Last week, Donald Trump’s personal physician, who has been with him for 37 years, revealed an interesting fact. Namely, that the president of the United States takes finasteride, a drug that prevents hair loss, known by its brand name, Propecia. That apparently explains the 70-year-old leader’s abundant trademark hair.
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The revelation became a talking point in discussion groups of men coping with baldness. Propecia is the hottest subject in the world of the balding – a controversial medication whose use is termed by many as a kind of pact with the devil. It’s apparently more effective in preserving hair than any other medication on the market. However, many users say it causes loss of sexual desire and in some cases even more serious problems.
According to The Washington Post, Propecia can cause modifications in the functioning of the brain that are related to psychological side-effects such as depression and suicidal thoughts. Other reports noted additional disorders: confusion, blurring of consciousness and sleep problems. Little is known about these phenomena, because relatively few men have taken the medication for more than a decade (it was only in 1997 that it was approved for use in the United States as a hair-loss medication).
“Trump is an experiment in Propecia,” a contributor to a web forum noted. “What’s certain is that within a few years we’ll be well-acquainted with all the psychiatric side-effects.”
Other substances that Trump takes have also been questioned in the past few months. Some associated his flagrant sniffing with cocaine consumption. But the president’s habits are only one example of a broader symptom: pharmacology’s deep penetration into politics.
Of the various explanations that have been put forward for Trump’s rise to power, one of the most striking is a pharmacological one. There are countless studies and reports about how, in America's Rust Belt and other rural areas that are suffering from social decay and high unemployment, addiction to painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin has reached unprecedented levels. A clear-cut correlation was found between use of painkillers and voting for Trump, according to Business Insider. Hence the term “Oxy Electorate” that was applied to his voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.
The Propecia man is the emperor of Oxy users. But his defeated opponents are apparently drawing their solace from medications of other kinds. An article in Salon magazine noted an increase in the level of depression and anxiety among Clinton voters, which in some cases is likely to lead to the heightened use of drugs from the SSRI family.
In fact, every sensitive person can feel the growing influence of chemicals on contemporary society. Examining the changes that have occurred lately in my relations with people, I find that in many cases they are connected to the introduction of a chemical into the relationship – whether by me, my friend or both of us. One acquaintance shed himself of all his friends after he started taking the wakefulness-promoting modafinil; another switched his social milieu under the influence of the regular ingestion of MDMA, better known as Ecstasy.
When I used to live in Berlin there was a weekend when I messaged a few friends about taking a walk along the nearby canal – but one was on Ritalin, the second on ketamine and the third on emtricitabine.
Chemicals have infiltrated social life like ghosts or like faceless entities. Over time, though, I’ve learned how to predict the kinds of response they generate. Each of those friends has an independent personality, but I also categorize them in terms of chemical families. “Yesterday I met with Ayahuaska, today I’ll be seeing Cipralex,” I say to myself – referring, on the one hand, to the herbal "spiritual" brew and, on the other, to the popular anti-depressant.
You can get to know the substances from both sides: as a consumer or as someone who’s been exposed to their influence on others. It’s like pants that you can either wear yourself or see someone else wearing. Still, it’s important to remember that each of these chemicals thrusts the user into a hermetically sealed world, which nonusers will apparently never understand.
A century ago, the German-Estonian zoologist Jakob von Uexkull used the term “Umwelt,” literally meaning “environment,” to describe the perceptual world within which every biological creature exists. There is not just one space and one time; there as many types of spaces and of times as there are creatures, Uexkull wrote. Every creature has a different auditory, visual and sense range. The bat lives in a very different world from that of the ant, and there is no way to bridge the boundaries of their worlds. What is the tick from the dog’s point of view? Bothersome itching and scratching.
Much the same can be said about substance users. Consumers of modafinil view the world like a slow-motion movie and get bored quickly during conversations with people who are not in their condition – not to mention with cannabis users. The contemporary world is in any case reverting to tribes that are mutually differentiated by their outlooks – Republicans and Democrats, say, or settlers and radical leftists. The various chemicals add a perceptual dimension to this separation.
The rally by cannabis users two weekends ago in Tel Aviv augurs a significant development: Psychoactive substances are becoming a central element that dictates social organization, or to be more precise, the formation of parallel societies. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to predict that political parties of the future will be defined by the substances used by their members: the Cannabis Party, the Cipralex Party, the Alcohol Party. The question is: In what shared realm of consciousness will be they be able to communicate with one another? What kind of existence will the GHB ("rape drug") people have in the world of the Oxy users – or vice versa?
But even if this seems like a gloomy vision, we can hope that the absence of a neutral space might allow a harmonious meta-world, as with the monads, the spiritual atoms described by the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, which exist in preset harmony under God’s gaze.
What can be said with certainty is that present-day politics is moving from experience into consciousness. And we haven’t even mentioned fake news or virtual-reality technology. The politicians of the future will not have to take anti-baldness substances or color their hair green or blue. It’ll be enough if they allow the voters to drop acid – the colors will appear by themselves.