Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"But You Can't Give Them Drugs..." - Part Two

Media Mania

To continue the theme from the last post, talking about the ways in which the mainstream western culture escapes from reality....  The last point I was making had to do with alcohol portrayals in the media.  Before I continue on this track, though, I want to talk about our National Obsession with television and screen time.  We watch a LOT of TV and movies in this country.  On any given evening, walking down a residential street, in almost every home all you will see is the eerie blue glow of the 'boob tube.'  According to a recent survey, adults watch an average of 5 hours of television a day (this includes online streaming).  Adults watch TV for about 20% of their waking hours, only surpassed by percentage of time working.(1

All of this starts in childhood.  Take a look at some of the alarming statistics on children and the media, complements of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. (2)
  • "Screen time can be habit-forming: the more time children engage with screens, the harder time they have turning them off as they become older children.
  • "Data vary on the amount of time preschool children spend with screen media, but even the most conservative findings show that children between the ages of two and five average 2.2 hours per day.  Other studies show that preschoolers spend as much as 4.1 and 4.6 hours per day using screen media.
  • "Including when they’re multitasking, 8- to 18-year-olds consume an average of 7 hours and 11 minutes of screen media per day—an increase of 2.5 hours in just 10 years. For older children and adolescents, excessive screen time is linked to increased psychological difficulties that include hyperactivity, emotional and conduct problems, difficulties with peers and poor school performance."
So there is a link between 'excessive' screen time and hyperactivity!  Not sure how they would define excessive... but despite that, and even more alarmingly, TV viewing in early life has been linked to less reading and poorer concentration; and heavy video game users were more likely to have problems concentrating in school, and were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD (3).   But, instead of facing this issue head on, most ignore the cause and treat the symptom - and prescribe drugs to remedy this situation.
To put this into very simplistic terms: we allow our children to watch TV, starting when they are babies (some parents encourage it, or claim that they just 'need a break' and so use TV as a baby-sitter.).  We continue letting them have more and more screen time, with TV's and computers, at meal times and in their bedrooms, and soon enough, i-phones and i-pads and constant texting and more.  This level of exposure to electronic media has not happened before, ever.  No one knows the long-term effects of constant and prolonged screen time exposure on brain development.   Somewhere along the road,  we notice that these media-rich kids can't pay attention in school, or that they are having trouble sitting still, or that their grades are slipping.  The rise of kids getting diagnosed with ADHD has directly paralleled the rise in childhood exposure to screen time.  But what do we do about it?  We give them drugs to make their bodies and minds behave.   Did I miss anything?(4)

So why do we watch so much TV?  One study, from the University of Maryland, set out to find an answer, to see if there is a correlation between happiness and television viewing.  There is.  According to an article on Phys.Org, unhappy people tend to watch more TV than happy people.   Researcher John P. Robinson sums it up by saying, "TV... may provide escape - especially when the news is as depressing as the economy itself.  The data suggest to us that the TV habit may offer short-run pleasure at the expense of long-term malaise." (5) Steven Martin, Robinson's co-researcher, says that the TV habit can be likened to an addiction, where, "...tuning in can be a way of tuning out." (6)  So TV is just like a drug!

Media, Alcohol and Society
I want to turn to the point I was starting to make in the last post, about the relationship between western media and alcohol use.   According to researcher Joel Grube, "...an analysis of prime-time television from the 1998-1999 season... indicate(d) that 71 percent of all programming depicted alcohol use and 77 percent contained some reference to alcohol." In addition, when looking at the most popular movies in 1996-97, alcohol use was shown in 93% of them and "...was presented in an overwhelmingly positive light,"  including having positive outcomes such as camaraderie and relief of stress. (7)   

Unfortunately, there have been far too few studies looking at the relationship between alcohol portrayals in the media and underage drinking.  But it is clear from the information available that alcohol use is normal, expected behavior in our society.   The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has this to say:

     "The media’s glamorous portrayal of alcohol encourages many teens to believe 
     that drinking will make them “cool,” popular, attractive, and happy. Research shows that
     teens who expect such positive effects are more likely to drink at early ages. (8)

In short, we may tell our kids not to drink, but the everyday world of media to which they are exposed tells them a different story.  We are teaching them through our social stereotypes that normal adults drink alcohol, and that it is cool.  Every day,  through the media - which is a BIG influence on them in terms of hours a day spent watching - they see that drinking is normal and fun and sexy.  This is hypocrisy.   

So What?
So how does all of this relate to the conversation about the use of entheogens in an indigenous wisdom tradition in this country, and our children?  

Mainly, my contention is that the system that regulates 'substances' is blind and deaf, and more than likely has some kind of hidden agenda.  Alcohol is probably the most widely used mind-altering substances known to humans.  And it is by FAR the most dangerous, in terms of the numbers of deaths, violent acts, accidents, and serious health problems it causes each year.  YET IT IS COMPLETELY LEGAL, and expected, normal behavior for adults.  

Television watching and excessive screen time for children may cause hyperactivity, poor school performance, difficulty concentrating, obesity and health problems, an increase in violent and bullying behavior, and a higher likelihood of teenage drinking which can lead to increased risk of death, serious injury, impaired judgment, and brain development problems (9).  YET IT IS COMPLETELY LEGAL, and expected, normal behavior. 

Meanwhile, the plant medicine of my elders, a substance that has been ingested for thousands of years (which, by the way, is the expected, normal behavior in the societies from which it originates) with many reported benefits to its users, is, for the most part, illegal to ingest here in the United States.  It is a Schedule One controlled substance (remember,  ..."drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse; (the) most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence." (10)  To me it sounds like alcohol should be in this category!    No medical use - check (well, maybe as a disinfectant if you run out of iodine!); high potential for abuse - check; potentially severe psychological or physical dependence - not sure, as I am not sure of the DEA's definition of 'severe.'  Regardless, one blogger summed it up very well:

      "Drugs that help people work, fight wars, buy stuff, ignore the pointlessness of their 

      consumerist lives, or numb the pain of oppression are all fine.  Alcohol fits this category, 
      along with caffeine, and antidepressants.  (And cocaine, which let's face it is tolerated 
      for the business class).

      "Drugs that make people generous, cause them to abhor violence, or expose the lies 

      behind power and ideology are the dangerous ones.  This is why psychedelics and 
      marijuana are illegal." (11)

I want to change this.  I want to expose these misconceptions and break down the myths and taboos.  I want to illuminate the shadows, disperse fear and take back the sovereign choice to alter my consciousness however I choose, to use plant medicines as part of traditional ceremonies in sacred connection with the Spirit of God as I understand that.  I do not accept the government's authority to regulate what I put into my body, or the bodies of my children and (someday) grandchildren, any more than I would accept someone telling me how to think or what to believe.  No one has the right.  That is what freedom is all about!

(1) "The Average American Watches This Much TV Every Day: How do You Compare?" The Motley Fool, http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/03/15/the-average-american-watches-this-much-tv-every-da.aspx.  See also Daily News article,http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/average-american-watches-5-hours-tv-day-article-1.1711954
(2) http://www.screenfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/screentimefs.pdf 
(3) "Screen Time Matters," p. 15; power-point presentation from Partners in Action, http://depts.washington.edu/waaction/tools/featured_resources/screentime_schoolage.html
(4) Sorry, not very like me to be so sarcastic.  For a list of recommendations of what TO do, please see "Screen Time Matters," p. 6; power-point presentation from Partners in Action, http://depts.washington.edu/waaction/tools/featured_resources/screentime_schoolage.html. 
Note: This reference also provides documentation of the correlation between television viewing, exposure to violence, and increased bullying, aggressive, and anti-social behavior, which is somewhat out of the scope of the conversation here but which is also a very important topic. The very serious health issue of childhood obesity has also been directly linked to screen time.  See http://www.truceteachers.org/index.htm and http://depts.washington.edu/waaction/tools/featured_resources/screentime_schoolage.html for some good resource material.
(5) "'Unhappy People Watch TV, Happy People Read/Socialize,'Says Study.'"  Nov 4, 2008. http://phys.org/news/2008-11-unhappy-people-tv-happy-readsocialize.html
(6) ibid.
(7) Grube, Joel W. "Alcohol in the Media: Drinking Portrayals, Alcohol Advertising, and Alcohol Consumption Among Youth."  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK37586/
(8)  "Make A Difference: Talk to Your Child About Alcohol."  National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/MakeADiff_HTML/makediff.htm.  In addition, this article says, "However, you can help to combat these dangerous myths by watching TV shows and movies with your child and discussing how alcohol is portrayed in them. For example, television advertisements for beer often show young people having an uproariously good time, as though drinking always puts people in a terrific mood. Watching such a commercial with your child can be an opportunity to discuss the many ways that alcohol can affect people—in some cases bringing on feelings of sadness or anger rather than carefree high spirits." 
(9) "Underage Drinking."  http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/underage-drinking
(10) http://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ds.shtml
(11) "Would Alcohol Be a Controlled Substance if it Were Invented Today?"  Quora, http://www.quora.com/Would-alcohol-be-a-controlled-substance-if-it-were-invented-today

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