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COMMENTARY

When cleansing is not

05:03 AM December 06, 2017

History is replete with crusaders of all stripes who wanted to cleanse their or other societies of perceived evils. These cleansings have resulted in killings on a massive scale. Cleansing, for whatever reason — racial, religious, or ideological — stems from a deep pit of intolerance and is therefore blind to anything but the elimination of the perceived “impure” or “contaminant” persons.

From where does this intolerance spring? From bigotry, ignorance, an aversion to what is different and unknown, a false sense of superiority — in short, from many reasons, all wrong, or at least misguided.

Intolerance is a learned response or reaction. Family upbringing, schooling, media exposure, cultural stereotypes, historical experience, religion, ideology, could be responsible for this type of conditioned response. Coupled with a crusading zeal — the belief that it is the right thing to do—and a political agenda, the potent brew still plagues many societies, whether cosmopolitan (Europe) or insular (Myanmar).

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This intolerance and cleansing — ethnic, ideological, or, in our case, chemical (illegal drugs) — is warring against human nature because it has a narrow view of humankind that condemns men and women on the basis of a single “transgression.” We are not one-dimensional beings, not just one misdeed, not just an addiction. Human nature, in fact all nature, is multidimensional. That is why in our families, schools and churches, we are taught to strive for a wholeness of being, a wholeness of life, where diversity is not just tolerated but also accepted, even encouraged. More than that, we learn that we are not perfect and we must learn from our mistakes.

In other words, we need a certain amount of “uncleanness” to remain balanced and healthy. Even at the biological level, we need to have bacteria that help us develop the immunity to diseases that could make us very sick otherwise. A prime historical example is how the very few Spanish conquistadores and other Europeans more easily subdued tens of thousands of native Americans not by stabbing or shooting them (although the Europeans did a lot of these, too) but by unintentionally contaminating and killing them off with germs (smallpox, measles, influenza, typhus, bubonic plague) the Europeans carried and to which the native Americans had no prior exposure and therefore no immunity.

This is another form of intolerance, but just as deadly. Both attitudinal and biological intolerance point to lack of exposure as the source of their not having a life-giving balance.

The human person is an assemblage of chemicals infused with the fragile gift of life. When a man abuses prohibited substances, these can of course wreak havoc on his chemical makeup and alter his behavior in a negative way. But it is these selfsame chemicals that can be the source of his rehabilitation and salvation. In fact, many of the so-called prohibited substances have the same pharmacology as painkillers and other beneficial drugs: For example, the use of marijuana for medical reasons, or psychedelic drugs that are used to “reset” the brain so that a person can once more exercise control over his or her life instead of remaining captive to an addiction. The shortsighted physical elimination of drug abusers does not make the problem go away. There will always be pleasure-seekers and thrill-seekers, people who prefer to drown their pain in drug abuse, and people who need them for legitimate medical purposes, among many others.

That is why the current war on drugs that focuses on physically eliminating drug-involved persons is a one-dimensional enterprise that will just add to greater intolerance for whatever it is that the misguided feel they should crusade against and cleanse society of. Drug abusers are not just the drugs they abuse just as cancer victims are not just the malignant cells in their bodies. To be whole, we must neither cleanse nor seek to be cleansed in the purgative, absolute sense. We must cleanse with a view toward health and life, not with a view toward suffering and death.

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Roderick Toledo is a freelance communication projects manager.

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