Addiction, Modernity and the 'Urge to Use': Some Thoughts Derived from Nietzsche's Notion of the "Dionysian"
Addiction, Modernity and the 'Urge to Use':
Some Thoughts on Nietzsche's Notion of the "Dionysian"
(I just added a fifth essay dealing with a shamanic approach to recovery 7-19-12)
"Addictions" and "drug wars" seem to be defining features of modernity. When patriarchal church and state conspired to destroy shamanic practices, the archaic wisdom of the "controlled use" of entheogenic plants died out. For tens of thousands of years prior to this "Pharmacratic Inquisition" (Jonathan Ott), humans consumed mind-altering plant-gods as sacraments in holy ceremonies.
Several years ago I launched a research project titled "Dancing with Dionysus" which was to be a mixture of autoethnography and sociological analysis exploring the social worlds of methamphetamine use in Southern California in the opening years in the 21st century.
I had ventured deeply into the meth scene in Ventura, California for a numbers of years and had done extensive interviewing and field notes. I more than "went native" in that crazed scene; I was a daily consumer of speed who knew dozen of other daily consumers from all walks of life--lawyers, nurses, construction workers, strippers, office managers.
When I finally exited that scene for good and became "clean and sober", I spent a lot of time reflecting on my journey--how I initially entered that social world, how I became a daily consumer, what the norms and values of that social scene were, etc.
While I started out my shamanic journey simply wanting to 'have some fun' and 'dance with Dionysus', I ended up like the mythic centaur Chiron, being wounded by one of my own arrow.
Today I too am a "wounded healer" with intimate familiarity with the edge of chaos. I have come to see the gifts of my wounds, for having wrestled with my darker forces I am more able to bring light to the world. I know the blessings that flow from our deepest wounds. As I have stated,
"That which makes us suffer most also keeps us going This is the paradox of our drive for jouissance" (from "To the Initiate"). While I have several drafted chapters from that project on meth use and the meth scene, I am only sharing here essays linked to Nietzsche's notion of the Dionysian. All of these were written in Santa Barbara in my "post-consumption" days.
In spite of the troubles that the "Drug War" has caused for my life, I still believe that there are very important things to be learned through the sacred use of natural intoxicants. Nietzsche's called the potential for learning from ecstatic frenzy "Ur-Eine"--whether it was sexually induced or chemically induced.
This is the most social theoretical of the five essays and the most anthropological. Advancing a 'critical drug use theory', I try to see how the consumption of plant-gods worked for our archaic ancestors, what went wrong, and why overconsumption plagues so many in our current era.
Compared with our human ancestors in pre-agricultural societies, whose mass psychology was based on connectedness, the modern individual has been set adrift in a sea of misery, having lost all existential moorings. It is within this immiserated context that so-called "addictions" flourish.
I do not doubt that those individuals that our societies label as "addicts" are misguided shamans with a thirst for wholeness and sacred jouissance. I know what it is like to pursue desire to deep excess. It is only by transgressing the boundaries of bourgeois convention that I have been able to explore repressed fantasies and map artificial paradises.
As citizens of modernity, we have utterly failed to understand the motivations to use "drugs" and the underlying reasons for the compulsive use of substances in our societies. My hope in exploring some of these topics is to expose some of the sacred urges which underlay our cravings for ecstatic frenzy and to situate them historically and anthropologically by pointing to times when these behaviors, attitudes and desires took more healthy and natural forms.
By understanding the entheogenic consumption of plant-gods in archaic shamanic rituals, and how those rituals morphed into subsequent religious ceremonies, such as used by the followers of Dionysus in ancient Greece, we gain insight into the biological urges which lead to these behaviors, their varied cultural manifestations, and the potentials that they contain for personal growth, community development and spiritual enlightenment.
Nietzsche pointed the way. He saw among the ancient Greeks a truly life-affirming culture, balanced between Apollonian and Dionysian values and behaviors. He also knew that something mysterious and wonderful happened at those ecstatic rituals on Mount Parnassus long ago. We now understand how shamanic rituals from archaic forager societies were modified in agricultural societies (such as Greece), but still retained their use of sacred inebriates.
We desperately need a shamanic approach to drug abuse and addiction, hence my essay "The Amethyst Path" (#5 above). Only when we understand the Will to Party, and understand how natural and healthy desires have been messed up by the prohibitionist ideologies of patriarchal church and state, can be begin to teach people the "harm reduction" techniques of our ancestors.
Let us reclaim the shamanic wisdom of the "controlled use" of entheogenic substances which kept addictions at bay for tens of thousands of years. Let us also realize that some people need no longer "journey to the Other World" and have found other ways to live spiritual lives centered around abstinence (but potentially retaining Dionysian ecstatic frenzy in their lives). May we bring peace to our planet and no longer incarcerate hundreds of thousands of people for doing what comes naturally to humans. May we learn to respect our bodies and instincts and no longer see them as base nor vile sources of "sin", but rather as magnificent sources of meaning. If humans have innate urges to expand consciousness through ecstatic rituals, let us rejoice in these qualities. We need to freshly re-examine who we are, what our "human nature" is and love these qualities on their own terms. May it be so!