Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Enough. We need to stop living this way.

(Originally posted by Pat on 5/9/10)

Last night I returned home around 5:00 AM with still a slight buzz from the vodka I'd been mixing in my Coke. I went to sleep immediately, and awoke only moments ago with a pounding headache. Whether it was a hangover headache or a sleep-disruption induced migraine is really beside the point: My pain now is an obvious and direct result of my pleasure yesterday.
And this, it must finally be admitted, is a terrible way to live.
The late nights, the alcohol, the drugs, even the junk food; these things are very bad for us. All in the name of "fun" that is fleeting hedonism and "friends" who are shallow acquaintances and "sex" that is either empty or nonexistent, we are killing ourselves. This is not good, it is not wise, it is not healthy, it is not rational.

Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine; these chemicals are neurotoxins. Milder per milliliter than the batrachotoxin of the most deadly dart frogs, yes; but responsible for thousands more deaths. These drugs are literally slow poison that destroys our minds and bodies. They have shortened thousands of lives, and ruined millions more.
I am no Puritan, no ascetic; fun and pleasure are good. I'm not even saying that drugs and sleep deprivation are immoral---for they are crimes with no victims, and hence not crimes at all. Rather, I am saying that we are using the wrong metric of human happiness. We are living by Diogenes and Bentham when we should be living by Epicurus and Mill. A vibrant chat over a flavorful meal between dear friends is a critical component of a good life; indeed I have difficulty imagining a satisfying life that did not include precisely this from time to time. Sex, too, is good, and I have difficulty imagining a rich life without it. But sex without intimacy is nothing more than spatiotemporally coincident masturbation. Two people are being pleasured and they happen to be the in the same place; but there is no reason that either one really needed the other. In such couplings the partner is interchangeable; the sex is a commodity.
Contrary to popular belief, aging is not mere chronology and death is not a law of physics. Aging is wear; it is accumulated damage to the body that outpaces its capacity to self-repair. This is why drug addicts, smokers, and tan-salon users always look old for their birthdays---they quite literally are. Death, too, is a causal event; something must cause you to die. People don't die of old age! They die of liver failure, congestive heart disease, cancer, accident, murder, or starvation. It just so happens that as the body wears out such dangers become more serious; moreover, over time small probabilities accumulate, until death becomes so likely as to be virtually inevitable.
Yet while we may never be able to conquer death, we can surely build walls to hold it at bay. One obvious way---indeed, probably the best way---is to eat healthy, sleep healthy, and live healthy. Be smarter and safer about the way you live, and the odds are good that you will live longer. I for one value my life and think it is worth trying to keep it going.
The rest of you may think me strange, but I'm done with this childish hedonism. I won't be staying out late drinking alcohol anymore. I won't be taking any drugs into my body that are not evidence-based medical therapy. I have given this "party scene" a few tries. In some cases I have found it to be quite stressful and uncomfortable; even in the best cases I have found it no more pleasurable than a flavorful pasta or an engaging video game. Why should I pay more for a worse chance at the same happiness? Yet once you factor in the cost to my body (not to mention my wallet), this is what you are asking me to do when you suggest that I take a shot of vodka rather than play a round of Wii Sports.
Join me, and we will share meals and games and conversation.
We need not be teetotalers, though psychologically it might be easier to eliminate the poisons altogether rather than try to intelligently moderate them. There are many fine alcoholic beverages---wines especially, at least in my opinion---that have a flavorful experience which could not be matched by any virgin drink. But if we drink, we must drink for the joy of the drink, not the pharmacology of the ethanol. Cider, lemonade? What's wrong with the plain kinds? Vodka, whiskey? Throw out that poison; you were a fool to buy it. A splash of flavorful rum might complement a sweet drink, but that is the strongest mix we should even consider. Only in beer and wine is the alcohol really inseparable from a beverage experience that's actually worth having.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions, yes; it does so by undermining the operation of the prefrontal cortex. That's the most important part of your brain, if you hadn't noticed; it is was separates you not only from the Teabaggers but indeed from the chimpanzees. Under the influence of alcohol, you become less inhibited, only at the cost of becoming less rational and indeed less human. The sex we get while drunk (if indeed we get it at all) is invariably of lower quality; our bodies don't work as they are evolved to function, our perceptions are dulled and our motor control is impaired. Moreover, any chemical strong enough to make me sleep with someone I wouldn't have is a chemical strong enough to make me sleep with someone I really didn't want to. The real me, the complete me, is the sober me; hence what I didn't want sober, I didn't want simpliciter.
If we feel (as I do) that we are too inhibited, we should be working to remove this inhibition; but we should be working to do so through private meditation or social change or replanning and restructuring our lives. We should find ways to integrate satisfying social and sexual experiences into our lives without poisoning ourselves. Neurotoxins are a poor substitute for the examined life.
Indeed, in a strange way it may be you, drinker, not me, who is the Puritan; you take for granted the association "sex, drugs, and rock & roll", the link between pleasure, sexuality, and pharmaceutical self-destruction. The Puritans have made an argument: "Sex, drugs and pleasure are the same, drugs are bad, hence sex and pleasure are bad." The conclusion was appalling, and you have rightly rejected the argument, and by modus tollens rejected one of the premises;  yet you have rejected the wrong premise. You should not have rejected "drugs are bad"; you should have rejected "sex, drugs, and pleasure are the same".
It is sad to me how often people in our culture talk of "being naughty", propose with a grin that we "behave badly", or suggest that something appealing is "sinful". Yet if it were really true that we were being naughty, behaving badly, or doing something sinful, that would necessarily entail that we ought not do it. Moral reasons are overriding reasons; if an act is wrong, it must not be done, and  nothing more needs said. Yet when asked to explain why kissing in public is "naughty" or fellatio is "behaving badly" or chocolate is "sinful", we can offer no reasons for this. We can merely gesture to the history of our ascetic culture. And so this culture controls us; we assimilate its norms, live them out in our lives; we speak of "counter-culture" as if that's something wonderful to be, but the counter-culture is merely a negation of the culture, and it is every bit as much controlled by the same false and oppressive norms. If a man commands you to stand and you stand, you are his slave; if he commands you to stand and you sit, you are still his slave, for all he needs to do is reverse the polarity of his commands. Because we have been taught to do so, we act as if it is obvious that anything pleasurable is immoral. Yet what sick perversion this is, for pleasure is the essence of morality; what is good is good in large part because it brings pleasure to beings such as we.
I do not reject drugs because they are fun; on the contrary I reject them because they are not fun, not really, not in any lasting or significant way. For a few moment's joy that we could just as well have gotten without them, drugs destroy our minds and ruin our lives. Alcohol is a Faustian bargain, and it is one I shall henceforth reject.
Join me; we will dance and love and play and sing, but we will do so with our cognition intact. When we are done we will sleep the sleep our brains demand of us, and never break our life-sustaining circadian rhythm for the sake of a brief moment's high. You will find that life this way is just as fun, or even more so---and you will have no regrets in the morning.
Join me now in living a better, wiser life. Today it will cost us little; tomorrow it will repay us a hundredfold.

No comments:

Post a Comment