The phenomenology of caffeine

I have been incrementally decreasing the amount of black tea and coffee I drink in order to observe the effects of caffeine on the quality of my attention. I no longer drink English breakfast tea at noon or in the afternoon, and I have less than two cups of coffee in the morning. Soon, I will have only one cup of coffee and then perhaps none.

I have concluded that caffeine impoverishes the quality of one’s attention. The mode of being of the person under the influence of caffeine can be most accurately described as self-assertiveness: I am not a thinking or contemplative being but a frantic force moving through the world.

There are four essential features of self-assertiveness when it is grasped under the influence of caffeine:

  1. Velocity. The self is rapidly moving onward. It has many things to do this very instant; it has plenty of jumbled, disjointed ideas; it uses lots of words. The self is frantic, pitched forward, always moving–nearly careening–onto the next.
  2. Assertiveness. The self asserts its presence as a self to be reckoned with. Others are either ‘yes-men,’ going along with its ideas or movements, or impediments, i.e., obstacles to be pushed out of the way or surmounted. As a self to be reckoned with, the caffeinated person grows distant and seeks power.
  3. Dulled Aesthetic Sense. The self cannot hold his attention on the hummingbird or the full moon before dusk. He cannot hold the other attentively and lovingly. He cannot listen easily, but only by forcing himself to hold his tongue and listen. His has lost both erotic and aesthetic appreciation.
  4. Value and Intensity. In light of 1-3, his interaction with others tends to be either very pleasurable or very painful, either quite good or especially bad. There is no room for suspending judgment, for being startled and simply looking on, for remaining in a state between pleasure and pain, good and bad, high and low. As a result, the self-assertive man is easily irritated (the other is harming him), overly aggressive (he wants the other to give out of his way), quick-tempered, loud, and feverish.

While one is caffeinated, one is not engaging in dialogue, appreciating the surrounding natural beauties, or contemplating what there is. Caffeine is therefore a fit drug for an atomized capitalist world governed by frantic productivity, maximum efficiency, and ready quantifiability.