Raiding Consciousness


| 12/11/2012 3:06:19 PM


Opium-Den

This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.  

[This essay will appear in "Intoxication," the Winter 2012 issue of Lapham's Quarterly. This slightly adapted version is posted at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of that magazine.]

The question that tempts mankind to the use of substances controlled and uncontrolled is next of kin to Hamlet’s: to be, or not to be, someone or somewhere else. Escape from a grievous circumstance or the shambles of an unwanted self, the hope of finding at a higher altitude a new beginning or a better deal. Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars; give me leave to drown my sorrow in a quart of gin; wine, dear boy, and truth.

That the consummations of the wish to shuffle off the mortal coil are as old as the world itself was the message brought by Abraham Lincoln to an Illinois temperance society in 1842. “I have not inquired at what period of time the use of intoxicating liquors commenced,” he said, “nor is it important to know.” It is sufficient to know that on first opening our eyes “upon the stage of existence,” we found “intoxicating liquor recognized by everybody, used by everybody, repudiated by nobody.”

The state of intoxication is a house with many mansions. Fourteen centuries before the birth of Christ, the Rigveda finds Hindu priests chanting hymns to a “drop of soma,” the wise and wisdom-loving plant from which was drawn juices distilled in sheep’s wool that “make us see far; make us richer, better.” Philosophers in ancient Greece rejoiced in the literal meaning of the word symposium, a “drinking together.” The Roman Stoic Seneca recommends the judicious embrace of Bacchus as a liberation of the mind “from its slavery to cares, emancipates it, invigorates it, and emboldens it for all its undertakings.”



Omar Khayyam, twelfth-century Persian mathematician and astronomer, drinks wine “because it is my solace,” allowing him to “divorce absolutely reason and religion.” Martin Luther, early father of the Protestant Reformation, in 1530 exhorts the faithful to “drink, and right freely,” because it is the devil who tells them not to. “One must always do what Satan forbids. What other cause do you think that I have for drinking so much strong drink, talking so freely, and making merry so often, except that I wish to mock and harass the devil who is wont to mock and harass me.”

John Thomas
6/13/2013 12:57:36 AM

Most people on prescribed - or any other intoxicants - live productive, healthy lives. The production of B.S. is another topic which is not really related.


John Thomas
6/13/2013 12:52:29 AM

So you are talking about alcohol? I think the public has few illusions about alcohol after thousands of years of widespread use. We've gone through the whole cycle. Use - prohibition - re-legalization.


GERALD ESTES III
6/13/2013 12:48:19 AM

the real 'war on drugs' is devising a way to mobilize a bazillion or so crispy old goats, ween them off their perscribied elixors, and get their asses out there doing something healthy and productive for a change...instead of spewing all their publishable bullshit day in and day out.