Response to a letter encouraging me to read a study on marijuana:
It seems like you're trying to give me a sales job on marijuana — which I find odd, because you may recall that I usually refused it even back in the early 80s. For the record, I started smoking it in 1967 and experienced all the normal things: “heightened” sense of awareness, silly laughing, the illusion of “hearing deeper” into music, irrational hunger… For a while there I smoked before playing music (on professional jobs) and had the sense of being “more into the groove.” It didn't take long, however for this fantasy to wear thin. For one thing, no comments of the “you're playing especially well” type were forthcoming. The reality was that I was merely becoming more self-conscious, and not in a good way. This eventually developed into actual paranoia, fear that I would be fucking up with all those people watching and listening, and when, as in the normal course of any endeavor, I did fuck up, it seemed hugely amplified and mortifying. It was just as bad when I did something especially good, because I was usually the only one who thought so.
I was known as a rather obnoxious character sometimes when drinking. Pot had the opposite effect. I wanted to disappear, fade out of sight, in social situations. Obviously neither was the answer. One time on the Big Island, our neighbor Mary was over and we smoked some buds. We'd been having a pleasant enough conversation but the joint shut it right down. I felt horribly embarrassed just to be there and fumbled as she left, trying to open the door for her in a gentlemanly fashion. She too was embarrassed because no one usually did that for her. The point here may be that pot, for me, generally amplified the wrong things. At least now that I'm “straight” I'm immediately accountable to myself for my actions, thoughts, behavior. I remember reading in the 60s that psychoactive drugs gave one a “glimpse” of alternate realities, of higher states, but it was merely a glimpse and once one was aware of these potentialities, one had to do the work to achieve them for real. The work would be things like yoga, meditation, study, and like the “How do you get to Carnegie Hall” joke says, practice, practice, practice.
Another time, when no one else was around, I smoked a joint, to see what might happen with no social interaction. (Remember these were buds, not the plain ol' pot we used to get back east or on the west coast before the sinsemilla revolution.) It was getting dark and I was reclining on a window-bench. I was staring out the window at the ohia trees and my visual field seemed to turn inside out and I recalled Castaneda's “Don Juan” speaking about “the spaces between things,” as well as a lot of other Castaneda stuff, like insects being guides to other levels, and mystical-sounding terms like “allies” and such.
Meanwhile the spaces between the ohias were taking on a life of their own, first becoming lumpy as if covered with warts and then beginning to “crawl” with insect-like things. It became frightening and I made myself snap out of it. I'll never know whether what I was seeing was “real” or merely projections of ideas remembered from reading Castaneda. No one's study, no matter how comprehensive, of marijuana will change my mind: the stuff is not for me, the effect is not pleasant.
The letter also asked for my thoughts about Cockburn-on-eugenics:
Essentially, eugenics is the idea that the world would be better off if all the people who are not like me are eliminated. Don't we all feel a little bit like that? The question is, who will have the power to decide who gets eliminated? This brings to mind the idea that the very desire to be president of the United States should be the first disqualification for the job. The answer is that no one should have the power to eliminate others, no matter how attractive the idea may sound or how useless, stupid or evil the “others” appear in the view of a useful, smart and good person like me. This, I think, is Cockburn’s point.