The following article is by blindboy:
We all are, of course. On drugs that is. More or less all the time. Alcohol, caffeine, analgesics, antibiotics, not to mention the vast array of recreational pharmaceuticals so abundant in these times. And if, for any reason we run out, our bodies conveniently manufacture our own. A never ending supply of whatever our evolutionary history has deemed advantageous in the particular environmental circumstances in which we find ourselves. A shot of adrenaline anyone? Or maybe a dose of endorphins, our own natural pain killer. Much more effective than heroin or morphine, which explains why, in case of serious injury, you should really start to worry if it doesn't hurt.
I assume that I have by now offended the abstemious amongst you. Those who cling to out dated ideas of purity and of humans as organisms whose clarity of thought is necessarily disturbed by the entry of any substance beyond those nature intended for our nutriment; a position spectacularly lacking even the most modest evidence for its support. Consider; even mother's milk sedates, food influences our mood, a slight increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in a room decreases the cognitive abilities of those within. No, we are not separate entities sealed from the external, we are part of our environment and what we encounter within it, changes us.
But we know that some substances stamp themselves on our minds with all the authority of the Court's stamp upon a judgement. Things are changed, perhaps irrevocably, and it is these substances which the wowsers, god-botherers and puritans declare to be the work of Satan, or a communist/Islamic conspiracy to undermine our youth or the inevitable outcome of whatever fashionable social ill Fox News is pushing this year. It is these substances that can cause all the symptoms of hysteria in individuals who have never even been exposed to them. And it is these substances that kill, disable or permanently discombobulate the vulnerable, while they simultaneously stimulate those with more robust psychological profiles into feats of physical and intellectual creativity, at least for a while.
If we believe our own mythology, surfing has always been riddled with drugs. These days we probably don't deviate very much from the national average for our demographic profile, but that is hardly the point. We have all seen the damage both to the well known and the unknown and would like to reduce it. These are not statistics, these are those whose skills we admire, these are our friends and family. We give a shit and would like to convert that feeling into something more than sentimental, self-indulgent emotionalism. Sometimes, in individual cases, we may succeed, we trot them off to detox, stay close to them and counsel them when they weaken. This is all very well but it doesn't change the culture and for every one that gets diverted from self-destruction another has already started down the path. The last large scale national survey found that illegal drug use was rising.
The grand illusion, that prevents clear thinking on the issue, is that there is some simple solution that will prevent users becoming abusers. That human history suggests this is impossible rarely discourages those evangelically inclined or with an ideology to push. Such solutions that do exist are incomplete, temporary and disproportionately disadvantage particular groups. Thus we tinker at the edges, or in the latest jargon, we nudge. Recognising the immutability of human nature all we can do is work the environment. We think in terms of populations and statistics. So, not because we offend at a greater rate, but because we actually give a shit about each other, the question becomes, how do we nudge the surfing community in a more healthful direction?
To do this we need to consider, at a fundamental level, why people take drugs. Ask them and you will get all sorts of answers but the bottom line, as for so many other behaviours, is status. The evolutionary drive behind this is that status increases reproductive opportunity. Sorry, but you are a primate, you can't opt out; you will just find another status tree to climb. In the case of drugs the irony is that by climbing to the top of their own peer group, so many end up at the bottom of the social barrel.
The ability to access and consume various drugs increases status in a variety of sub-cultures. To reduce the impact of drugs in the surfing sub-culture it is necessary to break that nexus and, if possible reverse it. Drug use could just as easily lower status as raise it. You might argue that the ability to consume drugs in significant quantities while remaining a functioning unit is a signal of evolutionary fitness, but, if it is, it is a weak and confused one that should be easily overcome by other, less toxic, demonstrations of the quality of gametes available.
If we go back to the cultural origins of drug use in surfing, it began with the wave of drugs that swept through western culture in the sixties and seventies. If you like a conspiracy you can link this to the mafia hits on the Kennedys. After that no-one dared seriously challenge organised crime. Whatever the causes it was part of the great loosening of the broader culture; a change that has taken us from Perry Como to gangsta rap; from martinis to ice; from Monopoly to Call Of Duty 3, or whatever the latest mass murder training game might be; from My Fair Lady to The Book Of Mormon; from small scale locally based drug distribution gangs to vast, murderous, international criminal networks.
During the sixties and seventies there was a need to break down the culturally dominant, narrow, conservative world view. In those days it was courageous, not conformist, to wear long hair and smoke pot. It was a time when a long hair pulling up in a country town was likely to be greeted with sneers and hostility, if not outright violence. But long hair and drugs quickly evolved into a triumph of style over substance; all the accoutrements of dissent without the intellectual or moral commitment. Now they are merely the basest form of conformity to a culture every bit as despicable as that drug use was initially, and absurdly, meant to undermine.
So, instead of being cultural catalysts, these substances have come to play the role Aldous Huxley anticipated in Brave New World. They are the soma of our age, soporifics to dull the rebellious instincts of the young so the privileged and powerful can continue with the same age old bullshit. The robber barons of the banks, their over-paid henchmen and their political cronies lay waste to the economies of Europe and the USA and what do we get in the way of protest? A brief movement almost instantly crushed by a conspiracy between government agencies and private enterprise, neatly co-ordinated by the FBI.
In terms of the broader culture, legalisation would help. What thrill or status is to be gained from a neatly packaged pill purchased over the counter at the local pharmacy between the previous customer's haemorrhoid cream and the next customer's douche bag? Even if it meant turning a range of substances over to the alcohol and cigarette industries, at least they value their customers to the extent of preferring to kill them slowly, in contrast to the present owners of the franchises, to whom murder is just a routine part of their business. But waiting for what seems inevitable does nothing for surfers now.
There is always the temptation to blame surfing culture, as if it was some vast external force beyond our control, when we are that culture. It is no more than the sum total of us. It is equally easy to blame the corporations when the bottom line is that we fund them by responding to their advertising. They exist to make money and, by necessity therefore should be considered amoral. There is no money in caring, so they will always appeal to our baser instincts. As consumers we have the responsibility to reject that appeal.
More importantly we have our individual responsibility as role models, a responsibility that increases by orders of magnitude with every increase in public profile. If you think that is unfair, I'm sorry, it's the price they pay for those additional benefits, like getting to surf more perfect waves than anyone else on the planet. And if that cuts some major talent out of the game, so be it. It would be a favour to them in the long term and, regardless of their ability, we can live without them. The same applies at the local level. The responsibility increases with the reputation. The grommets trying to climb that status tree are watching every move of those in the upper branches.
And this responsibility just keeps flowing on; to the local club officials; to the amateur administration and to those funding high profile individuals. Based on their efforts over the last couple of decades, the major surfing companies could teach Nelson a few things about turning a blind eye. They have shut both eyes and ignored the evidence of every other sensory organ. Belatedly introducing drug testing for the elite is all very well but it has to be part of a larger package. The contracts of sponsored surfers need to explicitly forbid the use of illegal drugs under penalty of voiding the contract. The same needs to apply to coaches, managers and any employees involved with team surfers. You might hope that this would already be the case but in the absence of explicit evidence that it is, it needs to be said.
The price is cheap. Moderation and discretion for most. Abstinence for those in the public eye. And for all, a licence to take the piss as compensation. It's not as if it is a difficult target, given that the most easily observed consequence of most substances is to shave about 20 points off the IQ. Various forms of mania, including ego, are equally fine targets. All in all a field day for a smart arse. Kids need to hear that stuff, they need to know what so many think but don't say; that there is no real glamour in drugs. Fun now and then perhaps, but always risky, even if only of looking like an out take from Funniest Home Videos.
The bad boy image is old and tired anyway. It endlessly recycles the imagery and attitudes of the grand-parents of today's grommets. After forty or so years of fashionable irresponsibility, the truly radical thing to do is to be responsible. We won't solve the problem, it will always be with us, but we can reduce the toll. And if you take this as some irrelevant rant from someone past their use-by-date, ask yourself; how many can you name? Dead, dying, wasted, decrepit, old before their time. None? Not many? Wait a few years, you'll find out. Reality comes creeping slowly kiddies, keep an eye over your shoulder. The sooner you see it coming the better.// blindboy