A Psychological Study of the Use of Stimulants

The Sociologist and the Criminologist have done a great deal toward the awakening of popular consciousness to the conditions out of which crime springs. We see in the slums of our great cities, the breeding-places of social and unsocial human beings. We find in the isolation and dry-rot of much of country life causes which produce similar results. We begin to understand that education must supply interest in the details of work, if we are to produce the morality which depends upon industry. We recognize what enormous sums are annually expended upon the inadequate suppression of crime and, comparing it with the relatively very small number of criminals, are encouraged to expend money toward the removal of the conditions out of which crime springs. But there has been surprisingly little done toward adequate comprehension of the conditions out of which intemperance arises. In so far as it is associated with crime, misery, and poverty, there has been light shed upon it by social statistics. We have comparisons of the amounts spent for alcoholic liquors with those given out for bread and education, and we know to what extent alcohol is mixed up with crime and the degree to which it follows upon the heels of general misery and degradation. But just what there is in these conditions that breeds intemperance has not been further analyzed aside from calling attention to the good-fellowship in drinking, the proverbial drowning of sorrows, and the momentary release from the drudgery of mechanical routine labor. It is possible that these grounds in some sense represent all the causes of drunkenness, but, as they stand, they are without any adequate social valuation. One of the reasons for this lies in the very personal and emotional methods of our temperance organizations.

The revivalistic methods imply the ability of the drunkard by an act of an indeterminist will to stop drinking, and thus practically denies the very social character of the demand for stimulants. This is quite apart from any theory of moral action. I refer simply to the ignoring of the situation out of which the drunkenness arises, which is involved in the effort to get signatures to a pledge. To some extent, there is an effort to assist persons in individual cases out of the conditions which led to drinking, but these are in the nature of the case sporadic. In general, the assumption is that the whole use or disuse of stimulants depends upon a "will" or "won't" on the part of the individual. As long as we occupy this standpoint it is impossible to appreciate the social character of the evil, except in its consequences. It is essential to the propaganda that all that is of positive meaning in the use of stimulants—supposing that there are such elements—should be ignored, and that the whole effort should be to make the use as hideous as possible. The great value of this method of attack upon the evil has been the formation of a strong public sentiment opposed to drunkenness. It would not be easy to overestimate the value of this, but, apart from this, temperance work has contributed hardly anything toward the comprehension of the social conditions out of which the use of alcoholic stimulants has arisen, and therefore of the reconstruction that must take place that we may be rid of the evils it involves; while positively it has darkened the minds of the public to what is certain to be the great positive meaning of a habit that has been and still is so integral a part of the life of humanity.

The same holds, of course, to the prohibition movement. It denies the value of the demand for stimulants even in so far as they show a deeper-seated evil. For we can hardly be in a condition to study and appreciate the meaning of stimulants, if our whole attention is concentrated upon destroying, root and branch, the very existence of the stimulant. Under these circumstances such a study could have only a scholastic and abstract value. It is poor policy to give the devil his dues if we are occupied in exorcising him.

I suppose that there can be no doubt that much of the decrease in drunkenness has been due to the substitution of malt liquors and light wines for distilled liquors during the past generation. However, the temperance worker who would simply stop the use of stimulants in toto is unable to give attention to this most interesting fact; on the contrary, he must almost regard it as a misfortune since it seems to weaken his own statement of the case. The same criticism must be made of the efforts to educate the rising generation through physiological statements of the effects of alcohol. It is necessary that the teaching should be clear and give no uncertain sound. On the other hand, we are, as yet, too ignorant of the very chemical processes within which these effects must take place to be able to give any satisfactory battle note from the trumpet of science. The result has been crude physiologies in the schools, which ultimately may do as much harm as good.

Both the status of the prohibition movement and that of education confess the necessity of giving a social statement of the situation, and they show as well the impossibility of doing this in an adequate way, while our attitude is that of seeing nothing of positive meaning or value in the whole phenomenon.

It seems to me that the beginning of such a study of this phenomenon would be the determination of the psychical states induced by the use of alcoholic stimulants, and then the functions of those states under normal conditions. It might then be possible to ascertain what is the nature of the social situation that leads so irresistibly to the artificial production of these, and how this situation can be changed. It might be also possible to learn whether the use of stimulants has had any valuable social function in the past or is serving any purpose at the present time.

In the first place, the state of consciousness, which is sought by the use of stimulants, is an emotional one of great complexity. It is important to recognize this, for our common conception is that of satisfying a so-called appetite. We think of the drinker as on a level with the child who gorges himself with sweets. It is true that the pleasure that comes from the palate is of the nature of emotion, or at least it is impossible to separate completely the two classes from each other. There is no necessity of mixing ourselves up here in the theory of the emotions, for all that is necessary for our purposes is admitted by all psychologists. In popular terminology we distinguish between the pleasurable state consequent, for example, upon the satisfaction of the palate, and the emotional states consequent on the complex activities, such as those of love and war. When the expression "emotional state" was used above we referred to the latter, and, whether the distinction be a qualitative or quantitative one or whatever its nature, we all recognize its fundamental character. The palate indeed plays some part, especially in the enjoyment of the finer kinds of wines and liquors, but it is the general exhilaration that is sought and not the flavor. It is just here that our analysis fails us. For we class this exhilaration with the satisfaction of the palate in the point of its functional value in the organism. The test lies in the objects that are affected by the stimulus. In the pleasures of the table we ascribe the flavor and the emotional value—the pleasure—to the viands themselves. It is only in the slightest degree, that our attitude toward the important things in our world are, even for the time being, affected by the results of eating. Overlooking the unusual persons whose view of life is utterly changed by a good dinner or the dyspeptic whose mental eyes are colored by indigestion, the emotional value of eating is very slight.

The result of the alcoholic stimulant, on the contrary, is not confined to the objects drunk. The effect is to color the whole world, especially its social aspects. The values of the social relations, whether pleasant or unpleasant, are emphasized and exaggerated. Our projects become more worthy and desirable, and the hopes and anticipations become much more promising. It is only necessary to refer to the customary metaphorical expressions of intoxicated with love, with success, or ambition, to show how the exhilaration of the alcoholic stimulant goes over into our entire life and gives an added emotional value to what ordinarily may be but dull and gray.

It is, of course, not remarkable that so powerful and comprehensive an agent as this should produce contrary and perverse effects. Now these exhilarating emotional effects under normal conditions are, as we have learned from the works of Darwin and others, the accompaniments of the most important and intense activities. We can study them best in primitive actions and, even to some degree, in animals. For here we have the activity reduced to its simplest terms while it is yet most complete in its absorption of interest and consciousness. The battle fury that Homer' portrays, the madness of the lover, the passion of the one who is carried away by great achievement in any direction,—such as that which shook Sir Isaac Newton's hand when he was making the final computations on the path of the moon, that should demonstrate the law of gravitation—are all examples of such emotional states under normal conditions, and we can see that they represent the climaxes of life—that in them we find the emotional valuation of our actions and the world that surrounds us. But even when they do not appear at such important points of life, there is an accompaniment of loss violent emotion that arises from the interest with which we work at what we are doing and from the success with which our efforts are crowned. In the presence or absence of this emotional accompaniment of our activities lies, more than anything else, our conscious valuation of what we are doing and of life itself and all its elements. Enough has been said here to show of how fundamental importance this emotional side of life is and how complex a phenomenon it is—representing the fruit and meaning of experience.

It is not strange that there should be among human institutions and instruments means of inducing these emotional states, apart from the activities with which they naturally appear. The first of these institutions is the Cult, which lies at the basis of all mythology and religious ceremony. One of the best illustrations of these is the war dance. Here we have a selection of various of the typical acts of war with reference to their capacity for arousing the emotions that accompany the full war activity. This selection depends upon the emphasizing of the rhythmical features and the grouping of the stimuli for the different senses. There are also the harvest and vintage cults representing the agricultural activities, at the times of their culmination, by symbolic acts, which are arranged to call out the emotions answering to these fundamental food processes. These cults developed in two directions in the ancient world. As they became gradually separated from their original social activities the artistic value, as in the drama, arose from their symbolic representation of human life, and from their power over the emotions arose the orgies and mysteries in which the complete abandonment to the emotion was interpreted as possession by divinity. Wine was an important element in the orgiastic celebrations, and was considered in its action in early society as divine. A third means of gaining control over the emotions, apart from the immediate activities out of which they spring, is found in the other arts, especially poetry. Here we have the selection of various mental images whose motor tendencies arouse appropriate emotions reinforced by rhythmic measure.

In general, we may say that religious and other social ceremonial and service, the fine arts, and finally alcoholic and other allied stimulants, all depend upon their capacity for arousing emotions originally belonging to more or less specified acts and making them perform other functions. It is evident at once, however, that we have varying degrees of normality in these different agents not only among the agents, but also in the types of religious and artistic expression. We generally feel that those are healthful that react back at once into life either through the reinforcement of moral action or through the perfection and consequent reality of representation. That emotional expression which cannot be brought in these ways into immediate relation to life, we are apt to consider sentimental and disintegrating.

This brings us then to the function of emotion when independently aroused apart from immediate activity. Let me repeat the former position. The emotion originally is but an accompaniment of an act—as anger with fighting, or fear with flight—it does not exist apart from the act. However, the emotions are the means through which we estimate the meaning and value of our acts to ourselves. Whatever the reason may say as to the value of an act to the community or to oneself, viewed from an objective standpoint, its immediate subjective value is always expressed in terms of emotion. Whatever the function of pleasure and pain may be, it lies ultimately along this line, of estimating to ourselves the value of actions and all objects that are bound up with actions. Finally, there are certain human institutions and artistic processes, together with certain stimulants, which enable us to summon up these emotional states with a minimum of the original activity—and this generally of but a symbolic character. We regard some of this control over the emotions as normal and valuable and some of it as baneful. The question is what is the basis of the attitude and this distinction.

As already indicated, we assume that healthful religious emotion reacts immediately back into ethical action, and healthful artistic emotion into our processes of perceiving and grouping our perceptions of nature and human conduct. From this standpoint we might criticize the use of stimulants. For the emotion that arises under their influence is evanescent and frequently out of all harmony with our standards of conduct, while the sensuous interpretations of the world, which they call forth, are as frequently lacking in fundamental truth and unable to make us see, hear, and feel more of the beauty and meaning of the world. Indeed, this distinction is that which is drawn between the legitimate use of our direct control over our emotional states and self–indulgence. We insist that emotional expression, apart

from its original action, must still have organic value for us, else it is disintegrating and sets up habits of continuously summoning these emotional states which, being out of relation with human action, tend to swallow up all conscious effort in themselves. The assumptions of an ascetic life are that only religious emotion can have this value, while the Puritan would even control severely this religious emotion. The frequent assumption of the apostle of beauty and culture is that the religious emotions distort our view of the world, while only the aesthetic emotion can react back into it as whole. It is characteristic of the Epicurean that he denies the value of any of these emotional contents apart from their immediate experience. His motto is:

"Drink, for we know not whence we come! Drink for we know when we go!"

But we have still to understand the psychology of the use of abstracted emotional contents. How can an emotional expression that belonged originally to an overt act have value for later action, which would in turn have its own emotional content? An illustration may shed some light on this. Out of the spontaneous social acts of consideration and kindly appreciation for others, in a child's family life, there develops or should develop a social attitude involving a like consideration for others in all relations. This might be called a generalizing of particular family activities into a universal attitude toward all mankind. Now such a generalization meets with great difficulties. The actually existing rivalries and enmities among nations, communities, families, and individuals make an intellectual statement of such an attitude well-nigh impossible. The fight for existence is as necessary for life as the recognition of others. How can we state a technique of life which will recognize such vital rivalries—seemingly the springs to our most important actions—and yet enunciate the universal principle of human brotherhood? It is beyond doubt that it is easier to generalize the emotional side of the act than the intellectual—or to express it in concrete terms—it is easier to feel like a brother toward John Smith than to combine brotherly action toward him with the processes of getting my daily bread. The reason for this is that I can, in thought, put John Smith in other conditions in which brotherly actions will be most natural, and thus arouse the emotion that would accompany such action. But to change actual conditions, so that my own immediate struggle for existence will involve consideration for him, may be the work of generations yet it would be false to call this a purely emotional attitude.

It is the beginning of the reorganization of social conditions. It marks the difference between the barbarian's assumption that every stranger is an enemy, and the civilized man's assumption that every enemy is a possible friend. The result of this is that the civilized man will tend to emphasize what looks toward friendship, and will thus be taking a long step toward doing away with enmity. But, as long as this cannot be done in detail, the tendency is to abstract from the refractory elements of the situation, and conceive a more or less ideal one, in which immediate action will be essentially brotherly. Of course, the details of such a situation are apt to be hazy or very unreal, but the emotional accompaniments of the conceived actions may be very pronounced. E.g., in the apocalyptic vision of the New Jerusalem the demand for the statement of the details of actions, flowing from natural human impulses, in this ideal condition, is lost sight of in the wealth of emotional expression.

There are several results which this emotional expression may have. Representing a larger act which cannot yet be realized as a whole, it may emphasize those elements which are symbolic of the whole and heighten their subjective value. E.g., when the political and social conditions of Christendom made the treatment of all men as brothers and equals an impossibility, alms-giving, symbolizing in some sense this ideal, received an emotional content and gained a subjective value for the individual, which today passes over into the effort to make men commercially independent, and so quicken our social relations that the brotherhood of man may be a matter of daily conduct. Upon the actual social value of these symbolic acts for the community will depend in part the healthfulness or disintegrating character of the emotional content as a whole. If the emotion can pass over into action, then the ritual and all that goes with it does not exist for the sake of arousing the emotion. When this is the case, a sentimentalism is the result which cannot be formally distinguished from self-indulgence, and the question arises, whether there are conditions under which this use of various stimuli, for the sake of the emotions they arouse, has a value for the community. E.g., has the technique which was worked out within the cloisters of the medieval period, for producing states of religious ecstasy, and all that has served for similar purposes during that period and since then, represented any organic social end?

I think such an end is served in keeping valuable ritualistic and symbolic processes from becoming dead services. Many ancient rituals tended to become orgiastic. There is much evidence to show that the burst of religious feeling in Greece, represented by the Dionysic and Orphic cults and others of allied nature, was an emotional reaction against those which had lost their connection with the fundamental life processes from which they sprung. They served to bridge over the distance between the original primitive cults and the more spiritual ones of the developed city life of Greece. The ritual of the Catholic Church, which was developed during a period when men expected an early end of the world and was adapted to the keeping of this in consciousness, was reinforced at intervals by outburst of religious fervor which, while affecting conduct but slightly, if at all, certainly served a most important purpose by preserving a vivid subjective feeling of the reality of the ideas that were involved in the Christian Church. For the Christian ideal of conduct called for a morality which, in the medieval period, could only be realized by withdrawing from the world. The very organization of society made its positive enforcement in the midst of active life an impossibility. The natural tendency was to make out of the ritualistic ordinances of the Church ceremonies which, mediating between the actual possibility and the ideal demand, would soon negate the very meaning of the demand. Such tendencies we find in the institutions of Penance, the dogma of Purgatory, and in the pardoning and dispensing power of the Church. These reinforcements freed for the time being the ideals of Christianity from this benumbing and legalizing ritual of Roman Catholicism. Furthermore, they not only brought these again vividly to consciousness, but as well prepared the way for their fuller realization—in so far as better social conditions made this possible. For while such an emotional outburst, answering to what we may term social stimulants, does not carry with it the intellectual recognition of the means by which the higher activity may be carried out, it serves the purpose of breaking down the conventional valuations and judgements and so opens the way for what is ready to come to expression.

We can see this in the function which the building of air-castles may have in the life of a maturing child. This building of air-castles — being the enjoyment of the results of actions which are only suggested in consciousness—is of the same nature, if on a lower scale, as this type of religious emotion. But, instead of working out the means for the realization of these ideals, they rather paralyze action, for the attention is occupied with the emotional resultant rather than the action itself. Still the dissatisfaction with the immediate surroundings and the broadening of the horizon beyond conventional landmarks may be of distinct advantage to the maturing individual. We have another illustration of this in the reforms that frequently follow upon the emotional outbursts called conversions in the life of the individual. The emotion seems to clear the ground for activities which have been clogged and rendered futile by various conventions and the results of past conduct.

To explain this power of the emotion, we must recur to the statement made earlier that it is much easier to imagine situations in which one feels as a brother toward John Smith than to produce the situation in actual life. This imagining is but an abstraction from refractory elements in the surrounding conditions. I overlook the business rivalry between myself and my competitor if I meet him in a foreign land. The ocean has for the time being done what a prayer meeting or a dream of a Utopian state could do for me at home But the ultimate effect of such an abstraction will depend upon the vitality of the resistances which are abstracted from. For the child who is about to go from home to seek his fortune the daydream helps to sever ties already parting. The gambler, who at the bottom has the instincts of a businessman, under the influences of the revival meeting, abstracts from the environment that represents his pursuit of chance, and so gives the healthier side of his nature an opportunity to come to expression. While the emotion achieved in this way does not itself forward action, the abstraction which is necessary to obtain it may be, under certain circumstances, of real reconstructive value. The burst of religious emotion during and following the period of the Reformation set free social and political activities that were ready to come to expression. The Methodist revivals at the beginning of this century were the precursors of the great movements of reform that have characterized its whole course.

The implication in what we have said is that the demand for a stimulant, whether institutional or physical, is always found in the insufficiency of the present activity. The hedonistic assumption would be that there was not sufficient emotional element—to wit, pleasure—connected with it. The difficulty with this statement lies in determining what is meant by sufficient. From the consistent hedonistic standpoint one always wants pleasure—unless he has been actually satiated. The tendency would be to compare the activity of daily work, for example, with that of drinking. With the latter would be connected more pleasure than with the former, therefore that would be the choice. But, as we have already seen, this denies the very nature of this emotional element. The latter belongs to entire acts, not to that of drinking which simply succeeds in bringing out their emotional resultant.


No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2