« YoYos and Passion | Main | First Chain Art Post »

Cyberspatial incohesion

In Mark Neale’s 2000 documentary No Maps For These Territories—a desynched moving epitaph and paean to the moment that both passes and arrives—William Gibson recalls the disruptive 1960s and his draft dodge which brings him to Vancouver. Gibson admits his dodge was not guided by politics and that “[i]t had much more to do with my wanting to be with hippy girls and have lots of hasish than it did with my sympathy for the plight of the North Vietnamese under U.S. imperialism . . . much more, much more to do with hippy girls and hashish.

William Gibson in automobile, cruising
From Mark Neale’s No Maps For These Territories (2000)
Gibson’s honest admission is a confession and, in my opinion, another dodge. That is, he is not acknowledging that chasing after "hippy girls and hashish" is in and of itself a political act. One need only think back to the feminist slogan “The personal is political.” The confessional side of Gibson’s recall of his draft dodge is aimed at expressing how politically ineffective “hippy girls and hashish” are for opposing (in this case) U.S. imperialism. Here, then, is the crux of liberal chemical permissiveness: does altering one’s nervous system with recreational drugs undermine the ability of Western capital to operate?

Gibson goes on to explain

What you couldn’t have told me at that stage of my life . . . what I couldn’t have told me at that stage of my life that I’ve subsequently come to accept is that all any drug amounts to is tweaking the incoming data. And you have to be incredibly self-centered or pathetic to be satisfied with simply tweaking the incoming data.

I think Gibson too quickly dismisses the potential for mind-altering substances to dislodge people from their recitations of decorum and capitulation to hegemony. People who ingest MDMA (for example) are engaging in antiauthoritarian activity by cultivating states of consciousness that inhibit the prevailing social order’s ability to continue its ills such as the destruction of human dignity and the rampant exploitation of the defenseless. However, such “antiauthoritain activity” also disrupts the prevailing social order’s numerous goods, such as the promulgation of liberal humanist ideals which include the equality of all people and the right to self determination. Citizens of the imperialist U.S. have a different experience of the world than subjects of any number of totalitarian regimes where complaining about the government will get a person jailed, tortured, and killed.1 (None of this is to say that the promulgation of these liberal humanist ideals do not depend on the exploitation of people either inside the system or elsewhere.)

In addition to Gibson’s remarks about the political ineffectiveness of altering one’s consciousness with chemicals, aha-erlebnis strikes me when Gibson discusses his former habitual marijuana use and chemical daring-do. He explains,

The opiates aside, I tried whatever was going. You know, I sort of prided myself on it. In fact, I was sort of a very regular cannabis user for a number of years, in spite of the fact that I always had a terrible time with it . . . and, you know, I've long since come to realize that I suffer from cannabis dysphoria. The lowest possible dose of cannabinol makes me incredibly uncomfortable and unhappy.

Gibson’s experience of marijuana reflects my own and it is something that I have encountered also with alcohol. It has been a long time since I’ve been a habitual user of any substance (though in the winter after I finished my dissertation there was a period where I was drinking two martinis a day), but I vividly recall the desperation, the weakness, and the lack of imagination that kept me using something that unquestionably made me feel bad.

Not until I realized chemical dysphoria was in fact worse than facing what directly was in front of me could I leave such things behind. end of article

1 Presently, it is no secret that civil liberties in the U.S. have been eroded to the point that the power of habeas corpus has been nullified, so these remarks, which depend on Americans’ First Amendment Rights, may soon merely be a quaint reminiscence.