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Is Objectivism against drugs?

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I just wondered what the Objectivist stance on drugs is.

I don't remember Rand writing anything specific or extended on the topic of recreational drug use. As far as I know there isn't a categorical position; you'll need to apply more general Objectivist ethical principles to the issue.

The basic question, at least from my own point of view, is what the likely impact of recreational drug use would be on my life and mind. Since different drugs have different effects, some drugs may be OK and others not. LSD, for example, can create permanent changes in physiological neural responses after a single dose. Given that my mind is my basic tool of survival, and there is evidence that even a small amount of LSD can permanently and negatively impact its operation for the rest of my life, LSD seems like a very dangerous drug. Other drugs, like alcohol or caffeine, don't seem to have the same kind of impact in small quantities, so I don't have much of a problem with them.

The addictiveness of a given drug is also a factor to consider. It's not too hard for most people to drink alcohol occasionally and deal with the consequences. (I had a glass of wine with Thanksgiving dinner last night, for example.) Drugs like heroin or cocaine are much more addictive, and have much harsher consequences on physical and psychological health.

When I was young, I observed that there are certain categories of behavior that are a lot easier to start than to stop. Smoking, drinking and drug use are examples. I decided that it was simple prudence not to get into something that was hard to get out of unless there was a compelling reason. I've never found a compelling reason to start smoking or using recreational drugs outside of a very occasional social drink. That doesn't automatically mean that such actions are immoral, just that I personally have never seen a strong reason to start doing them, so I haven't.

As is usually the case with these kinds of ethical issues, there is no simple "yes" or "no" answer. Context rules. I do think that the evidence suggests that heavy recreational drug users often suffer damage to their ability to think and act long-range, and as such drug use is at best risky given our current level of understanding of the physical and mental effects of long-term use. In a different context, where the effects of drugs were better understood, those risks could be managed or mitigated and the ethical calculus could be different. But in today's world, I see a number of dangers in drug use and not too much potential upside. So why chance it?

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[...] I read in another thread that Objectivists were against drugs and nobody disagreed. So I assumed general acceptance of the stance. And then I started thinking: Why? (My favourite question by the way) Why be against recreational drug use? To be specific, with drugs I mean Cannabis, LSD, cocaine etc. My emphasis, here will be cannabis however, since this is something I consider harmless if taken with consideration.

Here is my definition -- a rough, working one -- of what "drug" means in this context: a substance which limits or distorts consciousness and is taken for that purpose. Note that there are two components: (1) A demonstrable effect on consciousness; and (2) a purpose. Some medicinal drugs do distort consciousness, which is why physicians warn patients against using the medicinal drugs and, for example, operating machinery at the same time. However, the purpose of taking the medicinal drug overrides the temporary effect of limiting or distorting consciousness in order to fix a physical problem.

Examples may help show what is and is not a "recreational" (that is, consciousness-abusing) drug. Alcohol in small quantity is physically relaxing, for me, but does not limit or distort my consciousness. But the key is quantity. Larger quantities are limiting and distorting, to say nothing of permanently damaging one's brain and other organs.

Nicotene actually seemed to improve the quality of my thinking, at least in certain usage patterns; however, the long-term physically destructive effects make it totally unattractive to me now. (I smoked heavily for eight years, 40 years ago, and gave up -- but I nevertheless have a mild case of ephysema.)

Morphine is an example of a drug that may be either medicinal or "recreational." After major surgery, I took it for about 24 hours (through an IV drip). When I realized I was hallucinating -- both sound and sight -- I turned it off and never went back to it. Morphine has proper medicinal usages; but some individuals use it precisely to distort or severely limit their consciousness.

I only took it once and I liked it. To be honest, this was one of the happiest times of my life. Why is something like this immoral? If you know that you just do this, I don't know, once every other week just for the sake of the good feeling I honestly don't see where the problem is.

If limiting or distorting consciousness creates one's greatest happiness -- not just giddiness, exhiliration, or something akin to those emotions -- then I suggest that person should rethink what happiness is and do a lot of thinking about how to achieve it. One might start by doing a slow, abstract-integrative reading of the entries on "Happiness" and "Purpose" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.

Happiness is a state of mind -- that is, a long-term condition -- that arises from the achievement of one's basic philosophical and personal values. It is not an emotion, which is always a short-term phenomenon. Happiness certainly does not come from "recreational" drugs. People who resort to drugs to escape boredom should ask themselves why they are bored -- and then acquire passionately held values to pursue and gain. That is where happiness comes from.

I am 61. I have been happy for 18 years. Happiness justifies whatever it takes to achieve it. And, even if -- through circumstances beyond one's control -- one fails to achieve happiness, then the second prize -- which is the serenity that arises from knowing one tried as best one could -- is still very good.

Edited by BurgessLau
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This thread was started because I read in another thread that Objectivists were against drugs and nobody disagreed. So I assumed general acceptance of the stance. And then I started thinking: Why? (My favourite question by the way) Why be against recreational drug use? To be specific, with drugs I mean Cannabis, LSD, cocaine etc. My emphasis, here will be cannabis however, since this is something I consider harmless if taken with consideration. I only took it once and I liked it. To be honest, this was one of the happiest times of my life. Why is something like this immoral? If you know that you just do this, I don't know, once every other week just for the sake of the good feeling I honestly don't see where the problem is.

One could say that Ayn Rand liked drugs, or at least nicotine, because most of her characters were furious smokers. Of course, smoking dangers weren't as well documented or receiving as much notoriety when she penned her novels, and she clearly liked the using cigarettes as symbolism of man's intellect (controlling the flame).

All that aside, it is clear that any recreational drug that adversely affects the ability of ones mind to reason would be 'reasoned' to be dangerous to one's own good - and therefore contrary to Objectivist ethic. Less powerful drugs such as cigarettes, alchohal, caffeine, and marijuana may be argued to be 'acceptable' in controlled situations. However, by the addictive nature of some, the question of control may only be an irrationalization. The danger of these lesser drugs ultimately depends upon the individual, their awareness, and the cautions they take. Fully appreciated, more people probably abuse these lesser drugs than those that abuse themselves with the harder drugs.

Back to the question though, I think Objectivist philosophy must clearly reject the hard core, mind altering drugs. However, I think that the 'soft' drugs - thinking here of those mentioned above - may not be damned, but that usage must be confined within the context such that all usage will be conducted responsibly.

These soft drugs are basically mild relaxants or mild stimulants. Booze can be both (for those of you who like to multi-task). As such, they can be considered to provide a valuable service when properly used.

Improperly used, well - look at the sad statistics of DUI/DWI accidents.

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I don't remember Rand writing anything specific or extended on the topic of recreational drug use. As far as I know there isn't a categorical position; you'll need to apply more general Objectivist ethical principles to the issue.

Fortunately, I do remember:

Is there any doubt that drug addiction is an escape from an unbearable inner state, from a reality one cannot deal with, from an atrophying mind one can never fully destroy? If Apollonian reason were unnatural to man, and Dionysian "intuition" brought him closer to nature and truth, the apostles of irrationality would not have to resort to drugs. Happy, self-confident men do not seek to get "stoned."

Drug addiction is the attempt to obliterate one's consciousness, the quest for a deliberately induced insanity. As such, it is so obscene an evil that any doubt about the moral character of its practitioners is itself an obscenity.

-Ayn Rand, from "Apollo and Dionysus"

I'd say that's a pretty strong condemnation; if she condemns even those who would DOUBT its evil.

Edited by Inspector
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I'd say that's a pretty strong condemnation; if she condemns even those who would DOUBT its evil.
I don't think there is any question that Rand would condemn (and did condemn, as you've shown) drug addiction and having to take drugs to "live". But I think Felix's question was more narrowly focused, and he does seem to have rejected being addicted to drugs from the first post.
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I don't think there is any question that Rand would condemn (and did condemn, as you've shown) drug addiction and having to take drugs to "live". But I think Felix's question was more narrowly focused, and he does seem to have rejected being addicted to drugs from the first post.

That's correct. I was thinking only about non-addictive drug use.

Getting addicted to drugs is just stupid.

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I'm assuming the context here is recreational drugs, because obviously drug use can be beneficial for things like curing disease, and reducing pain, etc.

As a general rule, recreational drugs are self-destructive, and therefore shouldn't be taken.

They often impare your state of consciousness, so that you are less able to function rationally. This can easily lead to disasterous results. For instance, car accidents and injury and death are quite common results. It's also true that drugs themselves, independent of their influence on your actions, can have injurious and deadly effects. How often have we heard of a rocker, or sports figure dying from use of things like crack cocaine? It's hard to believe Ozzy Osborne is all there.

And, if you use them frequently, you can end up addicted, and really screw up your life long range.

Having said that, you can't rule out the use of recreational drugs. Perhaps better drugs will be invented, which will be safer. And, there are drugs, like marijuana and alcohol which are usually safe in small doses.

I believe khaight has the right answer. It depends on the context. Although in most contexts I'd give it a definite thumbs down. :D <--- just reverse this guy's hand.

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Besides BurgessLau's excellent points on happiness and how to obtain it, this thread seems to be revolving around the health effects and addictive properties of recreational drugs.

But I would like to point out that there is one class of recreational drugs that are NOT addictive, nor do they have ANY adverse health effects (unless one considers an allergic reaction): psychoactive mushrooms. Most users who do use them partake no more than a few times a year. The experience is long and intense and usually not desired more often than that. The active compounds are psilocin and psilocybin, which are in the same class of compounds as LSD. The type of experience desired is regulated by the dose, and can range from mild visual hallucination to auditory hallucinations and more (splitting of the ego, loss of reality, objects morphing into other objects, etc.) In fact, LSD was first isolated from a fungus.

Personally, I see no problem with the more non-addictive recreational drugs used out of curiosity or entertainment, as long as one's happiness does not depend on it or it does not become a habit used to escape from reality. There are lots of things that are used in such ways: food, porn, etc. No difference.

As mentioned above, some people find artistic or other inspiration from the experience. The best inspiration I can think of was a scientific one. Cary Mullis reported that being high on pot inspired his invention of the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) process: he hallucinated about DNA molecules replicating, and he then duplicated that hallucinated process in the lab. This process is the basis of an ENORMOUS industry - practically everything in even a simple molecular biology lab uses PCR: cloning, DNA sequencing, genetic engineering, phylogenetics. God - I shudder to think where we would be without it today.

Edited by Liriodendron Tulipifera
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Is there any doubt that drug addiction is an escape from an unbearable inner state, from a reality one cannot deal with, from an atrophying mind one can never fully destroy? If Apollonian reason were unnatural to man, and Dionysian "intuition" brought him closer to nature and truth, the apostles of irrationality would not have to resort to drugs. Happy, self-confident men do not seek to get "stoned."

While the specific subject is addiction, she quite blatantly states no person who is content with him or herself would seek to escape into a fake reality by using drugs, addictive or not.

Edited by Exabyte
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Exabyte, I agree.

While, of course, context is king and there can be an acceptable context (such as someone in pain from a terrible disease or something), her statement and its tone are a clear condemnation of the "recreational" use of mind-altering drugs, addictive or not. I think this opinion can be clearly derived from Objectivism via the importance of maintaining a clear focus and rational purpose. Just about every form of supposedly "mindless" pleasure can be shown to serve some rational purpose or exercise some skill, but I don't see any of that with marijuana, LSD, shrooms, heroin, etc, etc. This would apply, IMO, even to alcohol if one abused it to the point of being "drunk." Intoxication is not a rational act.

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Well, Exabyte, if you adopt every opinion Ayn Rand ever had, that would mean that you also believe that hardcore pornography is unspeakably disgusting and that homosexuality is a contradiction (or some such, I can't remember her exact words on the latter topic).

Objectivism is a philosophy that tells us how to think, not an ideology that dictates to us what to think. Use the philosophy to think for yourself about why she said what she did, and whether there might be scenarios or contexts with which she was unfamiliar. She is also clearly speaking in the context of drug addiction in that paragraph, during a time in US history when such problems were rampant.

Clearly, happiness is acquired through productive achievement. But I don't necessarily view the use of recreational drugs as necessarily "mindless" or an attempt to reduce focus or rationality. On the contrary, nicotine, caffeine, and other classes of drugs can be stimulatory to the brain. I've smoked cigarettes on just a FEW occasions when I really need to focus intensely on something. During those times I can smoke one per day and then leave them alone for months. I don't see anything wrong with that type of use.

Edited by Liriodendron Tulipifera
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Liriodendron Tulipifera are you saying morality is not objective? Besides, I would think a quote that Inspector provided from a book written by Ayn Rand on her philosohy Objectivism stating that getting stoned is not the action of a happy self-confident man would answer the question "Is Objectivism against drugs?"

Edited by Exabyte
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Clearly, happiness is acquired through productive achievement. But I don't necessarily view the use of recreational drugs as necessarily "mindless" or an attempt to reduce focus or rationality. On the contrary, nicotine, caffeine, and other classes of drugs can be stimulatory to the brain. I've smoked cigarettes on just a FEW occasions when I really need to focus intensely on something. During those times I can smoke one per day and then leave them alone for months. I don't see anything wrong with that type of use.

I agree with Exabyte entirely. Here you say that not all drugs are mindless - but in earlier posts you happily explain how you think shrooms are ok because they're not addictive yet go on to explain how they cause mild to serious hallucination. How is going into a state where your mind cannot tell reality from hallucination not mindless?

Don't get me wrong, I quite honestly don't care if you do shrooms, LSD, smoke, drink till you passout drunk as long as you don't infringe upon someone else's rights - but the question at hand is whether it goes against Objectivist philosophy which I think it most certainly does.

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What I am saying is that context is key, that you and Inspector have dropped it, and that you should go back and read all the posts here, especially those of BurgessLau and DavidOdden, who display consistently good thinking on this forum (much better than myself), and begin to think for yourself. And if anyone can show that something I said is wrong, rationally show it, then I welcome that.

Clue: a happy self-confident man does not want to get stoned for the purpose of escaping the reality of an unbearable inner state, an atrophying mind, or something else one doesn't want to deal with, in the same way that it would be immoral to use food to temporarily escape the reality that one's job stinks, two bottles of wine to escape the reality that one's dog died, or a bunch of porn flicks to escape the reality that your partner doesn't want to fulfill every one of your desires in bed.

Edited by Liriodendron Tulipifera
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Oh, really? You've never been to see a sci-fi movie and imagined yourself as one of the characters? Never read a sci-fi book? Never put on 3-D glasses, enjoyed an optical illusion, or enjoyed looking at a hologram? Never rode a ride at Disney World that played tricks on your body and brain?

The purpose of such activities, which are all escapes from reality to differing extents, is key. And the purpose of each IS to escape from reality.

Edited by Liriodendron Tulipifera
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A happy self-confident man does not want to try and escape, fake, avoid or deny reality PERIOD.

Where is your evidence that all recreational drug users are trying to "escape, fake, avoid or deny reality"? Deliberately choosing to alter one's methods of perception does not constitute faking reality, unless you have a pretty strange idea of human cognition. Its just wrong to say that (eg) cannibas or LSD destroys a persons ability to think rationally, let alone "non-perception-altering" drugs like ecstacy or speed.

I think you'd have an exceptionally difficult time coming up with a reasonable scientific experiment to test the hypothesis that a person on ecstacy or speed is somehow cognitively impaired compared to normal humans.

Edited by Hal
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Where is your evidence that all recreational drug users are trying to "escape, fake, avoid or deny reality"? Deliberately choosing to alter one's methods of perception does not constitute faking reality, unless you have a pretty strange idea of human cognition.

Exactly. Are dreams mindless? They're an altered state of consciousness! The use of recreational drugs before the point of losing consciousness causes, not mindlessness, but an altered state of consciousness. If it resulted in mindlessness, the use of recreational drugs (LSD, marijuana, shrooms, or whatever else) would not result in art, literature, or science going on.

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Once again, the question was "Is Objectivism against drugs?" The ONLY person who can say what Objectivism is for or against is Rand. The question is answered. Hal how is taking shrooms, a mind altering drug, not faking or avoiding or denying reality? It puts you in a state where you cannot reason. What is with all of you resorting to "you agree with Rand so Rand is thinking for you"? I'll say it again because you people choose to ignore it. Rand is the creator of Objectivism so what she says about drug use is a pretty good answer to the question "Is Objectivism against drugs?"

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To those seemingly having Ayn Rand think for them: Does the use any drug for anything other than medical purposes necessarily imply the existence of a desire to escape reality?

I agree with Rand on some points, and I disagree on others. Agreeing with someone and referring to someone for their knowledge does not keep one from thinking for themselves. Much like writing a paper you may consult many sources in order to come to make your thesis and come to a well thought out conclusion, but it takes a great deal of thought to bring a well thought out argument together.

About the drugs: If in 'drugs' you include everything from nicotine and caffeine to heroin and shrooms, then no not all of them imply the desire to escape reality. My main disagreement was with the idea that shrooms, which Liriodendron Tulipifera earlier only described as being used to hallucinate (mildly to greatly depending on dosage), are somehow not an escape from reality. While I have never done them nor plan to, those who I know that have all knew and openly admitted that the purpose was to hallucinate. If that is the purpose, I would definitely say they have a desire to escape reality.

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Exactly. Are dreams mindless? They're an altered state of consciousness! The use of recreational drugs before the point of losing consciousness causes, not mindlessness, but an altered state of consciousness. If it resulted in mindlessness, the use of recreational drugs (LSD, marijuana, shrooms, or whatever else) would not result in art, literature, or science going on.
While I agree with your posts in this thread, I'd advise against using phrases like 'altered states of consciousness', because this seems to imply that there is one 'normal' way of perceiving (and thinking about) the world which is disrupted while under the influence of drugs. But its difficult to see how this could be the case - a person will generally think and act differently depending on their mental state. A person who is in a bad mood is going to interpret the world differently from someone who is in a good mood, and the general shape of their thought processes will also differ. If I leave the cinema after seeing a heroic film, I might perceive events in the world differently than how I would if I had watched a tragic play instead. Drugs do indeed alter our perceptions by changing the chemical structure of our brain. But then, so does pretty much everything; thats just how human cognition works. The question isnt whether a change occurs; its whether that change is desirable.

Once again, the question was "Is Objectivism against drugs?" The ONLY person who can say what Objectivism is for or against is Rand. The question is answered. Hal how is taking shrooms, a mind altering drug, not faking or avoiding or denying reality?
Well, how is it? What does 'mind altering' mean?

It puts you in a state where you cannot reason.
What does 'cannot reason' mean? Do you think you could demonstrate this claim empirically? I think that I can reason perfectly well while under the influence of certain drugs, so I would say the burden of proof here lies with you.

I'll say it again because you people choose to ignore it. Rand is the creator of Objectivism so what she says about drug use is a pretty good answer to the question "Is Objectivism against drugs?"
As others have pointed out, the above AR quotes concern drug addiction, which is a completely different topic. I'm not 'anti-film', yet I would condemn someone who watched movies for 20 hours a day. I'm not anti-gambling, yet I would condemn someone who lost 90% of their income playing roulette. Similarly, theres a big difference between condeming drug addiction and condeming drug use. Edited by Hal
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