We are the creatures of our times, and they are a’changing. The first turning of the saeculum (see the group mind) following World War II generated a wave of drug addiction. In those halcyon days throughout the western world a multitude, not just addicts, took to psychedelics and stimulants with a messianic fervour, mixing them with the old favourites of sedatives and alcohol. The pied pipers such as Timothy O’Leary and Ken Kesey switched on new attractions for a very old appetite. My training in psychiatry, psychology and sociology left me unaware of the communal pressure that cycles group behaviour. Age brings the wisdom that what comes round will do so again. Aboriginal lore teaches that when an elder dies a library is lost. Elders get to see all four turnings of one complete cycle. I stumbled across my first clue in the history of alcohol consumption.
The United States has kept a record of its citizens’ alcohol consumption thoroughly for 400 years. It reveals a regular cycling up and down with a periodicity of about 80 years. All drug use oscillates to the same beat. The citizens of the 1960s repeated the history of previous cycles. As the four turnings of the saeculum make one complete round, companion values move together from one extreme to its opposite, from the politics of the right to the left, from law and order to permissiveness, from meanness to generosity of spirit for victims, and back again. Driven by the stream of prevailing sentiment we dress, vote, invest and spend, eat, drink and take drugs in surprising unison. The practical minds of marketeers learn how to exploit the changing appetite. With far less insight politicians go with the flow (see war on drugs).
The group mind does not have the self-awareness that makes individual thought flexible. For change it depends on the genetic programming of its members to cycle in unison automatically through the range of values that tests its culture comprehensively. Groups that have lived with a drug for many cycles develop a culture that give its members defence against its abuse. The groups that fail to do so are winkled out by extinction. Society has not yet learned how to manage any better. Our leaders follow what the latest fashion dictates, in social action as well as substances. For example, beyond the “isms” they foster, they join the community in the current over-valuation of the knowledge that mental trauma brings about mental suffering. Not just the misguided enthusiasts, but all levels of society joined in the recent re-acceptance of the pseudo-illness known as chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (see Chaps. 9 and 10 in “Welcome to the Loony Bin“). A full cycle earlier a similar epidemic marked WWI. Society repeats the errors it does not learn from the lessons of history.