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2007-12-14

Couldn't have said it better myself

SEATTLE, Washington - The "War on Drugs" is riddled with hypocrisy and inconsistencies, but perhaps the central one is this: some psychoactive substances (alcohol, nicotine, etc.) are deemed acceptable for consumption, and others (marijuana, opiates, mescaline, etc.) are prohibited or doled out only in specific medical circumstances. Attempts have been made to justify why some substances are allowed and others are not, but upon close examination these categorizations are somewhat arbitrary and are strongly distorted by misinformation and special interests.

Many authors have made the case that adults should not be bound by these categorizations, and should be free consume whatever intoxicants they wish (one that I've read being Saying Yes by Jacob Sullum). While book-length assertions of this principle are great, it's tough to beat the succinct and elegant case made by Thomas de Quincey in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

I just started reading Confessions, and may or may not write a full review later. This book was first published in 1822, and an expanded version was published in 1856. Well-written English from the early 19th century has great style that simply cannot be matched by modern authors. The passage that caught my eye first appeared in the 1856 publication (italics and archaic spellings in the original):


If in early days I had fully understood the subtle powers lodged in this mighty drug (when judiciously regulated), (1) to tranquillise all irritations of the nervous system; (2) to stimulate the capacities for enjoyment; and (3) under any call for extraordinary exertion (such as all men meet at times), to sustain through twenty-four consecutive hours the else drooping animal energies - most certainly, knowing or suspecting all this, I should have inaugurated my opium career in the character of one seeking extra power and enjoyment, rather than of one shrinking from extra torment. And why not? If that argued any fault, is it not a fault that most of us commit every day with regard to alcohol? Are we entitled to use that only as a medicine? Is wine unlawful, except as an anodyne? I hope not: else I shall be obliged to counterfeit and to plead some anomalous tic in my little finger; and thus gradually, as in any Ovidian metamorphosis, I, that am at present a truth-loving man, shall change by daily inches into a dissembler. No: the whole race of man proclaim it lawful to drink wine without pleading a medical certificate as a qualification. That same license extends itself therefore to the use of opium; what a man may lawfully seek in wine surely he may lawfully find in opium; and much more so in many cases (of which mine happens to be one) where opium deranges the animal economy less by a great deal than an equivalent quantity of alcohol.

1 comments:

Christine said...

You sure do pick obscure books but they usually sound interesting. I have always been attracted to English poetry from that time period because of the way they are written and the words chosen, but I really have not given many books from back then much of a chance. And needless to say, legalize all drugs in my opinion...