Please send your questions for publication to email@example.com. (Letters may be edited.)
When or how often is it gentlemanly to use recreational drugs? Are there certain types of substances that are more suited to the modern scholar's lifestyle than others? Is it particularly ungentlemanly to use some drugs as opposed to others?
Thank you for running this question up the flagpole. Morally obligated to open my reply by, in turn, hoisting a Jolly Roger, I here reproduce a passage from a vintage piece by the film critic David Thomson, “20 Things People Like to Forget About Hollywood.” There, the reader discovers, nestled among explications of such truths as “Scripts Are Bad Because Nobody Really Reads Them” and “The Most Important Talent Is Lying,” a dilation upon the idea that “Drugs Are Necessary”:
I like to think of drugs as part of the defiant, ongoing and really rather miraculous spiritual life of Hollywood. After all, we know that drugs are bad—they destroy brain cells, warp the individual’s sense of order, reason and responsibility, undermine the family and unravel the social fabric, not to mention what happened to River Phoenix. Plus, drugs put you in the company of lowlifes in deals in which you have no protection, and they're humiliating and they never last long enough. In the end, they are not even photogenic, so if they boost a career for a while, they end up cutting it short.
There’s your red octagon, children; I command you to stop reading and turn your attention to 19th-century literature—Thomas de Quincey, perhaps. Adults, meanwhile, read on as Thomson continues:
On the other hand, just between vous et nous, drugs are to-die-for sublime, which the drug czars never mention. Why in the world do we have to lose our sense of humor and ignore that, bottom line, drugs make you feel good now?
Readers who accept this bottom line should next consider a first principle to be respected by the gentleman who is chemically altering his consciousness. Let us hop to another block quote sampling Albert Stevens Crockett’s introduction to The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, which describes the code of sensorial derangement under which patrons of that bar imbibed at the fin de siècle:
[W]hile questions were not usually asked, men who bought drinks were supposed to be able to freight them away intact, and not to spill them, or to show other effects than a certain mellowness and good fellowship—though perhaps fluency in argument or reminiscence might be forgiven one who was standing treat. In brief, a gentleman was supposed to be larger than what he drank. The theory of the proprietor of the establishment was that all his patrons were gentlemen. And the theory was good, even if it didn't always work out in practice.
By extension, it is necessary for a gentleman to be able to handle his drugs. He will only embarrass himself and his host if he becomes severely dull to talk with or somewhat difficult to find a pulse on. Clearly, there are exceptions to this rule: If members of an a cappella singing group somehow materialize in your dorm room in possession of half an ounce of hashish, and if you smoke it with them, and if you then retreat to the top bunk for an hour to savor your giggle fit, that’s OK. Likewise, if after consuming some MDMA on a Saturday afternoon, you head up to the roof of your apartment building to enjoy the sunshine and you spill your fizzing beer on the blanket laid against the heat of the roof and you decide that it would be of keen tactile interest to sit in the spill, it’s all good.