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Reality & Dr. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson shot himself a month ago. I apologize for adding an extra nanosecond to the 15 previously allotted. But I bring this up because he had something to teach us about reality.

Whereas past generations questioned, “What is reality?” we are the first generation that can effectively ask, “Do we want to live in reality?” And this question needs to be answered.

My rabbi once gave us the religious angle on drugs. He did not tell us simply: “Drugs will screw you up and kill you.” Drugs are actually evil because they substitute fantasy for reality. God created this majestic and beautiful place called the world for us to live in. You are effectively spitting in God’s face when you prefer a chemically induced high to the world the Almighty had provided. According to my rabbi, a wise person should exclusively live in reality. Hence, I was scared sober for most of my life.

Dr. Thompson will be remembered for many things. Abstinence, however, is not one of them. His immortal image will forever soar across America in a haze of booze, drugs and bullets. And my rabbi would probably disapprove. He’d say Dr. Thompson fled reality into his famed dilated worldview.

I humbly disagree. Let me explain: Gonzo journalism was based on the entirely true premise that reality could never appear in newspapers. The media (even after factoring out human error and bias) can only tell us what they think has happened. There is still no way of getting to the truth. Nothing in journalism can fully give us the impact a bombing has on a village. You need fiction at the very least. The situation requires more flexible definitions and imagery than objective language allows. Maybe Hunter needed substances to possess the right craziness to describe the insanity. The most imaginative Gonzo journalism was more truthful than any accredited news source. He reflected and sharpened the reality of what he lived through.

But what I see today is the total rejection of reality. Drugs are no longer the exclusive means to deny what’s actually real. Whether we game for hours in a virtual world, believe that a deity helps score touchdowns or buy into the delusion that effortless perfection equals happiness, we are all kidding ourselves. The world isn’t pixilated, none of us are ever perfect, and God couldn’t care less about the home team. But we believe anyway. We need our daydreams to get us through the day.

Drugs are not the solution or the problem. People don’t really take drugs to tick God off. They take drugs to momentarily escape reality. A little escapism is necessary to cope with life. Too much escapism, however, and you’ll jump off buildings wearing nothing but a Superman cape.

You may believe you’re fighting the Man, but maybe you’re just getting high and wasting your life. Online, you’re a valiant warrior, but others just see you staring at your computer. You may think perfection is being thin and wearing the right brand, but all I can see is emptiness and self destruction. Our reality is very bleak and painful; our fantasies are easily accessible and highly addictive.

Hunter S. Thompson realized that we are not meant to live in a fantasy world. He took drugs not to escape, but to confront reality. He always embraced the darker elements of American culture. His subjects included Hell’s Angels, politics and Las Vegas. He was out in the world, trying to get a sense of what it really was. I see him as man who knew reality’s limitations and tried to transcend them.

I can guarantee that your reality will not be a pleasant experience. With what degree and with what type of escapism you meet it with is your own decision. Anyone who turns to me for moral guidance obviously requires more help than I could possibly give. But the Tennessean’s euolgy would not be complete without remembering this:

“I HATE TO ADVOCATE DRUGS, ALCOHOL, VIOLENCE, OR INSANITY TO ANYONE, BUT THEY’VE ALWAYS WORKED FOR ME.”

Goodnight, Dr. Thompson.

Gideon Weinerth is a Pratt Sophomore. His column appears every other Tuesday.

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