to party or
PARTING WAYS WITH HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS
ROBERT J. LEWIS
cortex killer who awoke before dawn,
he put his roots on.
of his remarkable journeys without maps, the marvelous travel
writer Norman Lewis (A Goddess in the Stones), finds
himself in the outback of Orissa -- a hop, step and a trek south
of the state of Bengal (eastern India). A privileged guest/observer
of three small and isolated tribes, he is fascinated by their
highly unorthodox (eccentric) social and sexual relationships.
For example, among the Khondh, the adolescents are encouraged
to have a variety of sexual relationships before marriage while
women enjoy the same social status as men, and can initiate divorce.
Children born out of wedlock are not considered illegitimate.
country, the women are the main providers; they choose their mates
and prefer men who are five to ten years younger than themselves.
Sound familiar? The Bonda women, unlike their sari-draped counterparts,
strut about semi-naked, using elaborate jewelry schemes to both
show off and cover their ‘fully intact’ private parts
impressed Lewis even more than their hospitality and sufficiency
was their egalitarian nature, which of course runs contrary to
everything we know about India: its systematic subjugation of
women, including, to this day, the contentious custom of bride
burning when groom and dowry numbers aren’t on the same
and historians hypothesize that due to their isolation, these
tribes (and others in the region) never came under the influence
of India’s set-in-stone caste system, which Nehru belatedly
abolished in 1949.
for anomalies and deviations from the norm. What the Khondhi,
Koya and Bonda share in common with all other tribes and peoples
on the planet (from the least developed to the most advanced)
is a love of alcohol, fermented from whatever vegetation is available
in a given location and season. At the slightest pretext (secular
or religious occasions are all one and the same), the rice or
flour ferment is brought out, and men and women and in some cases
adolescents enthusiastically drink themselves into a stupour.
It’s as if getting smashed is the capstone or end goal of
all purposeful activity. It’s the much anticipated reward
that jerks the mind to attention, around which all sacred and
profane rites and customs are institutionalized. Next to the leader
and huntsmen, those responsible for the supply of alcohol are
the tribe’s most esteemed members.
we learn from science of the effects of alcohol on the brain is
as straight forward as a stiff double at the end of the long day.
Our tripartite brain is comprised of the cerebral or neocortex,
where thought processing and consciousness are located, as well
as the inhibitory centers; along with the older and more established
mammalian and reptilian brains. The first effect of alcohol and/or
drugs is to shut down or short circuit the neocortex, which, by
default, leaves the mammalian brain in charge. So when someone
is accused of behaving like an animal when he is under the influence,
there is more than an element of truth in the assertion in the
sense that the human part of his brain, the neocortex, has been
have to observe the behaviour of our pets (dogs, cats, hamsters,)
to understand how the mammalian brain works and our universal
attraction to that state of mind(lessness). Animals have zero
understanding of right or wrong, of time passing (mortality).
They (blissfully) exhibit a total absence of self-consciousness
regarding bodily functions. The Beatles’ confessional “Why
Don’t We Do It on the Road” is both a celebration
of and pining for the freedoms that are particular to the animal
even in moderation, of substances that by design dull the brain,
force the conclusion that most of us, however temporarily, prefer
to be under the influence of the non-human part of our brain.
Given the ubiquity of the preference and the astonishing number
of substances that have been invented to ensure easy access to
the mammalian brain, an objective observer must wonder what is
it about being human that so many, on a regular basis, must escape
from? In our current century, opioid use and abuse have reached
on empirical observation, the goal of every altered state of consciousness
is the desire to escape self-consciousness, the judgment of the
other, to render nugatory the existence of the other. Since individuals
vary in nature and physical constitution (thin-skinned/thick-skinned,
cerebretonic/viscerotonic), the type and quantity of drug or drink
required to alter consciousness will vary from one person to the
next. In certain situations, lifestyle differences predict the
frequency and need to rendez-vous with the mammalian brain: men
and women in law and order or fighting in wars, perforce, recourse
drugs and alcohol more than retired choristers. However varied
the cultural differences, the aggregate of evidence overwhelmingly
suggests that as it concerns our evolution as a species, we are
not yet equipped to deal with the implications of self-consciousness,
even among tribes for whom self-consciousness is not nearly the
issue as it is in the developed world.
said, there are significant exceptions whose sober voices deserve
to be heard if not held in the highest regard. Whether by nature
or act of will, there are men and women for whom any dulling of
the brain constitutes a crime against self-consciousness, of being-in-the-world.
They deem the act of getting high -- irrespective of the legitimacy
of the occasion (wedding, baptism) -- as a betrayal of the highest
order of purpose and telus of human consciousness, without
which there can be no contemplation of or meditation on the mystery
and miracle of existence. Self-consciousness alone vouchsafes
our humanity. Carving out and defending human values against the
tide of mammalian nihilism is the unstated mandate of the exceptionally
sober-minded whose bright light has been reduced to a mere flicker
on a distant horizon by the immoral majority who have shown themselves,
in their boisterous, feral conceit, to be categorically unfit
and unable . . .
To see a world in a grain of sand
And hold heaven in a wild flower
few exceptions, it seems that self-consciousness is a weight we
are not equipped to carry for any extended period of time. Which
is why everybody likes to party,
the preferred activity that provides the ways and means for parting
ways with self-consciousness. From the Latin, partire,
which means to share, and later, from the French, partir,
which means to leave, the English meaning of ‘to party’
combines the Latin and French usages: a party is both sharing
and a leaving behind of a state of mind. With a little help from
our friends with whom we share the exact same goal, we get high
in order to revert to animal consciousness, a mental state that
is synonymous with being indifferent to the judgment of the other.
High-minded, self-righteous rhetoric notwithstanding, the purpose
of every party is one and the same: to trade one state of mind
(human) for another (animal). A party without neocortical inhibiters
(alcohol and/or drugs) is a meeting or seminar.
of the multitude for whom neocortical consciousness offers few
consolations and is marked by extended periods of unhappiness,
reversion to animal consciousness, if not an admirable rejoinder,
is surely as natural as it is human since human beings, from the
cave days to the present, have found everlasting comfort there.
Perhaps best said by the hard-drinking Scottish, poet Robbie Burns
in his ode "To A Mouse":
thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee
But Och, I backward cast my e'e
On prospects drear!
An' forward tho' I cannot see
I guess 'an fear!
to say, the much extolled state of being ‘high on life’
is a reach significantly beyond the grasp of the species in its
present state of development.