Thursday, May 01, 2003

Sweet Oblivion

Kierkegaard, famously, was obsessed with the notion of the Abyss, that great yawning void where Human Consciousness falls away and Eternity begins. This is no surprise. Most other philosophers stumble up to the edge of the Abyss from time to time and look in, all the while pondering its meaning. Nietzsche was even reported to have seen it starring back at him.

The single most important moment in Human History was when we, collectively discovered the Abyss and saw reflected in it our own Mortality and glimpsed what waited us after we had lived our lives and done our deeds: Oblivion. For the last six thousand years of recorded history the Human Species has been trying to figure out what to do with the knowledge of our own death and the overwhelming fear that when the spotlight dims weíll find ourselves floating face down in an inky darkness, with no Cherubim singing hymns and stroking harps, no seventy-two virgins, no walled garden of eternal delights. Just a moment of long silent darkness that goes on forever. Oblivion means forgetfulness. And when youíre swimming in the River Lathe you are unable to remember your life and identity. Presumably our ancient ancestors had the same fear of forgetting and speculated about ways to avoid such a fate. After all, the only surviving text from before the official beginning of written history, The Epic of Gilgamesh is about a king who wishes to be immortal.

And ever since History officially started, most theologians and other armchair philosophers have sat around daydreaming about ways to build bridges across the Abyss to some imagined resort on the far shore. ìWeíll force those little bastardís to play their harps, damn it!î Except for Nietzsche, who suggested we roll up our trouser legs and take a nice long swim in the deep end, forgetting all our troubles.

Kierkegaard, speaking on behalf of thinking Christians everywhere suggested that when the time comes we should hold our nose and take a Leap of Faith, thus copping out on the whole idea of thinking altogether. After all, who needs to think about oblivion at all when you have a ticket for the big Ocean Liner of Organized Religion that offers a one-way trip to the other side? Never mind for a moment that the name of the boat is H.M.S. Titanic.

This is a very telling fact about our civilization: that the thought of taking a dip in oblivion, even if just on a short, alcoholic holiday, scares us to death. In fact, holiday seekers like Nietzsche, Baudelaire, Socrates and Epicurus frighten us the most. They want to belly flop into the Abyss, regularly, just to see what personal wisdom can be gained from the experience. Or just to giggle and fart on a Saturday night.

The very notion that to some, consciousness might be a burden that needs to be occasionally set aside for a few hours of drunken, unanimous revelry is shocking, mostly because so many of us have to struggle to achieve even a semblance of consciousness at all. That for those to whom it comes easily and in a torrent might want to escape it is so inconceivable that some of the moralistically inebriated members of our culture try to forbid such activities by passing laws, claiming that the pursuit of oblivion will give you ulcers and heartburn of the soul. It is a supreme irony that our religious institutions and the secular laws based on the morals they promote are based expressly on the experiences of individuals who were famous for going out of their heads on a regular basis.

Naturally occurring Animistic Catalysts such as Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica have a long tradition as spiritual herbs, as do various mushrooms from the family Psilocybin, one of which very likely was the Biblical ìManna From Heavenî. Ergot, a grain fungus, which has similar in properties to LSD was used in the Elysian Mystery rites of the Ancient Greeks and was most likely the catalyst for Saint Johnís visions of the Apocalypse as recorded in the Book of Revelations, which he wrote during his time in a first century prison where moldy loafs constituted his daily bread. Then thereís Absinthe, la Fee Verte, the green fairy that has been the muse of many poets and artists going back for more then a century.

But the irony of this reactionary ban on daydreaming remains, like iron bars, propping up our long held and cherished fear of the unknown, or whatever might be found at the bottom of the Abyss. The fact remains, we live in a society that frowns upon any individual consciously choosing self-obliteration through alcohol or drugs (For those of you with a taste for smoke on the water, go around back and rap three times on the door. Alistair will let you in. The password is: Do What Thou Wilt). And what with the deplorable state of affairs the moralistically inebriated have afflicted upon us, who doesnít need to escape reality every so often? But theyíd rather we all choose the socially acceptable outlet for our existential frustrations, like Organized Religion. Sure, youíll grow old, sober and frustrated at all the other sinners who are too damned happy about living in a physical universe because they decided to take a nip or a sip or a toke every once in a while. But donít obliterate yourself for even one moment. Instead, find God. Get elected president so you can obliterate the world for being drunk, and in charge of a bicycle.

Which isnít to say that religion doesnít have something to offer.

ìThis is your captain speaking. Weíve spotted a few icebergs ahead but thereís nothing to worry about.î (Sound of crashing ice, screeching mettle) ìOh, ah, better start praying anyway, just to be safe.î

Then again, the Solace Berry of Revealed Truth isnít for everyone.

The sacrament of Dionysus might have been good for Socrates but for little Billy, itís the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge; all snake skinned and fang bitten and so shiny red, like poison that weíd better forbid it, even when little Billy is Big Bill, capable of making up his own damn mind.


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