Drugs as Pedagogy, or Fostering a Relationship with the Cosmos

Thanks to a couple of great teachers, I learned some things in high school. All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I learned to write expository arguments. I learned the pleasure of reversal — flipping assumptions upside down. I read The Communist Manifesto.

And — thanks to combinations of marijuana, LSD, cocaine, beer, and bourbon — I learned to seethe with the cosmos.

We have this strange, ascetic tendency to think drugs are somehow external, that being high is not being real, that it's cheating. We ingest food and vitamins and supplements and kamboucha and Zoloft and penicillin without as much as batting an eye. But somehow things like acid and ecstasy are categorically different. I, for one, don't see the difference. We consume in order to thrive. And drugs, when well taken, do just that. If not more.

If nothing else, drugs taught me a certain sense of humility, that I am not in total control, that my ideas and vision and even my body can do what they want. At the same time, drugs have taught me that I can seethe with the universe, swell with its cosmic tides, surf and drown and frolic in its (meta)terrestrial waves. In the words of Rich Doyle, drugs taught me to be ecodelic.

And it's a good thing to learn young, before habit has begun to cement and weigh the body and self down. It's good to be 16, tripping on acid and seeing the invisible textures of the universe. It's good to be 19 and so lit that you can smell the stars. This prepares us for a beautiful life, plants the seed young that life is not defined by commodity and job and an A. It's defined by one's relationship with the universe.

Of course, there are all sorts of problems with teens — or anyone — taking drugs. They o.d.. They go schizo. They augment their depression.

But I don't think we can blame drugs alone for these things. Just as we teach kids to drive (far and way the #1 cause of teen death), we need to teach kids to take drugs well. Charlie Sheen is right — read the directions before showing up at the party.

We focus on teaching kids a relationship to the social — how to be polite, how to perform their gender, how to sit still in their seat and know their phone number and address. But we rarely teach them a relationship with the cosmos, with awe, with the infinite. On the contrary, we try to obstruct their view, prevent their connection.

It would be amazing to have a concerted pedagogy concerned with fostering a relationship to the infinite, a relationship with awe and astonishment. Drugs, of course, are not the only way to create such a relationship. And, when consumed poorly, drugs can impede a relationship to the infinite as much as any soul killing job.

But when consumed well, when incorporated well into a life, drugs can help people of all ages break the constraints of habit, of anxiety, of dread. I love the idea of drug manuals for parents, courses at high school and college, PhDs in ecodelia.


what the Tee Vee taught said...

I just read this aloud to my ever-lovely... wondrous... ladyfriend.

What a pleasure.

What delight.

There was a glass, cylinder — thick cylinder. Blackberries freshly picked from the bramble, shaken (hard, really hard) with just ice... to smash em'. Add a whisper of elderflower liqueur, gin, and shake it again.

And I'm laughing, just giggling to myself, as I read this aloud.

You're a great writer. Mighty! My great teacher.

A many thanks, as always, your student.

Ethan said...

I have very little in the way of comment other than to say I really like this.

Of course the "relationship to the social" that we teach kids, as you very admirably summarize it, is itself a huge part of what "obstructs" or relationship with the infinite--but of course you know that.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Ah, TV: Elderflower liqueur! You do know how to live....

@ Ethan: Thanks and agree whole heartedly. But I think the really complex thing is teaching oneself, and teaching others, to walk at once in the finite and the infinite — to heed the quotidian with awe. Or something.

drwatson said...

I love this - but the problem I see is that the discourse has been so co-opted. If this wasn't you talking and heard the sentence "we rarely teach them a relationship with the cosmos, with awe, with the infinite," I'd just sneer. And man do I not want to go into a confessional but yes, I'm on board with your sentiments.

Just for a little background - I know we live in different coasts - but I went to Appalachian State (we got mildly popular by beating Michigan in a football game a couple years ago) which is a hippy college and known as such. Our most famous dorm, East Dorm, was featured in both Playboy and Hightimes magazine.

Anyhow - I think a certain kind of person can do what you are suggesting and actually lives in that moment during the experience of intoxication. But the majority of people that I ran into were doing something totally different. They weren't opening up; they were shutting down. Even if they were doing an upper and talking all night and feeling as though they were experiencing a kinship of profound magnitude.

Perhaps it's as simple as a buddy of mine used to say: If you're smart going in, you're smart while you're in and you're smart coming out. If you're dumb going in, Leave.

@PierreDDN said...

Guillaule Dustan in Nicolas Pages argues such ideas, for instance he milites for a public service of night clubbing.

I don't know if the idea of learning to kids is so reasonable, youngs ok, ok in many countries first glass of wine was given et 14 years old, ok but may be just young should be told that, as well as caring of addiction.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Dr: Everything is co-opted. Such is the speed of vigor of capitalism. All the more reason to use cliches in different ways and in different contexts. As for poor drug use, yes, most people consume drugs the way they do a job: mindlessly. But that's the drug's fault; that's their fault.

Most people are dying due to their jobs, their lives being siphoned from them. But we don't say: "Stop working!" On the contrary....

@ Pierre: Of course drugs pose risks. So does marriage, work, college, parenting, driving, eating, etc. And when I say youth, I am thinking of adolescents. But I am not hard and fast on that; I'd have to think about it some more.

drwatson said...

Nice response - Absolutely - I love reading things that cut as hard and as quickly as "Everything is co-opted. Such is the speed and vigor of capitalism." It reminds me, if you'll forgive a slightly faulty analogy, of the Texas Hold Em player going "Check raise."

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