Thursday, December 1, 2016

Were Our Ancestors Dummies?

Just in my short six decades of life, I’ve notice that every generation “coming of age” thinks their parent’s generation were not as intelligent, comparative dummies, simpletons, or worse. When I reflect back and look at several of my peers, they were alcoholics, marijuana smokers, LSD users and more. I would suppose that if they had children, it would be expected that their children would think less of them. The peers engaging in that conduct burnt out their brains before they even became adults. What is odd, is that they saw their parents drinking excessively, saw the effects and condemned their parents for that action, yet they themselves went and did the same thing. Those that kept their heads clear went on to bring us into the “space age” and the “computer age.”

But that made me wonder: Down through the ages, what were the major substance/chemical addictions. For example, what was “big” in World War I? What about WWII? What about Vietnam? (It does seem that the stresses of war were major vehicles for proliferating drugs. I could be wrong.) While researching that, I first came across a (short) list of common addictions today. I was surprised that the “long” list is sooooo much longer! First, the top 5 in order:

  1. Heroin
  2. Alcohol
  3. Cocaine
  4. Barbiturates
  5. Nicotine

Granted, the last one is not as mind-altering as the other four. By this I mean, people can still “function” for the duration of their life, some even for a “normal” lifetime, before dying. And it is not always the nicotine (via lung, throat and bladder cancer) that took them. But did you notice that marijuana is NOT on the top five list? That surprised me too. Here is the rest of the “short” list in no particular order:

  • Marijuana
  • Morphine
  • Methamphetamines
  • Opiates

But which were popular per generation? First, lets look at how long these have been around.

Heroin: According to this article, opium poppy has been in use for thousands of years. Drug trafficking of this item was noted as far back as the early 1900’s.

Alcohol: It is common knowledge that alcohol in various forms (earliest was fermented fruit) has been around nearly as long as man himself. (Noah is spoken of as becoming intoxicated.) Abuse of this has been wrecking family units for hundreds of years.

Cocaine: Although chewed in its natural form (in coca leaves) by South American indigenous peoples, its refinement seems to have also risen about the 1500’s. (See Nicotine)

Barbiturates: According to this article, “Barbituric acid was first synthesized November 27, 1864, by German chemist Adolf von Baeyer.”

Nicotine: According to this article, tobacco was first introduced in Europe in 1559. After WWII it was used as an insecticide. So it's been in wide use for nearly 500 years. It’s health dangers are well-chronicled in the linked article.

In short then, to answer my own question, all the above were around decades, even centuries, before modern warfare and most likely each saw its use depending on availability. The only one I researched from the rest of the list was marijuana. In my recollection, it seemed to have gained popularity during the 1960’s which was my teenage years. I’ve never really given it thought so I was surprised to learn that cannabis goes back to the third millennium before Jesus. I never knowingly used it. I remember two events in my teens. The first was my asking “what’s it like?” Their response was something to the effect of a euphoric feeling, being “spaced out” and others. I told them I wouldn’t want to do that because every time I had surgery for degenerative muscle disease, as I was “put under,” I had that feeling, fought it and hated it. The second event was when I was 18. I went to visit some friends at a party. Someone offered me a cookie. There were cookies and food “all over the place” so it seemed an innocent enough offer. It wasn’t that good (compared to my mother’s baking). I took one bite and threw it out. I was later asked what I thought of it. Turns out it was made with marijuana. I was furious that someone would do that to me but it had no effect on me.

I have always been one that treasured my ability to think and reason. My childhood muscular disease made me appreciate whatever health I had. I’ve made every effort to protect that. Even with alcoholic beverages, I’ve always drank in moderation, not to the point of getting drunk. However, with all the stresses of life today, and the ease with which substances are available, couple that with people feeling a need to “escape,” it doesn’t surprise me that all the items mentioned above and much more are used by people today.

My whole point about the drugs was that it was a form of escape from the harsh realities of life. Perhaps some who actually engaged in drugs did not really have a lot of stress and were just thrill seekers. But from what I hear from common people just trying to make a living, the stresses of the job, the stresses of the commute, the stresses of interpersonal relationships with their mate and children, all these things are what cause people to escape reality.

But drugs are not the only forms of escape. I have observed over the decades that many use television. They plant themselves in front of the “boob tube” and are so completely bored and not mentally stimulated that they fall asleep in front of it. It doesn’t inspire them, it doesn’t motivate them, it doesn’t better their life. Then there are those that use music as an escape. In today’s world, with smartphones loaded up with MP3 files that could play endlessly, and earbuds or headphones that provide “great stereophonic reproduction,” these individuals crank up the sound so loud, it is impossible for them to think about anything, which is exactly what they want. Finally, there are the “gamers.” They come home from work so burnt out and tired, they immediately dive into their alternate worlds. All of these escapes make them less engaged with others and with reality. They learn nothing that will make their lives better able to cope with reality and possibly even make a joy to live in the present.

So speaking to the current, upcoming adults of this world: Do you see your parents as ones who are tuned out and zoned out? What about yourselves? Are you already beginning to repeat their mistakes and poor choices in life? Yes, you may hate school, but is that because you don’t see the practical usefulness of the classes? If so, then set a goal for yourself to learn something that you can use in life later. If nothing else, school has taught you how to read and write (I hope!). Use that to setup your own learning schedule. The internet and the local library can provide you tools to make living in the present a rewarding experience. In short, don’t waste your life with useless things such as drugs, TV, excessive gaming or music. Fill it the rewards of learning something to make you the person you want to be – independent, intelligent, and truly happy.

Coming back to the “were prior generations less intelligent” question, I’d have to say no. The electronics age may be something that many older people today don’t understand, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it was indeed their generation of scientists that invented the technologies we use today. Most people are not aware of this, but computational devices have been around since the early 1800’s. Furthermore, computational sciences have been around at very least since the time of ancient Egypt. Architecture is another avenue of interest. Who hasn’t marveled at the pyramids of Egypt? But it doesn’t stop there. I once read of a huge stone door that was so perfectly balanced that a child could open it. Here’s that article. So it is not that one generation is smarter, it is that we keep building on what our forefathers have learned and passed down.

It is very sad that so many children down through the ages have grown up with little direction or good example. But are those children now perpetuating the same poor standards, excusing themselves and angrily blaming their parents for their situation? In many cases, yes. But I’ve had the honor to meet some who would not accept defeat or bad circumstances to define who they are and who they can become. I have not turned out to be anyone famous and I am FAR from perfect, but with my head held high, I can say that I didn’t give in to the brain-destroying ways of this world. I hope others can rise above the churning waves of social pressures to become someone they themselves can be proud of.

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