This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Inebriation and anesthesia

I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you’re allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It’s like killing yourself, and then you’re reborn. I guess I’ve lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now.

–Charles Bukowski

There are some instructive parallels to be drawn between those things that a man does in order to cope with a reality perceived as intolerable, and those things that a whole society does, collectively, in order to cope with the same thing.

For example, a man who drinks all day apparently has little hope in the prospects offered to him by reality, and so he looks elsewhere for happiness, or, if not happiness, then at least some peace and quiet. That is to say, he drinks simultaneously for pleasure and escape—for inebriation and then anesthesia.

He drinks to insert feelings into his life that he wishes he had while numbing himself to those feelings he has but wishes he didn’t. It may fail with respect to the former, but it will never fail with respect to the latter. That is why Bukowski was right in calling it a sort of surrogate for suicide: It offers the same end, a total deadness to reality, without the finality. Deep intoxication is suicide without the commitment. And it’s cheap.

The problem is worse if you’re young and you haven’t developed the thick skin and self-knowledge needed to withstand the soul-sucking chaos around you. To be young, sensitive, and aware, in a world experienced as hollow, inhuman, and absurd, is to be left with no other option than to turn off the mind. You either have to find a way to stop thinking, or else go insane. It is appropriate, in such times, to speak of young men and women who live a “traumatized existence.”

There is a third option, of course, which is to close your eyes, play Nintendo, and go with the flow. This is a more passive form escapism, different only in approach from the violent plunge into oblivion taken by alcoholic. In this approach, you just keep your eyes on the ground in front of you, day by day, and you may make it through okay. Just don’t question anything, and don’t, under any circumstances, seek meaningful answers. But lift your head once and you’ll be in trouble. You’ll wake up into a nightmare and you may not be able to get to sleep.

Those are your options when you are young and awake. You’ve got to kill the awareness or else you might kill yourself. That makes alcohol a necessity, because it gives you a little of both.

Young people shouldn’t look at the world and see a void of meaningless activity before them as their only possible future. They don’t have the strength or stamina to deal with it.

Take these notions, if they seem true to you, and apply them to society at large. Society itself has felt these same things and reacted in the same fashion, only on a collective level. It has developed its own collective coping mechanisms and collective anesthetics to numb itself to the same things with which the individual struggles. Thus, while the study of individual self-medication is one thing, there are also those who can be more accurately described in terms of a collective anesthesia.

In fact, a society which seeks anesthesia cooperatively will develop a colorful array of opiates, much more subtle and effective than simple intoxication, in order to satisfy its collective need for numbness. And these opiates, because they are products of the group effort, will be far more socially acceptable than the smell of alcohol on your breath.

Many of these anesthetizing techniques remain completely unconscious and invisible. You participate without consent or awareness of the fact.

Did you ever wonder why we are so frantically moving from place to place all day long, one activity to the next, always busy, busy, busy? No matter where we are, we never seem to be where we’d like to be. As soon as we get where we are going, we discover that where we are is not where we wanted to be after all, and so we leave again. The car, in fact, could be our cultural symbol, because the car is a place you go and sit, never because you want to be there, but so you can be somewhere else.

With this in mind, consider the fact that, according to psychiatrists, sheer activity can actually provide a narcotizing effect. This means that feverish commotion, in itself, can offer a sort of desensitization. Therefore, if a society begins living at such a consistently frantic pace, we cannot deny the possibility that it does so in pursuit of just this sort of inebriation.

Modern men hate to stand still. Stillness forces you to become aware of your thoughts and feelings. Activity keeps you numb. Like a drowning man in the ocean, if you flail around enough, you can beat back the waters of awareness, but as soon as you stand still they overcome you and smother you with what you did not want to see.

That sort of awareness is what the alcoholic fears, and that is why he drowns himself in drink. When society collectively seeks the same escape, it adopts a frenetic lifestyle.

So there you go. There’s one thing to watch out for: Don’t be a busy-body, at least not if you want to be able to think; and if you find that standing still terrifies you, you might do well to ask why.

Democracy itself has been transformed into an anesthetic. Democracy is the new “opium of the people.” We already spoke about the scapegoat offered by politics, and about how that is quite literally the only comfort offered by the whole circus with its votes and its villains. It is a grand opiate, and it’s free to all. For this one you don’t even need a car. Unfortunately for us, this great anesthetic is losing its potency. It is a psychological opiate and requires a degree of belief. We don’t really believe in it any more, and so it offers us no escape. In fact, election time just reminds us of how impotent we really feel. You might say we are becoming “resistant” to the democracy drug. It doesn’t give us the high that it apparently gave earlier generations. So we keep looking, and we find other ways to benumb ourselves.

Television, for example. Television is a paradoxical anesthetic because it stimulates while it stupefies. It gives you a feeling of excitement and lethargy at the same time. It is thus the symbolic anesthetic for a sedentary civilization. It stimulates your mind just enough to steal your sleep, but it stupefies you just enough to make sure you don’t actually do anything with yourself during that time. That’s why couples with television sets in the bedroom get less sleep but also have less sex.

Television mesmerizes. You can forget yourself when you’ve got the TV on. In the end, that’s precisely what we’re after. TV allows you to ignore your loneliness. That’s what the laugh tracks do—and that’s why we need them. People don’t like to laugh when they are alone. Laugh tracks are the only thing keeping lonely people laughing, which is to say, keeping lonely people from acknowledging their loneliness.

So many opiates. Even kids get narcotics these days. All the stimulation flying around and pulverizing their little senses, and then they are sent to school and expected to stay still and pay attention to what is quite possibly the most boring, hollowing, educational experience yet devised. Not surprisingly, they can’t endure it. So we give them a diagnosis and a drug made for children. Lots of us were anesthetized from our earliest years.

Alcohol isn’t sounding nearly so bad after all that, come to think of it. It seems that the guy drinking alcohol isn’t so strange after all. He just knows better what he’s after, and he wants it more. He wants to escape, just like everyone else. And to forget. Everyone wants to forget themselves, but how can you forget someone you’ve never met?

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