is really, really important):

Our own personal values are meaningless if it is considered wrong to enforce them in our own minds. In other words, that I think drugs are a disgusting abomination is a meaningless personal value unless I actually live and act as though I really do believe it. Part of this is condemning drug use and drug addiction wherever I see it. I am sorry if this offends some readers, but I also remind them that they, too, hold such a value: the value of not judging anyone.

Of what use would Jeff's values for not judging people be if he didn't speak out against what I said? Jeff's value is very important to him, therefore he was moved to speak up for his beliefs. I laud Jeff for this! This is wonderful. Our values are very important.

But it is for this reason that Jeff cannot seriously object to my judging Amy Winehouse. If I failed to judge her, I would not be standing up for my own, personal beliefs.

But Was I Really Judging Amy Winehouse?
In truth, I don't think I was judging Amy Winehouse at all. My article outlined the following logical chain:
  1. I accept the truth that cogito ergo sum, i.e. "I think, therefore I am."
  2. I accept the contra-positive, "If I am not thinking, I am not really living."
  3. I rephrase point 2 above as follows: "Acts bereft of thought (such as doing drugs) are acts of self-abnegation."
  4. Therefore, doing drugs is an act of self-abnegation.
  5. People who willingly engage in self-abnegation do not wish to live, at least not during the time they are self-abnegating.
  6. If they do not wish to live, why should I care if they die?
Now, Jeff and others may disagree with one or more points above. They may not, however, accuse me of "being judgemental." This isn't a value-judgement, it's a chain of logic. You can disagree with the logic, but you can't accuse logic of being judgemental. Logic doesn't judge. Logic is objective.

Jeff's Objection - Part Two
Jeff goes on to make the following statement:
The only caveat I could think of here was that drugs are one of many ways to see the space and content of your mind in a different light and that insight could and has been used to understand higher thinking.
Relating this to my logical chain above, it is clear that Jeff disagrees with my Point #3. In other words, Jeff believes that drugs are a path to understanding "higher thinking."

It is insufficient to say that I simply disagree with this statement. Nor do I believe it's a matter of opinion. We may deal with this argument by asking one simple question:

When one is experiencing higher thinking, would one be more-able, or less-able to operate heavy machinery, sign a legally binding contract, give legal consent for sexual encounters, and drive a motor vehicle?

If the answer is "less-able," then we are not talking about "higher thinking." We are instead talking about an inhibited mental state.

Now, I certainly don't think we have to disagree as to whether people who are under the influence of recreational drugs are capable of giving legal consent or operating heavy machinery. One is simply no longer experiencing reality when they take recreational drugs. As that which is not real can never be a more advanced version of that which is real, we can rest our case.

Hence I have shown that a drug-induced state is an inhibited state. I take it as given that the active pursuit of an inhibited state is either flagrantly irrational or just plain thoughtless, but in either case, it is an act of self-abnegation.

Why abnegation? Because preserving one's life means either consciously making self-preserving decisions (i.e. not seeking inhibited or damaged states of being), or at least trying to think about what those decisions might be if they are unknown (i.e. pursuing only functional levels of thought and consciousness).

I don't doubt that the average drug user is capable of justifying their drug use any which way. The rationalizations for drug use are endless. Anyone who has ever spoken with a drug addict or alcoholic knows that. Their drug use is always "someone else's fault." They always "couldn't help it." Always, those critical of drug use "just don't understand me or anything about my life."

There is nothing different about these kinds of statements than what you get from the average teenager who has been prevented by his parents from just doing what he wants.

That drug use is dangerous, damaging, and mentally inhibiting is undeniable. No one can tenably claim that drug use is inert or even net-positive. All who attempt to do so are merely rationalizing the artificial highs they wish to experience.

There is much to say about drug-users, but all that really needs to be said about them is non cogitat, non est.


  1. "No one can tenably claim that drug use is inert or even net-positive." What about caffeine?

  2. Also... to say that people who use drugs are simply not thinking isn't really true. They are thinking, they just might have ingrained thought patterns that are not healthy. It's possible that in the mind of a heavy drug user, the rationale is rock-solid. The fact that they have a rationale shows that they've thought about it, so they are thinking. But psychology is complex; what a person believes about himself and the world at one time in his life can be a lot different from what he believes at another point in his life. There are thought patterns and beliefs (even false ones) that get indoctrinated in us when we're children -- too young to reason on a deep and self-aware level. There are all kinds of reasons for heavy drug use; "just not thinking" is rarely one of them, in my opinion.

  3. We have discussed caffeine before. Purified caffeine used for recreational purposes is always net-negative. Caffeine consumed by happenstance while consuming food has proven medical benefits.

    The difference is both philosophical and medical. No doctor in his/her right mind would ever claim that abusing pure caffeine (such as pills, etc.) is a healthy thing to do. People who choose to consume coffee, for example, which happens to have caffeine, are NOT abusing or "using" caffeine. The positive medical impact of consuming foods that contain caffeine are well-documented.

    Also well-documented are cases of people who have developed health problems - both acute and chonic - as a result of consuming coffee purely for abusive purposes. It is highly acidic, damages teeth and stomach lining, causes indigestion, and gives many people acute cardiovascular problems.

    If you abuse caffeine aka consume recreational drugs for recreational purposes, the result is always net-negative.

    Some substances are a boon when used and a bane when abused. Caffeine is one example, but there are others. To list some off the top of my head: nicotine, niacin, vitamin E, ketamine, vicodin, oxycontin, LSD, THC, lithium, and most amphetamines.

    But again that goes to my second paragraph in this post: Medically justifiable consumption of substances is good; recreational use and abuse of abusable substances is net-negative.

    There is no contradiction here.

  4. False thought patterns and false beliefs are precisely what I am arguing against in these blog entries. There is nothing "rock-solid" about that which is false.

    I don't doubt that drug users can justify their behavior to themselves, but the hallmark of an addict is their inability to properly evaluate their own time-preferences. They make different decisions depending on whether or not they are using their drugs. They make different decisions when they crave a high than they do when they have recently come down.

    These aren't psychological complexities, they are the predictable patterns of addictive behavior.

    None of this, of course, addresses my fundamental claim, which is that the real death of a drug user comes when they *first elect* to use drugs, i.e. long before addiction ever sets in.

  5. I guess I don't understand the difference between consumption by happenstance, and deliberate use. If I eat something that happens to have caffeine in it, unbeknownst to me, that's different than consciously electing to drink a double americano. Is choosing to have a "pick me up" latte "recreational use" in your view?

  6. As you have mentioned previously, you feel that every time we put food in our bodies, that food behaves essentially as a drug inside of us. My view is quite different.

    Whether I think a pick-me-up latte is drug abuse depends on the philosophical decision-making governing the drinker. If someone feels tired and decides to drink caffeine in order to feel less tired, then yes, that's caffeine abuse in my view.

    If someone drinks a latte for reasons unrelated to the effect of the caffeine - for example, if someone looks forward to the ritual of their morning latte every day, which accompanies a morning conversation with a loved one - then I do NOT consider that caffeine abuse.

    In every instance, the question is not WHETHER someone is consuming something, but WHY. There was a time when cocaine was used as a local anesthetic; people who used it for that reason were not abusing it. In this day and age, there is no good reason to consume purified cocaine; it is ALWAYS an act of self-abnegation.

    See the difference?

  7. I see the difference, and I agree that the why is very important. How about this, though: let's say I was up all night with a sick dog and didn't get any sleep, but I had a big deadline for a project due that day. By 2:00 PM I literally could not keep my eyes open, so I drank an americano for the pick me up factor, so I could get my project done one time and not get fired. Is that abuse?

  8. Sure, of course it is. It may be justified as the lesser of two evils, but it doesn't change the fact that you're doing something self-destructive.

    If I throw myself in front of a speeding bullet to save the woman I love, it is the ultimate act of self-abnegation, and as such, unethical. But it is an unethical act I am happy to engage in, because I prefer it to her death, which I view as even more unethical.

  9. Okay. And what if someone just really really loves the ritual of smoking pot over breakfast with a loved one -- the rolling papers in a box his grandfather carved, seeing his loved one's joy at removing the seeds -- and for him it isn't about the high, but the ritual? Is that abuse?

  10. There are too many problems with that scenario for me to take it seriously. How did this person first develop such a ritual? It was the point at which such a ritual was originally developed that the act of self-abnegation occurred.

    No one would ever argue that taking time every morning to reflect fondly on memories of a loved-one is an act of drug abuse.

    The problem is that you're trying to create a package-deal by completely replacing the underlying context of one example. The situations may superficially appear the same, but in fact they are radically different.

  11. But then how did the coffee drinker develop that ritual? If it came about because the first time he drank coffee was to pull an all-nighter on finals week, then an act of self-abnegation occurred, right? Or what if someone really loves the ritual of morning coffee AND loves the get-up-and-go it gives him, where does that guy fit in?

    I guess maybe I see a difference between "recreational use" and "abuse." Maybe that difference doesn't exist? Sharing a coffee with a loved one strikes me as recreational use. After all, if it's *just* a loved one's company a person wants, why not forgo the coffee and just drink water? For me, the word "abuse" belies a destructive end result. But having an afternoon pick me up has no destructive end result. Or does it, and I'm just not seeing it?

  12. Bear in mind we are only discussing a "morning ritual" because you asked whether a pick-me-up latte was drug abuse. I said I can conceive of a situation (a morning routine) in which it is not abuse, but that it is abuse in some instances.

    Not every example of drinking coffee is an example of someone seeking a pick-me-up. Not every cup of coffee has a massive physical impact on a person. I still feel you are comparing caffeine consumption to consumption of illegal drugs, and this to me is beyond absurd. Food is not a drug.

  13. I'm just trying to figure out where you're coming from, is all. Where you draw the lines seem to be really different from where I do. One more question and then I'll stop, I promise! Haha...

    Can the argument be made that a morning ritual (the benign coffee with a loved one to start your day, not to get a massive physical impact) is "drug abuse" because it is using a chemical for emotional reasons? I'm thinking of people who eat for emotional reasons, thereby using food as a drug. Isn't it the emotional high a person is seeking by engaging in ritual? Or am I way off base?

  14. I just think you're too bogged-down on the chemical component of the argument. I am not taking a position on chemicals, I am taking a position on philosophy. When you turn your mind off, you are self-abnegating.

    It doesn't have to be drugs or food. It could be exercise. If you exercise in order to forget your problems, you are self-abnegating. You can take something perfectly wonderful like saying, "I love you" and thoroughly destroy it by using it as a means to obliterate your own mind.

    That drugs are a particularly nasty example of this is undeniable and inarguable. That people have also destroyed themselves and their relationships by taking a good thing and making it bad is also undeniable.

    The crucial aspect of my position is that the perpetrators turn their minds off. How they choose to do it is almost beside the point.

    But make no mistake, drugs are undeniably one very effective method of doing this. They also destroy a person's physical health and politically destabilize who regions of the globe. They are an unequivocal source of evil, and the more excuses we make for users and abusers, the more we enable this evil to spread.

  15. I see. Thanks for the back and forth. Hope I didn't blog-hog too much! :)

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