Caterpillar: “We’re all vulnerable. Mix the wrong feelings together, the right kind of bad with the wrong kind of good, and you’ll wind up with a total breakdown.” ~ ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll
I was meeting with friends recently and discussing, among other subjects, the Yemeni situation and how it is impacting the Arabian Gulf area. Yemen is undergoing a political and security upheaval that is threatening to transform the country into another Afghanistan. While reflecting on the precarious situation of Yemen, we could not but touch on the strange phenomenon that has been gripping this country for centuries : Qat chewing on a national scale. Qat shrubs are grown in Yemen as well as other parts of the Horn of Africa and produced for consumption, not for their nutritional value, but for their ability to stone and stupify. About 17% of the income of families is estimated to be spent on the Qat chewing habit in Yemen, while it is estimated that 70% of adults are regular users (men more than women, and now children are increasingly starting to chew the leaves). A nation-wide dependence on an alkaloid-like substance that produces euphoria is quite unusual. It impacts the productivity, economy, health and future prospects of a country. It also depletes the water resources and affects nutrition as Qat growing consumes a lot of water and replaces other crops – it being a massive cash crop.
Other similar phenomena, all pertaining to collective drug use, were also discussed. Cava (spice tree root) use in Fiji, Coca leaf use in Latin America, social opium smoking in some Asian countries, and a global spread of ecstasy as the party drug of the young.
What is wrong with this picture? or maybe is it a picture showing us how societies can deal with their issues by being in a haze and forgetting about their problems? Is that what we should be concluding from nationally accepted drug use? Is it that in Yemen and Fiji, the use of drugs as a national and accepted practice is the antidote of organized crime that controls drug trafficking? But then, are Yemen’s recent troubles and mounting security threats proving this theory wrong? Is it true that when drug use is socially acceptable, people become docile, unproductive yes, but peaceful enough to not to want to stir trouble? If we look closely, we find that Yemen’s security problems have nothing to do with organized crime. Problems have started with funding from outside Yemen that is recruiting terrorism operatives in its Shi’a areas. But if those new recruits are chewing Qat, how can they be motivated enough to join a global Jihad?
I was quite interested in the subject of dependence on a massive level, I started thinking about it after going back home that night, then I realized that during the hippie times of the seventies and the proliferation of weed and hallucinogens, people of the peace and love movement were as benignly peaceful as people of Christiania in Denmark. The uniquely self-governed Danish enclave has a liberal drug use code and enjoys a relatively passive and peaceful existence.
What makes people decide to collectively live in a stupor and live for the moment, quieting ambition and electing to leave the mainstream of life? They seem to be happy, generally content even when lucid enough to verbalize how they feel, and generally unwilling to engage with the rest of the world in the global race to make more, spend more, and compete more. But if we all lounged around like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland (who was definitely smoking a spiked something), just observing others, content with what little we have, what would then become of humanity, the future of our race, inventions, creativity, advances in technology? One would argue that had we all been Qat chewing, Cava guzzling communities, we would have not polluted the earth so much, nor would we have invented war machines to destroy our world, then the future of our race would not have been as threatened as it is now with what we have done to our planet. But again, in the slow spaced out state most of those dependent on drugs perpetuate, no creation is feasible, no art, no discoveries, no dreams of a brighter future, nothing, just a contented state of the bare minimum necessary for survival. Is that a world we could dream of? I am not judging necessarily (just a little bit), I’m contemplating what life would be like had we all opted to just exist, euphoric, drugged, unproductive, sleepy. My immediate answer: Mushrooms. Living like mushrooms would be my impression of our collective stoned existence.
I am a proponent of being in control, at least of what is feasible in life. I agree that the hippie era had its positive side that gave us the music of the Beatles and created the anti-war movement, I still think there comes a point when humans are supposed to snap out of their dependence on substances, alcohol, drugs, the internet, videogames, and the common addiction to people in those co-dependence scenarios. We should just go out and do it, go engage in life, and be the best we can be, individually and collectively as a community, society, human race.
I am an advocate of no dependence, and hope you will be too. Hope nothing will dull your experience of life, the good and the bad of it. We were meant to live it, and live it we shall. No licking toads will do the trick.
Fine, I’ll come clean: My name is Brigitte and I am dependent on Swiss chocolates. Phew, that helped.