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From time to time the editors of Psychedelic Review will reprint significant passages from literature relevant to consciousness-expansion. It is fitting that our first passage comes from the fount of Western thought—the philosophy of Plato. The Laws, the product of his mature wisdom, were written a few years before his death. A conversation takes place between an Athenian Stranger, a Cretan, and a Spartan on the subject of good and bad laws in the constitution of the ideal state. The passage below is taken from Book I. (Translation by A. E. Taylor)
In the discussion of the role of interior states, the comments on the effects of alcohol and the idea of drug-induced psychological immunization, this passage anticipates by 2000 years important modern concepts. It is possible that Plato’s discussion of the fear-inducing drug was based on first-hand psychedelic experience. The Eleusinian Mysteries are believed by some scholars tto have involved the consumption of a psychedelic potion as the central rite.
If, as has been suggested, Plato was initiated into the mysteries, he would be under a vow of secrecy, which he circumvents in this passage by use of the subjunctive.
ATHENIAN: One person has within himself a pair of unwise conflicting counselors, whose names are pleasure and pain?
CLINIAS: The fact is as you say.
ATHENIAN: He has, besides, anticipations of the future, and these of two sorts. The common name for both sorts is expectation, the special name for anticipation of pain being fear, and for anticipation of its opposite, confidence. And on the top of all, there is judgment, to discern which of these states is better or worse, and when judgment takes the form of a public decision of a city, it has the name of law.
CLINIAS: I fear I hardly follow you, yet pray proceed with your statement as though I did.
MEGILLUS: I, too, find myself in the same condition.
ATHENIAN: Let us look at the whole matter in some such light as this. We may imagine that each of us living creatures is a puppet made by gods, possibly as a plaything, or possibly with some more serious purpose. That, indeed, is more than we can tell, but one thing is certain. These interior states are, so to say, the cords or strings, by which we are worked; they are opposed to one another and pull us with opposite tensions in the direction of opposite actions and therein lies the division of virtue from vice. In fact, so says our argument, a man must always yield to one of these tensions without resistance, but pull against all the other strings—-must yield, that is, to that golden and hallowed drawing of judgment which goes by the name of the public law of the city. The others are hard and ironlike, it soft, as befits gold, whereas they resemble very various substances. So a man must always co-operate with the noble drawing of law, for judgment, though a noble thing, is as gentle and free from violence as noble, whence its drawing needs supporters, if the gold within us is to prevail over the other stuff. In this wise our moral fable of the human puppets will find its fulfillment. It will also become somewhat clearer, first, what is meant by self-conquest and self-defeat, and next that the individual’s duty is to understand the true doctrine of these tensions and live in obedience to it… And when we intend to make a man immune from various fears, we achieve our purpose by bringing him into contact with fear, under the direction of law.
CLINIAS: So it would appear.
ATHENIAN: But now, suppose our aim is to make him rightly fearful. What then? Must we not ensure his victory in the conflict with his own lust for pleasures by pitting him against shamelessness and training him to face it? If a man can only attain mature courage by fighting the cowardice within himself and vanquishing it, whereas without experience and discipline in that contest, no man will ever be half the champion he might be, is it credible he should come to fullness of self-command unless he first fights a winning battle against the numerous pleasures and lusts which allure him to shamelessness and wrong, by the aid of precept, practice, and artifice, alike in his play and in his serious hours? Can he be spared the experience of all this?
CLINIAS: The view, certainly, does not seem plausible.
ATHENIAN: Now, tell me, has any god bestowed on mankind a specific to induce fear—a drug (pharmakon) whose effect is that the more a man permits himself to imbibe of it, the darker he fancies his fortunes at every draught, present and future alike grow increasingly alarming, and the climax is abject terror in the bravest, though when the subject has recovered from his stupor and shaken off the effects of the potion, he regularly becomes his own man again?
CLINIAS:Nay, sir, where in all the world can we find a liquor like this?
ATHENIAN: Why, nowhere. But suppose one could have been found. Would the lawgiver have availed himself of it to develop courage? I mean, it would have been very much to the purpose to discuss it with him to some such effect as this. Pray, sir legislator — whether it is for Cretans or for any other society your legislation is intended — in the first place, would you be thankful for a touchstone of the courage or cowardice of your citizens?
CLINIAS: And he would, no doubt, be sure to say yes.
ATHENIAN: Well then, would you like the touchstone to be safe and applicable without serious risks, or the reverse?
CLINIAS: There, again, he would be certain to prefer safety.
ATHENIAN: You would employ it to bring your citizens into such a state of fear and test them under its influence, thus constraining a man to become fearless, by encouragement, precept, and marks of recognition, as well as of disgrace for those who declined to be such as you could have them in all situations? He who shaped himself to this discipline well and manfully would be discharged from the test unscathed, but on him who shaped badly you would lay some penalty? Or would you simply refuse to employ the liquor, supposing you had no fault to find with it on other grounds?
CLINIAS: Why, of course he would employ it, my dear sir.
ATHENIAN: It would, at least, give us an infinitely readier and safer training than our present arrangements, whether for the individual, for small groups, or for groups of any desired numbers. A man would do pretty right to save endless trouble by providing himself with this single specific and training himself in privacy to face his fears, isolating himself, of course, from public view behind his regard for decorum until he had obtained a satisfactory result. And, again, he would do right, when confident that he was already adequately prepared by native endowment and preliminary practice, to prosecute his training in the company of fellow drinkers, and make public exhibition of the virtue which enables him to transcend and effects of the inevitable disturbances due to the potion, without once suffering a serious fall or deterioration, though he would leave off before he reached the final draught from fear of our universal human weakness before the liquor.
CLINIAS: Why yes, sir, even such a man as you speak of would be wise to do that.
ATHENIAN: Then let us resume our conversation with the legislator. Very good, we shall say to him, as for such a fear-inducing specific, providence has given us none, and we have invented none ourselves, for we need not take quacksalvers into account, but what about fearlessness, excessive confidence, improper confidence at the wrong moment? Is there a liquor which has these effects, or is there not?
CLINIAS: He will, of course, say yes, and he will mean wine.
ATHENIAN: And are not its effects the very opposite of what we have just mentioned? When a man drinks it, its first effect is to make him merrier than he was, and the more the more it fills him with optimistic fancies and imaginary. In the very final phase the drinker is swollen with the conceit of our own wisdom to the pitch of complete license of speech and action and utter fearlessness; there is nothing he will scruple to say he will scruple to do. I think this will be universally conceded.