[sixties-l] Is Taking a Psychedelic an Act of Sedition? (fwd)

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Date: Mon Mar 18 2002 - 02:29:11 EST

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    Subject: Is Taking a Psychedelic an Act of Sedition?

    Is Taking a Psychedelic an Act of Sedition?


    by Charles Hayes
    Tikkun Magazine

    The disturbances of September 11 have sent us reeling, driving many to seek
    relief from anxiety and depression through socially-sanctioned
    psychotropics such as Prozac, Xanax, and alcohol. But some of the so-called
    psychedelic drugs (cannabis, LSD, peyote, psilocybin, ayahuasca, and MDMA
    or Ecstasy), targets of America's deeply misguided War on Drugs, could have
    a more profound and healthful effect, if used responsibly. The very idea of
    going off on a psychedelic "head trip" in this hour of national crisis
    might be seen as self-indulgent folly, or worse, an act of cerebral
    sedition. Yet a cold and sober look through the smoldering smoke of Ground
    Zero leads me to believe that, depending on individual circumstances, of
    course, there are now even more compelling reasons to sanction the practice
    of judicious psychedelic use.

    If combat readiness is an issue, if your function is to evacuate a building
    in a hurry, screen airline passengers, detect the presence of microscopic
    pathogens, analyze forensic evidence that could lead to the apprehension of
    culpable or would-be terrorists, or execute a commando raid on an Afghan
    mountain, this is probably not the season for psychedelics. But if you're
    not sure who the real enemy is, if you're inclined to ask more questions
    about the nature of the reality that's just swung out into a broad new arc,
    or if you're seeking solace and healing from trauma or debilitating stress,
    it could well be the time to venture out into new psychical frontiers by
    means of certain time-tested plants and chemicals. In fact, for some
    especially scarred, it might even be foolish not to, given that there might
    not be as much time to lose as we thought we had.

    Granted, a state of war, or any other condition in which physical security
    is under threat, is not the ideal circumstance to explore inner realms. The
    removal of base concerns for food, shelter, and bodily safety has been a
    key factor in the evolution of human consciousness from such immediate
    distractions to plans for future (inner and outer) space exploration. To
    paraphrase Terence McKenna, the late shamanologist and outspoken champion
    of psychedelic consciousness, if you remove stress and threat, add a lot of
    alkaloids, and perturb the brain, it will transcend three-dimensional space
    and unfold into a four-dimensional matrix. In an era in which Terror and
    the War Against It are being waged, the safe and supportive setting long
    advanced by psychedelic gurus and pundits would seem harder to provide.

    But let us not suppose that psychedelics are only for the serene and that
    their impact on the psyche is purely pacific and unobtrusive. Because they
    dissolve boundaries to cognitive, emotional, and spiritual understanding,
    there is, in fact, something uniquely destructive about them, particularly
    the sort that effectively "kills" the ego through a symbolic death that
    blows the hatch on one's clinging obsessions and deconstructs one's entire
    perception of reality^◊a nuclear fission of the psychological world with
    impacts not unlike some of the far-flung effects of September 11. Aldous
    Huxley's proposed invocation for psychedelic sessions includes the
    admonition: "Your ego and the [fill in your name] game are about to cease."

    Deployed with ill intent, along psychotomimetic lines (the first use of LSD
    and mescaline earmarked by the scientific community), such an assault could
    wreak havoc on individuals and populations. The CIA tested LSD as a weapon
    for immobilizing enemies and extracting secrets from them. Conversely,
    hashish was allegedly used to induce visions of paradise and thereby stoke
    the courage of a secret order of Muslim guerrillas called the People of the
    Old Man of the Mountain, which terrorized Christians during the Crusades by
    stealthily killing their leaders; hence the term "assassins" from the
    Arabic Hashshashin for "hashish smokers." Subject to the wrong input, the
    vulnerability of the psychedelicized mind can be grossly abused. History is
    rife with such examples of the perversion of technology or magic.

    Still, the CIA and the Saracen assassins were onto something, albeit in the
    most unwholesome of ways. Psychedelics are a weapon of war, the war of
    perceptions, priorities, and values. More readily than the reverse, they
    can be used to erode the will to use military force, so long as survival
    isn't at stake. How many thousands of Americans in the Sixties, tripping
    out on acid, grass, mushrooms, or mescaline, got a heightened sense of the
    utter absurdity of killing Vietnamese in their own country? Anti-war
    activists declared openly that LSD was a guerrilla weapon of pacifist
    resistance, and one that ultimately helped to end that war.

    For Paul Krassner, a cofounder of the Yippies, taking acid was a political
    act, something he did on the occasion of his testifying at the Chicago
    Conspiracy trial. His new book, Psychedelic Trips for the Mind (High Times
    Books), celebrates the synchronicity of the crystallizing counterculture, a
    profusion of spontaneous acts of elation kindled by psychedelics that
    helped to consolidate the unified mind of a generation. "The CIA originally
    envisioned LSD as a means of control," says Krassner, "but millions of
    young people became explorers of their own inner space with it instead.
    Acid was serving as a vehicle to help deprogram themselves from a
    civilization of inhumane priorities. Rand Corporation researchers
    speculated that LSD might be an antidote to political activism, but the
    CIA's scenario backfired."

    ^’ ^’ ^’

    If death is another name for the process of undoing to which all of our
    doings must and do lead, then the psychedelic experience is most certainly
    concerned with death, with endings that, if we could only see, become
    beginnings in other forms. McKenna once wrote that psychedelics anticipate
    the dying process, and just four month's from his own passage, he told a
    group at Esalen, "If psychedelics don't prepare you for the Great Beyond, I
    don't know what really does." In revealing that the emperor wears no
    clothes, that things fall apart, psychedelics decrypt the death bound into
    things and offer us a chance to capture^◊or recover^◊the rapture of union, to
    snap out of the trance that sustains the illusion of our separateness.
    There is a diaphanous quality to things seen on the psychedelic, a
    sympathetic blurring of the lines, an overdrape of molecular fabric that
    suggests that we are a part of everything.

    Such a vision proved to be the stuff of psychic liberation for the late
    Israeli Holocaust survivor Yehiel De-Nur, who tells, in Shivitti (Gateways
    Books and Tapes) of a miraculous breakthrough during a 1976 LSD-assisted
    psychotherapy session in Leiden, Holland with Dr. Jan Bastiaans, the
    psychiatrist who identified Concentration Camp Syndrome. During the
    session, De-Nur relived the hell of Auschwitz and then saw his own face
    over that of his tormenter, deducing that all of humanity^◊including
    himself^◊was complicit in the Nazi horror, that it could have been him on
    the other side of the dynamic, herding people into the ovens, that there
    was a collective burden of guilt for all to share. Far from being a "bad
    trip" in which he recoiled at identifying with a fiendish executioner, the
    epiphany catalyzed a redemptive rebirth for his stricken soul, dissolving
    the victim/perpetrator dichotomy.

    A thirty-year belief in the power of psychedelics to confer such
    transformations spurred Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary
    Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS; see www.maps.org) to submit an
    historic protocol for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of
    patients afflicted with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    brought on by criminal deeds. The protocol, approved by the Food and Drug
    Administration (FDA) on November 2, 2001, surprisingly with no snags over
    the issue of neurotoxicity, will be used for the first U.S. study ever to
    evaluate if MDMA can have actual mental health benefits.

    The FDA ruling may clear the way for an Israeli study of the efficacy of
    MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of PTSD caused by terrorism or
    war. MDMA manufactured by Israeli syndicates is used in raves and clubs
    there, as well as by a growing colony of disaffected young army veterans
    and other Israeli escapists settling in Goa, India. The Drug Enforcement
    Administration (DEA) suspects the Israeli mafia of being, along with
    dealers in Holland, behind the spike in worldwide MDMA production, some of
    it smuggled as "Ecstasy" tablets^◊often by Hassidic couriers^◊into the United
    States, hence the Israelis' hesitation to proceed with MDMA research until
    the United States approved a protocol for it first. Now, however, according
    to Jorge Gleser, Deputy Director of Mental Health Services at the Israeli
    Ministry of Health, the Ministry will welcome the submission of a slightly
    revised version of the MAPS protocol. If approved, the study will probably
    be supervised by Dr. Moshe Kotler, former chief of psychiatry for the
    Israeli Defense Forces.

    Doblin was in Tel Aviv fresh from meetings with Gleser and Kotler when he
    learned of the September 11 attacks. News of the disaster brought home his
    sense of "Zionist duty to bring psychedelics to Israel," a nation he sees
    as a traumatized society where a succession of shocks over the last century
    has left many of the people "frightened and unable to trust, even when
    trust should be given." Declares Doblin, "I honestly believe that
    psychedelics used sensibly and therapeutically can help bring peace to the
    Middle East, by reducing both personal and social conflicts."

    Those in power who could take hemispheric strides toward peace and
    accommodation if they surrendered their armor and reactionary impulses are
    not likely to use MDMA, LSD, or other psychedelics, in therapy or
    otherwise. But Doblin holds out the hope that they can learn by example, by
    seeing that more and more people can go through the psychedelic ego death
    and rebirth without losing touch with their cultures. Dr. Charles Grob, a
    child psychiatrist at UCLA, who in 1994 conducted the first FDA-approved
    study of the effects of MDMA on human volunteers, asserts that MDMA's
    capacity to promote empathy could have a powerful impact on geopolitical
    affairs. "Well, you're not going to get Sharon and Arafat to take MDMA
    together," he grants, "but let their children get together one day to do it
    in a medical setting and have a mutually empathetic experience, seeing the
    humanity of the other side." Grob thinks that MDMA could have a healing
    effect on Americans rocked to varying degrees by the September 11 attacks,
    by fostering empathy for the families of victims, and, less directly, for
    the bereft and disenfranchised anywhere in the world.

    MDMA has already proven to be a bonding agent on a vast scale, within the
    rave movement, which is international in scope, and pacific, empathic, and
    celebratory in nature. Just as LSD was a bedrock for the Yippie ethos
    nearly two generations ago, Ecstasy could well become the social glue for a
    new activism, should an urgent and well-articulated need arise. MDMA
    dissolves boundaries for the individual's immersion into a communal group
    mind, according to author and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff in an essay
    entitled "Ecstasy: Prescription for a Cultural Renaissance" (included in
    Ecstasy: The Complete Guide by Dr. Julie Holland, Inner Traditions). "On E,
    lies are inefficient," he writes, "and the peculiarities and weaknesses
    they are meant to obscure no longer seem like offenses against nature."
    Hence the doors of perception are cleansed, but without blowing them off
    their hinges. MDMA is unique among so-called psychedelics for leaving the
    ego unthreatened by inducing a pervasive sense of peace and trust that
    enables fruitful self-inventory, therapeutic healing, and a powerful
    feeling of appreciation for one's fellows.

    ^’ ^’ ^’

    Prior to September 11, the nation was beginning to enjoy an increasingly
    rich dialogue about the role of psychoactive drugs and the impact of the
    War on Drugs, led most notably by Bill Maher of ABC's "Politically
    Incorrect," whose comic quips roasting government drug policy complemented
    the dignified propriety of calls for reform by the Republican Governor of
    New Mexico, Gary Johnson. Nick Bromell, author of Tomorrow Never Knows:
    Rock and Psychedelics in the 1960s (University of Chicago Press), observed,
    optimistically, in a June 2001 essay on the "New Cultural Assent to Drug
    Use" in The Chronicle of Higher Education that "more and more Americans are
    unwilling to take a hard line against drugs if that means simplistically
    refusing to consider why people actually take them."

    The ironies of the drug war are everywhere today. "If [September 11
    hijacker] Mohammed Atta had been a dope dealer," Grob complains, "we would
    have been on him. Since he was only suspected of terrorism, he eluded our
    watch. Our preoccupation with illegal drugs has contributed to our head
    being in the sand. Last spring we gave $43 million in food aid to the
    Taliban for suppressing poppy production. It's affected our value system,
    our ethics, our intelligence-gathering ability. The government could tax
    drugs to subsidize its war on terrorism." Grob, who objects to Ecstasy use
    at raves and clubs, says he does not advocate an open market for all drugs,
    but notes, "Controlled drugs are completely out of control! Anybody can do
    them under any circumstance, whereas trained professionals can't. Who's
    being controlled?"

    Recent trends in medicine are redrawing the map of human consciousness as
    an interaction of specific biochemical agents and processes. The new study
    of neurotheology is examining the causal relationship between brain
    chemistry and spirituality. Dr. Rick Strassman, author of the briskly
    selling DMT: The Spirit Molecule (Inner Traditions; see
    www.rickstrassman.com) focuses the search for a biochemical catalyst for
    spirituality on a single endogenous compound, DMT, the most powerful
    hallucinogen known. In the early Nineties, he conducted FDA-approved
    research on human subjects with the material. In his book, he posits the
    theory that blasts of resident DMT from the pineal gland at key moments of
    stress, including birth and death, are responsible for spiritual
    awakenings. Contemplation of the grisly carnage of September 11 has
    strengthened his belief that upon death, bodies should not be disturbed, so
    that this process is able to play out and facilitate the soul's transfer to
    a noncorporeal state.

    Funnily enough, in a May 2001 cover story that examined "How We're Wired
    for Spirituality" ("This is your brain on God") Newsweek managed to dance
    around the issue of psychedelic drugs as mediators of mystic states. The
    magazine's religion editor, Kenneth Woodward, strained reason when he wrote
    that the emotions of "losing oneself in prayer ^Ň have nothing to do with
    how well we communicate with God." Such a dismissal of peak experiences is
    tantamount to saying that the flush of joy felt by a child in the
    realization of his parents' love could never translate into a deepened
    understanding and appreciation of life. Recently, no less an authority on
    religion than Huston Smith has said, "If religion cannot be equated with
    religious experiences, neither can it long survive their absence." As he
    and others, including myself, have documented, extraordinary changes in
    brain chemistry induced by psychotropic substances can, under the proper
    circumstances, occasion such experiences.

    The going may be rough, of course, though that, says Smith, is no reason to
    discount the results. In Cleansing the Doors of Perception (Council on
    Spiritual Practices; see www.csp.org), he points out that religious
    experiences in general have fearsome properties. Those brought on by
    psychedelics are no different. "The drug experience," he writes, "can be
    like having forty-foot waves crash over you for several hours while you
    cling desperately to a life raft which may be swept from under you at any
    moment." Thus, he refutes the claim that the expansive relief from ordeal
    that some psychedelic experients feel is an invalid path to religion,
    because we do, after all, accept battlefield conversions and those made in
    the throes of physical crises.

    Nor should we discount drug-abetted awakenings because they're one-time
    affairs. Echoing the great religion scholar William James, Smith notes that
    the ephemeral nature of peak experiences sparked by psychedelics makes them
    no different from any other sort of mystic encounter with the mysterium
    tremendum. Such soul-rocking events are indelible in spite of their
    transient nature, whether you're a born-again Christian or an acid mystic
    turned Buddhist monk. But the degree to which they will affect you over
    time, and the tenacity of your newfound conviction, depend on how well you
    integrate the often alien or otherly vision into your daily life.

    So long as such stormings of heaven are outlawed and dismissed, the greater
    the likelihood for relapse from the cosmic consciousness they engender to
    the coarse materialist outlook that is consensus reality. It takes a
    prolonged commitment to mindfulness to prevent the sort of recidivism
    epitomized by Yippie Jerry Rubin's high-profile conversion to yuppiedom,
    just as it will require high vigilance and honesty to ensure that
    profiteering doesn't befoul the surging waters of heart-felt patriotism, as
    has already begun to occur just weeks after September 11.

    With religion-inspired hatred on the loose, many see religion itself as a
    culprit for the September 11 troubles, and point to psychedelics^◊or
    entheogens, divine-generating agents^◊as a means of bypassing religion to
    get to the wellspring of spirituality. Because they produce the primary
    experience on which faith is inspired, "entheogens prove that no
    intermediary is necessary," states Clark Heinrich, author of God Without
    Religion (yet unpublished) and Strange Fruit (to be published in the US by
    Inner Traditions), a speculative history about the role of the Amanita
    muscaria mushroom in several world religions. After his own drug-induced
    awakening, the late British Ecstasy advocate, Nicholas Saunders (see
    www.ecstasy.org), surmised that religions may very well have been invented
    to explain entheogenic experiences.

    Still another nondenominational yet transcendental usage seen for
    psychedelics is as a tool of hyper-ratiocinative perception, a means to
    deconstruct media charades and help the intellect to cope with ambiguity
    and uncertainty, according to Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis: Myth, Magic
    + Mysticism in the Age of Information (Three Rivers Press). "I wouldn't
    necessarily want to trip in the aftermath of September 11," concedes Davis,
    "but I can now use my psychedelic training for coping with the
    epistemological cyclone of a cataclysm such as this. I grew up in the
    cushiest reality in the history of the planet. Now I see demons pouring
    over the lip of my existence, but I've learned through psychedelics how to
    breathe through it and not believe its story."

    ^’ ^’ ^’

    In a subtle sense, September 11 has had the effect of a virtual psychedelic
    experience, breaking up the world and reorganizing it. In this respect,
    says Krassner, the event was "an instant 'trip' for many who are now face
    to face with what to do with their lives, what their concept of God is." In
    the wake of the attacks, we have witnessed that a cataclysm can have a
    positive outcome. A tangible new sense of tighter community has come into
    being, woven from the supplest fibers of the human spirit rebounding from
    the obliteration of the old order. For those with the courage to trust, the
    psychedelic experience can orchestrate a sort of manageable in-house
    cataclysm^◊wreaking only epistemological havoc, not mortal carnage^◊and one
    that can heal by enlivening these same regenerative psychical tissues. Used
    wisely, psychedelics can thus open the heart to compassion and enable the
    mind to decouple itself from neurotic or burdensome patterns.

    Because of this potential for unsettling the already shakable self, if only
    temporarily, the tool of psychedelic consciousness is certainly not an
    imperative, and not for everyone; it must be utilized, managed, and
    regulated skillfully. In order to fill the sensorium with as much
    preternatural light as can be metabolized, and liberate the psychedelic
    experience from the underworld darkness of proscription, the practice
    should be sacramentalized and institutionalized under the administration of
    the scientists, doctors, psychologists, and spiritual leaders most
    knowledgeable about its propensities and potentials.

    Psychedelic sessions would then be structured and guided by the collective
    wisdom generated from centuries of shamanic ritual, as well as from modern
    clinical research and lessons learned from more informal practices. Select,
    certifiably pure psychedelics could then be placed once again in the
    service of private therapy for individuals, couples counseling, and the
    treatment of drug or alcohol dependency, depression, and other mental
    maladies. And they could also be shared in settings for congregational
    worship, as the Native American Church uses peyote and the Santo Daime and
    Uniao de Vegetal churches in Brazil use ayahuasca.

    On a more massive scale, I can envision devoting a single day in the near
    future on which, say, five million people worldwide took a good healthful
    dose of MDMA (or hashish, psilocybin^Ň) and opened up their hearts and minds
    to each other and to the universe. Such a rite of pure Dionysian grace,
    involving communal song, dance, and invocations of prayer, would strum the
    invisible wires of the emergent global consciousness network, striking a
    harmonious chord from Chicago to Bangkok, Sydney to Sao Paolo, London to
    Delhi, Durban to Tehran.

    What immediate effect this would have on our disposition toward the war
    would most certainly not be a tauter clench on lethal weaponry but rather a
    quickened pulse in the bond of human kinship we've begun to feel more
    acutely in the wake of September 11. Such a communal connection, kicked
    home by a deep, soul-tickling intoxication with the Breath of (all,
    nonpartisan) Life, would strengthen the resolve to oppose terror in all of
    its guises, not just those our respective governments don't like. The
    weapon that psychedelic consciousness brings to the War on Terrorism is as
    a perceptual laser that dissolves the blind rage of which it is a symptom,
    dispelling the rumor of our disparateness.

    By deploying psychedelics sensibly, not for jaunts of recreational escape
    but for mindful meditations, more and more people would come to appreciate
    the treasure of life here and now, in a time and place of war or not^◊and
    know, as William Blake observed, that such "gratitude is heaven itself."
    Humanity's failure to exploit such opportunities for life's gratuitous
    graces will only prolong the condition of war.

    Charles Hayes is author of Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic
    Adventures (Penguin); see www.psychedelicadventures.com. His work has
    appeared in Shaman's Drum, Oxford American, High Times, and E Magazine.

    WE WANT TO HEAR from you! Use our direct link to share your views. Or write
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