So, we now have hard evidence that just one dose of psilocybin, "a compound found in psychedelic mushrooms," can ease anxiety and "dread of death" for up to five years. The evidence comes from a study conducted on cancer patients in 2016, and the follow-up of that study, which was completed early last year but for reasons obviously related to the present pandemic and its stress-related factors, was reported only this week by The Hill.
One can understand the value of such a pill for someone who is terminally ill, someone who is really facing death, someone who is fast running out of time. But for someone who, despite being in the zone of eternity, which is what good health comes down to (Spinoza called it perfection), by means of a vivid imagination, is very aware of their own and inevitable non-being-ness, this five-year pill sounds not like a cure but another way to experience a nightmare.
Almost five years later, researchers found enduring effects in the subset of participating patients when combined with psychotherapy.
At the four-and-a-half year follow-up, 71 to 100 percent of participants credited improvements in levels of anxiety and depression to the single-dose psilocybin and therapy combination of the study. The participants further “rated it among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives.”
As far as I can see, there are two major problems with this long-term tranquilizer. One, is it's just one pill. Two, it does not solve (but keeps intact) the key link between anxiety and the historically exceptional temporality of a market-embedded society.
I addressed the first complaint, the one pill, on Friday, April 23. It eliminates the pleasure of pill popping, which for many of us, has achieved the status of praying. Just think of Islam. Today in Seattle, for example, a follower of the teachings of Muhammad must perform Fajr prayer at 4:21 AM, Dhuhr prayer at 1:07 PM, Asr prayer at 5:03 PM, Maghrib prayer 8:15 PM & Isha prayer at 9:54 PM.
Pill poppers are no different. For them, there is a pill or two in the morning, a pill before eating anything, a pill after eating anything, a few pills before sleep, a few more pills if you wake up in the middle of the night. And, if you are like me, there are a variety of pills for anxiety that can be consumed at different times of the day and night (my favorite presently is NeuroCalm, which is not cheap but works wonders in the morning and during periods of insomnia). In short, psilocybin deprives the secular person of the form of religious devotion to the grand mystery that is, for all ye faithful, the Almighty. Instead, you can take just one pill and forget about God for five long years.
And as the psilocybin shows God out one door, it lets Capital in with the other.
When considering the latter circumstance, we must begin by first asking: Where does all of this anxiety come from? Why do so many of us suffer from bouts of panic, days of dread, nights of anguish? The answer to this is found in the alienness of capitalist temporality, which, as the great theorist Moishe Postone, would say, is historically specific. Meaning, it's not trans-historical. Meaning, the history of the world, as experienced by the civilizations that our times' leading cultural figures and institutions designate as notable, isn't a movement toward a society that finally realizes the absolute that Dolly Parton famously described as "9 to 5."
But before the industrialization of labor, human time was much less rigid, and more oriented not to the clock but to what the Kenyan philosopher and theologian John Mbiti, and also the British social history E.P. Thompson, described as events. Before industrialization, seasons and natural cycles of all kinds directed the flow of human time. The moon, the migration of birds, the rise and fall of temperatures, the length of the day and night—all of these cycles and more enfolded and unfolded human experience.
We have only recently left this looser time of events. We have fewer holidays. We work the same strict hours no matter what part of the year it is. This is the dictatorship of time as measurement. And certainly also the source of much human anxiety. Heidegger, who is regrettably one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, attempted to transhistoricize this dreadful feeling as an existential "being-toward-death." But it seems unlikely that this being-toward-death can be experienced with the same industrial force in a culture that does not hear the clock ticking all of the time.
And then you take this one pill. And then it's all over. You are one for five whole years with being-toward-"9 to 5."