Tag Archive for: culture

Something I find very interesting is how perspectives change on a collective and societal level. At our current point of incredible and accelerating global change, many societal shifts are underway, and this is happening with attitudes towards different types of drugs too.

Very taboo ones, like psychedelics, are becoming more accepted, championed even, and party drugs like MDMA and ketamine are gaining respect as therapeutic treatments.

Perhaps the most obvious example of how quickly a collective attitude towards a drug can shift from negative to positive is that of marijuana. Not so long ago it had fairly firm connotations of lazy people and potheads, and now in the States, it is a legitimate and respected medicine prescribed by doctors, with that reputation making its way worldwide.

In the other direction, older ones that have long been accepted like alcohol are dying down. Many people are cutting back, or quitting altogether, and the young generation are not drinking nearly as much as those gone before, even as recent as the youth of 20 years ago. A great example of this trend is the rise in alcohol free beers.

I happened to walk past this bar this morning

Sugar is another one that seems to be on the decline, something that people seem to be more conscious of in their use. The fact that many people now even view sugar as a drug is notable and this is something I think we will continue to see.

Another one which is beginning to be viewed more as a drug is caffeine. More and more people seem to be cutting back on coffee and keeping an eye on their caffeine intake. The idea that people have coffee addictions would have seemed very strange to me just 10 years ago. Now it seems totally normal, and also totally understandable due to the jitters and anxiety that a high intake can bring. I myself am currently doing a 30 day coffee break this month (yes another 30 day challenge, I know ???? ).

What is Shifting Awareness and Social Acceptability of Drugs?

Awareness around mental and physical health is growing in general, as can be seen by the rise in the term ‘wellness’ which is at least in part as a response to rising rates of mental health problems. Also a big contributing factor is lots of good science and solid data, combined with thoughtful researchers and writers.

Recent examples that spring to mind are Michael Pollan’s best seller How To Change Your Mind, and The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes. Pollan’s book tells us before we even begin, through its subtitle, that psychedelics have something to teach us across a wide variety of topics, and Taubes title sets the tone, with the book basically concluding that sugar should be a controlled substance.    

New Categories Of Drugs

Another type of drug which is on the rise, and whose category bleeds into that of enhancer or supplement, is the nootropic. Nootropics are riding the wave of the rising trend of human performance and optimisation, and is linked to health as well as productivity. The category of nootropics is not that specific and could generally be termed as cognitive enhancers. As such it is wide ranging and includes things like medicinal mushrooms supplements, vitamin pills, and ‘study drugs’, such as modafinil. Because of its wide ranging term, it also includes drugs from other categories, such as coffee and microdoses of psychedelics.

What’s The Difference Between Drugs and Food?

An interesting discussion point made by both Terence McKenna and Michael Pollan is that of the distinction between food and drugs. Both affect our neurochemistry, our mood, health, energy, and sense of wellbeing. Both are consumed, as an external item into the body (this is where you would exclude exercise, for example, as a drug). Previously, one might have said that what is made in a lab is a drug and what is grown on land is food but the lines are blurring.

Some examples to consider the distinction:

  • Magic mushrooms
  • Processed food. Factory farmed meat.
  • The very idea of ‘organic’ food

Are mushrooms food or drug? If they have a psychoactive effect, do they stop being a food? If diet affects mood and how our mindbody organism operates, is food a drug? If standard coffee is a drug, is decaffeinated coffee not? If our food is created in a lab or factory, is it still a food?

I find this to be a very interesting topic and I think the changing attitudes to drugs are intertwined with changing trends and increased focus on nutrition and diet. This can be seen with the huge rise in veganism, and also in new ideas of diets, such as gluten free, lactose free, paleo, keto etc. In general we are paying much more attention to what we are putting in to our bodies and the impact it has on us.

Where will be in 20 years?

I think that psychedelics will continue to rise, as both a means of self exploration and a science backed response to the mental health crisis, and I’d also suggest that veganism will continue to rise, as awareness rises of the appalling conditions of exploited animals, and seeing as the environmental problems we are facing don’t seem to be going away any time soon.

As for the others, I really am not sure. Perhaps nootropics will usher us towards the next stage of our evolution and we will merge with tech in an transhuman stage of life on earth. Really, its anyone’s guess.

ai weiwei finger
ai weiwei finger

Courtesy the artist © 2015 Ai Weiwei

“What? You dont know about [insert x here]?! Have you been living under a rock?”

This is a response I’m sure you’re familiar with and has probably at one time or another led to some blushing or embarrassment on your part. And that’s what it was intended to do, subconsciously or not; to belittle you, to make you feel beneath the now outraged person, and for you to realise that on some level they are a better person than you because they are more informed about the matter at hand. In an attempt to avoid a repeat blushing in future interactions, you’ll then spend time getting up to date on whatever the trivial matter is. But let’s be honest, most of the time, from where you’re standing – it is trivial, and it isn’t fundamental to your own path.

“One of the most powerful things you can do as a human being in our hyperconnected, 24/7 media world is say: ‘I don’t know.’ Or, more provocatively: ‘I don’t care.’ Most of society seems to have taken it as a commandment that one must know about every single current event, watch every episode of every critically acclaimed television series, follow the news religiously, and present themselves to others as an informed and worldly individual.

But where is the evidence that this is actually necessary? Is the obligation enforced by the police? Or is it that you’re afraid of seeming silly at a dinner party? Yes, you owe it to your country and your family to know generally about events that may directly affect them, but that’s about all.

How much more time, energy, and pure brainpower would you have available if you drastically cut your media consumption? How much more rested and present would you feel if you were no longer excited and outraged by every scandal, breaking story, and potential crisis (many of which never come to pass anyway)?”

– Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman
from The Daily Stoic

  • P.S. Love this book, but more on that another time.

Let’s look at the bigger picture for a minute: our time on earth is limited. How do you want to use your time? Now, are you spending your time doing that?

Follow Your Bliss

“Follow your bliss and the world will open doors for you where there were only walls”
– Joseph Campbell

san jose del pacifico sunset mexico

Travel, with incredible views like this, is one of my sources of bliss. Photo taken last year in San Jose Del Pacifico, Mexico.

Do you have any dreams or ambitions in life? Perhaps you want to learn a second language? Run a marathon? Write a novel? Travel the world? Read the Greek classics? Become the best athlete that you can be? By constantly keeping up with mainstream media and culture, you’re continually spending precious time that could be used pursuing those goals, or doing and learning about things that you enjoy and really interest you; things that will lead to a more deeply gratifying life. (Or even just taking more time out for yourself to chill and recharge).

Fuck The News

“To a philosopher all news is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.”
– Henry David Thoreau

Think again before feeling guilty for not keeping up with current events. Science has proven that exposing yourself to a lot of news will cause you more stress and anxiety. ‘You are what you eat’ – this is true of your media consumption too. Is the information you are receiving nourishing you, making you feel more positive about your life and the world you live in? Or is it going to leave a bad taste in your mouth for the rest of your day, or even your week? Media has a significant effect on our mental and emotional health, so be mindful of what you consume.

Fuck Society

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”
– Jiddu Krishnamurti

Are you carving out a life that you yourself want to live? Or are you being pressured into doing what society expects you to do? A model citizen trapped in the circus of mainstream culture and media due to some unexamined fear of not being accepted by others and society? The very same society that has led us to the point where the world’s 8 richest people have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion? Where there’s a perpetual state of war? Where there are enough resources to shelter, clothe and feed everyone, yet half the world live in poverty? Where almost everyone knows that world leaders and politicians are crooks and the foundations of society are riddled with corruption? A consumer culture that tries to convince us that more money and things will eventually lead to happiness? Do you really want to be accepted by a society like this? Society is bullshit and so is anyone who mindlessly subscribes to the rules of the game. Don’t be a conformist! Carve your own path!

Live YOUR Life

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Remember, your life is your life, so don’t give it over endlessly trying to please and be accepted by others. Find your own truth, and if you pursue what you are interested in, you will find the others. Your time on this planet is incredibly precious, use it wisely!

London England Shanghai Pudong

When I left the UK in 2012 to go and live and work as an expat in Shanghai I obviously expected to learn a bit about China and its culture, but what I didn’t foresee from the experience of living away was how I would learn about the country and culture I grew up in; England.

London England Shanghai Pudong

A buddy in London – another in Shanghai

I lived over a year in Shanghai, went onto South Korea, and after three years of living away I returned to my hometown. The day I returned I took the family dog out for a walk, a walk I’d taken a thousand times before, but there was an obvious difference this time – it was fascinating. I saw my neighbourhood and its streets and people with new eyes. What used to be a typically mundane walk to the park had become an opportunity for insight into the lives of English people. I felt like a tourist. The variety of nationalities astounded me after the homogeneous populations of China and Korea, and I marvelled at the narrowly paved streets lined with houses and the traditional public house on the corner – how English! Sound boring? Well, it was for me too, that’s why I left! But on returning home everything was fresh and inspiring and I realised how much better I actually knew my country than when I had left a few years earlier.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.”
– T.S. Eliot 

Dog Leamington Spa England

Walking the dog – different this time

Gaining A New Perspective

“One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in.”
– Marshall McLuhan

Arriving in China I was struck by the obvious differences from English society; language, mainstream culture, education, architecture, social norms, food, transport – and naturally compared everything to how it was back home. I had a new reference point for all of the things that’d made up and influenced my life in England but which I’d never had any real perspective on because I’d never lived anywhere else. I discussed the differences with other expats and came to a new appreciation of different aspects of my home country whilst discovering and exploring the wonders of my new life and home in the East.

Living with the internet restrictions of Chinese society (no youtube, facebook etc.) gave me a gauge on the cyber liberty of the UK, and living under their dictatorial regime – where speaking out as a dissident and protesting are dangerous acts to be involved in – gave me a benchmark with which to compare the freedom of expression my friends and family could enjoy back home. Leaving my country had enabled me to see it in a new way.

❝Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.❞
‒ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

New perspectives can totally reshape what has become mundane, boring or even invisible. After learning how to read and write Hangul – the entirely phonetic, syllabic and incredibly easy to learn alphabet of Korea (seriously, you can learn it in a day) – I realised how poorly designed English is as a written language. Indeed, Hangul was designed to be easy – it was created by King Sejong in 1443 in an effort to increase literacy rates and to lessen the power and wealth gap.

Hangul Korean alphabet

A couple of words in Hangul – it’s easier than it looks

By comparison, English is a clunky mongrel language – spelling, pronunciation and usage have evolved and mutated in as many and as varied ways as the places our words came from. Whilst I could easily have learnt this information without ever leaving England, the necessity of learning other languages forced these considerations into my consciousness and gave me an experiential appreciation of what would’ve been purely theoretical knowledge.

There Is No End To Discovery

Language is just one example and there is seemingly no end to the new insights one can gain by delving into another culture. After three years in the far East I felt like I’d barely scratched the surface, yet had still found countless new perspectives on all manner of things that I’d never really considered back home; from greetings; handshakes vs. bows, to social outlooks; individualism vs. collectivism.

Renewed Interest Through Others’ Interest

Buckingham palace London

Turns out the UK is an interesting place

Wanting to learn about whichever land I find myself, I ask locals their opinions and thoughts on their country. “What are the best things about your country?” is a common one I like to ask. Asking others about their homeland invites questions about your own and when I first started having my questions mirrored back to me it triggered my own interest as their curiosity of my country rubbed off on me. Trying to explain life and aspects of the UK to someone who’d only seen it in films was like an exercise in expressing thoughts and feelings on things which I hadn’t really considered. Like most people I enjoy sharing information – we all know the nice feeling when someone asks you about something that you know a lot about – and I wanted to know more, not only to be able to answer other people’s questions but to know for myself. With new insight into how culture affects people, it also made me learn about myself and how I’ve been shaped by English culture.

International Impressions – First Hand

These conversations with people of other nationalities changed the way I think about my own country in another way too – in its worldwide perception and reputation. Interestingly I found out that mention of England in the East commonly summons pictures of fish & chips, double-decker buses and red phone boxes. I also found it interesting that England is considered a very advanced and modern country, despite being way behind the East in many things like technology, transportation and rates of violent crime.

Metro in Tokyo

Metro in Tokyo – Japan is the future

I’m currently writing this as I travel Latin America, and during my 7 months in South America this year I’ve found that people here associate us with tea (of course), the old empire, the musical legacy of the 60s & 70s (I found that Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and our other greats are probably listened to more in the continent of South America than at home- I’ve lost count of the times people have told me ‘I love the music from your country’), and specifically in Argentina, the Falkland Islands and Maradona’s hand of god in ’86 – which is seen as a powerful and symbolic act of rebellion against the tyrannical empires of Europe. I previously had little idea about these international impressions and connections with of the piece of land on which I spent the first 23 years of my life.

Coming Home: Seeing With New Eyes & Appreciating the Culture That Made Me

When I left England it was the only culture I’d lived and been immersed in. I’d never been outside the country for more than a month and had never worked, studied, or lived anything like the ‘typical’ life of a citizen in any of the countries I’d visited. So when I arrived in China, everything was measured up against home – it was the only first hand reference point that I had. By the time I’d arrived in Korea, China had become another reference point. Everything new and novel about Korea was now also measured up against China. After Korea I visited Taiwan and then spent a month in Japan – and of course comparisons were then made to China and Korea. By the time I was heading back home I was thinking less about how places compared to England, but more about the finer differences between the different cultures of the far East. Because of these experiences I had new perspectives, and when I finally made it back to England it was a different country to the one that I’d left.

Street in Sheffield England UK

Typical street scene – not as typical on my return

You’ve probably heard the term ‘reverse-culture shock’, but I’m not referring to that, what I experienced didn’t induce any stress, only an enchantment with my country and culture. I saw things differently and noticed quirks in my home culture that I’d never thought twice of before. Far from becoming anti-patriotic, I became endeared with the culture that shaped me.

I remember going to a rugby game with my Dad over the Christmas holidays. Gloucester were playing, his hometown team. After a pub meal in the centre we walked through the crowds of fans filling the streets of the city surrounding the stadium. As we entered the songs started up. I’d been to countless rugby games in the past with my family but this time was different. The atmosphere bubbling as everyone was singing the two-tone refrain in the west-country farmery accent of ‘Glaaaawsteeeer, Glaaaaaawsteeer’. It struck me for the first time how quirky the experience of going to a local rugby match is. Looking through the crowd I saw all the peculiar characters you find there; the old-school fans with beers in hand to young kids in cherry and white scarves being initiated into the community. What used to be a simple enough activity for spending time with my Dad had become a fascinating cultural spectacle. After spending years where practically noone plays, watches, or talks about the sport, the novelty of hulking athletes throwing a ball around and smashing each other whilst cheering locals surrounded them was again a captivating spectacle.

Playing rugby

Playing rugby as a boy – the quirks of the sport never really occurred to me

Now when on visits to see my friends and the favourite Earl Grey tea is served with milk and biscuits, it’s not just another cup of tea and a chance to sit down and catchup – it feels so charming and typically British.

And this happens all the time, I see the things we do and how we do them in a totally new light. It stretches to everything; art, politics, interaction, humour (yet to find somewhere that tops our humour, and is probably the thing I miss most when I go away!).

Looking Back

I never expected to learn about and reflect on my home culture so much when I decided to leave home, and I certainly never expected it to transform my boring old home town into a place of wonder. But what can I say? It did. As I write from Mexico a good few months from my next return home, I look forward to the cup of tea and Sunday roast that await me. If you’re on the fence about making a leap to live overseas because you’re worried you’ll miss things from home, I can’t promise that you won’t. But I can tell you that it’s an amazing journey of discovery that can change your experience of your homeland in a truly positive way. Nothing is quite like home, and I can tell you, it’ll never be the same again.