As a lifestyle, straightedge is a pretty cool option. Living your life without running the risk of enslaving your brain to chemicals seems like a pretty reasonable thing to do if you ask me. You could even go so far and fashion a part of your personal philosophy after the straightedge ideal: Live your life so that the only chemical highs you have are the ones your body is capable of generating itself.
The brain is naturally wired for chemical highs. It generates dopamine, endorphins, noradrenalin, adrenalin and a whole range of interesting drugs to help us in our lives. Adrenalin lets us run really fast or crack some pesky attacking predator's skull in rage, endorphins can sedate us (and make sure that sex feels great -- all part of evolution's sinister plot to make sure we keep the species going), adenosine makes sure you go to sleep when you need to.
A very large part of the human experience is shaped by the fact that unconscious parts of our brains are in control of a whole slew of interesting glands that can produce chemicals that affect our minds in various ways. Ever been with a member of your preferred sex and felt the chemistry was just right? That's not just an expression. If you don't believe the brain can get itself high, talk to any bungee jumper or skydiver. Or try for yourself, go out and run as far as you can and savour the feeling when you get home, soaked in sweat and endorphins pumping through your system. The reason chemical highs are popular is because they are a clever hack on an existing and very effective system that has been in place for millions of years. They're at best a kludge, though, so they upset the balance of that system in the process. That's one of the things a straightedge person seeks to avoid, so that she can remain in control of her thoughts and actions (I count the unconscious brain systems that produce the chemical rewards and warnings humans depend on as part of a person -- they are, after all, parts of the body).
The lifestyle straightedge lifestyle potentially kicks ass, but the movement associated with it is a laughable mess in the clutches of adolescent punker-than-thou freaks who have turned it from a personal lifestyle choice to something that mostly appears like a surreal puritan religion dragged out of some particularly horrid monastery from the Middle Ages.
Originally, back when Minor Threat singer Ian McKaye coined the term, the idea of straightedge was pretty simple: Don't drink, don't smoke, don't do drugs, don't have promiscuous sex (I'm not sure how the latter fits into the no-external-chemicals idea -- mr. McKaye explained that he considered sex without emotional attachment as another addictive sedative to keep people stupid), but the idea seems to have mutated into an abomination that mostly resembles something George Orwell and Aldous Huxley could have written up for a collaborative piece of dystopian fiction while on a particularly vivid acid frenzy.
One thing is the disturbing reports of straightedge-related violence (typically punks beating up people who light up a joint or get loudly drunk), which is a pretty stupid way to make a lifestyle statement if you ask me (apart from being an ethically problematic action, to say the least). What particularly pisses me off in even the less violently militant straightedge camp is how these people seem to add more and more "thou shalt nots", most likely in some misguided attempt to be harder core than hardcore itself, so straight edge that their edge in fact bends backwards. My incredibly credible sources (including numerous conversations with straightedge folks, a random cruise around Google's pickings and a brief perusal of alt.punk.straight-edge) reveal the following interesting additions to the original, simple message of abstinence from chemical highs and promiscuous sex (a pretty silly term, by the way, what is promiscuous to you may be perfectly normal to me):
- A straightedge person must also be vegan. Meat is full of toxic chemicals, you can't be straightedge without also being vegan.
- A straightedge person must listen to hardcore punk. You can't be straightedge if your musical tastes aren't compatible with the movement. Some expand this to say that straightedgers must only listen to hardcore.
- A straightedge person must not be homosexual.
- A straightedge person must not associate with the opposite sex at all (!). Doing so may lead to the brain producing dangerous mind-altering drugs.
- Only women can be truly straightedge. Men's bodies are full of testosterone, which is just another drug.
- A straightedge person must not have sex at all, including masturbation. Sex creates endorphins, and endorphin is a drug.
- In fact, a straightedge person should strive to keep all excitement out of his life. Excitement generates adrenalin, and adrenalin == drugs == bad.
- A straightedge person must not use prescription drugs. They're just like other drugs. If your life depends on a prescription drug, too bad. Nyah-nyah!
- A straightedge person must abstain from caffeine. I guess this has some merit, considering that caffeine is an addictive chemical that does in fact mess with the brain. It is, however, a later addition to the idea.
Judas priest. This looks like something taken out of the fscking Bible, if it had been written or edited by some gibbering madman on crack. I wonder how long before someone decides that straightedge people must only eat mineral salts and take a vow of poverty, or stand on top of a pillar for 40 years. It has become a label, another trend du jour, and these freaks will do anything to prove that they're "worthy" of it. To show they're harder than core, so they can fit in, and be part of the clique where everyone always has to prove he's just that little bit more X-TREME(tm) than the rest. Most of them "break the edge" because they fill it with so many restrictions that even an organically grown vegetable or a Buddhist monk would be hard-pressed to live by them.
For me, living a mostly "non-toxic" lifestyle has nothing to do with a parade of thou-shalt-not's or about sacrifice, it's about freedom. I don't have to wake up and go on a mission of trying to figure out what I did in yesterday's mad drunken adventures, and who I annoyed in the process. I don't have to take frequent breaks from the things I like, to get a breath of fresh nicotine. Also I find that as a coder, my mind works better if I keep it free of chemicals. It's a fucking choice, not some steaming pile of pseudo-religion to be shovelled down the throats of other people while you beat them up for lighting up, or to be preached to anyone who pretends to listen.