Lawrence Alma-Tadema: A Dedication to Bacchus (1889)
What the state of consciousness of the human being allows today has never been allowed in the history of humanity before. The level of consciousness of the surrounding world that we can develop starting from the simple unscrupulous observation of the phenomena was not granted to the human being of previous epochs, whose thought was, as we proceed backwards in time, more and more linked to a symbolic and communitarian vision of the world that to the sensory and individual one.
However, even though this powerful symbolic connection of things has faded and finally lost itself, the desire has hardly disappeared, which has become ever more ardent, as a request for the interiority of man to be led back, through meaning, to outside world now too far away. With the evolution of the individuality of the human being the solitude of the same is born. The more mature individuality is, the more it feels cut off from the outside world.
So how can we respond to this desire for connection between the internal world and the external world?
The history of humanity has seen two alternatives appear, religion and science, born of a common origin of total knowledge of the human being and the cosmos. Religion has thus veiled the original mystery through dogma, eschewing understanding in favor of sentimentality, but science has analyzed it to the point of destroying its structure and meaning. The two extremes have therefore contributed, finally, to further alienate the human being from himself and from the cosmos.
But in addition to these ways others have been traveled: the assumption of substances that alter the perception and understanding of the world in order to re-establish that connection between parts of a whole original. They are alcohol and drugs, in all their various forms, some known since ancient times. They are substances that, grouped in at least two groups, trace the split of religion and science.
Thus, alcohol is the aggregating substance par excellence. “Who does not drink in the company or is a thief or a spy.” The habitual use of alcohol makes it possible to connect to a community in which individuality is gradually attenuated as the “alcohol content” of the evening increases, to oblivion and the panic fusion of one in the other. The historical use in the context of festivals such as the Roman bacchanals, in honor of the god Bacchus, or the Dionysian rituals in honor of Dionysus is known.
The fusion in these contexts was so high that it culminated in ritual orgies and animal sacrifices. The connection to the animal world becomes clear when the analogy between the shedding of blood and the color of red wine is visualized, as well as in the so-called “liberation” that alcohol causes, bringing out the repressed animal instincts. Alcohol plays an important role in the ritual of Mass, as it is linked to the transformation of water into wine, and of wine into blood by virtue of the transformative power of the Sun-Christ.
As you can see, even if in so little, alcohol is therefore a form linked to, and perhaps even created within, religion. Alcohol in fact serves the purpose of removing individuality, in favor of a massification devoid of an individual creative principle, but only community and often for playful or reproductive purposes. Alcohol creates the flock or herd, depending on whether the human climate is dominated or dominant.
Drugs, especially those derived from chemical synthesis processes, instead cause a completely different effect. Their massive use is more recent, and even their most powerful forms are linked to the development of chemical and pharmacological science which have refined the production processes and enormously amplified the effects. To a lesser extent they were also present in the religious landscape, often connected to mystery cults of the far west (in Mexico with peyote, and South America with ayahuasca often linked to death cults), but their meaning lay in recovering the ancient vision of the world that was fading, through “journeys outside the body” that also had therapeutic properties. More recently, in the 1970s, the hallucinatory experiences of the psychonaut John C. Lilly in the sensory isolation chamber in combination with LSD (from which the film “States of hallucination”) led to a new “amazing” conception of the spiritual, analogy of which science has appropriated in its mocking and at the same time aping religion.
Much less openly tolerated by society, they make their way into environments where social wealth and formal sophistication are brought to a good level. The drug attracts the bourgeois now addicted to the goodness of his own narrow world. In nineteenth-century Europe, they went from moderate use as medicines, to excessive use as an aid to withstand the weight of work or the “evil of living”.
What unites drugs is the alteration of perception: reality can thus appear slower because mental processes are faster (cocaine, the workaholic drug), or faster because mental processes are slower (marijuana, for ” to relax”). In this way the objective world, existing independently of the subject, is forcibly made subjective. “What did you feel?” is the typical phrase of those who made “a journey” (acid and LSD species, which induce hallucinations), which has individual characteristics. In this way everyone sinks into his own narcissistic idea of the world, which can be exhilarating or terrifying depending on the experience. At the end of this process the person will be totally alienated from the world because he will perceive it in a totally subjective way, as a self-referential system.
We can therefore say that, alcohol alters the soul (= feeling) of the human being, turning the subjective (= the individual) into objective (= the world), while drugs alter the spirit (= thinking) of the human being, turning the objective (= the world) into subjective (= the individual). Alcohol thus dissipates the soul in the world causing its dissolution, drugs capture the world inside the soul making it a slave. For the principle of compensation in place in the human being, a more sentimental person (= excess of feeling) will prefer the use of drugs to be invaded by thought processes, a more mental person (= excess of thinking) will prefer the alcohol to think less.
The habitual use of alcohol and drugs progressively consumes the physical body (= destruction of wanting to act in the world), and their combination reaches this self-destructive end even more quickly. A society closer to science is therefore a society destined to a greater use of drugs, while a society closer to religion (especially if it uses alcohol in its rituals) is destined to a greater use of alcohol. But obviously, being science and religion rarely separated in society, there will be an overlap and a mix of trends.