Saturday, June 18, 2011

philosophers stoned...,

philosophypress | The fact is surprising, when you think about it. Why have philosophers not had more to say about the phenomenology and social, political, legal, economic, and medical aspects of cannabis? Plato wrote his dialogue Symposium about an after-theatre drinking party in ancient Athens, where Socrates and his friends discourse about the nature of love. But no one in almost two thousand five hundred years of Western philosophy has had much if anything to say about getting high. Philosophers, like approximately 1 out of 3 citizens in developed societies, presumably have tried marijuana, and some of them must regularly smoke it, just as they might enjoy the occasional bottle of wine. Are such indulgences so shameful for intellectuals, either intrinsically, or perhaps because they are illegal, that virtually no one in the philosophical community has been moved to remark at length on the psychology, pharmacology and sociology of cannabis intoxication?

586px-jointdetailSensing a gap in current discussions of applied popular philosophy, I recently edited a book on the subject. It appeared under what for my tastes is the excessively provocative title, Cannabis – Philosophy for Everyone: What Were We Just Talking About? This was not my title, which was morphed by the editorial hierarchy at the press from its original mellifluous (I thought) and more easily parsed Cannabis & Philosophy: What Were We Just Talking About? For the record, I do not imagine that either cannabis or philosophy is literally for everyone. Cannabis is certainly not for children, studies show, particularly under the age of fifteen, nor for the psychically challenged, and I certainly do not advocate a cannabis-philosophy (whatever that would be) for everyone (no less). Philosophy for Everyone is instead the title of the series in which the book appears, a title that has wandered its way uninvited into the book title, ostensibly for the sake of distinguishing this set of books from other philosophy and popular culture series. There have already come to light such companion volumes as Porn – Philosophy for Everyone: How to Think With Kink, and Christmas – Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of Coal, even though one hopes it is obvious once again that not everyone stands in need of either a Porn – or a Christmas – philosophy. Given the potential for misunderstanding my purposes inherent in the book’s bewildering title, I propose to air a few thoughts on the project and my motivations for editing a book on the relation between philosophy and, as I see it, the relatively innocent pleasures of hashish.

The gratification I speak of is already known to many from first-hand experience. The philosophical challenge is to try to put the experience into words in a descriptive psychology or phenomenology. What is it like to be high? How is the sensation of being high on cannabis different from normal straight consciousness? It is expedient but philosophically unhelpful to reply, “get high and find out”. There is a great difference between, on the one hand, having an experience and knowing firsthand what the words for such experiences attempt to name and describe, and on the other, understanding the internal structures and qualitative aspects of such experiences as phenomenology described by expert investigators. The phenomenology of getting high should be no different in this regard from that of pain or perception. We must nevertheless turn to poets like Baudelaire, Allen Ginsberg, and Paul Bowles for insights where philosophers have dared to say so little. One might conclude they have never actually heard of the stuff.

As for the social-economic-political-legal, medical, and other aspects of cannabis consumption, the whole topic would be altogether philosophically trivial and otherwise unworthy of philosophical attention, if it were not for the fact that cannabis is illegal. If I were prepared to say anything about the current state of cannabis worldwide, it would be that prohibition deprives us of the opportunity to develop mature attitudes and wise, scientifically-informed policies about recreational and other uses of mildly psychoactive hedonistic substances, as we have done in the case of many other things that are significantly less good for the user and society at large.


CNu said...

Come on Bass-y, move those fingers, let me hear it, swing it.

nanakwame said...

Then it becames the world's
Sly and Robbie
Night Nurse

Charles Mingus