Paradox I: Up is down
Confirmation bias. There, we’ve acknowledged it at the top. The term from psychology and the cognitive sciences that refers to the innate tendency we all have as human beings to mistake our beliefs and cultural conditioning for empirically verifiable facts. Or, put another way, the tendency we all have as human beings to seek out stories that confirm what we assume to be eternal truths, but which, in a less solipsistic universe, are nothing more than our calcifying and potentially fundamentalist opinions. Importantly, when we say “all” here, we are not referring to people who have attained nirvikalpa samadhi or comparable levels of non-dual enlightenment: we are referring to people who are still deluded by the interplay of material forms, people who are attached to the bogus distinction between subject and object, people like you and me.
That out of the way, let’s proceed to one of the more irrefutable proofs for the inherent no-goodness of the cannabis plant. How evil is marijuana? Consider the following, written by a gentleman the British press once profiled under such headlines as “The Wickedest Man in the World” and “A Man We’d Like To Hang”: “This is the Profit of mine Intoxication of this holy Herb, The Grass of the Arabs, that it hath shewed me this Mystery (with many others), not as a New Light, for I had that aforetime, but by its swift Synthesis and Manifestation of a long Sequence of Events in a Moment.”
A clearer example of possession by a psychotic demon you’re unlikely to ever encounter. Never mind that the sentence is to be located in a book originally published in 1944 in an edition limited to 200 numbered and signed copies – proof, in case any more were needed, of the possessing entity’s nefarious purpose – the capital letters alone make it worthy of the ramblings of a lunatic. Never mind either that by the printing of the book’s 34th edition in 2014 it had become a classic of occultist literature, or that its author – long since deceased – had been outed as the part-time secret agent who’d provided Winston Churchill with the “V for Victory” sign as an antidote to the Nazi swastika. Never mind any of that, because we have all the confirmation we need in the fact that the text we’re discussing is The Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians, whose author was Aleister Crowley.
Yup, the self-proclaimed owner of the number 666, the Great Beast himself, was a dagga imbiber. A few pages before the above-quoted sentence, in a section entitled “De Herba Sanctissima Arabica” (The Sanctified Arabian Herb), we have a slightly longer, and thus slightly more damning, demonstration of the plant’s malevolent intent: “O my Son, yester Eve came the Spirit upon me that I also should eat the Grass of the Arabians, and by Virtue of the Bewitchment thereof behold that which might be appointed for the Enlightenment of mine Eyes. Now then of this I may not speak, seeing that it involveth the Mystery of the Transcending of Time, so that in One Hour of our Terrestrial Measure did I gather the Harvest of an Aeon, and in Ten Lives I could not declare it.”
The context here, being as informative as it is unflattering, is perhaps worth expanding upon. Crowley is providing instruction on the means for attaining insight, through meditative practice, into the consciousness represented by The Fool in his personal tarot deck. This trump, the first of the major arcana, is not only symbolic of the number “zero” and its latent powers, it is also symbolic of such ecstatically unsavoury god-forms as Dionysius and Baphomet. The method for entering “the abyss” where these powers and gods dwell inheres in a contemplative experience aided by the ingestion of hashish, a cannabis sativa product that delivers a concentrated psychoactive punch. Once on the other side, we can access Crowley’s teaching that, in the highest spiritual realms, contradiction equals unity: down is up, hate is love, death is life.
Is it even natural for a plant to be this bad?
Which must’ve been a version of the question that the very good prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, was asking himself when he said the following in Montreal on Saturday, 3 October 2015: “Tobacco is a product that does a lot of damage. Marijuana is infinitely worse and it’s something that we do not want to encourage.”
Paradox II: High is low
The difference in the pace of cannabis legalisation between South Africa and Canada has already been referenced in the first two articles of this series (see links below, where we point out that Canadian law has made provision for industrial hemp and medical marijuana), but now we must highlight an important similarity: the tendency of politicians in both countries to link recreational cannabis use with psychosis and/or schizophrenia. An unfortunate development for these politicians, given how committed to a sane status quo they all are, is the dearth of conclusive medical evidence to back up their assertions. Even the CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster, has been forced to call out its commander-in-chief on this score.
“The Conservatives often link marijuana use to increased risks of mental health issues, such as psychosis and schizophrenia, but medical research on that is divided,” the broadcaster noted in its report on Harper’s weekend tirade. “Health Canada put out an anti-marijuana ad campaign late last year — which was repeated shortly before the start of the election campaign — that warned pot was responsible for lower IQs. That statement derived from two studies whose conclusions have since been challenged.”
Down in South Africa, it’s not just the government in power that’s doing the morally responsible thing and protecting us from ourselves. As Dr Wilmot James, who was at the time the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) shadow health minister, told journalist Angelique Ruzicka in August: “We don’t think that making [marijuana] freely available is a good idea as it can cause great harm [medically] and also in terms of work productivity. It can really be harmful to children and impair someone’s cerebral development. We do believe that medical marijuana, easing access to it and regulating it more tightly, is something that’s worth pursuing though.”
Narend Singh, chief whip of the Inkatha Freedom Party – the party that last year proposed medical legalisation of the plant via the late Mario Oriani-Ambrosini’s Medical Innovation Bill – offered an equally coherent message. Singh agreed with his DA colleague that full decriminalisation, as has been legislated in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and a growing number of states in the US, was not a clever idea at all. “We are completely against that for now as research shows that the social ills associated with recreational use [of marijuana] is disastrous,” he said. As with James, we didn’t need Singh to name his sources because, hey, everybody in South Africa knows someone – or someone’s kid – who is dof because he rooks.
Anyway, in April this year, at a roundtable to discuss the Medical Innovation Bill, the country’s deputy minister of social development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, offered an assessment that was so morally and scientifically persuasive as to stand as the final word on the matter. To quote from a summary of proceedings: “The deputy minister stated that substance abuse in South Africa is a pervasive problem and we must acknowledge its negative consequences. In general, citizens are poor at abiding by the law, and being excessively liberal about cannabis may create a loophole for crime and for violence against patients (no, we don’t know what she means by ”patients” either – ed). Also, cannabis lingers in the bloodstream and may be linked to violent behaviour long after it is ingested. It may often serve as an entry point to the use of other substances and its legalisation may perpetuate the existing substance abuse burden in South Africa. The use of cannabis may worsen the level of violence in the country. The deputy minister raised the issue of obesity: many South African women are obese …”
Paradox III: Bad is good
Excuse us for a moment as we quote a few people who clearly don’t know what they’re talking about, starting with Quintin van Kerken, CEO of Anti Drug Alliance (ADA) South Africa. As the founder of an organisation that has offered education on the dangers of drug abuse to a million South African schoolchildren, and outpatient treatment to tens of thousands of South African adults (and himself an ex-drug abuser), Van Kerken is a threat to law-abiding politicians everywhere and his website should probably be shut down.
“The ADA has tried to find cases of death directly related to cannabis use,” he told the Daily Maverick last week. “The fact is, cannabis itself hasn’t killed anyone in SA, ever, that we could find. Does this mean that there are no deaths that can be attributed to it? No. I am sure there are, it’s just that we simply couldn’t find any.”
This would’ve been outrageous enough had Van Kerken stopped there – if stoned people drove as fast as drunk people, they would definitely cause more fatal road accidents – but he didn’t, he went on: “There are two ways someone can die directly from cannabis. Firstly, in order to overdose, you would have to consume 750 kilograms of it in less than 15 minutes. Secondly, and a more likely scenario, is that you would have to be hit with a 50 kilogram bag of it dropped onto your head from an aeroplane or an extremely high building. Do we believe that it can be harmful? Let me ask you this: Is a pack of cards harmful? Well no, but for a gambling addict, yes. Is sex harmful? Well no, but for a sex addict it is completely destructive. Does everyone that has a drink become an alcoholic? No. But a percentage of users do.”
And that doesn’t even begin to answer for the number of people who fly into violent rages after a few hits of dagga, as attested to by all the dagga bar fights that happen in this country every night, after which a worrying percentage of the more hardcore dagga bar patrons settle down for a night of domestic violence. Nor does it account for the fact that dagga contributes to the obesity problem in South Africa because, as Bogopane-Zulu has patiently explained to us, it “lingers in the fatty tissues”.
Unfortunately, Van Kerken isn’t the only person undermining the good work of our country’s roundtable-attending moral guardians. There are also people overseas, like Professor David Nutt, former chief drugs advisor to the UK government, who back in 2012 advised British MPs that alcohol consumption in that country could drop by as much as 25% if Dutch-style cannabis coffee shops were introduced (we’ll spare you the obvious pun and just say that Nutt was sacked). Or Lynn DeLisi, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who concluded in an article published in the journal Schizophrenia Research in early 2014 (and co-written with another three medical researchers): “The results of the current study suggest that having an increased familial morbid risk for schizophrenia may be the underlying basis for schizophrenia in cannabis users and not cannabis use by itself.” Or Dr Lester Grinspoon, the legendary professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard, who famously said in his book Marihuana Reconsidered: “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.”
Of course, as we move closer to the constitutional challenge set for March 2016, the obfuscations are likely to increase. For one thing, quoting the above Harvard Medical School crazies is nothing more than a confirmation of this writer’s own confirmation bias. Aleister Crowley ate hashish, and look what happened to him: he convinced himself that up was down and hate was love. DM
Photo: A file photo dated 31 August 2010 shows a worker tending to cannabis plants at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near the northern Israeli town of Safed, Israel. EPA/ABIR SULTAN ISRAEL OUT
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"Philosophy begins in wonder" ~ Plato