Archives for category: Philosophy

There is an episode on the podcast Crackdown that posits that, despite less effective results, doctors will still push Suboxone over Methadone when prescribing opiate replacement therapy. In theory, Suboxone is supposed to be safer because it has Naloxone chemically baked into the compound which prevents additional opiates from connecting to their neurological receptors. In short, it prevents you from getting high. Methadone, just being another opiate, allows additional opiates to be used on top of it if the prescription isn’t strong enough to prevent withdrawal. The podcast describes the social rewards of appeasing the medical professionals and being one of the “good” recovering addicts, despite the additional challenges that recovering on Suboxone has over Methadone, and the bitter disappointment of the failure that can come along with that. Ultimately, the podcast concludes that Suboxone is preferred by healthcare workers because it discourages the euphoria that is associated with opiate use on a molecular level.

This was literally the first image on my Google search for, “Doctor Knows Best.” I thought, why not, let’s sex-up this blog a bit.

To be upfront, I struggled with this on a personal level. I have worked with drug users for years, and I always went along with what the doctors and nurses suggested when it comes to opiate replacement therapy because they allegedly know “what’s best” when it comes to prescribing medication. I was told Suboxone is better because it prevents overdose, and who cares what the drug users themselves think, because if they want recovery and no longer want to get high, then why do they want to get high? I didn’t know better, and I didn’t have anyone offering any counterpoints, so it just became an assumed truth: Suboxone is better than Methadone.

Of course, when Mary Poppins says that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, we just blindly accept that firing the dopamine receptors in the brain is an easy way to make adhering to a pharmaceutical regimen more palatable. Heaven forbid you need a pharmaceutical regimen to overcome addiction, however. Then it’s no sugar for you!

The deepfake you didn’t know you needed

Why do we care if those seeking a less life-threatening way of living their lives happen to have a bit of pleasure within it? While I certainly can’t speak for everyone, I bet that it likely has something to do with the emotional reaction to drug use as a fundamentally hedonic lifestyle. We see the panhandler begging for change, decrepit and not having showered in months, and we think, that’s just the consequences of a lifetime of seeking pleasure right there, and so sad that they still haven’t learned that this is where euphoria leads you. Its cure must therefore involve the complete annihilation of any synthetic joy because only real, pure happiness is socially acceptable.

It doesn’t matter that addiction is the learned coping mechanism developed in response to trauma. No one cares about that. As much as people talk about the opioid crisis being a health crisis, no one seems to do anything about it which would be strange if, as a culture, we accepted addiction as what it actually is. Opiates have killed well over a thousand more people in British Columbia than have died from Covid-19 since Covid-19 became a thing, and the response to Covid-19 has been to shut down the world. We don’t care: drug deaths are the tragic but earned result of insatiably seeking an impure pleasure.

Even if we did offer solutions, drug users would still choose to slowly kill themselves, so what’s the point? I understand addiction.

Moral foundations theory is the belief that our morals are determined by the core emotional responses we have to certain situations. We respond with compassion to instances of harm, with indignation to cheating, with disgust to degradation, and so on, and thus are born the moral guidelines of care, fairness, sanctity, etc. Looking at the lives of a drug user, we might be moved to compassion, sure, but the judgier among us are likely to react with disgust. This creates the blueprint for moral blame toward those who indulge in profane pleasure, and thus it becomes that much easier to avoid caring about how many people who use drugs are dying.

If there is a profane pleasure, then surely there must be sacred pleasure, right? What would that be? It certainly isn’t sex, and the social categorization of sex workers would likely fall well within the scope of my thesis here. In Christianity, heaven is described as hanging out with God – being close to God is the sacred pleasure. Within Islam, heaven is a nice garden. Epicurus, the philosopher of socially appropriate hedonism, recommends just having some nice cheese as a sacred pleasure one might indulge in. The thing is though, these all seem kind of… incredibly lame and boring. Don’t get me wrong: cheese is fine, spiritual contemplation can be relaxing, and gardens are quite pretty, but is this really what we want for our sacred pleasure? It seems like the sacred euphoria is to not really have all that much pleasure in your life at all. And that’s the point: all pleasure is inherently profane. The sacred life is about restraining yourself from pleasure because pleasure is dirty.

I wonder what the perfect symbol for the maxim, “The less pleasure you have in your life, the more sacred you become,” would be? It’s on the tip of my tongue…

We’re all susceptible to this. The thing about moral foundation theory is that we all have emotions, and while some emotions may hit us individually harder than others, we can’t escape them. I myself am guilty of this, as I was describing my own thought process above. But remember, addiction is miserable. It’s an endless cycle of desperately trying to escape overwhelming pain. It is patently false to describe addiction as hedonic excess because the euphoria from any drug, let alone the banality of methadone, pales in comparison to the suffering of addiction itself. If the maxim about suffering being the road to sanctity were true, there would be none more sacred than the drug addict.

As bizarre as the moral condemnation of all pleasure is, it is completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand. It’s a trap constructed by the likes of Nancy Reagan, anti-drug campaigns, and ultimately, the racist origins of the drug laws themselves. They used to give opiates to children to calm them down, and even gave it the kind of kitschy name you’d expect for such a product, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Not that this was particularly healthy for the kids, but it gives you an idea as to the benign perception of narcotics prior to their criminality. Unfortunately, racism needed a way to control immigrant communities, drug use was thus linked to those communities, and drug laws were born to prevent Asian men from boning white women. The disgust associated with drugs was created and perpetuated outside their capacity to induce pleasure (excluding the ecstasy of interracial sexy-times), and so it makes sense that the lived experiences of drug users are irrelevant to our moral condemnation today.

Oh yeah, this is definitely a lifestyle that has far too many happy outcomes in it

I am writing this piece as a means of organizing my thoughts. I did not have a conclusion in mind when I started, and so it’s actually been a longer process than it normally would be for me to write one of these things. I have to come to grips with my own biases and take the time to reflect on what they are and where they come from. The debate about the comparable benefits between Methadone versus Suboxone is pretty niche, but I knew going into this that the exploration of this topic was going to touch on more than just that. The social attitude toward drugs and the moral condemnation toward their users is ubiquitous, and no one is exempt. Even drug users will hold themselves to a higher moral standard than other drug users citing the arbitrary standard of, “Well, I would never do such and such!” as a means of separating themselves from the impure. Sometimes they end up getting to the point where they do that thing, and this is often brought up in 12-step meetings as the time they knew they had lost control. Sometimes, a new bar will be set, “I may have done such and such, but I would never do such and such!”, and the desire to maintain moral purity remains.

In all honesty, Suboxone does work for some people. It’s good to have as an option for those who might genuinely want it. The point is that we shouldn’t use moral condemnation borne out of historical racism to coerce people into a recovery that doesn’t work for them. Addiction is hard enough as it is.

You ever go through a midlife crisis? Or endure the awkward evolution of adolescence? Surely at least one of those things – blogs aren’t really for the Tik Tok crowd. Coming to grips with who we are, who we want to be, and who we definitely are not is often a painful experience. When we search for an identity, it can be difficult because we don’t even know exactly what it is we’re looking for. What is an identity? How would I even go about getting one?

Be the Pokémon you want to see in the world

A good place to start is to list some identities, and one of the easy ways to do that is to make “I am” statements. I am a brother. I am a friend. I am a work colleague. There are other “I am” statements that I’m just going to ignore for now because I want to focus on the relational identities that my list has obviously focused on. I am who I am to the people around me. There’s something important to note here, though. If I have a kid, but leave early in that kid’s life to get some cigarettes and never come back, can I really say that I am a father? Biologically, sure, but biology does not an identity make. In a relationship, the way I relate determines the extent to which I can identify myself within it. Identifying as being a part of a relationship that you haven’t actually committed to in any meaningful way is what is commonly called a “red flag.”

Another example: if I identify as my race, or as my sexuality, that is likely because I am using that as a means of connecting to a larger community of that race or sexuality; perhaps both for the intersectional in the crowd. That’s why those in the dominant group are better off avoiding using their dominant traits as an identity; it creates relationships based solely on that trait. Those in minority groups need the solidarity that a healthy relational identity provides. Because of the redundancy of solidarity in a dominant group, identity within it becomes inherently oppressive. To be clear, identifying as an ethnicity in a relational way is usually done through connecting to a historical people, to a local community or neighbourhood, or to the people in a particular homeland. Also, it usually expands beyond the purely relational too. It typically involves the things that you do.

In searching for Waldo, do we ultimately discover ourselves?

An “I am” statement you might have been thinking of previously was your employment. I am a butcher. I am a baker. I am a candlestick maker struggling for business ever since electricity became a thing and now only serve a niche market. However, the same identity issue applies as before: if my job is to push papers, and the measure of my work is the amount of TPS reports I complete in a day, I’m not going to identify as my employment. As much as it might put food on my table, it won’t be who I am as a person. We have to connect to the things that we do in order for them to define us. We need to be able to have autonomy over what we do, see the results of our labour, and be challenged in ways that build our skill. Of course, what we do and who we know aren’t everything.

Tell me child, in what way would you like to make a profit for your employer?

Exuding certain characteristics or principles is also an identity. I am honest. I am brave. I am compassionate. This is the identity that navigates the way we engage with our relationships and our work. I am honest with my friends. I am brave in my dangerous career. I am compassionate with strangers. These qualities don’t even necessarily have to be abundantly positive: I am a tough guy when it comes to connecting to others emotionally – which means that expressing myself would not only go against social expectation, it would go against who I am. We very often cling to our harmful attitudes quite dearly because giving them up means giving up a part of who we are. These identities can even come into conflict. For instance, I am “reliable” and a “hard worker” who doesn’t spend any time with my children.

For those who have read Viktor Frankl, you may be noticing a pattern. Frankl posits that the ways in which humans find meaning in their lives are through our relationships, our work, and our attitude. Now I’ve just gone and described identity as those same three categories. Identity, who we are, is simply the ways we find meaning in the world.

“Hey Boo Boo, let’s go get us a pic-a-nic basket”

Unfortunately, the modern world has lain a trap for us. For example, we can connect to the characters in the Star Wars universe. We can go on all the Star Wars rides at Disneyland, lovingly bedeck our laptop with Star Wars paraphernalia, and we can be loyal to our franchise in a way that no loser Trekkie would ever understand. Every fundamental attribute of identity exists, and yet, for those fans whose identity rests solely in some form of consumption, be it television, film, sports, novels, etc., life seems awfully hollow. These are typically called parasocial interactions – when the way we connect to something only goes one way. We’ll never be able to ask Luke Skywalker to help us move (and that would be amazing because force powers would make it so much easier), and that’s because he’s a fictional character and force powers aren’t real.

Modernity has twisted identity in a way that is particularly sinister because consumption identity is often determined by sociopathic corporate interests that don’t care how broken and lonely we feel, they’re just happy to milk whatever pseudo-identity we have to their product for everything it’s worth – literally. Parasocial interactions are often exploited to sell figurines, novelty items, and an infinite supply of Marvel films.

We need reciprocity in our identity. We need to experience growth in our work. We need to experience recognition in our relationships. If we don’t, we will only ever be half of a person. There’s no problem with liking Star Wars or the Green Bay Packers or whatever else, but when it becomes an identity, then it means that something is fundamentally missing from who you are.

If your childhood is genuinely ruined by a capitalistic cash grab in the form of a shitty remake, then you probably didn’t have a particularly fulfilling childhood. It’s time to start over, friend.

Building a new identity is hard. The drug addict who quits their drug of choice is not just giving up drugs; they are abandoning the relationships they made in their addiction, the routine of their daily grind, their entire lives. Those who cannot build something to fill that void will relapse because the emptiness that remains is far more painful and scary than an unending fight against withdrawal symptoms. The early stages of recovery are a desperate search for meaning that, if unaddressed, will cause more relapse than any insatiable urge or temptation. “Boredom” is one of the biggest killers of recovery.

Identity is a huge part of our lives. It’s the entirety of who we are, in fact. If we don’t like our identity, or if we’ve lost large chunks of it through recovery, retirement, disability, or other identity-altering experiences, then we have to find a new way to find ourselves. Relapse is not the worst thing that can result from a loss of identity; the stakes are pretty high. But if we know the foundations of who we can become, then we can build on something solid. We can strive to love well in our relationships, find purpose in the work that we do, and exude qualities and principles that we can be proud of. Who we are is how we find meaning. What’s meaningful to you?

The ship of Theseus is an ancient philosophical thought experiment about the nature of identity. Theseus is an ancient Greek dude, and like all the ancient Greeks that we hear about, he had a ship. Unfortunately, Theseus’s ship ran into some hard times, and needed to have some parts replaced. A plank here, a plank there. All the sails at some point, I guess. The point is, after a while, every single part of his ship had been replaced with a newer one. The questions is: how is it still Theseus’s ship if literally nothing of the original remains?

Little known fact: Theseus was a dog this whole time

Aging is, in scientific terms, a son of a bitch. Our muscles atrophy; our hearing starts to go; and, in some cases, we lose our memories and our grip on the reality around us. We too become slowly replaced over time, just not with newer parts as with Theseus’s ship, but with older, crappier parts that give out and have a mustier smell. When our older family members develop dementia, we struggle with the same kind of identity crisis as Theseus. We are looking at someone that we used to know in one way, and now none of the original parts seem to remain.

Dementia in a loved one is actually incredibly difficult to witness, and I am insensitively making light of the situation. I’m not going to stop, but it’s important to acknowledge.

I do believe that the ship of Theseus maintains its identity over the duration of its incremental replacement because there remains a single constant: Theseus. It’s Theseus’s ship because Theseus sees it that way, with a degree of social corroboration as well (people will, for the most part, agree that it is still Theseus’s ship – otherwise they would see it as stolen). The identity of the ship exists in its relationships just as much as it does in its material make-up.

The same holds true with dementia. Before my grandmother passed away, she developed dementia and no longer saw me as her grandson. However, I still saw her as my grandma because my inevitable deterioration has yet to begin. We maintain our relationships with our loved ones, and that maintains their identity. She was my grandmother. That relationship never changed even if her own perception of her active relationships had shifted wildly. Even if she no longer sees me as her grandson, this is irrelevant. Keep in mind how the ship might relate back to Theseus, given how it is an inanimate object. It wouldn’t, is my point. We define how we relate to others, for better or for worse.

This is not my grandmother, but wouldn’t it be great for this blog if it were?

Part of who we are is certainly the sum of our parts. Our physical and psychological body cannot be fully cleaved from the concept of our identity, but these, our physical body especially, are only superficial facets of who we are. I am a son, a brother, a partner, a friend, a coworker, and a bitter, hated enemy. I had a grandmother, and that defined who she was to me. Theseus had a ship, and it was how he related to that ship that defined its identity regardless of how many planks ended up being replaced. If you continue to love them, they will continue to be your loved ones.