I found out this morning that just before Christmas in 1675, King Charles II of England banned coffee. It’s possibly the first banning of a mind-altering substance in western history. He did it in response to this:
The Women’s Petition Against Coffee. If I may paraphrase, the women’s argument makes three points:
1) that drinking coffee makes men less interested in sex
2) that men under the influence of coffee talk grandly and at length about pointless things
3) that gathering in coffee houses and talking about politics may be harmful to the government.
Of course, the men defended themselves with some points of their own:
1) that coffee makes them more vigorous, like the Turks, and that they are merely expending their sexual energy with other women
2) that they talk grandly and at length in coffee houses because they can’t get a word in edgewise at home.
3) coffee stops them farting during sex.*
* I kid you not.“by drying up those Crude Flatulent Humours”, no less.
King Charles, perhaps sensibly, ignored the stuff about the Battle of the Sexes and focused on what mattered to him most:
“”A PROCLAMATION FOR THE SUPPRESSION OF COFFEE HOUSES: Whereas it is most apparent that the multitude of Coffee Houses of late years set up and kept within this Kingdom…and the great resort of idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very evil and dangerous effects; as well for that many tradesmen and others, do herein misspend much of their time, which might and probably would be employed in and about their Lawful Calling and Affairs; but also for that in such houses…divers, false, malitious, and scandalous reports are devised and spread abroad to the Defamation of His Majesty’s Government, and to the disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm; his Majesty hath though it fit and necessary, that the said Coffee Houses be (for the Future) put down and suppressed…” King Charles II of England, December 23, 1675″
He also lifted the ban less than a month later after a huge public outcry.
So what does that have to do with LSD?
There is no doubt that LSD was tied in with the 1960s counterculture. This timeline is interesting reading, as it ties in political events, the music scene, social movements, alternative lifestyles, the Vietnam War and events in the history of LSD over a period of several years.
Given that scientific research was inconclusive as to the benefits and dangers of LSD (that essay is unpublished but historically accurate, and includes discussion of the public effect of Timothy Leary’s evangelism for societal change through chemistry), the United States government also largely ignored the Battle of the Science and focused on what mattered to them most – maintaining the societal status quo.
The official line from the US Department of Justice about the relationship between LSD and the counterculture is this:
“During the early 1960’s, this first group of casual LSD users evolved and expanded into a subculture that extolled the mystical and pseudo-religious symbolism often engendered by the drug’s powerful effects. The personalities associated with the subculture, usually connected to academia, and the propaganda they circulated soon attracted a great deal of publicity, generating further interest in LSD … As a casual drug of abuse, LSD has remained popular among certain segments of society. Traditionally, it has been popular with high school and college students and other young adults. LSD also has been integral to the lifestyle of many individuals who follow certain rock music bands, most notably the Grateful Dead. Older individuals, introduced to the hallucinogen in the 1960’s, also still use LSD.”
Some people were less diplomatic. Vice President to the Nixon Administration Spiro Agnew, for example, on protestors against the Vietnam War:
“The leaders of the Vietnam Mobilization were described as “hard-core dissidents and professional anarchists;” others were called “ideological eunuchs” and “vultures” who “prey upon the good intensions of gullible men.” Agnew insinuated that the youth who protested “overwhelm themselves with drugs and artificial stimulants” and, as a result, “subtlety is lost and fine distinctions based on acute reasoning are carelessly ignored.”
But the real attitude towards LSD amongst those charged with conserving societal values in the 1960s, I believe, is best described by Jay Stevens in this excerpt from Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (which, incidentally, is well worth reading):
“The real reason LSD needed to be eliminated wasn’t because it was making a tiny percentage of its users crazy, but because of what it was doing to the vast majority. Contrary to what Captain Tremblay believed, LSD wasn’t attracting nonconformists so much as it was creating them.”
“LSD was eroding the work ethic, it was seducing the young into religious fantasies, it was destroying their values. “We have seen something which in a way is most alarming, more alarming than death in a way,” testified Sidney Cohen. “And that is the loss of all cultural values, the loss of feeling of right and wrong, of good and bad. These people lead a valueless life, without motivation, without any ambition… they are deculturated, lost to society, lost to themselves.”
OK, now you’ve read this, go back and read what King Charles had to say back in 1675, about why he banned coffee. Swap ‘tradesmen’ for ‘white middle class’, ‘coffee house’ for ‘LSD’ and ‘kingdom’ for ‘country’. See how it reads.
Personally, I think he was more honest.