Friday, January 4, 2008

The Real Opium

For sometime, I’ve been irregularly reading articles of the distinguished British psychiatrist, Anthony Daniels (b. 1949) {pennamed Theodore Dalrymple}. Mr. Dalrymple is aptly called a “compassionate conservative” as he has correctly taken to task the misdirected English culture that ranges from uncontrolled binge drinking, sloppy clothing to rampant commercialism. (all of which have unfortunately started to spill into Indian culture).

Mr. Dalrymple writes in Wall Street Journal about the issue that has plagued my mind ever since I took interest in mental illness. Hallucinating drugs like opium are often said to give you extra-perceptive creative insights and that’s why the great polymath Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) was addicted to LSD so much that on his deathbed, he gave a written note asking for LSD as he couldn’t speak. I think Huxley’s brilliant perennial philosophy has never emerged out of any addiction but due to a genuine compassion for the disintegrating humanity.

Though these drugs may give you a peak-up experience, it nearly misses creative depth. One may creatively rise to unpredicted heights because of intake of such drugs but most of such creative experiences lack depth. Drugs retreat you from responsibilities and takes you onto a different plane where you dull yourself with meaningless fiction and marvelous confabulations. Once addicted to these drugs, addicts can’t easily escape from its fold; as drugs are expensive, they resort to crimes. Even if they recognize the ill-effects of drugging themselves, addicts – according to Dalrymple – display different faces with doctors and fellow addicts: “In front of doctors, they will emphasize their suffering; but among themselves [the addicts], they will talk about where to get the best and cheapest heroin.”

Moreover, Mr. Dalrymple startles the postmodernists with his medical finding: “Heroin doesn't hook people; rather, people hook heroin.” First of all, why do people take to Heroin. Some excessively rich people’s pastime it may be or for the growing middle class, it may be the easiest escape from responsible adulthood, etc. So, in a sense, Mr. Dalrymple is true that it is the people who take it; it doesn’t take the people. The great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) talking about the Inferiority complex said: it doesn’t take you; you’re taken by it. Besides, addicts rarely admit their wrongdoing because our cultural fetish fantasize about drugs so much all the nasty outcomes of addiction are discounted by the illusory feelings of creative outburst.

So, what is the way out? Mr. Dalrymple has a suggestion:

It is not true either that addicts cannot give up without the help of an apparatus of medical and paramedical care. Thousands of American servicemen returning from Vietnam, where they had addicted themselves to heroin, gave up on their return home without any assistance whatsoever. And in China, millions of Chinese addicts gave up with only minimal help: Mao Tse-Tung's credible offer to shoot them if they did not. There is thus no question that Mao was the greatest drug-addiction therapist in history.

Further, Mr. Dalrymple identifies two miscreants for romanticizing about opium: literature and therapy. Because literature has valorized opium eaters like De Quincey, Coleridge to Ginsberg so much that they have “disregarded the pharmacological reality.”

Therapists have a “vested interest” because to rehabilitate the addict, medical care and better drugs are required. Then, Mr. Dalrymple adds another wrongdoer:

Finally, as a society, we are always on the lookout for a category of victims upon whom to expend our virtuous, which is to say conspicuous, compassion. Contrary to the orthodoxy, drug addiction is a matter of morals, which is why threats such as Mao's, and experiences such as religious conversion, are so often effective in "curing" addicts.


One of the messiahs of cult studies, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) is often thought to be a mystic among the Marxists. He is revered for his “work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.” He values art to be readily available for appreciation in the future - making every art-piece aesthetically exciting from Rembrandt to inverted toilet-basins. His unclear call to invert the existing structures to subvert and revel in them is perilously practiced by postmodernists.

The newest find of this tinkering thinker is his book On Hashish. Writing in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe, a freelance writer irresponsibly fetes the high-mindedness of Benjamin, who took drugs to volunteer in the research of his doctor friends. I don’t know what use is the high-brow intellect of such supposedly seminal thinkers. I think a thinker has been given that status because he is the lighthouse for safely guiding wrecked ships to the shore – not overlooking the ships and abandoning them altogether. Benjamin seems to have thought that drugs are “worthwhile supplements” to his pioneering (may be, sneering) philosophical observations. And, what are these valuable observations are never even mentioned in passing by the author. Benjamin, on the run throughout his late adult life till death from the Nazis, provided worthwhile firsthand observations and experiences of an unusually nomadic Jew.

In search for a “profane illumination,” Benjamin seems to have turned to drugs and what impressive thoughts would have emerged is still confusing. Moreover, the escape from reality into a hardly real utopia is said to reward consciousness with an impeccable penetration into “generally most inaccessible world of surfaces.” It’s proved that consciousness undergoes an alteration while meditating but one has to remember that such illuminating experiences are not altogether so reliable that one becomes remote from reality. One may glimpse the Truth in a moment of illumination as the Buddha or the Upanisadic sages did. But, that doesn’t mean that one drugs oneself for those inexperienced illuminating moments. Such moments come out of relentless concentration and contemplation - not from artificially stimulated thoughts. It’s squarely farcical to drug oneself to death to glimpse that lost Eden. Instead, one has to live today by being born every moment to a new idea and a fresh flushed self.


Walter Benjamin said...

An Unusually Nomadic Jew!
Imagine that!

Thanks and praise go out to you for your mention of me in your short treatise.

I have just recently become aware of this Modern Internet, and am exploring its cogs and cranks - without the company of opiates.

Please visit me at


robinboeun said...

Benjamin! Reincarnated as a tripped out artist!

do it...

love, robin.