The Great Western Rage Virus

Greg Cochran has a post up wondering about the explosion of recreational drug use in the West starting in the mid-60’s. He makes the point that drugs were available, in addition to alcohol, for people in the West, but we have little evidence that people used them for fun, despite what libertarians claim. As far back as we have information, Western societies would abuse alcohol, but that was it, as far as recreational drug use. Other substances were limited to medicine if used at all.

The Greeks and Romans had opium, but there’s no record of it being used for anything other than medicine, at least among the public. Move forward and that remains true into the medieval period. There are reports here and there of people using various things for medicine, but there’s no record of smoking hash or opium as a party drug. It was not until the age of exploration and the arrival of the Chinese and opium dens into the West that we get reports of recreational drug use among western people. Even that was very limited.

In the United States, marijuana was available, along with indigenous hallucinogenics, from the earliest days of the colonies. In the 19th century you have references to morphine addicts, but those are rare. Into the 20th century morphine was sold retail, as no one considered it a public health risk. Everyone has heard about the use of cocaine in consumer products like tonics and beverages. Well into the 20th century, drugs like heroin, cocaine, marijuana and some hallucinogenics were available, yet rarely used or abused.

Then something changed in the 1960’s. If you were an American teen in 1960 hanging out with friends, the odds that any of you had smoked pot were extremely low, unless maybe you were black. It does appear that drug taking was associated with black culture, but more on that in a bit. By 1970, the teenager of that same town would know many pot smokers and probably tried it at least once. In fact, within that decade it went from rare to common. By the 70’s, not having smoked pot made you an exception if you were young.

The question is how did this happen? It is not a small change in cultural norms. This is a huge change and it happened faster than anything else that comes to mind. Humans were just as susceptible to the charms of opiates in the 19th century as they are today, presumably. In the first half of the 20th, doctors were quick to prescribe things like cocaine to children to sooth teething. People were given liberal amounts of morphine for pain as it was the only effective pain killer. Even during Prohibition, drug use did not increase, despite the obvious demand to get wasted.

My initial thought, at least in America, is that the explosion of recreational drug use corresponds with the collapse of racial barriers in the US. If you read American fiction from the early 20th century, particularly the 20’s and 30’s, you get some oblique references to smoking pot, associated with Jazz. People up into the 50’s used to call joints “Jazz cigarettes” for that reason. Jazz, of course, was always strongly linked to black culture and strongly linked to whites and blacks mixing socially. This was not just in America. Josephine Baker got world famous in the Paris jazz scene.

The explosion of drug use does appear to correlate with the break down of racial barriers. Opium, for example, was always associated with the Chinese. Cocaine use was strongly associated with blacks going crazy in the South. After Prohibition ended, FDR turned the Prohibition Bureau into the Federal Narcotics Bureau. They immediately began to campaign against things like marijuana, which were linked to anti-social behavior of Mexicans and blacks. Even today, there is a racial component to drug taking. Crack was largely a black problem, while meth is a white problem.

Music followed a similar path out of American black culture into the dominant white culture. Jazz clubs were the first places whites and blacks could mingle socially. Eventually, whites were playing jazz and then rock-and-roll followed the same path.  It’s not just music and weed, but the modern West now gets all of its cultural cues from the American black ghetto. Hip-hop being the latest example. I was in Dublin and I saw Irish kids dressed like extras from Straight Out of Compton.

If we take a step back, the break down of racial barriers corresponds with the breakout of multiculturalism in the West. For half a century, the West has been raging against itself and even raging against biology. Feminism, and the more recent anti-white male stuff, is not just a war against the culture, but also a war against reality. The explosion of drug taking is just one item in the satchel of madness the West picked up somewhere in the middle of the last century.

If you are a fan of Greg Cochran, then you may see where this is headed. The great mixing of people that happened in the first half of the 20th in the great world wars brought masses of common people into contact with their contemporaries from around the world. That’s lots of foreign people breathing on one another, bleeding on one another, fornicating with one another. Just as trade facilitated the Black Plague, the great wars facilitated the movement of all sorts of things around the world.

Hold that thought and think about the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Rodents infected with this parasitic protozoa are drawn to the smell of cat urine, apparently having lost their otherwise natural aversion to the scent. This parasite can only reproduce in the gut of a feline so it is a very useful feature of this parasite, but not so good for the rodent. This parasite also causes trouble for humans, which is why pregnant women are told to avoid cat litter. It is entirely possible that it has other affects on humans. In other words, your cat may be controlling your brain.

Now to tie this all together. Greg Cochran came up with something called the Gay Germ Hypothesis, which suggest that maybe a germ or virus causes homosexuality. Others have suggested that pathogens could be at the root of other conditions as well. What if some sort of pathogen got looses in the West and is at the root of the anti-social behavior? What if there is some benefit to this bug in having humans mix together across the normal ethnic and tribal barriers? What if all the things we are seeing in the West are the result of a germ or virus that got going in the great wars of the 20th century?

47 thoughts on “The Great Western Rage Virus

  1. Maybe in the past addicts just died.
    How does living in a post scarcity world and one of impressive medical strides impact our culture? It is, of course, as old as human history but every post WWII generation has been increasingly cocooned and seemingly more infantilized and feminized. In the past, people were occupied with uncertainty and the daily grind to feed, clothe, and keep warm. Darwin was unforgiving.
    We evolved big brains capable of making life and death decisions in milliseconds. Compared to most of human history, many people, who live in the west, are fairly coddled, living pretty safe, secure, and uneventful lives, could it be, even empty lives? Is opening your electric bill or driving on icy streets the most exciting thing you do? Maybe many folks crave drama and all this is a pathetic substitute for real life survival prerogatives.
    “Aldous Huxley, another smart Brit, got a lot right about the future. In Brave New World, the Savage eventually kills himself rather than conform to the dull stability of the World State.”

    Or , maybe just self destructs?

  2. New reader here. Great post. I think the collapse of Western morality has deep roots over the last millennium or so, but the catastrophe of the mid-20th c. West and its unutterably awful generational cohort (Boomers in USA, ’68ers in Europe, etc.) may indeed have an organic cause. However, when I think about the symptoms of drug use and sexual perversion, what springs to mind are lowered inhibition and complete loss of self-control. As it turns out, those are among the symptoms also associated with the “Lead-Crime” hypothesis–that the introduction and phasing out of leaded gasoline corresponds to the higher crime rates of the Worst Generation, as opposed to the less anti-social propensities of the cohorts before and after. Now, that doesn’t account for the same things Cochrane’s pathogen would. Nor does it account for the persistence of SJW idiocy now that Boomer cultural Marxists have completed their Gramscian long March through the Institutions. But I think it’s worthy of your consideration. The best summary of the lead-crime hypothesis comes from Clintonite blogger Kevin Drum (hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day) of all places, and might prove an interesting read in the “Why are Boomers so horrible?” inquiry:

  3. Maybe it’s just r/K in action. Also, far more people — now — abuse alcohol and prescription meds, than illegal drugs. And for many people throughout history, alcohol is all they want and need in a drug. So I would say that this is nothing new — week long Bacchanals anyone?

  4. The early part of this essay called to mind the experiences of a close friend who first smoked pot in 1962 at age 16. He got it from a “beatnik” old boy with a younger brother still at the school. By 18 he’d taken lsd, still legal at the time. This guy was the typical “preppy” (Brooks Bros. tweed jackets, khakis, oxford cloth shirts, etc.) and went to an Ivy college, but he was an outlier thanks to the pot smoking. According to him, the tipping point in college culture came in summer of 1966 and it was owed entirely to the effect of mass media, pop music in particular. That year he went to Colombia for a perceived commercial opportunity and then spent a few years out of circulation. When he returned to campus, he discovered an alternate universe to the one he’d left. Tweed jackets had been replaced with fur vests, khakis with bell-bottoms… But my friend dresses no differently at 70 than he did at 17, so apparently he was immune to the virus, given that he’s also an unrepentant elitist, very Russell-Kirk-style conservative and sometimes insufferable snob.

    If there’s been a “virus” at work, it was cultured in the brains of Edward Bernays and Antonio Gramsci, among others. It has since spread unchecked and its later mutations are mind-boggling.

    • I cannot name a single pot-smoking friend from high school — and there were many — who did not do well later in life. I did go to a tough private high school, so that might have skewed things some.

      1966 seems to have been the turning point in the Ivies, Berkeley, and a few other places. Others I’ve known who went to state schools or middle-American schools have mentioned dates ranging from 1969 to 1973. Some of those whom I went to college with and whom were from small towns seemed entirely innocent of “the change” as late as the early 80s.

  5. A fabulous exersize in pattern combination, Z Man. I lived the transition described as a young adult. Starting college in 1964, it was definitely still the ’50’s: Leaving it in 1968, it was already the stoner ’70’s. Several observations on potential causes/effects:

    – Death of Dignity; In the ’50’s a man’s dignity mattered regardless of social class or race. In the stoner ’70’s being ‘real’ mattered. Subtle childhood infection_? Possibly, starting with the elite, of all things. Think Pres. GHW Bush vs. Pres. Clinton I.

    – Role Model Reversal: From time immemorial the elite culture set a society’s tone. Suddenly it’s a peculiarly prestigious underclass thug/celebrity culture that sets a tone that is so obviously self-destructive that the elite actually avoid it in practice while pretending to adhere to it (see Charles Murray) as a means of maintaining their power.

    – My anecdotal observation of my peers and drugs: They were best avoided because for many a reefer was, “OK that was interesting but I don’t care if I have another, besides it’s illegal.” But for a few, “Baaybee, where you been all my life_? It’s you and me forever.” Something very self-destructive tripped in their neurochemistry that was very, very hard to ever overcome in later life and was sometimes fatal early on. And you never knew beforehand which group you were in.

    – So what epidemeological mass change occurred in the ’50’s_? Many vaccines, most notably polio vaccine. I’m definitely not an anti-vaxxer: I actually knew peers who were crippled for life from polio an a couple that died slow and painful deaths in iron lungs from it. Given that alternative, polio vaccine was a Godsend. But, in general, vaccines alter your immune system, else they wouldn’t protect you, and might have other effects besides the intended one. So, might it not be cat sh*t but the pattern’s there that it might be something else.

      • Cassius;

        What I am saying is that weed (which, though not fatal in itself, is far from harmless*) seemingly validated ALL drug use to those with ‘dopamine receptor disorder’ i.e. it suddenly converted them to letting being high run their lives. Alcohol does this too, of course, but there were no illusions about what could happen with overuse: Unlike pot at that time.

        A lot of the then-prevent ‘Reefer Madness’ propaganda implied implied instant death. Since that didn’t follow immediately and it felt really good (and they were young adult immortals), so then, any and all drugs could and should be used with abandon. And then there was the media support for the disorderd-life-styles-with-no-consequences desired by young trustafarians, then and now.

        As mentioned below, LSD-induced Darwin Awards accounted for two of my HS cohort (one flew Daddy’s glider into a mountain, the other committed suicide). And there were, then as now, a couple of smack OD’s among a population with no previous contact. Then as now, there are not a few young lives with ruined potential from taking the road that was then less traveled for very good but suddenly discredited reasons.

        * So why is smoking tobacco the end of the world and smoking weed commendable_? Elite drug of choice I’d say.

  6. Funny. Just read the entry on opium in Samuel Johnson’s dictionary today. I think he made very brief mention of the possibility of abuse but mostly of its general uses. Did say that overdose could kill you. Most interesting to me was that the Turks used it before going into battle.

  7. In my opinion the advent of feminine influence on the body politic was the beginning of the end. Gob’ment spending soared shortly after the expansion of the voting franchise, and the gob’ment became an agent of compassion to appease female voters.

  8. I’d also like to point out that the penalties for using drugs (legal and social) were far more severe in the 30’s – 60’s than later.

  9. Look at how much mixing of the sexes has changed culture and society.

    I’ll try to post a link later for my doubters, but I think some estimates had 4% of the US population hooked on opiate patent medicines at the time the pure food and drug act was passed. Of course a lot of that was for pain management, not to get high. So that doesn’t undermine Z’s hypothesis.

    • I can’t find the article I got the four percent figure from, which is a shame since it was very well-written and witty. But here is one that provides some statistics suggesting very high levels of use of prescription opiates from that era:

      Here is another which quotes from a c.1880 estimate of 1000 opium addicts in Memphis at a time when it had a population of about 33,000, which would work out to a 3% overall addiction rate and a higher rate in the adult population:

      An interesting note: most of the articles I read blamed the addiction epidemic in the late 1900s on doctors overprescribing opiates rather than patent medicines. Such a situation would be highly analogous to the one we find ourselves in today. By the time the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Harrison Act were enacted, the problem had largely fixed itself as social pressure on doctors and state and local laws caused them to cut back on prescribing opiates.

      I also discovered another interesting thing. Contrary to the received narrative that Chinese immigration was shut off in the late 1800’s due to some unspecified racism, the press accounts of the time seem pretty clear: the anti-Chinese backlash was due to the fact that the opium dens operating even in cities as small as Memphis, TN were Chinese-run and were perceived as corrupting the citizen population. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

      • Nice bit of research. In popular culture The Man With The Golden Arm came out in 1955. Heroin addiction was well known before the sixties.

      • Ya. Eugene O’Neil was writing about his mother. The average addict was a middle class housewife, and there were a lot of junkies there. The first drug laws were written in 1906, for mom. Coke and opiates. Too bad we got started down that road. The next thirteen years would see all the laws passed that would make the country irredeemable. Income tax, Federal Reserve Act, Women’s Suffrage, Prohibition. The cat sure bolted out of that bag. The Progressive era had begun. Why did we think it ever stopped?

        • You could point to the Pure Food and Drug Act as the beginning of the end for federalism. States and communities were starting to do a good job of enforcement when the progressives stepped in. If one state had wanted to be the junkie state and the others had not, so what? How did that affect the ability of the Federal Government to discharge its constitutional duties? I am implacably opposed to drugs like opioids and meth being used recreationally, but solutions come from communities, not the Center.

          • The Pure Food and Drug act was necessary to create a milieu in which a monopoly on prescriptive power, which was part of the push behind licensing and accreditation, could be enforced by prosecution. This is only part of why I am against licensing of physicians.

  10. As a side line: Timothy Leary came to my college to speak back in ’84. Surprisingly, his topic was computers. He had this wild notion that in the near future we would all be connected by this huge network of personal computers so that it would be possible to sit at home and instantly be connected to a guy in New Delhi, India, or anywhere else. He said we’d all have one, and that it would issue in a whole new world of communication. Too far fetched, I thought.


      • Frank Herbert – The White Plague… only instead of targeting the female sex chromosome and causing death, it suppresses the genetic sequence(s) which encode caution and skepticism toward unknown dangers; and/or which open the receptors on our fat-n-happy gene sequence to be susceptible to certain recreational substances… it certainly would explain the surge of addiction which the late ’60s and early ’70s ushered in.

    • Yeah, reminds me of my high school electronics teacher who told us that in ten years, we would have computers on our desks. He was off by maybe five years or so, but close none-the-less. This was around ’68.

  11. Well, we know that WW-I spread the first Influenza pandemic- the so-called “Spanish Flu” which killed millions – and which to this day continues to cycle through various populations with regularity.

    Meanwhile, doctors are still challenged to explain the very nature of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, more commonly referred to as “Mad Cow Disease” although this association is not entirely correct.

    And there are persistent rumors that HIV and certain other virii are engineered organisms released, either accidentally or with malice, from some vaguely alleged bio-weapons lab…

    And lastly, it is undeniable that “bad ideas are infectious” – particularly among those with lesser intellectual capacity.

    Each of the above propositions is ripe with it’s own irony. Taken as a well-defined group within the context you propose, that irony is raised by a power of magnitude, even as they are multiplied amongst each other.

  12. The mid-60s was the start of the Great Society program and the beginning of an acceptance (by social liberals and lefty politicians) of a culture of dependency here in the USA and in Europe.
    Prior to this – when today’s illicit drugs were legal – everybody knew that they had to make their own way through life; they had to find a job and could not depend on the government to support them.

    And prior to the 1960s, drug use of any sort was not considered an “illness;” it was considered a sign of individual failure and weakness and an indication that an individual could not be trusted nor was reliable. Employers simply would not hire anybody they believed was a dope fiend. And if you did not have a job the government was not there to support you. Everybody knew this.

    If you were a dope fiend or oft times high, you most likely could not get a job and you did not eat. A very stark choice indeed.

    These two factors – the assignment of drug addiction as an illness and the government sponsored and encouraged culture of dependency – allowed anybody to be a social parasite and not worry about where the next meal would come from. The government now paid folks not to work, so hey, why not spend all day getting or staying stoned; you certainly had the time.

    Lastly, in the 60s it became “normal” that everybody should go to college, a notion that had never existed anywhere before. And since college for many is just an extension of adolescence the students had ample time to goof off using drugs (especially true if your major was a soft science or gym or history).

    That poverty is not a factor in drug use can easily be seen by examining the Great Depression where life’s hardships and standard of living were, compared today, a sad joke. Surely folks then used drugs but nowhere to the extent we see today.

    What started to change in the 60s was the imposition (or victory, if you will) of liberal social policies (by the left, liberal elites in government and academia) which upended the traditional values of self sufficiency and individual initiative.

    • Ah, but you’ve forgotten a couple of key points.Vets from WWII went to college in record numbers, so they wanted their kids to go too. And….student deferments for the Vietnam war. That was the real reason they wanted to be in college.

      • My father was first generation Mexican-American. He was career Army. Went to Vietnam before he retired. When I started college, I had draft no. 93. Without a college deferment, I would have been sent also. Having been there, my Dad’s advice was “Our family has done it’s part … stay in school.” I finished my engineering degree. Drugs were not part of the equation. Friday afternoon beer busts were, of course, obligatory.

  13. Interesting post, and fascinating links- especially the toxoplasma article. My introduction to drugs came from the Time Life Books science volume, The Mind. I was 14 or 15, and the idea of drugs like (marijuana, cocaine, and heroin) still had that dark, sinister vibe. The image that came to mind was desperate junkies, and filthy city streets. But the descriptions of LSD, psylocibin, and mescaline given in the Time Life book were just amazing. Come ’67, or ’68 you started hearing of people actually using the stuff. Remember Timothy Leary? Suddenly weed and acid were talked about in the paper, and on TV. The Smothers Brothers goofed about smoking pot. Only heroin and coke retained the sinister vibe. Needless to say I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a hit of acid and a joint. A big part of the drug explosion in the late ’60s came from media giving it the “cool” endorsement.


  14. Huh, I didn’t think that one held up at all. I see the real recreational drug use starting with LSD. yes, there were a few pot heads in the Beatnik days. LSD was supposed to be beneficial and started out in “scientific” settings. Ken Kesey blew that away and turned it into a recreational thing. The problem is that using drugs made you reliant on dealers, who might have a better profit margin on another drug.

    As for the mixing of the races, I went to a segregated elementary school. I didn’t realize that until many years later. American Indians went to our school too, so it didn’t seem lily white.

  15. The ‘time of plenty’ led to drug use and in turn, to the lowering of racial barriers. Prior to the end of WWII, the west suffered true poverty; failure to maintain an income led to hunger, malnutrition, lack of medical care and early death. The requirements of existence itself focused the mind powerfully.

    I served with a Marine artillery battery in Viet Nam from late February 1966 through late March 1967. Surviving in the field kept drug usage very low. There were a few losers who obtained and used drugs from the villagers, but most of us couldn’t imagine surviving contact with our foes while spaced out on drugs.

    When I returned to Viet Nam in the fall of 1967, I was assigned to a maintenance organization, “in the rear with the gear’, as we use to say. There, marijuana usage was prolific, especially among the non-career enlisted men. In early 1968, I was transferred to Dong Ha, a few miles south of the DMZ. At that time, Khe Sahn was under siege 40 miles west of Dong Ha along highway 9. There were frequent artillery and rocket attacks of all the Marine encampments all along the DMZ. Here, it was tough to ‘be in the rear with the gear’.

    Once again, drug usage among the enlisted was very low. Surviving an artillery attack required immediate response to the first few impacting rounds. Of course, if those first few rounds landed where you were, your mother got a letter, a flag and $10,000 from the government. The rest of us had enough time to seek shelter.

    So it could be seen that drug usage varied according to risk, not time. In the field (danger), no drugs; in the rear (reduced danger) increased drugs, back to the field (increased danger) reduced drugs.

    Stateside, LBJ had his ‘great society’ and war on poverty underway all through the 60’s. By 1970, Xerox introduced the copier, Hewlett Packard brought out the calculator, Imsai and Altair the personal computer and survival was no longer the prime directive. Food, shelter and medicine were all but guaranteed. Employment was rampant; anyone who wanted to work was able to find it. At the same time, though, the requirement to work was greatly reduced.

    Many more of the young attended university to avoid the draft and to participate in the great awakening brought about by the nascent computer age. Of course, college was also ‘party time’; having avoided the war, the idealistic young were now focused upon overturning racism and of having to work for a living, and sharing the bounty that our new technological age so broadly promised.

    It was here and now that drug usage became endemic. Rock and roll, jazz, the blues, free love, combined with an unbounded future lowered all barriers whether racial, societal, or monetary. Drugs facilitated diversity, not the other way around.

  16. Or maybe it’s evil spirits. I’m not being sarcastic. I have two foo dogs on my desk, facing the doorway. Why? Do I believe in their protective joo-joo? I don’t know. But I feel there’s something primal about talismans like these. I think sociology is quackery. It’s either a biological or a spiritual pathogen that has infected our culture. Let’s hope there’s an anti-pathogen out there somewhere.

  17. “…Federal Narcotics Bureau…. immediately began to campaign against things like marijuana….” So, the explosion of drug use correlates also with government busybodyness? Seems a lot of present day social ills correlate with government busybodyness. I feel a hypothesis coming on.

  18. It’s the advent of higher life expectancy, leisure time, disposable income, and the consumer lifestyle – pure and simple.

  19. No. The “virus” that afflicted the West was the failure of its elites. All its other problems are is cascading waves of consequences.

  20. I’ll go you one further, as a thought experiment — what if it’s an immune deficiency? I’m pretty sure there’s evidence that weird, virulent allergies like peanut allergies correlate with helicopter parenting and its obsession with germs. What if something similar is going on here — we don’t get sick nearly as often, only the very oldest and weakest die from the flu, we have vaccinations for all sorts of things…. what if we’re all infected, Walking Dead-style, with multiculturalism, and only the weakening of our contemporary immune system lets it fester? All safe, prosperous societies seem to go spectacularly downhill in a generation or two, e.g. the Roman Empire…..

      • “Lasted” is not the same thing as “thrived,” of course. 🙂 The rampant drug use Z Man’s talking about hasn’t totally destroyed America – yet – despite having persisted for three or four generations now. But “going spectacularly downhill” is a pretty good description of our trajectory since the 1960s, no?

  21. If the germ or virus—if it is indeed a literal germ of virus—”desires” to mix humans across the normal ethnic and tribal barriers, would it not act primarily on that most basic biological function, sexual selection? Different races would become sexually irresistible to one another. Jumping bones, jungle fever, yellow fever would be commonplace.

    On the other hand, if the germ or virus is another (((kind))) of infection then we might be more likely to see ghetto “culture”—its fashions, its slang, its rampant drug use, and its feral promiscuity—systematically dredged up by the record companies and the rest of the media to be made into a high-status thing for pretty, upper-middle-class white girls, and thus everyone else.

  22. Okay, that ended in a place I wasn’t expecting it to go. 🙂

    So, if your thesis is true what do you propose to do about it? I don’t see how it gives much hope or solution, even if it’s true.

    Also, I’ve gotten the impression that places in the rural Southern were not nearly as segregated as elite,urbanish Southerners might have wanted. Jimmy Carter’s bio is a worthy read for a peek at life in the South in the early 20th century. If it’s true and typical whites/blacks interacted a whole lot more than you’re hinting at pre 1960’s.

    I can tell you as almost a comical side note that NC attempted to outlaw miscegenation once every 50 years or so practically from the start of a substantial black population. I’m thinking that if they had to keep passing laws to that effect, it really wasn’t taking.

    • I grew up in the South and segregation did not work as popular culture now imagines it. That and it was not the same everywhere in the South. Whites and blacks interacted all the time and far more frequently than in the north. The old saying was, “In the North, whites will treat blacks as equals as long as they don’t have to live near them. In the South, whites will live near blacks just as long as they don’t have to treat them as equals.”

      When I was a kid in Virginia, my best friend was black and no one thought anything of it. The past is not how our better imagined it.

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