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The above sketches a scenario in which political history linked to the early transatlantic and hemispheric rise of globalization grates against and violently transforms a cultural history that developed from a regional universe of non-modern contours across millennia. One of the results, along with the extermination of uncountable communities, was a tectonic change in what we might call “social ecology,” or the ways in which—and the degree to which—a society relies on its relationships (especially physiological and psychocultural relationships) with the environment. In cultural terms, at issue is the complexity of “bodily” and “embodied” relationships both between and across humans and environments. “Social ecology” thus became one of the disaster zones on which Western libidinal imagination would feed, as Western colonialism destroyed self-sustained socio-ecological communities and autochthonous cultural traditions. William G. Mortimer, in his History of Coca (1914), used as a frontispiece for his book a nineteenth-century mythical drawing of an Indian princess: “Mamma Coca offers the divine plant to the Old World.” See W. Golden Mortimer, History of Coca: “The Divine Plant” of the Incas (San Francisco: Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library, 1974), ii. In the case of this picture, a projection of desires onto a mythical Other served the needs of colonial imagination, which thus displaced or sublimated actual violence and destruction.

The Andean coca leaf would first hit modern world markets in the mid-nineteenth century, and today we date the global emergence of vast circuits of illicit cocaine to the 1950s. See Steven Topik, Carlos Marichal, Zephyr Frank, eds., From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500–2000 (Durham–London: Duke University Press, 2006), 321-346. Because coca leaves travel badly and deteriorate quickly, “outside South America, they remained a fabulous idea” Madge, White Mischief , 31, 33. well into the nineteenth century. When coca finally entered the global commodity chain, its extensive cultivation in Peru helped reproduce systems of Indian tributary serfdom on plantations where grueling labor and climatic conditions were the rule.

Coca did not function as a catalyst, as did many other commodities, of the “psychoactive revolution.” The term refers to the production, exchange and consumption of psychoactive substances as they figured at the core of Western expansion and colonization and as they eventually became an enabling condition of modernity. David T. Courtwright, Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World (Cambridge–London: Harvard University Press, 2001), 2, 53-60. Narcotics fetishism characterized the transatlantic politics of the world’s governing elites from about the mid-seventeenth to the late nineteenth century, when concerns about manufacturing and taxing drugs rather than suppressing them were dominant. “Drug taxation was the fiscal cornerstone of the modern state, and the chief financial prop of European colonial empires” (ibid., 5). There have been, above all, three such substances: alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine (9). Due to the degree to which they became neurochemical stimulants and psycho-cultural factors around the world, they have been the most resistant to prohibition. Coffee and tea keep the contemporary Western world on the go, just as coca chewing still keeps part of the Andes on the go. Streatfeild, Cocaine , 6.

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Source:  OpenStax, Emerging disciplines: shaping new fields of scholarly inquiry in and beyond the humanities. OpenStax CNX. May 13, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11201/1.1
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