Historically, religion has been a fundamental component of cultures throughout the world. The influence of religion is so pernicious that even steadfast atheists can exhibit vestiges of it. Of these religions, I’m most familiar with the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) so, for the record, I’ll be limiting my comments to them.
How many of you remember Flip Wilson? He was a very famous and popular comedian back in the early 1970s. He even had his own television show. Here’s a video, from YouTube, of Flip on the Ed Sullivan show . . .
. . . he popularized the phrase, “The Devil made me do it!”. It was a national catchphrase in the U.S.
I was reminded of Flip, recently, by a blogger featured on the WordPress “Freshly Pressed” webpage (which highlights WordPress bloggers). The blogger is Gary Mondejar, a chemical engineer and aspiring writer. I have no idea if he’s religious, indifferent or an atheist. He seems like a nice enough guy and his writing is usually pleasant to read. His featured post is titled “Good Riddance, Facebook”. It stood out, to me, as a glaring example of the-Devil-made-me-do-it attitude. But in this case, Facebook is substituted for the Devil. In all fairness, I know that projecting one’s own faults and foibles onto some other person, entity or thing need not be a religious impulse but I do believe it’s a tendency nurtured by religion; particularly Christianity. After all, Jesus Christ is a scapegoat on steroids. Is there a greater scapegoat than Jesus?
Well, if there is, it has to be the Devil.
Gary crafted this post as a letter to an ex-lover: Facebook. Here’s some quotes from his post that clearly reveal an attempt to blame Facebook for his own faults:
• you are sucking all my time
• you’re making me into someone I am not
• you make me hate myself
• altering wall posts and minor adjustments in statuses have become a staple part of our complicated relationship dynamics
• You’ve always made me feel like I needed to make my posts and stories more interesting than they really are
• you’re way too generous, to the point that I’m really having a hard time receiving all the stuff you so generously shower upon me
• I feel like our relationship has become a little more than a superficial facade, a carefully altered representation of myself
• It has been totally unexpected that with the ease you provide in communicating with “friends”, my relationships with my “friends” are increasingly becoming shallower
In every one of these instances, Gary is transferring blame from himself to Facebook. Is Facebook twisting his arm? Is there some nefarious mind-control going on here?
Perhaps I’m being too critical. Perhaps it’s excusable to project our insecurities away from ourselves. Or, perhaps, in our culture, we turn a blind eye when others claim “The Devil made me do it.”
Muslims clerics slam everybody and anybody who is NOT Muslim (by the way, “Islam” is “I slam” without a space).
Science keeps forcing religion to backpedal on doctrine.
Voters and courts keep rejecting Intelligent Design (and affirming evolution) in public schools.
After thousands of years, supernatural entities are STILL prevented from leaving evidence of their existence.
In an attempt to drum up visitors to my website (AtheistExile.com), I entered my site’s URL as a “source” for my answer.
Here’s the thing . . .
. . . Ever since then, somebody, has used that link to visit my website on a regular basis. This means that they first go to Yahoo! Answers, then revisit Miss Lebanon‘s question, then click on the link there to my website. A bookmark would be so much easier! I’ve always wondered who this person is and why he/she uses Yahoo! Answers to visit my website.
At first, I thought it must be Miss Lebanon who is visiting my website via Yahoo! Answers. But then I realized that she didn’t even choose a best answer (much less, mine). The best answer was chosen by “voters”.
So, maybe, the mystery person was one of the voters.
Well . . . I’m tired of wondering. I’d like to know who this person is. He/She is, after all, one of my most enduring followers. Over four years now! The next time you visit (whoever you are), the image featured in this post should be very familiar to you and grab your attention (I’m hoping).
Whoever you are, mystery person, I would appreciate it if, the next time you visit my site, you comment on this post or send me an email to identify yourself. I am REALLY curious to know who you are.
Either you share the interests I blog about or . . . you’re a Muslim keeping tabs on me 🙂
“I was a vegetarian until I started leaning towards sunlight.” ~Rita Rudner
Vegan Proselytizers: Cognitive Dissonance Much?
I’ve grown weary of the growing number of proselytizing tirades from vegetarians and vegans; especially when they try to make eating meat a moral issue. Vegetarianism is a dietary preference . . . that’s all it is. Vegans take vegetarianism to its illogical extreme and invariably attempt to make it a moral issue. When they do, they are, at best, confusing compassion with morality. At worst, they’re food fascists wielding the scepter of moral superiority.
Go ahead and cite all the reasons why humans are herbivores. Yeah, list them to your heart’s content. Done? Now, get in your car, drive around, open your eyes and mind, then soak in the reality: McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sizzler, and other chain restaurants that purvey meat. How many restaurants don’t purvey meat? Barbeque, seafood, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Thai, French, Cuban, whatever: they all prominently feature meat. It’s even hard to find an Indian restaurant that doesn’t begrudge meat on their menu. Now don’t you feel silly, standing there with your list of reasons why we’re herbivores? There’s no denying we’re omnivores. Period.
If you’re more of an abstract kind of person, unfazed by practical evidence, maybe physical proof might persuade you. Herbivores are adapted to eat only plants. Omnivores are adapted to eat both plants and animals. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacterial symbiosis in both plants and animals but can only be consumed from meat; not veggies. According to the FDA, the USDA, the CDC and their counterparts in other countries, vitamin B12 is not available from plants: you can only get B12 from meat or from synthesized B12 found in artificially fortified foods and pills. This is proof that we are not adapted to eat only plants: it’s proof that we’re not herbivores. Close, but no cigar. We are not herbivores. Period.
And, by the way, calcium can only be found in a select few dark green leafy veggies, such as: collard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, mustard greens and a few varieties of seaweed. The USDA warns vegetarians that: “Consuming enough plant foods to meet calcium needs may be unrealistic for many.” Humans are, and always have been, omnivores. It’s not a matter of opinion: it’s a simple matter of fact – and thus, not subject to debate. “Humans are herbivores” is a ridiculous claim from the get-go regardless of how many vegan propaganda publications you want to cite to the contrary.
Then there’s the “primates are herbivores” variant of the argument. It’s hard to tell if those who make this argument are ignorant, stupid or lying. The fact is: some primates are herbivores and some are omnivores. Chimps, for instance, will eat meat. More to the point, humans are evolved from a primate species that began supplementing their diets with meat. Homo sapien sapiens have ALWAYS eaten meat: we’ve always been omnivores. It’s in our genes.
Another argument that flies in the face of reality is the “vegetarian diets are healthier for you” claim. I will concede that it is possible to eat a strictly vegetarian diet and remain healthy. But the fact is, you need to eat a wide variety of plants – augmented by B12 and calcium fortified foods or pills – to meet your minimum dietary requirements. And that means you need access to those plants and fortified foods – the full complement of which are only available in well-stocked grocery stores. Even then, doctors recommend dietary supplements to make sure vegetarians get all the nutrients they need. If you’re in the U.S., then you can likely find everything you need at the grocery store (assuming you can afford it). But if you’re in the third world somewhere or in a remote area, you might not be able to sustain a healthy vegetarian diet.
I did try a vegetarian diet, many years ago, when I was young. I never felt satisfied and my jaws frequently ached from chewing, chewing, chewing. Soon meat became too tempting and I quit after about a month or so. There was no sense in denying what I am: an omnivore.
Vegetarian diets are not the healthiest diets. Authoritative dietary experts agree that the healthiest diets include a wide range of foods, including meat and veggies. Research indicates that fish and white meat are normally healthier than red meat but red meat is fine in moderation. Claims to the contrary are pure poppycock.
Many vegetarians started eating a veggie diet because they were turned off by the sight or experience of eating meat. The grease and juices and sinew; the idea that it was alive and kicking just recently. Not much can be said about these subjective reasons. If that’s the way you feel, that’s the way you feel. I don’t begrudge you your vegetarian dietary preference.
Most vegetarians believe it is wrong – as in, immoral – to kill animals for food. If they really believe this, they’re confusing compassion with morality. There’s just one thing they need to keep in mind: morality can’t deny reality and remain valid. The indisputable fact that we are omnivores is a fundamental human reality. My morality accommodates this reality. What about yours?
Mother nature is a zombie. She’s red in tooth and claw. Life can be ugly and survival is, more often than not, violent. I don’t feel sorry for livestock because they’ve filled an evolutionary niche, in service to humanity, that has guaranteed their genes will be passed on indefinitely. Livestock are prolific because of animal husbandry – which dates back to the first domestication of animals. Not only are their large populations assured . . . they no longer have to face predators, draughts or famines. When slaughtered legally, a sheep, cow, pig or chicken led to slaughter dies without the panic and adrenaline terror that accompanies the pursuit, capture and tearing of live flesh, by predators. You think the slaughtering of livestock is inhumane? It’s immensely preferable to what Mother Zombie has in store: death by starvation, dehydration, disease or predator.
The most annoying vegan claim is the claim of moral superiority. I am repulsed by claims of moral superiority for the same reasons I’m repulsed by claims of racial superiority: it’s totalitarian, fascist and intolerant. Give me a break! It’s ridiculous to pretend that morality hinges on eating meat. Morality has multitudinous considerations that we adhere to by varying degrees relative to each other and relative to other people. Diet is just one of those considerations. Even if eating meat were a moral issue (and it’s not), not eating meat doesn’t make you morally superior. It’s just one of many facets of morality: are you morally superior in every way? How naive can you get for Christ’s sake!?! Such a clueless claim serves only to reveal a deep-seated insecurity: the same as with neo-Nazis and skinheads. Superior my ass!
The three monotheistic, Abrahamic, religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all claim possession of the one true God and, by extension, the moral truth. Because they worship the one true God, their morality is, naturally, superior to all others. It’s these claims to superiority that has made the Abrahamic religions THE most persistently divisive influence in the history of mankind. By claiming moral superiority, vegetarians and vegans are making the same mistake. Morality doesn’t hinge on which God you worship and it sure as hell doesn’t hinge on what you eat.
Vegetarians and vegans should consider the possibility that they’re confusing morality with compassion. I will readily concede they have more compassion for livestock than I do. But so what? Compassion, like morality, has multitudinous considerations that we adhere to by varying degrees relative to each other and relative to other people. For instance, animal rights and women’s reproductive rights are both embraced by liberal-minded progressives – not that you have to be liberal or progressive to embrace them. It’s been my experience that many of the same liberals who bemoan the plight of livestock also endorse late-term abortions – even up to the end of term.
Now, keep in mind that late-term abortions are abortions performed after fetal viability (i.e. the fetus could survive outside the womb, given appropriate postnatal care). Claiming that reproductive rights trump fetal viability all the way to the end of term is the same as claiming it’s okay to kill a fully viable fetus! A fully viable fetus needs only to be removed from the womb to instantly become a baby: a person. Whether it’s internal or external is a mere technicality.
So what we have here is a person who cries out for the plight of livestock, yet has no problem with killing a fully viable fetus. How, exactly, does this person define words like ‘inhumane’, ‘compassion’, ‘humanity’, ‘morality’, ‘progressive’, or ‘reason’?
Cognitive dissonance much?
And finally, there’s the “toxic to the environment” argument. Well, insecticides, fungicides and synthetic fertilizers are also toxic to the environment. They are necessary to protect harvests and feed the world’s 7 billion mouths. It would be more accurate (and less biased) to say that food production – both veggies and meat – are toxic to the environment. But of all the environmentally harmful factors we must deal with, it ranks well below vehicular and industrial pollution (not that this means we can safely ignore the problem). ‘Green’ farming is a nice idea but can’t yet achieve the production levels necessary to meet demand.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot . . . the reason our predecessor species suddenly developed bigger brains is because they began supplementing their fruit, veggies, legumes, tubers, grains, nuts and seeds with meat. It wasn’t just our brains that got bigger; so did our bodies. Vegetarians and vegans need to ask themselves, if a vegetarian diet is so good for us, why did it take meat to make the difference in our intellectual capacity and physique? The switch from herbivore to omnivore is a major milestone in our evolution.
Vegetarianism/veganism is not a proper topic for proselytizing. If you prefer to just eat veggies, then good for you. Implying we are less moral or less humane because we eat meat is simply ignoring the facts in a futile attempt to foist your personal preferences on us. We don’t appreciate it. Humans are omnivores: we eat meat and most of us love it. That’s not going to change any time soon.
Mormon (LDS) missionaries, who come knocking at your door to proselytize for their church, all receive formal training to ensure they provide approved canned answers to questions and objections from prospective converts. This tactical training previously came from a book called ‘The Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel’. I once had a couple of doorknockers visit me to tell me all about the Mormon faith. Whenever I asked a tough question, they would refer to what they both called ‘the brown book’ for answers, which, I now presume, must be The Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel. In 2004, this book was replaced by ‘Preach My Gospel’, which shifts tactics to ‘teaching by the Spirit’ (designed to cater to ‘individual needs’ of potential converts). I’m not sure if the brown book is so named because it has a brown cover or because it’s contents are derived from the works of Scott Kent Brown (who edited the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Journal of the Book of Mormon Studies and the Historical Atlas of Mormonism). I’ve never actually read the brown book . . . it’s not, after all, intended for popular consumption.
It seems that leftist, politically correct, apologists for Islam have developed their own version of the Mormon brown book. In forum and group discussions and debates all over the Internet and other media, you see the same tactics used; as if they’ve all been prepping from the same apologist brown book. I’ve never read this book either but it must be out there somewhere; secretly passed around from apologist to apologist.
Political correctitude, over the last few decades, has evolved to become a leftist, totalitarian, dogma. We all know the routine by now. Criticism of Islam is racist (even though Islam is not a race). Alarm at the consequences of Islamism is fear mongering. Pointing out Muhammad’s questionable morality is hate speech. Anger or frustration at Muslim rioting is intolerance. Support for the anti-burka law in France means you’re a misogynist. The mere mention of the abject failure of multiculturalism in Europe makes you an ultra-conservative wingnut. By impugning your character, apologists for Islam often walk away from an argument without ever rebutting a single point made.
But in order to succeed with these tactics, apologists must shift the target of your criticism away from ideologies and doctrines by, instead, emphasizing the adherents. Be wary of this ploy. Always return focus to the ideas – not the people. If you don’t, they will label you a bigoted hater (ad hominems are okay if they’re politically correct).
Apologists for Islam bend over backwards in an ostentatious display of accommodation and inclusion of Muslims. It’s very nice to accommodate and include people: even when they tend not to accommodate or include you in return. Accommodation and inclusion are among the finest of liberal ideals. Human rights, equal rights, anti-discrimination and all that. But Islamism is different. In order to explain the difference, you need to keep focus on Islamic ideology and doctrine, not on the adherents. Do we really want to accommodate and include Sharia and Jihad? Of course not! But neither do we want to single out Muslims in any way . . . including extending them special treatment.
Which brings us to the difference between pluralism and multiculturalism. America has traditionally been a ‘melting pot of nations’. Ours is a pluralistic society which encourages immigrants to blend in while still embracing their own cultures, if they choose. Nobody gets special treatment. In contrast, Europe, for many decades, has adopted the approach of multiculturalism; partly to accommodate the special demands of Muslim immigrants. This policy has led to Muslim enclaves in Europe’s cities – entire areas dominated by a culture and values foreign to their host countries. By extending them special treatment, Europe has not succeeded in integrating Muslims into their societies and is now waking up to the abject failure of their multicultural experiment. From restrictions on the height of mosque minarets to banning the burka: we are witnessing, in Europe, a backlash against a multiculturalism that has failed its main goals to include and accommodate.
European multiculturalism has failed because it doesn’t understand just how alien the Islamic worldview is to their own. European culture and worldview is rooted in (reformed) Christianity and Greek philosophy. Islamic culture and worldview is rooted in the Quran and Arab philosophy. Everything about Islam: it’s hadith, traditions, culture, Sharia law and Jihad is based on the unerring truth of the Quran. Logic takes a back seat to Allah’s will: if Allah willed it, it’s right: end of discussion. Islamic culture precludes questioning or challenging its sources and, thus, does not evolve – much less, reform itself.
I should, belatedly, distinguish Islamism from Islam. Islamism is not just the religion of Islam; it is also a political (Jihad) and legal (Sharia) ideology. I criticize the religion of Islam as a rabid dogma. And it is. But MOST adherents are like most of us — they just want to live their lives with as little drama as possible. I know this from the 6 months I lived in Kuwait.
But the Islamic fundamentalists are another matter entirely. They are the pawns of Islamism: manipulated by callous and calculating leaders who hate everything we stand for. Islam is a rabid dogma that provides Islamism with the fanatics and license for violence needed for Jihad.
Apologists for Islam want to deny this. They want to embrace those who hate us, in some sort of holier-than-thou vision of an uber-liberal utopia. They don’t understand that Islamists see this cumbayah vision as a weakness. Islamists laugh up their sleeves at these clueless apologists while thanking them for helping to undermine our values and way of life.
Let’s see: people who are centuries old; immaculate conception; resurrection after 3 days; transubstantiation; efficacy of prayer; miracles . . . need one be stupid to believe these impossible things? Hmmmm. It sure as hell can’t hurt! Statistically, it’s more likely to believe these things because you were ignorant — just a child — when you were spoon-fed these lies. Either way, you weren’t born believing impossible things. You had to have been taught, indoctrinated, brainwashed. Children readily believe these kinds of things. Especially when people they trust tell them it’s the truth. They then believe it, without ever evaluating it. It gets internalized as a normal, accepted, part of their identity. Later, as we reach intellectual maturity, the dissonance between fact and fiction prompts many of us to finally examine those unexamined ‘truths’. Many of us manage to sort out the lies. But, apparently, many more of us don’t.
Since we’re basically talking about THINKING here, what could account for the relatively low percentage of us who figure out what the lies were?
Is a lot of intelligence required to sift out the lies? I don’t think so. I think confidence in one’s own relative intelligence is more important. If you think yourself intellectually weak or stupid, how can you dare have the hubris to say all your friends and family and 2 billion other people are wrong?
And that’s exactly what the anti-intellectual scriptures of the Abrahamic religions want you to think. In the Garden of Eden, curiosity cost us our immortality. God comes down hard and decisively against using the brains he ‘blessed’ us with. God is threatened by human understanding, so it won’t do to have us thinking for ourselves and taking credit for our own accomplishments. All praise goes to God. None goes to man. It’s self-reinforced brainwashing. These religions would never have survived if people had confidence in themselves. They want you on your knees and supplicant — not standing upright and proud, thinking for yourself. Excessive pride is vanity but contrary to what the Bible would have you believe, pride is not a sin. Pride is a natural, human, emotion that recognizes achievement in ourselves and those we love.
We’re only human; we have limits. But that doesn’t mean you should accept that ‘born into sin’ crap. If you believe you’re an unworthy wretch, you probably will be. The fact is, people make mistakes. But they’re just mistakes — not ‘sins’. We can learn from our mistakes and correct them. That’s how we improve and grow as human beings. You can’t improve by offloading accountability onto anyone or anything else. You’re responsible for, and accountable to, yourself.
René Descartes is famous for his quote: “Cogito ergo sum” — I think, therefore I am. The most real thing you can possibly believe in is yourself. The most unreal thing you can possibly believe in is the impossible. Believe in yourself . . . not in impossible things! Don’t let religion twist things around. You can do it.
There is no objective moral standard in nature . . . and there sure as hell ain’t none in the supernatural. So morality is subjective. If people had their way, just about anything could become a moral issue: pet ownership, consumerism, relative wealth, divorce, transgender surgery, capitalism, alcohol, tobacco, meat, wool, fur, accommodationism, inoculations, drugs, hunting, firearms, free speech, sexual orientation, on and on. I say, don’t preach to me unless I’m personally culpable . . . and you’re not.
There seems to be many ideas of what constitutes a moral issue. To some, it’s a matter of belief (as opposed to preference). To some it’s visceral: they know it when they feel it. To some, it’s a matter of avoiding harm to others; possibly including animals or even plants. To some, it’s a matter of the greater good. To some, it’s a matter of consensus or majority opinion. To some, it can be any combination of these things.
My own idea of what constitutes a moral issue is personal culpability when it can be reasonably avoided. Could I have avoided causing harm? If so, crossing that line is a moral issue to me if I’ve crossed that line. My reason for this is to preempt being pulled into every personal or political agenda that grabs the fickle limelight of the public. Like veganism/vegetarianism, for instance.
My idea of morality separates moral issues from other kinds of issues: humanitarian issues, political issues, environmental issues, legal issues, health issues, social issues, national sovereignty or security issues, economic issues, personal issues, religious, ethnic or racial issues, or whatever. It’s not a moral issue to me, unless I am personally culpable of reasonably avoidable harm.
World hunger is not a moral issue to me. I’m not personally culpable for it. It’s a humanitarian issue. So is birth control, slavery and overpopulation. Abortion? A legal issue. So is murder and animal cruelty, unless I’m the one committing them. Pollution, strip mining, deforestation and global warming? Environmental issues.
As in murder, other kinds of issues can become moral issues when you are personally culpable. If you dispose of used motor oil in your local lake – knowing it’s illegal and environmentally hazardous – it becomes a moral issue for you as well as a legal and environmental issue.
What I particularly hate is intolerance masquerading as morality – you know, when people turn their personal preferences into beliefs they then foist upon others. These pseudo-issues and their advocates can go to hell as far as I’m concerned. This intolerance is easy to see when it comes to religions. People born into one religion or another often prefer it over others and might even believe theirs is somehow better or more valid. Well, they can believe what they want but as soon as they try to advocate or discriminate against some other religion(s), they are practicing intolerance – not pursuing morality. The same goes for veganism or vegetarianism: as soon as it is wielded as some sort of moral billyclub, it becomes intolerance: and when advocated publicly, it becomes political. A personal preference is not and should never be a political issue: not even if it’s the majority view.
If you’re a bleeding heart charter member of the Moral Issue of the Month Club, I ‘m not interested in your latest cause célèbre.
Disguised as “Doctor X,” to protect his reputation, he wrote this for his friend Lester Grinspoon’s book, Marihuana Reconsidered, in 1977:
“The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serendipity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”
At the time of his visit, Sagan was surely aware that Leary had been originally sent to prison for possession of less than a joint of cannabis.
Like Leary, Sagan also exemplified the connection between mind-expanding drugs, which increased intelligence, and scientific breakthroughs. In “The Amniotic Universe,” an article drawn from Sagan’s book Broca’s Brain, and published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1979, Sagan shows a deep and perceptive familiarity with the effects of LSD, MDA, DMT and Ketamine in his review of Stanislav Grof’s extensive and revolutionary LSD research. He writes about the effects of LSD in particular, speculating that “the Hindu mystical experience” of union with the universe “is pre-wired into us, requiring only 200 micrograms of LSD to be made manifest.” Eminent psychedelic historian Peter Stafford, author of Psychedelics Encyclopedia, placed Sagan in a list of famous people who have taken LSD. Sagan was also number 1 on io9′s recently published list of “10 Scientific and Technological Visionaries Who Experimented With Drugs.”
Without further ado, here’s the article . . .
It all began about ten years ago. I had reached a considerably more relaxed period in my life – a time when I had come to feel that there was more to living than science, a time of awakening of my social consciousness and amiability, a time when I was open to new experiences. I had become friendly with a group of people who occasionally smoked cannabis, irregularly, but with evident pleasure. Initially I was unwilling to partake, but the apparent euphoria that cannabis produced and the fact that there was no physiological addiction to the plant eventually persuaded me to try. My initial experiences were entirely disappointing; there was no effect at all, and I began to entertain a variety of hypotheses about cannabis being a placebo which worked by expectation and hyperventilation rather than by chemistry. After about five or six unsuccessful attempts, however, it happened. I was lying on my back in a friend’s living room idly examining the pattern of shadows on the ceiling cast by a potted plant (not cannabis!). I suddenly realized that I was examining an intricately detailed miniature Volkswagen, distinctly outlined by the shadows. I was very skeptical at this perception, and tried to find inconsistencies between Volkswagens and what I viewed on the ceiling. But it was all there, down to hubcaps, license plate, chrome, and even the small handle used for opening the trunk. When I closed my eyes, I was stunned to find that there was a movie going on the inside of my eyelids. Flash . . . a simple country scene with red farmhouse, a blue sky, white clouds, yellow path meandering over green hills to the horizon. . . Flash . . . same scene, orange house, brown sky, red clouds, yellow path, violet fields . . . Flash . . . Flash . . . Flash. The flashes came about once a heartbeat. Each flash brought the same simple scene into view, but each time with a different set of colors . . . exquisitely deep hues, and astonishingly harmonious in their juxtaposition. Since then I have smoked occasionally and enjoyed it thoroughly. It amplifies torpid sensibilities and produces what to me are even more interesting effects, as I will explain shortly.
I can remember another early visual experience with cannabis, in which I viewed a candle flame and discovered in the heart of the flame, standing with magnificent indifference, the black-hatted and -cloaked Spanish gentleman who appears on the label of the Sandeman sherry bottle. Looking at fires when high, by the way, especially through one of those prism kaleidoscopes which image their surroundings, is an extraordinarily moving and beautiful experience.
I want to explain that at no time did I think these things ‘really’ were out there. I knew there was no Volkswagen on the ceiling and there was no Sandeman salamander man in the flame. I don’t feel any contradiction in these experiences. There’s a part of me making, creating the perceptions which in everyday life would be bizarre; there’s another part of me which is a kind of observer. About half of the pleasure comes from the observer-part appreciating the work of the creator-part. I smile, or sometimes even laugh out loud at the pictures on the insides of my eyelids. In this sense, I suppose cannabis is psychotomimetic, but I find none of the panic or terror that accompanies some psychoses. Possibly this is because I know it’s my own trip, and that I can come down rapidly any time I want to.
While my early perceptions were all visual, and curiously lacking in images of human beings, both of these items have changed over the intervening years. I find that today a single joint is enough to get me high. I test whether I’m high by closing my eyes and looking for the flashes. They come long before there are any alterations in my visual or other perceptions. I would guess this is a signal-to-noise problem, the visual noise level being very low with my eyes closed. Another interesting information-theoretical aspects is the prevalence – at least in my flashed images – of cartoons: just the outlines of figures, caricatures, not photographs. I think this is simply a matter of information compression; it would be impossible to grasp the total content of an image with the information content of an ordinary photograph, say 108 bits, in the fraction of a second which a flash occupies. And the flash experience is designed, if I may use that word, for instant appreciation. The artist and viewer are one. This is not to say that the images are not marvelously detailed and complex. I recently had an image in which two people were talking, and the words they were saying would form and disappear in yellow above their heads, at about a sentence per heartbeat. In this way it was possible to follow the conversation. At the same time an occasional word would appear in red letters among the yellows above their heads, perfectly in context with the conversation; but if one remembered these red words, they would enunciate a quite different set of statements, penetratingly critical of the conversation. The entire image set which I’ve outlined here, with I would say at least 100 yellow words and something like 10 red words, occurred in something under a minute.
The cannabis experience has greatly improved my appreciation for art, a subject which I had never much appreciated before. The understanding of the intent of the artist which I can achieve when high sometimes carries over to when I’m down. This is one of many human frontiers which cannabis has helped me traverse. There also have been some art-related insights – I don’t know whether they are true or false, but they were fun to formulate. For example, I have spent some time high looking at the work of the Belgian surrealist Yves Tanguey (see above). Some years later, I emerged from a long swim in the Caribbean and sank exhausted onto a beach formed from the erosion of a nearby coral reef. In idly examining the arcuate pastel-colored coral fragments which made up the beach, I saw before me a vast Tanguey painting. Perhaps Tanguey visited such a beach in his childhood.
A very similar improvement in my appreciation of music has occurred with cannabis. For the first time I have been able to hear the separate parts of a three-part harmony and the richness of the counterpoint. I have since discovered that professional musicians can quite easily keep many separate parts going simultaneously in their heads, but this was the first time for me. Again, the learning experience when high has at least to some extent carried over when I’m down. The enjoyment of food is amplified; tastes and aromas emerge that for some reason we ordinarily seem to be too busy to notice. I am able to give my full attention to the sensation. A potato will have a texture, a body, and taste like that of other potatoes, but much more so. Cannabis also enhances the enjoyment of sex – on the one hand it gives an exquisite sensitivity, but on the other hand it postpones orgasm: in part by distracting me with the profusion of image passing before my eyes. The actual duration of orgasm seems to lengthen greatly, but this may be the usual experience of time expansion which comes with cannabis smoking.
I do not consider myself a religious person in the usual sense, but there is a religious aspect to some highs. The heightened sensitivity in all areas gives me a feeling of communion with my surroundings, both animate and inanimate. Sometimes a kind of existential perception of the absurd comes over me and I see with awful certainty the hypocrisies and posturing of myself and my fellow men. And at other times, there is a different sense of the absurd, a playful and whimsical awareness. Both of these senses of the absurd can be communicated, and some of the most rewarding highs I’ve had have been in sharing talk and perceptions and humor. Cannabis brings us an awareness that we spend a lifetime being trained to overlook and forget and put out of our minds. A sense of what the world is really like can be maddening; cannabis has brought me some feelings for what it is like to be crazy, and how we use that word ‘crazy’ to avoid thinking about things that are too painful for us. In the Soviet Union political dissidents are routinely placed in insane asylums. The same kind of thing, a little more subtle perhaps, occurs here: ‘did you hear what Lenny Bruce said yesterday? He must be crazy.’ When high on cannabis I discovered that there’s somebody inside in those people we call mad.
When I’m high I can penetrate into the past, recall childhood memories, friends, relatives, playthings, streets, smells, sounds, and tastes from a vanished era. I can reconstruct the actual occurrences in childhood events only half understood at the time. Many but not all my cannabis trips have somewhere in them a symbolism significant to me which I won’t attempt to describe here, a kind of mandala embossed on the high. Free-associating to this mandala, both visually and as plays on words, has produced a very rich array of insights.
There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day. Some of the hardest work I’ve ever done has been to put such insights down on tape or in writing. The problem is that ten even more interesting ideas or images have to be lost in the effort of recording one. It is easy to understand why someone might think it’s a waste of effort going to all that trouble to set the thought down, a kind of intrusion of the Protestant Ethic. But since I live almost all my life down I’ve made the effort – successfully, I think. Incidentally, I find that reasonably good insights can be remembered the next day, but only if some effort has been made to set them down another way. If I write the insight down or tell it to someone, then I can remember it with no assistance the following morning; but if I merely say to myself that I must make an effort to remember, I never do.
I find that most of the insights I achieve when high are into social issues, an area of creative scholarship very different from the one I am generally known for. I can remember one occasion, taking a shower with my wife while high, in which I had an idea on the origins and invalidities of racism in terms of gaussian distribution curves. It was a point obvious in a way, but rarely talked about. I drew the curves in soap on the shower wall, and went to write the idea down. One idea led to another, and at the end of about an hour of extremely hard work I found I had written eleven short essays on a wide range of social, political, philosophical, and human biological topics. Because of problems of space, I can’t go into the details of these essays, but from all external signs, such as public reactions and expert commentary, they seem to contain valid insights. I have used them in university commencement addresses, public lectures, and in my books.
But let me try to at least give the flavor of such an insight and its accompaniments. One night, high on cannabis, I was delving into my childhood, a little self-analysis, and making what seemed to me to be very good progress. I then paused and thought how extraordinary it was that Sigmund Freud, with no assistance from drugs, had been able to achieve his own remarkable self-analysis. But then it hit me like a thunderclap that this was wrong, that Freud had spent the decade before his self-analysis as an experimenter with and a proselytizer for cocaine; and it seemed to me very apparent that the genuine psychological insights that Freud brought to the world were at least in part derived from his drug experience. I have no idea whether this is in fact true, or whether the historians of Freud would agree with this interpretation, or even if such an idea has been published in the past, but it is an interesting hypothesis and one which passes first scrutiny in the world of the downs.
I can remember the night that I suddenly realized what it was like to be crazy, or nights when my feelings and perceptions were of a religious nature. I had a very accurate sense that these feelings and perceptions, written down casually, would not stand the usual critical scrutiny that is my stock in trade as a scientist. If I find in the morning a message from myself the night before informing me that there is a world around us which we barely sense, or that we can become one with the universe, or even that certain politicians are desperately frightened men, I may tend to disbelieve; but when I’m high I know about this disbelief. And so I have a tape in which I exhort myself to take such remarks seriously. I say ‘Listen closely, you sonofabitch of the morning! This stuff is real!’ I try to show that my mind is working clearly; I recall the name of a high school acquaintance I have not thought of in thirty years; I describe the color, typography, and format of a book in another room and these memories do pass critical scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis (and probably with other drugs) which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs. Such a remark applies not only to self-awareness and to intellectual pursuits, but also to perceptions of real people, a vastly enhanced sensitivity to facial expression, intonations, and choice of words which sometimes yields a rapport so close it’s as if two people are reading each other’s minds.
Cannabis enables nonmusicians to know a little about what it is like to be a musician, and nonartists to grasp the joys of art. But I am neither an artist nor a musician. What about my own scientific work? While I find a curious disinclination to think of my professional concerns when high – the attractive intellectual adventures always seem to be in every other area – I have made a conscious effort to think of a few particularly difficult current problems in my field when high. It works, at least to a degree. I find I can bring to bear, for example, a range of relevant experimental facts which appear to be mutually inconsistent. So far, so good. At least the recall works. Then in trying to conceive of a way of reconciling the disparate facts, I was able to come up with a very bizarre possibility, one that I’m sure I would never have thought of down. I’ve written a paper which mentions this idea in passing. I think it’s very unlikely to be true, but it has consequences which are experimentally testable, which is the hallmark of an acceptable theory.
I have mentioned that in the cannabis experience there is a part of your mind that remains a dispassionate observer, who is able to take you down in a hurry if need be. I have on a few occasions been forced to drive in heavy traffic when high. I’ve negotiated it with no difficult at all, though I did have some thoughts about the marvelous cherry-red color of traffic lights. I find that after the drive I’m not high at all. There are no flashes on the insides of my eyelids. If you’re high and your child is calling, you can respond about as capably as you usually do. I don’t advocate driving when high on cannabis, but I can tell you from personal experience that it certainly can be done. My high is always reflective, peaceable, intellectually exciting, and sociable, unlike most alcohol highs, and there is never a hangover. Through the years I find that slightly smaller amounts of cannabis suffice to produce the same degree of high, and in one movie theater recently I found I could get high just by inhaling the cannabis smoke which permeated the theater.
There is a very nice self-titering aspect to cannabis. Each puff is a very small dose; the time lag between inhaling a puff and sensing its effect is small; and there is no desire for more after the high is there. I think the ratio, R, of the time to sense the dose taken to the time required to take an excessive dose is an important quantity. R is very large for LSD (which I’ve never taken) and reasonably short for cannabis. Small values of R should be one measure of the safety of psychedelic drugs. When cannabis is legalized, I hope to see this ratio as one of he parameters printed on the pack. I hope that time isn’t too distant; the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.