Anyone who visits downtown San José in the evening and finds himself — or herself — on First Avenue between 7th and 11th streets, can see all of our basic drives being fulfilled one way or another. Other sections of the city and country have similar locations, but this is the one I know. There you can see female sex workers and their male clients sitting in a casino at roulette wheels, probably enjoying a drink and a bite to eat. Outside on the sidewalk you will probably walk around a street person sleeping or begging for food. Or they could be high on or selling some sort of drug.
There you have life according to its basic drives.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ve seen the news about underage prostitution, obesity and some new drugs that kids are now taking in order to get high. If I think about it, I can remember programs on sleep, too. How much we need and how much we get. And lest we forget, there is the recent much hyped Super Bowl game where probably more money changed hands in bets than was paid to see it. ( I include gambling as a source of experiencing a different reality because, unlike in the ‘real’ world one makes a bet and learns within a short time whether one is right or wrong, rewarded or punished.) Then there were the tailgate parties loaded with food and drink, and even the scandal of young girls selling sex.
What is interesting about this is that all of these pursuits – sex, food, sleep, and a need for a different reality (altered consciousness) are basic drives, and all of them, sadly, can become addictive.
Fornication and sex, adultery, gambling and taking drugs or drinking alcohol are considered vices and illegal in some societies. Even when legal, and even though it can bring in more money for the time involved than most professions, selling one’s sex is considered despicable by many. Gambling and drink are more likely to be thought of as weaknesses. All can have unintended consequences.
The three main monotheistic religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity are more concerned with controlling these drives than earlier polytheistic religions were. Pre-Christian Greek and Roman hours long feasts, complete with dancing girls and music are remembered in art, literature and even in the movies.
Although the Constitution of Costa Rica mandated Catholicism as its state religion (freedom of religion is also guaranteed), both gambling and prostitution are legal, governed by certain laws and regulations. Intolerance for drugs has increased in Costa Rica when the U.S. sponsored drug war expanded and with it the corruption that seems to accompany all wars.
The countries of Europe, especially those where organized religion has become less influential, are more tolerant of the pursuit of these drives. Countries where religion is of primary importance to either the people or the governments are less tolerant because they influence the laws that are passed.
In order to reduce the incidence of HIV Aids and hepatitis, Portugal decriminalized the personal possession of drugs and replaced punishment with treatment. According to statistics, this move has been a success in reducing the cases of HIV Aids and even the use of drugs.
Although gluttony is considered sinful in the preaching of today’s most prominent religions, and how much we eat or sleep has become the concern of the medical professions, and promoted the sale of many legal drugs, neither is against the law. So, we are left totally free to eat and to sleep to our hearts’ content.
“To eat drink and be merry” is condoned by at least two religions. (See Ecclesiastics 8:15 and Luke 12:19). I guess it depends on how you go about being merry. One might suggest that being merry was the Bible’s way of saying getting high or enjoying an altered consciousness. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
There is more in the news than what I have been talking about. History is unfolding in Egypt. Freedom and the pursuit of happiness, which includes making a living for a livable wage, may not be basic drives, but they are basic rights that should be extended to everyone. And the desire for peaceful change, which the demonstrating Egyptians have shown, should prevail in the world if our species is to retain its humanity.