Pollan, M. 2002. The Botany of Desire. New York: The Random House Trade Paperbacks. p.113-179.
As I worked through the beginning of Micheal Pollan’s chapter of marijuana, I attempted to wonder what the world would be like if psychoactive drugs, including marijauna, were all tolerable. I was not entirely sure what to imagine. Chaos? Maybe. Disorder? Maybe. Tranquility?
This was essentially the chronological flow of ideas-to which I think speaks to an important theme of Pollan’s story. My first impression of a world tolerating drugs was that of negatively skewed society. This was likely derived from the existing drug taboo in modern society. Then, eventally, I approached my daydreaming with an open mind. For, I too, have been sitting like Pollan in an Amsterdam cafe/bar, feeling the tranquility that existed. A quaint atmosphere of conversations, music and laughter. It was a tranquility that made me question as well whether the war on drugs was fought against the wrong culprit. In this instance, even alcohol seemed a more fitting target than marijuana. There have been few times-maybe never, in which I have been out in bars and I have not witnesssed fighting or anger, in close association to alcohol consumption.
One of the strangest occurrences to me while reading Pollan’s story was the irony of the age of discovery. Now, I did not get this idea from Pollan’s words directly, but his reoccurring theme of taboo had me reflecting on history-a subject in which I pertain a very small degree of knowledge. However, bare with me here as I venture, like the explorers, into something I know very little about. The age of discovery must have been a really exciting time, explorers were sailing out into the world. Driven by wonder. Fearless of the unknown. Yet, upon discovery-suddenly and swiftly, this fearlessness was overtaken by the general contempt of native ways-the ways of which involve, largely, the knowledge, appreciation and experience of plants and their alchemy. This “unknown”, though known-natively, is repressed. It is the birth of the New World, ultimately in congruence with the birth of taboo. Therein, we see the transition from the Old World to the New World, to which I wonder to what degree today we are living the repercussions of. This is not necessarily a fault, but is this why it is hard to imagine a world, for example, where psychoactive drugs are completely tolerable.
Pollan’s chapter all felt to a degree rather philosophical. It was writing that provoked this type of daydreaming of the world and questioning why things are the way they are. Of course, later in the chapter, we are reminded of the perils of the effects of drugs…The daydreaming is gathered back to a better sensibility and logic. My thoughts return to the initial thoughts that a world with completely tolerable psychoactive drugs would be chaotic. Though, curiosity still lingered about a hybrid world. One with a hybridization between the native uses of psychoactive drugs, both medicinal and spiritual and the modern tabooed psychoactive drugs, but involving the proper cuplrits.
I think what inspired this type of thinking was Pollan’s writing itself. I thoroughly admire his story telling, in which his persepctive and themes are deliberately, yet seemlessly integrated into his stories. Furthermore, his stories are delivered with some of the most eloquent sentences I have seen thus far, in this genre of creative non fiction. For example, on p.160 Pollan writes “to illustrate the point, let me try to capture here a few drops of this perceptual cataract, preserve one cross section of the routinely forgotten.” This is an attractive sentence to which my attention is completely absorbed in. This was a continually accomplished feat by Pollan throughout the entire chapter. While Pollan awed at plants and their alchemy, I was simlarily absorbed in this same awe for plants whilst in awe of Pollan’s actual writing.
Although Pollan’s writing included many topics and themes like the human psyche, the war on drugs, taboo, tempation, desire-all of which were intriguing to read; one theme which Pollan has eluded to before is the existing egocentrism of humans. Our perspective is obscured by our own being. Pollan connects our egocentrism with psychoactive plants, by wondering if “such a sacrament may be on occasion worthwhile just the same, if only as a check on our hubris” (p.178). Herein Pollan’s thoughts, exists a powerful anti-egocentric message and offers an interesting solution. We are not the centre of this world-so, let us experience how a plant can completely alter our consciousness. Let us be reminded that we are just another species inhabiting this earth, and a species that is an integral part of an ecosystem. He further delves into this idea, again noting the potential importance and little accompanying harm of experiencing the alchemy of plants as a means “to bring our abstracted gaze back down to Earth for a time”(p.179). Interestingly enough, this seems to quite closely parallel the native ways of life-the ceremonial usage of plant alchemy for a means of connection. As I mentionned before, Pollan’s writing has a philosophical tone with eloquent delivery. He addresses big ideas and provokes reflection whilst delivering his throughts in a near poetic mannor. In the following excerpt, the small paragraph has more of an air of an embedded poem within his story. Again, it powerfully speaks to connect humans to nature and integrates a type of reflection-provoking writing:
“Just what happens to this flattering self-portrait if we discover that transcendence itself owes to molecules that flow through our brains and at the same time through the plants in the garden? If some of the biggest fruits of human culture are in fact rooted deeply in this black earth, with the plants and the fungi? Is matter, then, still as mute as we’ve come to think? Does it mean that spirit too is part of nature?” (p.178)
Alas, I feel again as if there is more introspection to be done…