Weed and Workism
**Do your drugs legally. We aren’t responsible if you do otherwise**
Where we find society, we find drugs
Drugs are weird. And fun and terrible. They can destroy lives and make them worth living.
We often think of drugs in terms of the very personal experiences that people have with them. We think of that little pill that gives us relief from our daily anxiety, or that bender that our cousin went on last summer. But the effects of drugs are also very important to contemplate on a societal level.
The study of human history is also the study of drug history.
One of my favorite pieces of drug history has to do with the Inca. Their civilization built a road system that rivaled the Roman road system (the Romans are extremely well known for their roads), but they had a much greater challenge than the Romans because their roads had to be built on top of the Andes mountains, and without pack animals like oxen and horses. Despite the challenges, they had one thing that fueled them which the Romans did not: coca leaves. They also had a very efficient long-distance communication system that was made possible by their coca built roads and their coca fueled messengers. The Inca were incredibly intelligent builders and farmers. That said, it is important to understand that part of their empire’s success was made possible by the plant from which we derive cocaine.
Of course, drugs can also affect societies in specifically destructive ways. You cannot fully understand the fall of the Ottoman empire without knowing the favorite pastime of the last of the Ottoman elites. They would build mazes out of candles and put one candle on the back of a tortoise. They would then enjoy getting high on opium and watching that candle-backed tortoise walk through a maze of light as their empire crumbled around them. Future humans will write about the opium crisis in America today just as we wrote about the opium dens of the Ottoman Elite.
Drugs play a huge role in society. When we think about a drug critically, we must ask ourselves what sort of effect it might have on our society and what sort of society we want to create.
In the United States of America, people are inundated by the American Dream; many Americans believe that there is a direct correlation between how hard a person works and their upward mobility. Consequently, we have created what Derek Thompson describes as a religion of work: Workism. Workism and Capitalism are inextricably linked in our economy, but there is something about Workism that goes beyond economy. Workism is a ideology or religion that, as Derek Thompson puts it, “is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose”.
As is probably obvious to anyone who finds themselves courting Hedonism, Workism is lacking in almost every way. It often requires people to have low self-awareness so that they don’t quite recognize how miserable they are while working a job that gives them no pleasure. It creates inherently coercive relationships where even the people in control aren’t able to get what they want. It makes our curiosity unavailable for activities outside of those which can make us money. Pleasure can sometimes be a byproduct of a Workism lifestyle, but whenever the pleasure of individuals or collectives comes up against the abstract needs of our capitalist economy, Workism throws pleasure right out the window.
Workism is inherently unsustainable. It consistently undermines pleasure, which is arguably the key to life from an evolutionary perspective. An interesting thing to think about here is that Workism is only sustained in the presence of two very specific drugs: caffeine and alcohol.
Many people don’t think of caffeine as a drug. Many of those same people can barely imagine getting through the day without their morning cup of coffee and a have a killer headache when they try to do so.
Caffeine is one of those drugs that is pretty much completely acceptable no matter where you go in the United States. It is so pervasive that in cities like Seattle, you only need to walk a block or two (or often less) in any direction to find someone who will sell it to you. All of my teachers in elementary school started their days with it on their desk.
Caffeine is quite difficult to overdose on, so that is a huge part of its acceptability. Alas, the more important piece is the functional purpose it serves Workism; It helps wake up and energize the workforce every day. Without the availability of coffee, the workday would have to be restructured. Simply put, there are not enough hours in a day to work an uninspiring eight-hour-a-day job, eat and go to the bathroom, do any amount of enjoyable activity, and get a full night of sleep. For many people, the amount of time sleeping is cut down to increase time spent doing other things, and this is made significantly easier with a cup, or many cups, of be-awake juice.
There are many physical and mental limits that a person can come up against throughout their workday: they might feel tired and want to take a nap, feel frustrated and want to go for a walk, or feel hungry and want to eat some food. None of these limits are necessarily bad, as they are all natural things we all feel each day, coupled with natural reactions to those feelings. Sadly, these obvious reactions to base feelings aren’t allowed in the traditional Capitalist workplace. Caffeine is often administered to combat the fallout of a lack of sleep, food, or interest-- and keep workers working.
It is difficult to imagine how an economy based on un-enjoyable labor would be able to survive without some sort of stimulant to increase the attention and productivity of workers. But a stimulant is not the only sort of drug that is necessary for the survival of this sort of economy.
The reverse side of the Workism coin shows us what happens at the end of the workday.
In order to sustain the long work hours during the weekdays, Alcohol is often used as a fast-acting gateway into a sort of relaxation at night and on the weekends. Alcohol is a depressant and it is very useful for numbing low-level pain. It is particularly useful for doing so on an emotional level.
If people left their hated day jobs on the weekends and meditated and thought critically about how their jobs made them feel, it is likely that we would have a lot more people leaving those jobs. The problem is that the need for money and the scarcity of meaningful employment make for a situation where leaving is impossible and dwelling on these facts is little more than a cause for undue stress. One of the things that makes alcohol so useful for perpetuating Workist culture is its ability to create a mental state where negative thoughts are potentially much easier to ignore.
Another one of the best-known uses for alcohol is its ability to help people lower their inhibitions. This is also quite useful for the upkeep of a Workist culture. There are many emotions that are felt on a day to day basis which aren’t acceptable in the workplace: rage, sadness, and sexuality to name a few. Workers have to become adept at repressing these emotions in order to do their job, and while a stimulant during the day may help repression at work, those emotions simply must be expressed sometime.
Considering that workers become so adept at repressing their emotions, they often do not get a chance to develop skills around releasing and experiencing these emotions in a healthy way. Alcohol is extremely useful for quickly releasing the typical weekday barriers and allowing people to step into a more raw version of themselves. Without this release valve, the emotions of workers would pressurize until they had no option but to explode. Alcohol makes life in this society just bearable enough that people don’t riot in the streets for things like a shorter work week, higher wages, or universal basic income.
We live in an interesting moment in regards to drug policy in the US. Marijuana has been fully legalized in a fifth of states and the nation's capital. The lies about Marijuana that have been perpetuated over the course of the War on Drugs are starting to be seen for what they are. People are recognizing that Marijuana is less physically addictive than caffeine and safer in nearly every possible way than one of the most dangerous drugs, alcohol. Keeping all of that in mind, it is important to remember that one of the decades-old concerns about Marijuana is nevertheless true: it is a gateway drug.
Conservatives have been arguing this point for quite a while. They believe that Marijuana use will naturally lead to other behaviors that go far beyond smoking the ganja. It may not be a part of a natural path to using heroin, as suggested by your pharmaceutical-grade opiate addicted Grandma, or meth, as suggested by your Adderall popping senator, but it does, in fact, lead many people to other behaviors and beliefs that are considered undesirable by Workist culture.
The first of these behaviors is laziness. Many a health teacher will tell their students this year that Marijuana can lead people to lose their ambition. What this often translates to is that pot users might be less interested in doing work that is not meaningful to them—such as the homework assigned by their health teachers.
Laziness is the one and only sin in a Workist culture. It doesn’t matter if you work for a weapons manufacturer or a non-profit that helps people get out of abusive relationships, working more is good and working less is tantamount to evil.
If we see Workism and the obsession with work as conflicting with Hedonism and devotion to pleasure, which it nearly always is, we can also see a beautiful utility in weed’s ability to induce sloth. By making us feel lazy, marijuana creates physical and mental conditions that erode our ability to participate in Workist culture and, in turn, erode Workism itself.
Marijuana isn’t simply useful for dismantling Workism; it is potentially critical for creating a Hedonist society and ushering in paradise on Earth.
The devil’s lettuce is a somewhat difficult drug to classify. Though it has attributes of depressants and stimulants depending on the strain, it does not fit into either category. Some would suggest that it is a psychedelic, but it doesn’t quite fit there either. The most reasonable classification I have heard for it is “Euphoric”. Whether or not this is precisely the correct classification, it gets at some of the underlying power of weed.
There seems to be a sort of presencing that happens while people are high. From a Hedonist perspective, it would seem that people are able to tune into their Hedo more actively and get a better idea of what, in the moment, they really want. In a society that requires us to spend a significant amount of time doing things that we don’t want, many people’s understanding of what they do want is diminished as their sense for pleasure and pain is numbed. Marijuana not only heightens our experiences of pleasure for many things, it helps us really tap into that deep evolutionary wisdom available to us in our Hedo.
We often think that the laziness most people associate with Marijuana isn’t actually laziness at all, but a natural rejection of Workist life that any body goes through when in touch with what feels good.
What do we want for our society
We want to make something clear here: we are not saying that caffeine and alcohol are inherently bad and that marijuana is inherently good. We know plenty of people who use caffeine to further the things they really want to be doing and drink alcohol in moderation and without doing so as their only way of making life livable. We also understand the systemic failures of our economy and the fact that many people in this culture have no option but to stay drunk and buzzed just to make it all work.
It also isn’t so hard to come across plenty of people who are extremely stagnant because of their marijuana use. Without the self-awareness and curiosity present in devotion to pleasure, weed leads many people to their basest Hedonic needs and never brings them to the infinitely complex possibilities that pop up with practice and exploration. Furthermore, because of its interesting sort of intoxication, pot can be used in the same negative ways as both alcohol and caffeine.
Marijuana is not for everyone and simply conflating Hedonism and weed would be a mistake. We are not attempting to convince individuals to get high for the first time or spend more time high, so much as putting forth the opinion that Marijuana is conducive to creating the sort of society we hope to one day experience.
Permission to blaze it.