“Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Children’s author snorts coke!”
I can’t stand news is made over drug-use by creative people. Recently, Robert Munsch, author of such perennial favourites as Mortimer, A Promise is a Promise, and the tear-jerking Love You Forever, has found his name splattered all across the news, unfavourably placed beside the word ‘cocaine’.
Art, whether it’s to be found in the form of an oil painting or in a children’s book, is fundamentally what it always has been: a poēsis, a bringing-forward of something new into the world. The individual – or in some cases the group – is the carrier of that novelty. Some people can do this effortlessly; most people cannot. To force a new artistic truth is to do just that, to force something, and it can take an awful lot of exertion and a terrible toll on the individual psyche in the process.
For this reason, we shouldn’t be surprised that some of the most creative people that this big ol’ dysfunctional family we call humanity has ever produced have used drugs in the creative process.
To elaborate: take as an example another member of the creative class, Aldous Huxley. On the one hand, Huxley warns us about overmedicating ourselves, as we can see in Brave New World, but he was also an advocate of drug-use as a means to overcome the given state of perception.
From a scientific point of view, perception is strictly a quality of the individual. But does anyone serious doubt that the social-historical framework in which the individual perceives has nothing to do with perception? The sun has always risen in the East, and set in the West. It has always appeared roughly the same size as the moon. But today, the words ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’ are mere metaphors, and we know that the moon is a grain of salt to the Sun.
In any given society, there is an order of the sensible that precedes the individual. It’s not rational; it’s not necessary; it just is. Creative people can see past the given state of affairs and they can force new truths despite of it.
Of course, there are people – creative and not – who take drugs too far, just as there are people who drink too much, or those who eat too much. There are problems in the world, but the problems aren’t caused by the drugs themselves.
Often in the drug debate the Harm Principle is appealed to. If someone’s drug use is seriously causing harm to others, then there is a problem. However, the reverse rarely applies: if someone’s drug use is benefiting people, then there is a net benefit and hardly a problem at all.
So Robert Munsch and Steven Page snort coke,
So John Lennon shot smack,
So Bill Clinton smoked weed (but naturally didn’t inhale),
So Freud partook of the morphine,
So Socrates was taking something wacky at Delphi,
I’m not saying drugs are the answer: For most of society, they aren’t. In a perfect world, we would see drugs not as a problem, nor as a solution. Until that world arrives, when it comes to the drug-use of the creative class, let’s try to keep our noses out of their noses.