‘Out Of It’ by Stuart Walton

Out of It a cultural history of intoxication


By Stuart Walton (pub Hamish Hamilton 2001) ISBN 0-241-14038-2

I wrote this review when I thought the Lib Dems were worth working for, ie before the last election.

This is a superb work of scholarship for all those Lib dems interested in waving our own human and cultural history on this topic in the face of “legislators, in an attempt to crack their granite-faced refusal to consider relaxing the current prohibitions”. 

Nearly forty years ago, as a fresh faced (and frequently off my face), graduate at the Cambridge University Institute of Criminology, my tripping and stoning did not handicap me in getting my M.Phil with work on this subject. Since those days most changes in policy have been for the worse. We have advanced further up the US led cul de sac of an accretion of legal and moral censure.

As a major point of principle for liberals is liberty without harming others I would like to strongly recommend all liberal democrats with an interest not just in major reform of the policy on drugs, but a normal interest in different states of consciousness should read Walton’s book. Written he says “to begin to rescue the universal human experience of intoxication from the clutches of politicians, health professionals and religious leaders, and to restore it to their beleaguered clients”. 

Seeking to deny the centrality in human cultures of the multitude of forms of intoxication and alterations of consciousness means denying a fundamental human right, as many of us loudly proclaimed wayback in the sixties as I somehow seem to remember. I was there after all at the dawning of the fresh breeze of ‘The Age of Aquarius’.

Walton’s book argues that the sacred role of wine in Greek religious ritual, the respected psychotropia of the Yanomani Indians, through the opium ideology of Coleridge, the nitrous oxide craze of the nineteenth century and the helter-skelter careers of Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday all form counterpoints in his rich and accessible analysis of the reasons we take drugs. And they are many, varied, and usually wholesomely normal.

Intoxication is a fundamental human right indeed, central to our status as social beings and an integral component of a life fully lived. Terrible distortion and dislocation results from ham-fisted and sledgehammer legal prohibitions with enormous individual damage and now entire societies and trading patterns as inMexico andBolivia are deformed.

Come the autumn we shall have Keith Richards autobiography, hooray, I daresay he will throw an idiosyncratic and personal light on musical and creative links.


Who said change is needed?


Diatribe courtesy of rantalongwithrog

aka Rod Read M.Phil (Cantab), Dip Psych.Couns, Cert.Ed


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