The View from Here / Loudon Wainwright
Pleasure and pain of the undrugged man
Oh, yes, I've had a little experience with drugs, and it's been all bad. When I was 12 and had polio, the doctor gave me a shot of morphine and I wandered off on a terrible fantasy safari which involved hunting huge killer rats in China. I was supposed to be chasing these great, gray monsters, but they wound up almost catching me. Another time much later I got some kind of knockout potion in a dentist's chair and sank into the feeling that a black spot was growing at the very center of my consciousness, that it was gradually cutting out all the light and that when it did, I would be dead. These limited but frightening events have left me with the sense that my psyche is at its hair-raising worst when it is being assaulted with chemicals and that the best me is the undrugged one.
ow along comes LSD (see following pages), and it looks as if my safe world of normal consciousness is going to be revealed as a wasteland inhabited by dull men and their dreary ideas. If the evangelical users and promoters of LSD are right, we might just be awfully lucky to be on board the planet at this time of discovery. To judge from the ecstatic endorsement of the "acid heads," no one has really lived until he has launched himself on a "trip" powered by LSD, no one has really explored his psyche until its true convolutions and colors have been bathed in the wondrous illumination of the drug. It is variously touted as the touchstone to religious revelation, personal fulfillment and creativity. For some it carries the blinding realization that human society, as it has developed through history and as it exists now, is a lot of nonsense-restrictive, unimaginative and totally futile. To muddle along in it without ever having been "turned on" by LSD-well, baby, that's like dead.
That's quite a catalogue to resist, even if a fellow is fearful about aspirin. When you think of it, the world is a grisly place, stupefyingly dull some of the time, terrifying at others; and it is full of various sorts of un-turned-on creeps who couldn't tell their psyches from a slice of corned beef. Imagine the possibilities of a world on LSD, as billed by its admirers. I mean, no more sex problems, the same God in everybody's heaven, all sorts of people popping up for air to write beautiful music and poems, Rusk and Fulbright and Mao and L.B.J. and De Gaulle and all the big boys ironing out the kinks on beautiful trips they take together. Now there would be a world, and the stuff is cheap, too.
Of course, this isn't really the first time this sort of temptation has arisen for me. My circle of acquaintance is full and low enough to include some generous pot smokers, and I've never figured that a stick of marijuana was much more than a phone call or two away. There have been times when I've thought it might be nice to float right out of this wretched scene for a while, but I have never made the call; and in Saigon last year I somehow couldn't bring myself to follow up on a sincere invitation to spend a lazy evening smoking opium, with pipes kept full by charming attendants who were certified not to be sympathizers of the Vietcong.
How could one pass up such an easy chance for a new adventure? It certainly isn't a question of morality for me. I can get pretty outraged about the morals of other people, but I have discovered with some regret that most of my own "good" choices are actually made on a pragmatic rather than a moral basis. My decisions, perhaps tarnished, are often neither more nor less than what seems best for me at the time. And it isn't a matter of fear of the law or of apprehension either. Surely I'd be clever enough not to get caught, at least not for a while.
Possibly I share still another inhibiting trait with the great square army of non-users of drugs. It involves the simple reluctance to let some unknown side of my nature do the driving. How do I know how fast that side will go and what strange routes it will follow? Under my own conscious control the speeds have sometimes been too great, directions erratic, destinations uncharted. But with the many risks of collision that exist all along the line, the chances have been clearly mine, and I would still much prefer to keep the wheel.
Now all that sort of argument is ridiculous to those truly turned on with LSD. No spirit, no guts, no vision, they would say, and they might further label my caution as the self-protective rantings of a man whose arteries have already hardened beyond the ability to recognize a marvelous new world when he sees it. Besides, they might add, I would probably have a lousy trip anyway.
Maybe so, and maybe I should at least screw up the courage to peek inside that psychedelic world to see what horrors or treasures it holds for me. But I doubt that I will, and it isn't really a matter of nerve. It has much more to do with the straightforward belief that life offers the average undrugged man a trip overwhelmingly full of possibilitiesfor revelation, growth, pleasure, insightand that if he fails to find any of these he has been too blind, too lazy or too cowardly to look.
aturally there is a fine lot of pain available, too, in the drug-free world. The touch of one's child, for example, brings joy sometimes and at others it is a reminder that such joy is a moment and that death comes. A good, hard look at one's self is not always a particularly pleasant undertaking either, and I have the distinct impression that a lot of people who insist on giving great weight to the selves they find in their acid-induced illusions are reluctant to look at the real thing.
One hears much talk from the LSD cultists, for example, about how the drug heightens creative powers. Far more likely, I think, is that it obscures real limitations or at least the anxieties that one has about them. This seems a particularly dangerous side effect for the young people who are so substantially embracing the LSD craze. By envisioning power in themselves that does not exist, by wiping out limits that are there, by taking the quick, free ride to what feels like everything, they might not find out what they really are.