Real dreams of altered states: war, addiction and deep time

Real dreams of altered states: war, addiction and deep time

Deep time understanding is why Finland now sits atop a network of nuclear bunkers that can house most of the population. It is why media savvy elite Russians can talk in a liberal discourse and be supporters of what to outsiders is violent Russian nationalism at the same time. It is everything that you pretend does not matter when claim to be a ‘citizen of the world’. It is the culturally transmitted tacit knowledge that there are long, dark, currents in human affairs, that are disguised by momentary phases of peace and quiet. That is lost in the bloodless year zero thinking that characterises the liberal utopia exemplified by the EU, whose proponents think we can be citizens of an abstraction, that trade will always lead to cooperation and normalisation (on the EU’s terms of course).

Talking with my good friend and awesome colleague M (not using her full handle as we are working together and this post is let’s face it, a bit mad) recently about different medical cultures and circuits of care in Eastern and Western Europe got us thinking about the connection between geopolitics, clinical cultures and addiction, and the deep understanding that comes from having a particular historical deep time sensibility. The spark was M’s insight into what is called ‘white fever’ in Russia and zapoj in Poland. It is a culturally recognised pattern through the post-Soviet sphere where a person disappears for several days under the influence of alcohol. It was not a ‘blackout’ in the Western sense, it was just something you did.

What got us discussing it was why it was so recognisable yet did not fit within the addiction schemes of Western medicine. Easterners shared a deep cultural understanding of it and we hypothesised (or I ranted, possibly) that it was linked to an understanding of the natural state of order or disorder. For those in the East, disorder is the norm. The unreal ‘dream state’ is that of the peaceful life in the EU. The real is that of conflict, oppression, and the need to live in two worlds simultaneously. The two worlds might be the unreal world of Soviet bureaucracy, and the real one the day to day struggle of life in a socialist society. For those in the comfortable, liberal West, order is the norm and disorder is the exception. Addiction is an exceptional state for the self-governed self. There is less need to live in two worlds in that sense.

Basically: the way the EU’s rule governed utopia is spoken about by liberal commentators and philosophers like Jurgen Habermas, as if it is an end of history towards which all societies will come to eventually. The pro-EU side present a fundamentally teleological vision of reasoned, law governed order, in which power does not matter in politics. History is treated as if it began in May 1945 and as if the EU’s ideal is the real state, and the work of Brexit and the war in Ukraine is somehow unnatural, exceptional and unimaginable. But maybe the reverse is true.  That is why it was no surprise to Poles, Balts and others when Putin began his war. There is an element of ‘see?’ in their response. To the Habermasian, German-led segment of the EU, Putin was a rational actor who could be integrated in the European order. Therefore it was a shock when he ‘turned’. To those who have lived with massive historical trauma, it was not the least surprising. The only surprising element was the epic naivete of the core EU states who never look into their own heart of darkness.


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