“That person must have been on drugs” is a common response to observing all kinds of wacked-out behaviour, as if taking a psychoactive drug inevitably brings about false kinds of thinking – a cognitive bias this column has previously described as Sobriety Bias Syndrome. But if we look around the world that sober people built, and the moral values agreed upon by sober people, things really didn’t turn out that great.
It was pious and sober people who decided, a few thousand years ago, that mutilating the genitals of baby boys was a legitimate expression of God’s will. It was sober people who decided to adopt this tradition from the foreigners who practiced it, and people are sober when they argue for the “health benefits” of the mutilation.
George W. Bush, completely sober, decided that sending the firepower of the US military after Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a great idea, even though it led directly to the deaths of over a million people. The US Congress, elected to represent the American people, also soberly decided that this was a great idea.
In the 1930s we created and watched “documentaries” such as Reefer Madness, which exhorted us to tell our children that smoking cannabis will turn them into murderers; a dozen years later, with god-fearing sobriety, we built nuclear weapons and dropped them on Japanese civilians, killing hundreds of thousands in one hit.
These are the actions of sober minds. So clearly a person doesn’t have to be intoxicated in order to do terrible things to someone else.
Far from it. In many ways, sobriety can be seen as a kind of virus. Its presence in a person’s mind tends to work to drive out periods of non-sobriety, usually because of egoistic religious delusions about achieving purity of thought. The sober mind tends to have thoughts repeating in it over and over again, and this repetition can lead to a powerful commitment to some ideas.
This is a fact long understood by television programmers, who appreciate how repeated exposure to a short, powerful stimulus is more likely to induce purchasing behaviour in a potential consumer than a single exposure to e.g. a lecture about the qualities of a product.
Because novel psychoactive experiences tend to destroy this conditioning by allowing the conditioned person to see things from new perspectives, if you want to get everyone marching in lockstep then these psychoactive experiences need to be either discouraged or made illegal.
Consequently, entirely sober people have decided, presumably using sober logic, that putting another human being in a cage is a fair punishment for being caught growing a medicinal plant without permission.
Maybe there’s an argument that too much sobriety makes an individual mean from a lack of levity, and a society dumb from a lack of questioning?
After all, the mass shooters making the front pages recently are definitely not smoking weed, taking ecstasy or tripping on mushrooms or LSD, and neither are the genital mutilators, military warhawks and brainwashers that are responsible for most of the world’s evil.
The truth is that the world needs a diversity of ideas if humans are to survive the challenges of coming years. Never mind a diversity of skin colour – such superficial qualities do not constitute real diversity. Real diversity is diversity of ideas, even outlandish ones, even crazy ones, because that is the kind of diversity that saves us from groupthink and prevents us from making the kind of error that arises from self-righteous conviction about one’s correctness.
To that end, sobriety is our enemy and getting wasted is our friend.