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Tom Jaine

  • The Alchemy of Culture: Intoxicants in Society by Richard Rudgley
    British Museum, 160 pp, £14.95, October 1993, ISBN 0 7141 1736 6

‘One of the aims of anthropology,’ Richard Rudgley says, ‘is to understand the self by way of the other.’ Are we to take it that if the Koryaks of Siberia had a high old time on the fly-agaric – or on the recycled urine of a fly-agaric consumer – we too should stock up on magic mushrooms? Rudgley maintains that humans have ‘a universal need for liberation from the restrictions of mundane existence, satisfied by experiencing altered states of consciousness’. The state can be achieved by meditation, aesthetic or sexual ecstasy, or by a quick fix. Rudgley, though embarrassed by the social problems of drugs in modern society, seems willing to give equal value to each route.

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