You need a drink. -Abusus non tollit usum

(The first in a series on the virtues of decadence. )

Too much and too little wine. Give him none, he cannot find truth; give him too much, the same.” – Blaise Pascal

There is no question that alcohol has taken its toll on the world and has had a direct destructive influence on key figures in my family history.  My father’s adoptive father died of liver failure in his forties after a pretty ignominious existence. His biological father was murdered for a case of beer before my dad was able to meet him.  My ex-wife’s mother is an alcoholic who indelibly inflicted certain character vices onto the psyche of her daughter.  There is no need to recount the long history of squalor and waste of existence that alcohol has caused in this world, battered wive, abused children, selfish waste of lives, talent and treasure.

All of that said, if you never intoxicate yourself in your life, you may be missing something, and that something may bring you closer to God or the truth.   I never felt a buzz from alcohol until my late thirties. I don’t regret not getting drunk prior to then but I would regret not feeling the clarity that a few beers can bring to life.  This is not to say I don’t respect the discipline of temperence or even the theory. But I think that complete temperance and abstinence is a course of action that, as some God himself said: “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints”

To those Mormons and other conservatives trained on denigrating the fruits of Dionysian indulgence. I refer you to the reasonable words of William James as he discussed alcohol in his Varieties of Religious Experience in lectures on Mysticism:

The next step into mystical states carries us into a realm that public opinion and ethical philosophy have long since branded as pathological, though private practice and certain lyric strains of poetry seem still to bear witness to its ideality. I refer to the consciousness produced by intoxicants and anaesthetics, especially by alcohol. The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes. It is in fact the great exciter of the Yes function in man. It brings its votary from the chill periphery of things to the radiant core. It makes him for the moment one with truth. Not through mere perversity do men run after it. To the poor and the unlettered it stands in the place of symphony concerts and of literature; and it is part of the deeper mystery and tragedy of life that whiffs and gleams of something that we immediately recognize as excellent should be vouchsafed to so many of us only in the fleeting earlier phases of what in its totality is so degrading a poisoning. The drunken consciousness is one bit of the mystic consciousness, and our total opinion of it must find its place in our opinion of that larger whole.

Nitrous oxide and ether, especially nitrous oxide, when sufficiently diluted with air, stimulate the mystical consciousness in an extraordinary degree. Depth beyond depth of truth seems revealed to the inhaler. This truth fades out, however, or escapes, at the moment of coming to; and if any words remain over in which it seemed to clothe itself, they prove to be the veriest nonsense. Nevertheless, the sense of a profound meaning having been there persists; and I know more than one person who is persuaded that in the nitrous oxide trance we have a genuine metaphysical revelation.

Some years ago I myself made some observations on this aspect of nitrous oxide intoxication, and reported them in print. One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question,–for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality. Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge towards a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing some metaphysical significance. The keynote of it is invariably a reconciliation. It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity. Not only do they, as contrasted species, belong to one and the same genus, but one of the species, the nobler and better one, is itself the genus, and so soaks up and absorbs its opposite into itself This is a dark saying, I know, when thus expressed in terms of common logic, but I cannot wholly escape from its authority. I feel as if it must mean something, something like what the hegelian philosophy means, if one could only lay hold of it more clearly. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear; to me the living sense of its reality only comes in the artificial mystic state of mind.

(More to come on the actual truth I found through getting loaded. . . this post has been deliberately left unfinished.)

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About Jared C

I am a criminal appeals attorney, father of four, raised in Kansas, live in San Diego.
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21 Responses to You need a drink. -Abusus non tollit usum

  1. BrianJ says:

    I’ve never been drunk. I have been high off paint fumes. It was miserable. Also, certain other times on various prescription drug-induced states of consciousness. Again, no thanks. I’ll stick to the mental alacrity that comes only when playing soccer.

  2. Kullervo says:

    Being driunk is not misetrable at al. It is extremely pleasant.

  3. Jared C says:

    I didn’t mean to imply that getting great insight from an altered state of consciousness would be fun. It might be completely miserable or even terrifying.

    Example from The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances

    Richard Schultes, during his many years of botanical research in the Amazon region, encountered a number of indigenous peoples who use ayahuasca. His overview of its effects and uses is highly illuminating:

    Ingestion of Ayahuasca usually induces nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and leads to either an euphoric or an aggressive state. Frequently the Indian sees overpowering attacks of huge snakes or jaguars. These animals often humiliate him because he is a mere man. The repetitiveness with which snakes and jaguars occur in Ayahuasca visions has intrigues psychologists. It is understandable that these animals play such a role, since they are the only beings respected and feared by the Indians of the tropical forest; because of their power and stealth, they have assumed a place of primacy in aboriginal religious beliefs. In many tribes, the shaman becomes a feline during the intoxication, exercising his powers as a cat. Yekwana medicine men mimic the roars of jaguars. Tukano Ayahuasca-takers may experience nightmares of jaguar jaws swallowing them or huge snakes approaching and coiling around their bodies … shamans of the Conibo-Shipibo tribe acquire great snakes as personal possessions to defend themselves in supernatural battles against other powerful shamans. The drug may be the shaman’s tool to diagnose illness or to ward off impending disaster, to guess the wiles of an enemy, to prophesy the future. But it is more than the shaman’s tool. It enters into almost all aspects of the life of the people who use it, to an extent equalled by hardly any other hallucinogen. Partakers, shamans or not, see all the gods, the first human beings, and animals, and come to understand the establishment of their social order.

    Sound’s pretty hairy. But I can’t imagine that using ayahuasca would be any more unpleasant than attending elder’s quorum lessons regularly.

  4. Jared C says:

    Kullervo, they allow beer at the office at your firm? Nice perk.

  5. Katie L says:

    I’ve never been drunk, never even taken a drink (at least on purpose — I had a sip of wine once, but I didn’t know it was wine until I sipped it). There is no reason for me to drink, because I choose to be an active Mormon and this is a pretty clear cultural boundary. Despite that, I don’t believe that moderate drinking is wrong and I recognize that I may well be missing out on something by choosing to abstain.

    I think one reason drinking has never appealed to me is along the same lines as what Brian said: I strongly dislike feeling out of control of my faculties, to the point that I didn’t even accept laughing gas when I got my wisdom teeth removed.

    (Having said that, I confess that at times I totally wish I hadn’t been such a goody-goody in my younger years so that I could have at least tried a marijuana cigarette. I don’t know why, but smoking weed sounds way fun.) 🙂

  6. Jared C says:

    In principle I totally respect abstinence as a individual stance. I certainly do not judge those who do not drink. And I suppose I am not preaching that LDS should use alcohol or other drugs. My problem was with the mentality that I developed as a abstainer in the Church. Growing up in the church I bought into the line that (1) altered states are always bad or inferior, (2) those who used alcohol or drugs did so out of weakness or pure hedonism. The general position made me overly judgmental and generally separated me from other people who reasonably chose to engage in such activities. I either felt somehow superior or luckier that I was protected from such temptations. With more experience, I think I was wrongheaded in this thinking. Having never used alcohol or never drank seems less of a reason to be proud at all anymore (which I thought it to be), and my previous pride comes across as laughably smug in some ways. I absolutely believe in the Word of Wisdom, but I now believe that it goes top far as a blanket prohibition, which it originally never was.

  7. Whitney says:

    It’s about time this blog turned to booze.

    Actually I’m looking forward to this ongoing discussion. Now that I think about it, I probably get to claim the title of “Administrator Who Has Been Imbibing the Longest,” so I’ll be super excited if I get to contribute something of substance (for once).

    My initial thoughts are that even in getting hammered, there’s something to be said for moderation. I’ve had some hard-partying times in my day (and still manage to pull it off once in awhile), but I have no problem pointing out why the pothead I dated all summer is a living Peter Pan who needs to get over himself and join the real world.

    Even so, while I’ve made a giant ass of myself on more than a few occasions due to my buddies Jose and the good Captain, I’ve also come to realize that I made equally poor decisions in a completely sober state due to my own emotional hangups. It was the drunk ones that I learned from the fastest, and the drunk ones that often helped me face the broader issues that I needed to recognize in my daily routine. I’m interested in hearing what you pulled out of your own circumstances, Jared (although I would never suggest you’ve managed to be quite the ass hat that I have…).

    Also, I am a super amazing awesome dancer and karaoke singer after throwing back a few, as documented by Facebook.

  8. Jared C says:

    I actually don’t really “like” a lot of things about being drunk, but sometimes you get a lot of clarity when you are relieved of the oppressive forces of self-criticism and self consciousness while intoxicated. It can make it easier to express your true feelings, even to yourself. This is what I think Pascal, a brilliant religious thinking and extremely devout Christian, was getting at when he said that you won’t find the truth without some wine. Its a very easy and relatively painless way to chill out and get over yourself a bit, so you can see things beyond the stress and rigidity of everyday consciousness.

    I find that stress in my life can paralyze my emotions and drain my real feelings away. A “buzz” gives some relief to that. Full blown intoxication can make you realize how silly the hangups can be and not to take yourself too seriously.

    Sometimes its good to push your mind out of the social games and propriety for a while even if you end up making an ass of yourself, just to recognize that the propriety doesn’t matter as much as you thought it did.

  9. Kullervo says:

    I think one reason drinking has never appealed to me is along the same lines as what Brian said: I strongly dislike feeling out of control of my faculties, to the point that I didn’t even accept laughing gas when I got my wisdom teeth removed.

    I have, with very few exceptions, only ever heard Mormons say this. I used to say it, too. Its crap. Being tipsy is awesome. Its pleasant. Thats why human beings have been doing it since the first fruit went bad.

    And trying to be in control all the time is bad for you. Letting loose and losing control sometimes keeps you sane.

  10. Kullervo says:

    (Having said that, I confess that at times I totally wish I hadn’t been such a goody-goody in my younger years so that I could have at least tried a marijuana cigarette. I don’t know why, but smoking weed sounds way fun.)

    In my experience, it is not really any more fun than being a little drunk. A lot of people say they didn’t feel anything the first time they tried marijuana. I definitely did: I got completely buzzed, happy and acted more impulsively than normal. In other words, the exact same effect I get from two beers, except those two beers are not illegal. And unlike marijuana, beer is not justifiably notorious for eventually robbing you of all motivation to do anything other than sit on the couch for the rest of your life.

  11. Jared C says:

    And trying to be in control all the time is bad for you. Letting loose and losing control sometimes keeps you sane.

    “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.”

  12. Katie L says:

    And trying to be in control all the time is bad for you. Letting loose and losing control sometimes keeps you sane.

    Well, I can’t argue with that one. Trying to be in control all the time is a frustrating, unpleasant way to live.

    @The Word of Wisdom generally, I like it the way it was originally intended: “not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and a word of wisdom.” I think the whole thing makes good sense, from eating less meat and more grains to generally avoiding hard liquor (if I understand it correctly, isn’t beer actually “allowed” in the WOW?) and limiting caffeine and stuff. It makes a lot more sense that way than the bizarre legalistic interpretations we have now, where energy drinks are okay, but not coffee.

    And not tea? Honestly, what on earth is wrong with tea?

  13. Kullervo says:

    Well, I can’t argue with that one. Trying to be in control all the time is a frustrating, unpleasant way to live.

    One with unhealthy, long-term psychological impact.

  14. Jared C says:

    And not tea? Honestly, what on earth is wrong with tea?

    Please don’t misunderstand, I am definitely not advocating tea!

    Tea is a scourge, it has mind altering caffeine and tannic acid that destroys the bones of elderly ladies. The world has been oppressed for centuries over lust for this devilish beverage.

    Most of the world’s most oppressing royalty were addicted to this infernal brew, under its influence as they used the masses to enrich themselves.

    A few have even attempted to seduce prophets. Evidence of one such near-seduction.

    http://lds.org/friend/2005/11/from-the-life-of-president-david-o-mckay?lang=eng

  15. Jared C says:

    I could have at least tried a marijuana cigarette. I don’t know why, but smoking weed sounds way fun.

    My experience with marijuana involves at least 8 hours of full blown delusion and paranoia and 10 hours of a milder form. Admittedly I didn’t use very much moderation when I tried it. I couldn’t tell if anything was real or whether I was on the floor in the fetal position imagining it. However, in the end it was one of the pivotal experiences of my life. Don’t have time to really explain now, but will probably give more later.

  16. Katie L. says:

    DYING to hear the rest of that story.

  17. Katie L. says:

    Also, THANK HEAVENS President McKay did not succumb to that Dutch temptress’s pernicious tea-themed seduction. WHAT MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED TO HIS IMMORTAL SOUL OTHERWISE???

    (Yes I just had an irresistible urge to use all caps, that’s how passionately I felt about it.)

  18. Whitney says:

    Not to get all serious and whatnot, but I just thought I’d point out that I had a major, um, “headache” yesterday, and the required downtime gave me HOURS to finish season 1 of BSG. By the end, I felt like a new woman. And if that isn’t a revelation, I don’t know what is.

  19. katyjane says:

    Whitney, I might have you beat. I’m older than you and might have been drinking longer (with a Mormon hiatus, granted).

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