THIS book clearly reflects the indignation aroused in many decent French people by one of the scandalous trials which took place after the Liberation, while passions were running high and often affected the course of Justice. But despite its lurid background, it is not out of context with the contemporary scene. On the contrary, it only serves to throw into high relief certain aspects of modern life which exist even under what we have become reconciled to thinking of as normal conditions.
For we live to-day in a world of contradictions, where what the State gives with one hand it takes away with the other. Even in sober, middle-of-the-way Britain, a benevolent Government gives us 'welfare', rehabilitates the disabled and the delinquent, gives each one some positive place in Society, so that his ego can have its meed of self-respect. Yet it coerces and dragoons us with forms and enforced insurances, and, moreover, gives each of us at least two code numbers which reduce our private names to secondary place in ministerial files. In some other countries, of course, the individual counts for nothing as against the alleged welfare of the masses, while in others it is the individual who is paramount, and thinks it good citizenship to try and circumvent the laws and regulations made for the sake of Society: but this is only a matter of which way the pendulum has swung in that particular place.
One sign of the times, moreover, is that we are, perhaps more than at any other time, drug-ridden. True, most Governments are concerned in trying to stop the traffic in opium, hashish and cocaine. But their efforts are frustrated by the chemists who, in their laboratories, produce ever new and better—or worse—drugs to stimulate or depress. And in this the medical profession are their accomplices, creating addicts by imprudent prescription—a fact which was recently pointed out in the medical press in connection with those valuable but much abused drugs, the barbiturate group.
True, man has always taken drugs. Whether one craves the humble cup of tea or coffee, or, passing through the field of tobacco and alcohol to that of heroin or morphine, one is in some degree an addict, using the drug to make life pleasanter or even bearable, rather than for some definite medical reason. The ease with which people to-day fall back on their 'sleeping tablets', or on those which have to be taken in the morning to neutralize the doping of the night before (thus taking two poisons instead of one) is one of the more serious problems of the day. But this bad habit is one of people who act freely and not under duress other than that which is self-imposed by allowing the conditions of life to be what they are.
When, however, it comes to a person accused of a crime being in one way or another forced to submit to drugging in order to arrive at the facts of the case, the matter becomes still more serious. It involves the whole question of the relation of man to man, of the collective to the individual. M. Rolin discusses this fully, and it need only be said here that, for the first time, in a recent murder case, evidence of what was said under drug narcosis was allowed in a British Court. The case was one in which the plea was 'Guilty but insane', hence laying on the defence the onus of proving that the prisoner was not morally responsible for the murder with which he was charged. The psychiatrist called in for the defence used what had been said in support of the plea of insanity. This is a very different matter from attempting to extract a confession of guilt, or even to trip the accused into an admission which might compromise him.
The Lancet,' under the heading Nothing but the Truth, comments on this case, emphasizing that, as a means of finding out actual facts about events, drug narcosis is quite unreliable, even to the extent that an innocent person may accuse himself of something which neither he nor anybody else has done. The article goes on to suggest that, pending much more research, as well as consideration of the ethics of the matter, narcosis should only be used (a) to diagnose psychosis, (b) to diagnose and treat neurosis, (c) to distinguish between hysterical and other psychogenic cases and troubles due to genuine epilepsy or organic cerebral injury.
M. Rolin derides the phrase 'truth drug', and with justice as far as facts go. But these drugs do reveal the truth when considered from the psychiatric angle. That is, they bring to light underlying feelings and motives in the patient's mind: things which some primitive part of him might like to do, but which, under normal conditions, he would neither do nor perhaps even in his wildest moments think of doing. Yet such is the dramatizing power of the mind when unrestricted and uncensored, that it may result in things being said under narcosis in such a form that it appears as if they were related to things actually done. On the other hand, when fear enters the picture, the story of a crime actually committed is usually kept dark, even under narcosis reinforced by leading questions.
Here the matter stands. But the whole question of drugging shows something of the confusion of the mind of modern man. He seems to have forgotten that the goal of spiritual self-realization is to see 'face to face', and not 'as in a glass darkly', befuddled by drugs, moral or physical. Hence he fills his mind and his body with dope rather than face things as they are. This is an easier thing, no doubt, than to change the conditions he himself has, after all, created, and which he calls fatalistically 'modern life'. So barbiturates, amphetamine, slogans, formulae, ideologies and even religious creeds, are invoked to bolster him up.
What it all amounts to is that man seems to have lost sight of his duty to himself, despite the fact that he is told in the Gospels to 'love his neighbour as himself': i.e., to love himself in the same way as his neighbour. And when thathappens, duty to the neighbour becomes obscured. And if one transgresses, the guilt one feels against oneself for not living as one should becomes projected on to him in the form of vindictiveness and cruelty. In this way, all sense of proportion and decency, and hence of equity and justice, vanishes.
All this may seem food for the gloom of those who think the world is going to the dogs. But, from the psychological angle, it is well to realize that the evils of to-day are not new. They have been there all the time. But now—thanks perhaps to Freud and his like—they are no longer suppressed, under the surface, and hence explosive, as they were before our recent pair of world wars. The very fact that hypocrisy and cant are stripped off, and that things appear to-day in their stark ugliness, is a good sign. For it means that they are known and seen, and hence that the first stage towards dealing with them is passed. But it is only when a true sense of morality, based on spiritual intuitions, replaces the false moralities of the past, that peace, justice and happiness will take the place of the present strife, both between men, and, more fundamentally still, within the individual soul.
LAURENCE J. BENDIT.
1. 21 March 1953, p. 585.