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Friday, April 26, 2013

Opium and Art

If you have seen the modern 'art' of addiction, it is pretty lame.  I think those of us from years past remember when marijuana 'bongs' became an art craze, with psychedelic colors and patterns.  But, nowadays, most drugs are dispensed through crude pipes, dirty spoons, and medical-rubbish needles.

In the past, such was not the case: 

Aside form the author's own story, I think it is interesting how opium usage developed into an aesthetic activity.  In the last year or so, I've taken an interest in gongfu-cha, or the Chinese tea-preparation method (a nice family activity that focuses and calms us after a stressful day).  It is also an aesthetic experience, though without the problems associated with opiates!

My question, however, us always the same: why?  Why not just smoke your drug in a piece of glass pipe or a broken car antenna?  Why the effort?

My theory is that the Chinese understood at a more basic level that we are prepared to acknowledge that the experience of opium was an attempt to reach places reserved for the Divine.  It was a type of religious experience, one that brought peace and comfort to those who lived in a world of struggle and oppression.

Opium kept the people docile.  Excited minds that could not express themselves found rest in the dark rooms of the opium den.  Karl Marx understood this in some way when he wrote:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

Of course, he is guilty or reverse engineering gone wrong.  Religion can be a 'drug,' but that is not the real goal.  The real goal is spirituality, which is always transformative.  It changes us rather than masking the symptoms.  However, if people merely settle for the rituals and refuse to go deeper, then religion is a drug indeed.

Opium usage was a 'religious' ceremony for its users because it offered a cheap way to an experience that could be mistaken for a spiritual 'awakening.'  The art of opium use met that goal and enhanced it.

Our modern drugs are far more powerful and mind-altering, so much so that their 'art' is no longer necessary.  The enhancing effect of the imagination is really irrelevant the way it was with the older versions of drugs: marijuana is more powerful now than in the 1960s, when the 'art' of the modern drug culture flourished.  The art enhanced the high.

Now, the art is unnecessary.  Now, all you need is a tin can and a lighter to smoke your 'religion' of choice.

Drug art is a 'religious' expression, no doubt about it.  If you talk to a drug-art aficionado, it is not much different than talking to someone enthusiastic about their religion.  They want you to try it, or at least appreciate it.  I've actually had the same pressure exerted on me to try pot as I had to 'accept Jesus.'

In the case of the former, I discovered I had an allergy.  In the case of the latter, it was my own exploration without being pressured that caused me to convert.

All religion must be judged by its transformative effects.  In the case of the pot smoker, he must look at what his usage makes him and if he is happy with the results.  The same should be the measure of the religious person.

The problem arises when people do not want to clearly and honestly see themselves.  The druggie does not want to see the ruined relationships and blown opportunities, nor does the religious fanatic.

All the aesthetic beauty of drug art cannot hide the fact that it ultimately destroys the user.  It is the Siren Song of Hell.

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