A SIMPLE BUT DEEP THEORY ABOUT DRUGS AND POSTMODERNITY


This short piece is a relatively accessible example of “deep” thinking. By combining concepts from two very different fields of reality (“buffered self” and “getting high”) we can understand something characteristic about the experience called “postmodernity.” 

Understanding this theory has three steps: (1) grasping the concept of the buffered self (2) newly appreciate what getting high means (3) understanding what the relation between getting high and buffered selves teaches us about postmodernity. 

1.  GRASP THE CONCEPT OF THE BUFFERED SELF

The Canadian-Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor suggests that the modern/secular human have distinctively clear borders between themselves and the world; he calls this bordered existence a ‘buffered self.’   By contrast, pre-moderns had ‘porous-selves’: they lived in an enchanted world populated by immaterial realities that could  “could cross a porous boundary and shape our lives, psychic and physical.”   

To illustrate the difference between buffered and porous selves, Taylor uses the example of the experience of depression appears to both perspectives: 

 A modern is feeling depressed, melancholy. He is told: it’s just your body chemistry, you’re hungry, or there is a hormone malfunction, or whatever. Straightway, he feels relieved. He can take a distance from this feeling, which is ipso facto declared not justified. Things don’t really have this meaning; it just feels this way, which is the result of a causal action utterly unrelated to the meanings of things. This step of disengagement depends on our modern mind/body distinction, and the relegation of the physical to being “just” a contingent cause of the psychic.

But a pre-modern may not be helped by learning that his mood comes from black bile, because this doesn’t permit a distancing. Black bile is melancholy. Now he just knows that he’s in the grips of the real thing.

Here is the contrast between the modern, bounded, buffered self and the porous self of the earlier enchanted world. As a bounded self I can see the boundary as a buffer, such that the things beyond don’t need to “get to me,” to use the contemporary expression.

Here is an easy experience to sense your buffered self. Feel where you are. Maybe it’s between the eyes, in your vision, maybe in your chest. And then look around you and try to sense the mood of someone in the environment. If you are alone, feel the mood of an object. Does this feeling cross into you? Do you sense the buffer between yourself and the experience? Keep your answer in mind.

II.  NEWLY APPRECIATE WHAT IT MEANS TO GET HIGH

What does it mean to get high? In a sense, it isn’t so complicated, when we do drugs, our “elevation” rises. What does this mean? Well, when we are “grounded” it means that we pay attention to the parts of reality that seem to us to be “material.” or “real.” We think and act the way that all the other people around us do.  But with the intervention of chemicals, of substances, with the modifications of consciousness that make us high, we somehow rise up to a perspective “above” these “earthy” worries. Liberated from our fixed reality, we see patterns unnoticed. We notice unseen beauties.

Maybe you already sense the connection between getting high and the buffered self. When we get high, we aren’t “inside” of ourselves anymore. We somehow rise upwards to different layers of reality. In these layers of reality our experience may not be so buffered. Hence the connection between getting high and “psychosis.”

DMT is the most extreme case study of the relationship between getting high and leaving the buffered self. When the user inhales deeply enough on the DMT, they leave the confines of their physical body completely and enter into a different field of reality, completely unbuffered, and immaterial — in any sense known to us.

III. WHAT THIS TEACHES ABOUT POSTMODERNITY

Stop and think about how more and more humans started to describe themselves as being “postmodern” at the same time that more and more humans used more and deeper drugs to get higher and higher.

Taylor’s theory of the “buffered self” helps us understand the relationship here. The modern self is buffered, protected from all immaterial realities by various reality-protecting programs, most prominently “scientific materialism.” But from within the buffered laboratories of the scientific materialist community came chemicals capable of breaking down those steel cages and letting the human soul out.

But only “out” for the distance and duration of a trip and in this trip, the soul may see the metasystem: a world managing itself into child sacrifice, thermonuclear warfare, and absolute nihilism. And what does the soul do then? Faced with this reality, the only rational choice is to get even higher.