Thoughts on Ethnobotany and Stae Control
davidson at sfsu.edu
Sat Jul 15 14:39:30 EST 1995
Thoughts on Ethnobotany and State Control...
I'm continually struck by how much generalized *fear* is associated
with the discussion of ethno-botanicals, and the pervasive
apprehension that "they" are listening and watching, and "we" are
waiting for them to come and injure/destroy us. I don't think I'm
putting this too harshly. Not at all.
This is an apprehension/reaction tied to *real* events, and is in not
unique to we who live in this century and in this place. When the
Spanish arrived in the ancient "New" world, they imposed a
systematic reign of terror upon any and all indigenous users of
botanicals, characterizing their use as artifacts of satan worship and
demonology. That the larger part of our present day pharmacopeia
originates in this body of repressed knowledge is an incongruence
typical of Western persecution of grass-roots social structures.
Millions of Europeans were burnt, crushed, drowned, impaled,
flayed and boiled alive in the same period for practicing what was
fundamentally an indigenous craft of healing and investigation
The primary historical sources reveals this scourge of innocents to
be filled with intense *hatred* for anything indigenous, in both
New and Old worlds. The indigenous peoples of the Americas
persisted with their practices in secret, suffering obscene torture
and awful deaths when found out. The present-day authoritarian
response to botanical pharmacology is directly tied to this vicious
tradition of State oppression.
When the medical community in the United States began to
wrench control of healing from dispersed sources of knowledge, in
order to concentrate it into the hands of elite-trained white men,
they used for a wedge an attack on midwifery, making said practice
a criminal act that is only recently being decriminalized -- as a
response to the hyperinflation of health care costs, itself a direct
result of profiteering by the medical establishment.
Abortion was criminalized at the same time -- the end of the 19th
century, beginning of the 20th -- and marijuana became contraband
about then as well.
It is important to note that wherever British, Spanish, or United
States imperialism descended, botanicals were rigorously repressed.
In every area the British subjugated, they successfuly and brutally
criminalized/controlled marijuana and hashish, even in the Islamic
world where its use is deeply imbedded in the culture. On the
other hand, the British Empire opened the Chinese market with
the forced importation of opium, turning millions of Chinese into
addicts... China didn't want or need Western goods, so opium
addiction was forced on them for the sake of profit.
The Opium Wars ended an unbroken lineage of Chinese society
stretching back 4,000 years.
In Mexico, in Chiapas, by the lucky presence of a kindly bishop,
the continuation of indigenous culture was protected, including the
use of medicinals/psychotropics. And Chiapas has been a place of
resistance ever since.
I don't really know what to make of all this, except to say that
those who investigate ethno-botanicals are part of an ancient,
brilliant and, recently, tragic tradition. It goes without saying that
such practice and investigation is now fundamentally resistive, not
in and of itself, but because such knowledge and experience is seen
by the State as a threat to the religion of theft, short term profit
and social control.
And the State is correct in this conclusion.
Of course, such practice will never be eradicated. People are
fundamentally free, and continue to be so; even under the brutal
conditions of Bergen-Belsen and Tule Lake, and after the obcenity
of Wounded Knee, people held Seder and taught their children
origami and revere the Ghost Dance.
One challenge is to eradicate *all* vestiges of self-oppression
inured within ourselves, in order to more fully and freely pursue
our lives, while surviving as freely as possible under this mantel of
We are right; they are wrong. We will persist, and the State will
eventually crumble, as it always does, leaving behind the quiet
persistence of our surviving indigenous knowledge and
July 14, 1995
== Daniel Davidson ==
davidson at sfsu.edu
** Don't hit. Clean your mess. **
It is considered appropriate to sustain conditions
which are against the best interests of almost everyone.
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