Since drugs remain a prominent topic in the Duterte administration, let’s have a related concept as a topic of discussion: highs. Not just drug highs. Any kind of high. The rush from dopamine and other brain chemicals giving you that pleasurable or euphoric feeling that you wished lasted forever. Trying to satisfy that craving. The pursuit of highs is one of the things that mess up our human lives.
This is one likely reason Filipinos put too much importance on emotions. They are after the emotional highs, especially pleasure. Life by nature is painful, and the goal is really to cover up the pain with the pleasure. Escapism is a term that can be applied here. Cigarette smokers and alcoholics (and drug addicts for that matter) find it difficult to kick their habit, despite the harm being done to their bodies, because of this relief or escape the substances provide. But the truth still stands: after the highs pass, the problems are still there, and the highs provide no solution to anything at all.
However, it is possible to achieve a state of mind where one is at peace without the help of highs or high-inducing substances.
I’m sure the desire for highs is responsible for some crackpot ideas. For example, some believe sustenance is not necessary and can be replaced with highs. Perhaps people who try to live on only air and light – called breatharianism – are like this; only thing is, several people doing this died later on. Perhaps they were high when they wanted to try out breatharianism.
I also see why marijuana smokers campaign for their “hobby” so much; they are only after the highs, and perhaps conjure spurious claims such as its being a “cancer cure” as a lame attempt at justification. They might also claim that keeping people in euphoric highs will discourage them from thinking about actions harmful to others. I doubt that, as people can kill for highs. The Opium Wars are one example. There are also the Assassins (also called Hashishin or part of the Nizari Ismaili group) whose name came from their purported use of hashish as part of their mind conditioning.
There is also the idea that religion originated from people taking narcotics, since the practice of inhaling smoke from burning died leaves is associated with ancient religious practices. I however find that dubious, since that idea has never been confirmed or proven, and things like religious visions can be generated even without the use of substances (and I doubt having any substance-induced trance will lead to any meaningful enlightenment).
Highs continue to be a deadly deception. After the high of being drunk, there is the reality of the hangover and other harmful effects of immense alcohol intake. Narcotic drug use itself has seen countless cases of serious injury or death following the high. If one lets highs overcome them, they could be bogged by it from doing anything meaningful. Being fixated on highs could lead to people being lazy or unwilling to do anything else that is meaningful, such as hobbies.
The Highs and Creativity Correlation Confusion
One book on my current reading list, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, sees the author setting a goal: she wanted to cease dependence on alcohol for stimulating her creativity. The book and her website are proof that she was successful. This supports the idea that highs or similar effects from any substance intake are unnecessary for creativity and enlightenment, and indeed, unnecessary for “happiness.” If Cameron could stop her dependence on substance highs for creativity, anyone could stop their dependence on substances for highs.
This for me also proves the idea that creativity, and even happiness, are results of cognition, not accident. The idea that one needs substances to stimulate creativity is hogwash. Dropping control of mental faculties and allow the craving for highs or feelings to take over is not a secret to happiness, but a recipe for disaster. One other purpose for taking narcotics is to disinhibit, which can also be done without substances. Also, I do acknowledge things like people at work needing stimulants, such as caffeine, to keep awake for something. However, perhaps this should raise other questions: is work that makes one need stimulants worth it at all?
Some would point out that our feelings are mostly the effect of the brain chemicals mentioned above. Thus, they would say, it’s OK to use chemicals to stimulate the happy chemicals. They might claim it’s natural, but it’s really artificial. I’d say it’s based on a correct fact, but it’s misused to justify the wrong thing. Besides, brain chemicals can be stimulated by will and activity, as I will explain later.
Another idea is that those with strong craving for highs and are easily hurt emotionally may be control freaks. In my related previous article, I said that such people believe that they can have control over the world, or at least their world. Thus, they try to control other people. If they are unable to achieve this control, they may become depressed. From this, I posit that mental illness has a relationship with sense of control: the more people base their “happiness” on highs and control, the more vulnerable they are.
One recent share on Facebook was this article about Iceland’s solution to teen drug abuse. As I see it, they applied a few important steps. First, they accepted the recent theories that teen brains usually go “haywire,” leading to research on alternatives to highs. Next, they accepted that adults have the responsibility to give the young people things to do that is not “slave work.” They don’t just leave the young to their own devices in order to pursue their own irresponsibility. Third, they acknowledged that along with one’s will, environmental factors are a key element of personal development. They thus proceeded to make such an environment with better options than pursuits for highs. Instead, they obtains “highs” from activities that stimulate brain chemicals from natural processes, instead of introducing something to force that “high.”
There are other highs not needing substances, but are from activities that are extreme or risky. For example, the high gained from skydiving, biking down a steep mountainside, or taking a selfie at the edge of a cliff or building (and it led to deaths). Well, some may indeed get their kicks from these, yet they may be taking unnecessary risks to gain such highs. Yet another activity is sexual intercourse. The high from this is a no-brainer; but the other part of the no-brainer is the high risk of having children, whatever precautions one takes. This is what Benign0 and I were saying with our articles before: if you want a sexual high, is plugging in absolutely necessary? There are alternatives.
And there is of course the high Filipinos seek with Pinoy Pride. We at GRP have always explained that all this “pride” gives is a temporary high, which serves as a mere escape from our faults. And, just as fast as the pride junkies trumpet it, it’s gone. People go back to the depressed reality they refuse to face and instead seek more escapes. But that in turn keeps us from fixing our faults that drag our country down.
Highs are overrated and dependence on them, and the things that cause them, indicate a weakness of character. This may sound like cruel moralization to some. But I say if one is very dependent on substances’ effects and highs to keep them stable or alert, then that makes them more vulnerable. Some would agree, if one is so dependent on highs to keep them from going low, then they are less able to deal with life with all its natural travails and trials. They are more likely to have mental illness, among other things.
Don’t listen to Your Body
Another thing is human cultures being mostly sensory-oriented. We’ve probably heard, “explore your senses,” or “explore whatever your senses bring you.” This assumes that the meaning of life is found using the five senses. However, so many people have not found that meaning, including wealthy people who committed suicide. Such people could afford anything to please all their senses, but still find it all meaningless. The classic philosophers pondered on this and some have said, recognition of something higher than just what the senses perceive gives more meaning to life. Religion and spirituality are based on this recognition.
Here’s another message many have likely balked at: we need to stop submitting to our biology. This is where the concept of “natural” gets abused. Just because your dick is on full gear and you see someone pretty, you believe it’s natural to stick it into her. What if she doesn’t want it? Same with highs. Just because something gives a high doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Yet another idea about highs, I have picked from Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Gladwell in the last chapter set on why people make really big mistakes so quickly: mind-blindness, or temporary autism. It’s when people become, well, dumb; but to put it more pleasantly, it’s when people cease to think. It led to the mistake described in that chapter – the killing of harmless Amadou Diallo by police officers. The reason was that they were “high.” It’s not a drug-induced or happy high. Gladwell explained it as arousal, where people become so excited after highly tense activity that their heartbeats are quickening, tunnel vision is happening and hands start shaking. Judgment and reason are impaired and big mistakes are made. It’s the same survival-mode fight and flight response that happens when our biologies take control of us, instead of the other way round.
Putting this dynamic under control is the topic of Blink. Gladwell described steps taken to stop police officers from getting temporary autism, such as prohibiting high speed chases and training them repeatedly in high-tension situations. The lesson here is, people should learn to put a cap on their arousal. They should make changes in their lifestyles and environments to help control, and not increase, highs.
We need to reorient our culture and habits away from highs. But that does not bring us necessarily to the lows. There is a middle ground, a balance wherein we have both realism and idealism in healthy doses. I’ll borrow the famous line from Casey Kasem: keep your feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars. Now think of it this way: how can you reach the stars while still touching the ground? You grow. Grow in wisdom, knowledge and common sense, develop better character, and realize that the meaning of life is not found in highs and lows.
Many people are angry at drug wars around the world, but are not angry at the reasons people take drugs. It leaves them unwilling to explore this most meaningful solution. Instead of attacking supply, attack the demand, I have read. And the way to attack this demand, at its root: stopping the culture of highs. As Get Real Philippines has always said, culture is the root of many problems, and it is sometimes best to attack cultures, even if they are the things people often love.