I was listening to the Tim Ferriss Podcast yesterday where he interviewed James Fadiman about psychedelics. Fadiman was talking about LSD and made an offhand remark that caught my ear. He said LSD, like almost all other drugs, is very hard to get except in three places where it’s abundant.
Schools, universities, and prisons.
There is a lot to consider in this anecdote. These three institutions have several things in common that distinguish them from others. They are almost always funded at least in large part through tax dollars. They are managed at least indirectly by governments, and subject to elected officials and un-elected bureaucrats in their day to day operations. They are seen by most members of the public as absolute necessities in any civilized society. Because they’re seen as necessary they get far less scrutiny than institutions seen as optional.
The vast majority of those in these institutions are not there by free and conscious choice. It may seem extreme to claim this of universities, but if you spend time questioning college students you’ll find that most don’t really know why they’re there and haven’t ever considered another path. They’re there because the cumulative force of parents, public opinion, and perceived career safety close off all other options. Even if they have choice, they do not think they have choice. They are not freely choosing to be there the way someone chooses to attend a baseball game or join a country club.
These institutions tend to place a higher priority on stopping drug use than other institutions in society, yet they get more of it. Prison is the starkest example (although schools are not far off) with absolute borders and armed agents 24/7. Still a drug trade cannot be suppressed. Perhaps when all other forms of individuality and rebellion are suppressed, whatever subversive activity one can get away with will emerge.
There is something delicious about the irony of these institutions being the best sources for banned substances. There is also something sad. What it reveals about human nature is at least a little bit inspiring. A refusal to fully submit, and a desire to find escape, even if only in the mind. What it reveals about the institutions and society is at least a little depressing.