I’ve been listening to a very interesting podcast I stumbled across called Hardcore History, which I highly recommend. Historian Dan Carlin is its very competent and engaging host.

I get two results from listening to podcasts about history, one positive, one… not so positive.

The not-so-positive result of studying history is sadness over the condition of mankind on this planet, i.e. being trapped in an endless cycle of senseless wars and brutality.

The positive side is that studying history tends to calm me down from upsets over politics and world events; mankind seems to have always believed that the world was about to end since the dawn of recorded history.

It’s in our nature to feel doomed, and so, with a little study of history, the crepe-hanging sentiments of the present lose their power over me; I come away feeling nothing could really be quite as bad as it seems.

That being said, there are always threats and new targets to be met in order for all of us to accomplish happiness.

How can we assure a steady increase in survival, as individuals, as family members, as artists?

There are some obvious answers. One is, “Keep doing what’s working.” Clearly, if you are succeeding in any area of your life, you should probably keep doing that!

The other is “Be aware.”

“Awareness” is a word that has gotten a bit of dryer-lint on it of late.

That one sometimes hears mention of “Awareness” from slanted self-help, mystical or “politically correct” sources dusts it with connotations that can be somewhat degrading.

But taken in its pure form, awareness is of course irreplaceable as a virtue. Without awareness, we are really screwed.

Awareness, like freedom, is something that has to be defended in our modern world. It’s no exaggeration to say that one’s awareness is continually under attack, from marketers, video games, social media, entertainment, alcohol, and other distractions.

You may not have considered these to be assaults on your awareness, but they can be. Have you ever had someone say, “You’re not even listening to me” and thought that was a weird way to start a conversation? Something else was leveraging your awareness at that moment.

Of course, we control our own awareness by channeling it into particular activities, intentionally becoming unaware of our environment for a time, for recreation.

At the movies for example, you are intentionally unaware of what’s happening outside the theater while you are watching the latest Star Wars epic. If you do become disturbed by what’s going on outside the theater, by reason of spillover noise, you are within your rights to try and get your money back.

Your awareness of the universe of the story has been compromised.

Games, social media and other forms of entertainment at least attempt to exchange fun, excitement and stimulation of one kind or another for your expended attention.

But what is the exchange for your awareness offered by “medical” marijuana?

I ask because, in L.A. at least, I now see billboards everyone advertising the availability of this newly legal hallucinogen.

There are even signs advertising “free weed delivery.” Man, that’s a change!

Now, I went to high school in the 70’s (Taft High, class of ’77) and had my fair share of experiences with weed.

Heightened awareness was, for me, NOT one of the side effects I was looking for, nor what I obtained.

What I did experience is probably best described as “other awareness”, “reduced awareness”, “scrambled awareness”, or just plain “Whoa…”

So today, with weed now not only legal but being sold enthusiastically in various forms, available virtually on demand, what does this do to the general level of actual, reliable and SHARED awareness?

That’s the social experiment we are in the midst of right now.

I understand that reduction of awareness of pain is the goal behind the use of “Medical Marijuana.” That makes sense.

And I don’t agree that keeping drugs illegal is the answer to man’s general difficulty with substances. Illegality has created criminals and violence and has done nothing to solve the problem.

Legality won’t either, but it will be a lesser evil by far.

What percentage of users today smoke dope because they are in urgent need of palliative relief?

I suspect it’s not a big percentage.

Right now we are seeing the effect that any inhibition has once it has been lifted–a full-on orgy of consumption in answer to the lifted prohibition. The pendulum has swung way over to the opposite side, all the way from “Nixon” to “Cheech & Chong”.

Couple that with a rise in use of anti-depressants, alcohol and all the other mind-altering substances peddled today, and you wind up with an interesting scene, (as in the Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.”)

None of this is new, as history makes clear. But a trend of human beings participating in more and more methods of legally or illegally escaping reality doesn’t form a part of the formula for a strong and lasting society, which depends upon a degree of shared reality at least, to function efficiently.

How long will the pendulum swing toward this new locus?

It may well be a long while before things settle down. In the meantime, we all would be wise to be custodians of our own awareness, and not neglect it as a vital asset to be carelessly traded for attractive, trendy, alarming or numbing crap.

A study of history can be reassuring, but we shall only avoid a repetition of the more disagreeable parts of that history by exercising and fostering our awareness and that of others, not by entirely abandoning what’s happening in our present time environment.