bessel van der kolk: on the post-alcoholism and disembodiment of the west

the bessel van der kolk episode of on being is honestly (truly) blowing my mind. there are at least five posts coming out of me processing what’s in that episode. today: on the post-alcoholism and disembodiment of the west.

ok so i’m basically going to retrace a bunch of thoughts bessel had and add a little commentary (which is what i do most of the time, heh).

first. western nations are post-alcoholic societies. the people who colonized the world (generally speaking europeans) treated their woes and sorrows with alcohol. they also celebrated with it, but lots of sorrows were dealt with via alcohol. this way of dealing with problems remains deeply culturally embedded. it pervades, even dominates, the ways in which we think about dealing with problems. mental illness, health, physical illness, whatever it is, just put something in the body to fix the brain and that’s that. in pain? just put a chemical in your body that makes you not feel the pain (i.e. disconnects your brain from your body). the thought that maybe looking at what causing the pain and changing the root cause to alleviate the pain is culturally and systemically off the table. we’d rather pay for drugs than therapy.

second. on a related note, western societies are, generally speaking, disembodied. i don’t know the causal pathway between the enlightenment and the post-alcoholism thing or if they’re even related, but they’re definitely both at play. “i think, therefore i am,” is a fundamental part of being western. this differs from many other cultures that are much more embodied. anyone who has traveled to non-western places can see this plainly.

third. this disembodiment has severe class implications. generally speaking, the more disembodied you are, the higher your class. similarly, the more embodied you are, the lower your class. academics and manual laborers are the ends of this spectrum (i think). for academics, their societal value is contained in their thoughts and they make tons of money for thinking (business leaders also fit in here). manual/physical laborers are almost completely valued based on their physical output and are at the bottom of most class hierachies in the west.


ps - turns out bessel lives and works near me in brookline! i wonder what it’ll take to get a meeting with him…

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