Two Deaths, Two Kaleidoscopes

Drug advocates who justify their pleasure-seeking or escapism with notions of a “higher consciousness” which they believe may be achieved through chemicals, seem to me much like a man who looks through a kaleidoscope and believes he has discovered the true world. If only insight and understanding were so simple. On the contrary, it would be more plausible to say that we must look through the world in order to discover the kaleidoscope. The former approach is easy but offers only a (presumably gratifying) perceptual illusion. The latter is heartbreakingly difficult, perhaps even impossible, but in its very tenuousness may reveal true (whether gratifying or not) colors far beyond everyday perception.

Aldous Huxley, who in Brave New World literally wrote the book on the escapist illusion of hallucinogens and their attractiveness to a progressive world ruled by the fear of death, finally succumbed to the dark dream he himself had described so eloquently, becoming an aficionado of LSD in his later years, and then — after denying the reality of his impending death until the final days — even choosing to spend his last moments under its influence. Socrates, on the other hand, engaged with the everyday world in the most challenging way possible right to the end, examining the question of the soul’s immortality with his friends until his final hour, concluding with a genuinely kaleidoscopic musing on the true nature of the Earth and its cosmic colors, before smilingly swallowing his hemlock, and then — as he calmly accepted the death he had been staring starkly in the eye for weeks — reminding his old friend Crito to make a sacrifice to Asclepius on his behalf. 

Who died wiser? Who saw more at the end? Who clung to the essential living truth of his earthly existence with more meaning and courage, and with less escapism and fear? These questions answer themselves, it seems to me — except in the minds of those who have made a desperate mission of convincing themselves that it is they, whose goal is to hide from life’s harshest challenge by chasing ultimate rewards that supposedly come without effort, who are the brave ones, the intrepid adventurers of the spirit.

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