“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.)