Coffee, Carrying Capacity… You Know, the Usual

Here’s a video of Michael Pollan talking about “coffee and other plant drugs.” He argues that coffee is peferred by the lords of capitalist, industrial society because it aids production. Marijuana aids many things, but production is not one of them.

And here’s a piece in The Daily Beast about “America’s real drug problem,” i.e. caffeine. It’s an attempt at light-hearted observational humor, and it’s not exactly groundbreaking but it dovetails the video by raising the question of why some drugs are preferred by our culture while others are shunned or even destroyed.

Even the different ways we define the word “drug” tell us a lot about the world we’ve built; more and more people take drugs just to be able to function in modern society, instead of for the more traditionally thought-of uses, like recreation, physical pain reduction, or ceremony. That one of the side effects of many antidepressants is “suicidal thoughts or actions” further blurs the line.

I wonder how many drugs are produced to treat symptoms of the root problem we’ve created, which is that our institutions and systems run counter to our evolutionary history as primate mammals. Are we in the middle of a feedback loop, whereby cubicle society is so inhuman that it makes people sick, and then we need cubicle society’s production capacity to make, test, and ship the drugs to treat the sickness, thereby creating more sickness in the process, and so on? Lots of people argue that we need our current physical and economic infrastructure in order to keep people healthy. I can’t think of many things more unhealthy than reaching global carrying capacity. (And in the meantime, it is estimated that 1,638,910 new cancer cases and 577,190 deaths from cancer will occur in the United States in 2012.)

But back to caffeine in particular: I, like many, love coffee. It’s a bit of a problem for someone who advocates a major withdrawal of our structures (and our way of thinking) from the few wild places that remain. Coffee, after all, would probably be one of the first products to disappear from the shelves, and even if you live in a climate where it grows, it takes a lot of work over several steps to produce something like the gourmet French Roast I get at Wheatsville. You can go on Foraging Texas and look up local substitutes if you live around here (there are 11 listed), but somehow boiling roots and acorn mash just doesn’t seem like an adequate replacement. But I would much rather live in a world with more drinkable water, more viable soil, more plants and animals, and so on—but no coffee—than in one with coffee but without drinkable water, etc. (and you need water to make coffee, obviously, so that goes without saying).

mica mug


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