Friday, March 1, 2013

Drug of choice

There are only two kinds of people in the world: those remaining indigenous who are still living an authentic human existence, hunter-gatherers, and the rest of us, agriculturalists. (Note that global industrial civilization, for all of its layers of mediation, for all of its mechanical separation and distortion, is an agriculturalist lifestyle, and ultimately grounded in the dirt of domestication.)

The recreational drug of choice in hunter-gatherer communities is usually some form of hallucinogen.  Hallucinogenic compounds are rarely addictive because they typically don’t operate on the dopamine-based reward circuits of the brain. By stark contrast, the drug of choice for agriculturalists is invariably an addictive agent that directly targets the reward circuits: almost always a pain-reducing soporific such as alcohol or opium, but occasionally a behavior-increasing dopaminergic substance such as cocaine or amphetamine.

Two things here:

First, why is it hunter-gatherers tend to prefer perception-expanding agents over feel-good chemicals?

Second, what is it about a domestication-based lifestyle that lends itself to drugs that target the brain’s reward circuits? And why is it that the drug of choice for agriculturalists is usually an experience-blunting analgesic agent?


  1. A couple of other points I have thought about.

    Why do agriculturalists support the use of these reward drugs, through cultural traditions, advertising, and other social pressures?

    And why do agriculturalists abhor the use of perception expanding drugs, or at least the ones considered to be "polite company" for lack of a better term?

    1. Hey anonymous, I apologize for not responding sooner. I’ve been a bit under the weather lately—and have spent the last several weeks under the influence of some of the highest caliber “reward" drugs reserved for cancer patients following surgery.

      You raise two excellent (and intimately related) points. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact addictive agents enhance the degree to which a person’s behavior can be predicted and controlled, whereas perception altering agents make a person’s behavior less predictable—and thus less amenable to external regulation. “Polite company” is a nice euphemism for “docile and conforming.”