“Aren’t you too old to be doing drugs?” a tall young Czechoslovakian wryly asked me in a Berlin bathroom stall a couple of years ago as I Hoovered up a line of what have you. Removing a rolled up Canadian 20-dollar bill from my inflamed nostril, I snapped back something about age appropriate behavior being merely an artificial, culturally imposed constraint to keep people domesticated and benign. But lately, I’m wondering if he didn’t have a point. Or more to the point, maybe the age we’re living in just isn’t a smart time to be artificially altering your perceptions.
“Opiates are the opiate of the masses,” declares one of the characters in my faux-faux revolutionary flick, The Raspberry Reich. While the government makes a big fuss about the “war on drugs” and clamps down on recreational use, it’s not too much of a stretch these days to make the case that the government really wants its population dosed and drugged, paranoid, vulnerable, and subject to prosecution. In olden days, like the 60s of the last century, drugs were more popularly used for “consciousness-expanding,” letting go of the ego and the petty particularities of the personality, and tapping into “universal consciousness.” (Yes, I realize that hippies are the most loathed subculture ever to emerge in Western society, but this spiritual dimension, borrowed from Eastern philosophy, was one of their more tolerable characteristics.) But here’s where the first paradox of contemporary drug usage emerges: the loss of ego and submission to a universal consciousness has been totally co-opted by the machinations of globalization, social media, and corporate techniques of mind control and brainwashing. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Social media is undeniably a new kind of drug: It’s highly addictive, and it makes you compulsive about how many hits you can get. But the essential paradox of social media is that the more you purportedly “express yourself” (beware of corporate pop stars who encourage you to assert your self-determination) and become cozily accessible to all through your self-realization and personal masturbatory public exhortations (how many goddamn artists does the world need, for Christ’s sake?), the more you lose your autonomy and individuality—you are monitored and targeted by commercial interests, categorized, and reduced to a quantifiable, marketable abstraction. Social media has reduced us to the worst kind of emotional hippies, irrevocably co-dependent, ceaselessly seeking emotional validation, and sadly oblivious to our profound loss of private life: a perfect recipe for creeping paranoia.
But this is nothing new, and maybe I should only speak for myself. After all, I participate in social media like everyone else. Maybe he’s still suffering from the paranoid after effects of the grandmother of all bad acid trips that he experienced a couple of weeks ago. (It’s the paranoia that makes him switch to third person.) He broke all the cardinal rules for taking psychedelics. He was already exhausted and ingested the drug on an empty stomach, he was in an unideal environment (a cramped apartment) with three people, only one of whom he previously knew and trusted. The drug was in liquid form so dosing was questionable. It was 2C-I, which is still unscheduled (but beware, in the States, the Federal Analog Act!), a queer mixture of acid and ecstasy that, now that he thinks about it, sounds like a truly grotesque combination. After a pleasant beginning, he soon descended into a prolonged paranoid delusion wherein he was systematically stripped of his identity by a corporate-controlled state, the things most familiar and dear to him gradually replaced by meaningless, generic signifiers. It felt to him more like a premonition than a delusion, something that has already begun to take hold. But then again, it did happen to him in New York City. Or maybe he’s just too old to be doing drugs.