|July 29, 2010||PHILOSOPHICAL "TRUTH" AND "ERROR" OF CANNABIS LEGALIZATION||no comments|
"I am come to testify to the Truth", Jesus of Nazareth supposedly said to Pontius Pilat during his trial, to which the Roman governor supposedly responded, "What is Truth"? Indeed, what is "Truth"? Is it something that exist for each of us individually, or is it instead that which we all hold collectively? Is it permanent and unchanging, or does it change with time? Is it something in which most people believe, or is it what our leaders tell us? And if the Nazis had won the Second World War and imposed their will on the rest of the world, would their ideology then have become "truth"? Is the truth readily observable by ordinary people in the outside world, or is it "hidden" under the layers of "appearances" and can be glimpsed at only by those privileged few who are able to look beyond the "appearances" and see the underlying world of "Reality"?
But then again, what is Reality? Immanuel Kant held that we really do not know Reality as it is, because our minds are so constituted that we are forced to look at the outside world through the “spectacles” of time, space, substance, causality, quality, quantity, things like that… The only way to know Reality, Kant believed, is through “moral experience”. Is it “moral” then, we may ask, to deny seriously ill patients the medicine that keeps their symptoms under control in many cases? Is it moral to arrest people for using the LESS dangerous substance (Cannabis), when those who arrest them use the MORE dangerous one (alcohol) themselves? Was it moral to outlaw marijuana on the basis of racist lies and distortions to begin with? Is it “moral” now not to admit to those errors? Is it moral to put a man in prison for five years for selling seeds of a natural plant? No, I don’t think any of these things are “moral”. But then, the Cannabis prohibition itself is IMMORAL! And the final question: Is it “moral” not to protest bad laws? After all, if people who came before us had not spoken out, Blacks would be still riding at the back of a bus, Berlin Wall would be still standing, and Gay people would be still considered “second class" citizens under the “best” of circumstances! And for some “strange” reason, no truly Progressive Movement in history has ever commanded an immediate assent of the “powers that be”.
So, I decided to do some philosophical research and see if the theories of "truth" and "error" as articulated by the prominent thinkers of humanity apply to contemporary controversies, and more specifically, to the red-hot controversy about whether or not to legalize a plant with beautiful slender leaves called Cannabis Sativa, a plant that offered itself in a service to humanity for thousands of years until the time of Harry Anslinger who said that "the main reason for marijuana prohibition is its effect on degenerate races". Maybe that was the ultimate "truth" about the Cannabis plant that had somehow eluded humanity for thousands of years until it was finally "apprehended" by Harry Anslinger? The people who followed in Harry Anslinger's footsteps continue to assert that Cannabis is a "dangerous drug with no accepted medical uses". So, what if they are telling the "truth"? How do we really know what is the truth and what is error? Well, different philosophers advanced different theories of truth and error, with three main ones remaining that we can currently use in our quest to glimpse the realities of Cannabis plant and to at least attempt to separate fact from fiction or, to put it differently, "truth" from "error".
The first and the most popular theory is called the "Correspondence" theory. It is held by most "realist" philosophers, or those who believe that "objective reality", however it is conceived, is independent of our minds and that, in order to know whether anything is "objectively" true, all we need to do is to establish "correspondence" with easily observable facts that people of common sense can see for themselves. So, if I say that "my car is in the driveway", and my car is in the driveway, a fact that can be easily seen and confirmed by rational witnesses, then, regardless of anything else, the truth of the proposition that "my car is in the driveway" is established. Just the same, when the DEA says that "marijuana is a dangerous drug without accepted medical uses", the Correspondence theory of "truth" and "error" would require some verifiable facts to establish the "truth" of this proposition.
Has anyone died from using Cannabis? Has anyone become physically dependent on Cannabis? Has the scientific research refuted the alleged medicinal properties of the plant? Can at least the potential for danger be detected based on how we, as humans, or Cannabis, as plant, are constituted? Unfortunately for the DEA and its prohibitionist allies, they do not have any serious facts to "correspond" with their allegations about marijuana. The plant never killed anyone, there have been no cases of physical dependence, and countless thousands of people throughout the history of our "race" have attested to almost miraculous health benefits of the Cannabis plant. In fact, the scientific research of our brains and bodies, as well as research into the Cannabis plant itself revealed that neither overdose deaths, nor an inducement of "physical dependence" is even possible with marijuana.
It turns out that, by some strange series of "coincidences", our "cannabinoid receptors" are scarce in the brain stem that governs the body's vital functions such as breathing and circulation of blood. It also turns out that Cannabis compounds are slowly released from fat tissue in our bodies, thus preventing rapid "withdrawal" and making marijuana physical dependence impossible.
And here is something interesting, something that I want people reading this to clearly see. Given our own constitution and that of the Cannabis plant, and given our long history of experience with this plant, we can assert or "predicate" this safety of Cannabis, with conviction approaching psychological certainty, and not only of the "weed" that we have tried, but of the "weed" that we haven't tried, not only of the "weed" that's been harvested, but of that that has not even been planted yet, not only of the "weed" from our present reality, but also of all the "weed" of the future. In other words, as long as we are constituted the way we are, and the Cannabis plant the way it is, the inherent safety of Cannabis "outruns" our future experience with the plant, and is established, as philosophers would put it, "a priori". We can further assert that the proposition that "marijuana is a dangerous drug without accepted medical use", advanced by the DEA and its allies, fails to "correspond" with the facts and is, therefore, a false proposition.
Another philosophical theory of "truth and "error" is the so-called "Coherence" theory. This theory is mostly held by those philosophers who believe that the Universe is One Coherent Whole, which in some important sense is also a Unity. Is the safety of Cannabis plant and advisability of its use "coherent" with the Universe as a Whole? To briefly look at this question, let's assume that to be "coherent" with the Universe is the same as to be "coherent" with its evolutionary impulse, or with that which the early 20-th Century French-Jewish philosopher Henri Bergson called a "vital surge" or "elan vital" of evolution. Henri Bergson held, and very correctly from my point of view, that evolution is not a haphazard series of chance events aimed at "adaptation" to "environment", but a purposive "vital surge", or constant flow of consciousness, that he called "Duration". For, as Henri Bergson observed, if the only evolutionary purpose of an organism was to "adapt" to its environment, evolution would have stopped long time ago because amoeba is better adapted to its environment than we are to ours. It is this immaterial "vital surge" that is really behind the evolutionary impulse, that propels life-forms to become more and more complex, and to take risks in attaining this complexity.
How would Cannabis plant have facilitated our own evolution? I am inclined to believe that Cannabis is decidedly pro-evolutionary in its "design". By stimulating appetite and suppressing violent urges Cannabis promotes a non-violent food-seeking behavior, which would greatly facilitate survival of the species. Cannabis action to reduce the pressure inside the eye would have improved vision even in those who had no idea about glaucoma and its intimate connection with blindness. Calm and rest that Cannabis induces are markedly pro-evolutionary as well, for no effective action is possible without adequate rest. And I believe that no further comment is necessary about the evolutionary value of the enhancement of sexual experience that Cannabis use seems to promote.
Great Greek philosopher Plato believed that whatever we are seeing in the world around us is the result of some immaterial Form that "expresses" Itself in the "featureless flux" of the material Universe. The better the Form "expresses" itself in a given material thing, the more this material thing "approximates" the Form, or as Plato put it, the more it "participates" in the Form, the more perfect that given material thing becomes. Under this system, Beauty is objective, the Will is Free, and the greatest Form is the Form of the Good. If we were to conceive of a Platonic Form of a medicinal or recreational substance, wouldn't Cannabis plant be the one to almost perfectly "participate" in such a Form, given its non-toxicity, effectiveness in many medical conditions, and its pro-evolutionary design? Look how beautiful the Cannabis plant is, and for Plato Beauty and Truth were inseparable in the end, for One is not possible without the Other!
Materialist science would, no doubt, view these different characteristics of a Cannabis plant and our own anatomical and physiological attributes as a series of "coincidences". In fact, the material science and "materialist" philosophy are very fond of the word "coincidence", as whatever does not easily lend itself to "scientific explanation" is a "coincidence". Even the design of a Cannabis plant and its non-toxicity for humans because of how we are built is a "coincidence". And what about the plant's medicinal properties on top of all this? Another coincidence? And the beauty of the plant itself that makes it to "stand out" in the botanical kingdom for the human eye to see? Yet another coincidence? Too many coincidences, if you ask me. Wouldn't an alternative philosophical conception better explain the existence and role of Cannabis in our world? An explanation that takes a "holistic" view of things; an explanation that sees our own anatomical "design" and that of the Cannabis plant as parts of a Whole in which there are NO coincidences, but a definite "purposive" drive, consistent with the Evolutionary Impulse of the Universe, with Henri Bergson's "elan vital", or Plato's Forms, or Hegel's unity-driven and intricately interconnected Universe? Can't we also say then that the DEA assessment of the Cannabis plant is not in "coherence" with the "Truth" under the "Coherence" theory of "truth" and "error"? That, in fact, the DEA assessment of the plant is a blatant "error"?
There is yet another philosophical theory of "truth" and "error", the one that is held by "pragmatist" philosophers who believe that whatever gives us "emotional satisfaction" or is helpful in our experience is, in fact, the "truth". This theory is out of "philosophical favor", however, because many different things have given an emotional satisfaction or "positive experience" to many different people, which, nevertheless, were later proven to be false, the belief that the Earth is flat, for example.
Even if Nazis had won the Second World War, or Communists the Cold War, their "teachings" would not have become the "truth", because they would be "incoherent" with the flow of Reality which could be known, we will remember, through “moral experience”.
Just the same, failing the test of ” Correspondence” theory and of “Coherence” theory, the DEA and its prohibitionist allies’ “assessment” of the Cannabis plant must, therefore, be declared an “error”, even if such an “assessment” is giving them “emotional satisfaction”. The sooner our opponents recognize this error, the sooner they accept the united "verdict" of science and wisdom with regards to the role of Cannabis plant in our world and our evolution, the better it will be for all of us, as it is not the "ideology" or "dogma" that propels us forward, but new scientific discoveries which are, in turn, forever guided by philosophy's "Eternal Light".