The Days of

On the subject of drugs, as on so many others, American culture tends toward Utopian extremes of hedonism and puritanism. Twenty years ago the voluntary alteration of consciousness was celebrated by some otherwise intelligent and noteworthy Americans as a new inner frontier--the spiritual equivalent of outer space lying in wait for human exploration.

In those days, the legalization of various psychotropic chemicals was proposed as a psychic Homestead Act, opening new territory for the great American experiment in liberty and the pursuit of happiness. More traditional liberals of an ACLU bent may not have bought the drug culture's religious fervor, but many of them supported legalization as a freedom of conscience issue.

As the song says, "Those days are gone forever." And good riddance. The people who are usually wrong about the '60s are mostly right about the negative effect of the drug culture. A contemporary rock and roller and student of Americana such as Bono of the Irish rock band U2, who is usually right about the '60s, isn't far from the mark when he blames the collapse of that decade's idealistic promise on drugs in general and LSD in particular.

But now the famous pendulum has swung. These are the days of "Just Say No," when prominent persons, including the president of the United States, go about claiming to believe that the ancient human interest in blurring, sharpening, or colorizing consciousness actually can (and should) be eliminated from the culture of this particular city on a hill.

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