A drop of country ale, a fool escapes to muse

Must I, drunken on a night-time, light-filled binge, find true meaning in poetic inspiration, to tease artful truth from my dulled and broken brain, worn down by years of societal habituation?

Can I, fresh from my drink-sodden laughter, breathe in continuously the scent of a misty evening, darkened by hours of neglect, bringing the light of liquid truth sparking across beer-stained tables, and land them crisp and blithe onto an empty page?

The night began with jarring, artless music blaring brutally from a room I had regretfully paid to enter and chosen to leave with disdainful, yet amused and familiar glare.

Out to the bar entrance, stopping my friend on the way to save her the trouble of going through the same fate, out instead to a dining room of long tables, teeming with rich, rural laughter, twee parochial amusement, fleeting impressions, further reminding me, on the cusp of my inspirational reverie, of an island retreating into insecurity, hidden by minor material comfort and barely concealed emotional repressions and disturbances.

I found it easy to dissect and gently mock the genteel assembly, as the might-as-well-have-a-drink flows ever so slowly across a quiet table in the far corner of the room, surely more than it has done recently, and the conversations across the lamplight glisten with the sheen of convenient connection, as my words begin to issue forth in spontaneous talk in ways I cannot predict, but welcome.

The barricades of silent, sober contemplation I had nursed only hours before and for too long before that gradually melt into neptunean amusement and revelrie, to bring me an inner sense of peace and familiarity at the return of a long-forgotten friend.

And now I am heading home, gently inebriated, glowing self-satisfied like a minstrel entertaining a court of kings. And, no, I will not accede to your request my critical mind, stern judge of character, I will not bow to the command to be quiet until I return to sobriety.

My foolish tongue, now provoked by country ale, has its chance to run riot, the harsh king is drowsy and distracted, he will be fully awake in the morning, and so I cannot hold back that drunken desire in the meantime for my pen to play in the musing hour. And so I write and play at my art for a short while.

And for now the holy witness can assume the mantle via a torrent of suppressed emotions, allowing that other oppressed voice of intuitive truth to speak with them in unison, with rational thought left to slumber drowsily but still forming structure to the flow.

The musky sliver of hops breathes through my senses, lifting my spirit to ask my reanimated soul, “How long have you been locked in sobriety this time my old dear friend, my silent ageing cousin? Welcome once again. Speak. Tell me your story. Let me into your world. Remind me once again what it is to breathe and feel love unbounded by reason. Do not leave us this time, please stay.”

Can I find no other outlet for these florid, heartfelt thoughts borne of a brave and foolish, happy and mischievous tongue? Can I find no other escape than to usher them through an inebriated gateway from my heart’s longing to the world of form?

Must I be like all the other sad poets and drown in beautiful, crashing, tragic rivers of intoxication, so that my art can live?

Or can I be a sober, wordless sage of the clarified, mindful hour, tick-tock, tick-tock, never uttering a sound, letting my silence speak in tongues unbeknownst to the drunken rambler, a muted language all its own, dead to the rhythms of speech that flow in drink-sodden dusks of reflection and inspiration?

Are some silences too easy to mistake for fear and denial? Are some silences truly enlightened? I cannot allow such confusion to fester in me tonight. So I record these thought flows, while they have life, while the drink snakes its curious tongue around my brain and my heart becomes a bold trickster animating my fingertips.

And in the morning, I may forget that I came here, and these words will remain hidden on a phantom page, out of sight and out of mind.

And just as I am feeling to go on I become aware again and bashfulness and shame twirl me into barbed knots of condemnation. I’m tired now, weary from life’s meaninglessness, which has grabbed hold of my mind again. The drink is wearing off, inspiring words need continual beseeching to make their home here.

But I accede instead to rest and forget in the morning, or remember with regret and resolve to fall away no more. This is the way it has been for many years now, I don’t know if it will ever change. But I hope it will, one day, one day soon.

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Acid Corbynism and the importance of the psychedelic counterculture

The resurgence of scientific research in the use of psychedelic substances to treat a variety of medical conditions has attracted great media interest in what is being dubbed the psychedelic renaissance. More recently, the popular response to the recent spate of articles related to Acid Corbynism suggests that a repoliticisation of the counterculture is in order. But similar to the way medical research has erased or diminished the political ramifications of psychedelic culture in their own research, so recent writings by cultural theorists delving into the ideas spawned from psychedelic counterculture and inspired by the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher‘s fledgling idea of Acid Communism, seem to be either missing the depth of knowledge and importance of that culture over 50 years and as it exists today, or studiously avoiding directly talking about it. Mainstream media also tends to cover only research which falls under the banner of materialist science when it comes to discussions on psychedelics.

This mutual erasure of different components of the research on psychedelics may have serious ramifications in the medical and scientific communities, as well as the political arena, because, as so often happens, those who do not control the narrative have the narrative set for them and a great opportunity will be lost. It is perhaps understandable why these groups have done this; it may well be for political expediency, not to draw unwanted attention from the relevant policymakers and moral cynics and to remain apart from the illegal psychonaut underground culture. Or it may well be a gap in knowledge between specialists in the sciences and the humanities, which converge in some way when discussing the possibilities emerging from the psychedelic counterculture.

Prohibition has a lot to answer for, in helping to create a distorted reality, where the harshest, cheapest, most convenient (to the lawbreaker) versions of drugs are marketed, and where frank and open discussion cannot be brought into the public sphere for fear of association with criminal behaviour (even though the results of such behaviour are now part of western mainstream club culture and society at large and pervades advertising, marketing and social media). A consistent case has been made that ending drug prohibition has to become a central political aim for any resurgent progressive movement, so that both scientific and cultural research can proceed unhindered by the limitations of conservative ideology and religious moralism, to create a politics that enhances society. Are there any radical left theorists arguing for this central aim? The case has never been stronger that ending prohibition would be of huge social benefit.

The present neuroscientific research on the effects of psychedelics on the human brain, being conducted in the UK at Imperial College and Bristol University, has followed on from over two decades of careful research conducted in the United States by a group of scientists and policymakers, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Their research is now on the threshold of government approved licensing of MDMA to treat trauma.

At Bristol University, MDMA research to treat alcohol addiction has also received government approval. This carries on from years of scientific research that makes a strong case for at the very least the licensing well-known, patent-free, psychoactive compounds to alleviate, and in some cases cure, a variety of medical conditions, from glaucoma, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, trauma, and other psychological conditions. Parliament will find it difficult to ignore the issue as the scientific evidence continues to mount.

The counterculture of the 1960s seemed very much a left libertarian one, pro-civil rights, anti-war, pro-feminist, but it was rejected as too “far out”, associated with LSD and new age woo, and a challenge to traditional family values and was eventually consigned to faded and quaint images from the past. MAPS gained credibility among lawmakers and donors with sober suits, sober research and no mention of revolution, political or spiritual. In its place, a pure scientific materialist, methodological perspective was thought necessary in order to seek favour with lawmakers and licensers. And it has been a qualified success.

In the UK, Breaking Convention, a multidisciplinary biennial gathering of scientists, academics and anthropological researchers, which includes many perspectives from materialist, idealist to indigenous, new age and occult, has gained popularity and, in focusing primarily on the scientific and medical findings, has caught the attention of the mainstream press. But until recently there has been little political analysis, as this has been considered too provocative. But the political mood has shifted, and there is a change even here, with diversity panels, looking at ethnic demographics within the culture and issues around racism, gender and sexuality. A deeper political perspective is needed, but where are the cultural theorists of the radical left to analyse this?

Critics are cautious that the scientific research on these substances might accelerate society towards a medicalised, corporatised model, which continues to see mental health as an individual condition, the treatment of which must be subservient to the needs of the market and a set of values where individuals are treated so that they can function better in what is assumed to be a healthy society. Such a view is also runs in conflict with indigenous cultures who use psychoactive plants, which they consider sacred, and which they wish to preserve within their own context of sacramental use and religious belief, which often runs counter to the view of a western materialist, reductionist perspective. These are often contradictory viewpoints which organisations such as MAPS and Beckley struggle to balance in their methodological outlook, aware as they are of their existence.

Travellers from the US and Europe who travel to Central and South America, West Africa and elsewhere to visit indigenous communities to experience sacred rituals with plant medicines are on the increase, which hints that this fills a need missing from the disenchanted modern secular society referred to by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who were prominent members of the Marxist Frankfurt School. A sense of shared values within a community of such qualities as love, compassion and mutual respect, nurtured by the openness to the new encouraged by multicultural societies, sees individual free expression as part of a wider social consciousness, as an antidote to stifling bureaucracy and sterile technocracy of the modern world.

But the idea that notions of peace and love as universal ethical truths, often associated with explorations into psychedelics, also have their shadow, and there has always been a resistance to such ideas. The prevalence of psychedelics and other psychoactive substances in a hypercapitalist culture and refusal to engage in an honest debate about the effects of inequality and privilege on society, has given a space to a narrow understanding of amoral philosophies which have pervaded the both psychedelic and new age communities. These viewpoints challenge long-held assumptions that psychedelics inevitably lead users into a more liberal, open-minded world view. Some of these philosophical outlooks tend towards anti-ideological, anti-moral viewpoints, which superficially can seem to support an acceptance of the social order with no pressure for change, and can even give space for far right ideologies to flourish. It is important that a thorough investigation of these ideas are explored so that psychologically and socially damaging elements do not prevail.

The author and psychedelic historian Alan Piper has investigated in great depth the connection between psychedelia and right-wing and neo-Nazi groups in his paper and talk which he delivered at Breaking Convention entitled, Psychedelics, Fascism, and the Politics of Profane Illumination. Set and setting, in other words one’s prevailing mindset and the environment in which one takes these mind enhancers, is as important as the substance itself to the results of the psychedelic experience. Such psychological and social analysis lends itself to discussion on propaganda and how culture is used to sway the public. This also has roots in a very pragmatic, materialist view of history and the work of Antonio Gramsci and later on the Frankfurt School, which is instructive in giving us a solid base from which to view these developments in psychedelic culture.

The politics of the Italian Marxist theorist and politician, Antonio Gramsci are synonymous with the term cultural hegemony, which can be used to investigate further the effects of propaganda and a consumer, corporate culture on the minds of malleable, internet-obsessed, drug-taking teens susceptible to influence. More recently, a term which was used by the Frankfurt School to describe the use of culture to impose capitalist ideas into the public consciousness, Cultural Marxism, has become the go-to put-down by conservatives, who use it to describe those political philosophers and thinkers of the left who are seeking a way to combat ruling class hegemonic forces, with their own ability to deconstruct ideas and to recognise how so much of what we take as given is mediated and often created by social forces. The idea that gender is a social construct seems particularly provocative to men of a certain outlook.

This has seeped into public consciousness on social media, with the prominent Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson, who has gained notoriety and a huge following for refusing to use impersonal pronouns to describe transgender students. He has used this notoriety as a springboard to launch vicious attacks on a common enemy of the right, promoted by various conservative writers, that a cabal of Marxist-Postmodernist academics (an easy, but mistaken conflation to make to those unfamiliar with the nuances and differences) is infiltrating social institutions in the west to undermine the “traditional” nuclear family and traditional Judeo-Christian values. Peterson has recently joined forces with the controversial academic and critic of modern feminism, Camille Paglia, and the effect that the two will have on this debate bears much closer examination. Where is the cultural analysis from the radical left here? This is urgently needed.

Angela Nagle covers this forensically in her book, Kill All Normies, going into great detail on how Reddit and 4Chan alt-groups became breeding grounds for this kind of populist anti-left narrative, where racism, homophobia and misogyny were common attitudes marked down as “anti-PC free speech”, and used to shut down intelligent debates on white supremacist patriarchy, and issues around sexuality and gender as a social construct. Anyone offering a radical left, or even progressive liberal, perspective was immediately cast off as an SJW (social justice warrior), part of the “regressive left”, men who supported feminism referred to as “cucks” and the very notion of positive social change seen as a Stalinist plot.

Nagle identified a repurposing  by the right of a culture of transgression which was a central part of the 60s counterculture, often defined as permissiveness or hedonism, which was once seen as a threat to traditional Christian values. This transgressiveness was used by young, white males as a form to attack institutions which became associated with limits to personal libertarianism, with neoliberalism becoming synonymous with left liberal perspectives, rather than as a continuation of the financial corporate capitalist model. This anti-state, anti-government, anti-liberal attitude became the de facto anarcho-capitalist worldview of the alt-right and grew in popularity.

In the 1960s, the authority of the church was successfully challenged. The decriminalisation of homosexuality and the legalisation of abortion, were hard-fought battles, with only qualified victories, which did not end the war and which recent events show need to be fought again. In the 1980s and 90s, there was an initial male response to increasing women’s rights and gay rights, which in the UK became known as the Loaded generation. A generation of young could once again objectify women, this time “ironically“, simultaneously embracing the consumerist, commodified culture in traditional masculine ways. It was a way for men who objected to the changing nature of male and female roles to claw back some cultural ground, which they felt was being lost, and once again it suited the dominant capitalist mindset. That can be seen as the dry run to a far-less ironic, much more aggressive, push back from so-called men’s rights activists, gamers and openly neo-nazi ideas that have multiplied under this banner more recently.

Mark Fisher wrote in detail about the mental health crisis, from personal experience but also from his own understanding of class politics. He had read some of the work of RD Laing and the anti-psychiatrist movement and David Smail the noted clinical psychologist who argued that modern psychiatry was obsessed with individual responsibility for one’s mental health condition, rather than situating such mental distress within a social context and seeking to address the root of the problems. It is necessary to challenge the old-fashioned belief that mental health is situated solely with the individual, or indeed that the use of psychedelics will destroy the fabric of society. The opposite is the case, and this is backed by solid science.

The present crisis in the NHS is down to a combination of bad management, exploitative deals with private companies, but also a model of health which is still fixed on a materialist perspective and groups exists already which challenge this model. This is the juncture where it is vital that radical left theorists claim cultural ground and make the case both to policymakers and scientists, that psychedelic culture and the psychedelics themselves, are an opportunity to look much deeper into the social and economic conditions which give rise to the growing epidemic of stress and anxiety, as well as treating these conditions effectively with simple, patent-free substances with fewer side-effects and less dependency, and challenging fixed definitions of mental health.

Psychedelic culture has already paved the way in so many areas of human experience, and scientists and neuroscientists are now beginning to provide a basis for the understanding of the medical and social benefit these substances can provide. It is time also that cultural theorists do the same. While the UK has Brexit to contend with and while the US struggles to cope with the increasingly autocratic behaviour of its president, it is time for those who are interested in integrating societies, science and health, to look to psychedelics, and to the theories and pragmatic evidence of collectivised models of behaviour, to create spaces for a multitude of innovative psychedelic-inspired ideas to flourish. Engaging the public honestly and courageously, to promote and enact the creation of a better world is possible and achievable, and must now be a priority.

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No man is an island… and yet

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As I understand it, we are a collection of continually shifting identities, modifying others and being modified. In addition, we are continually modified by our environment and in turn continually modifying our environment. A continual dance between duality and oneness, between being and nothingness and perceptions of reality. We are a continual succession of interplays between our own internal and external versions of ourselves, and others’ versions of themselves and of us. While the suggestion that identity is fixed is absurd and easily disprovable, equally to insist on the absence of identity, to seek to erase its existence by ideology or philosophy, is as easily challenged by our persistent rebelliousness to coercion whether by state or by the actions of others.
Even in the most transcendent egoless experience, whether through sudden moments of crisis, intense meditative experience, or through altered states induced by external means, all of which can change us fundamentally and with far-reaching consequences, we return to some sense of an identity, an “I”, as illusory as it might be in a metaphysical or even scientific sense. To deny this expression of an individual will as a healthy phenomenon, to deny our sense of personal agency and autonomy by insisting on some nihilistic absence, can very easily present itself as sociopathic and can lead to all sorts of projections and damaging behaviours to onself and to others, depending on the person’s own personal power and ability to effect change in their environment.
At the other end of the spectrum of being, for the individual to be placed under the will of an ideology, which asks the person to subsume itself to a greater material body such as the party or the state, which is in reality only a a substitute for the authority once held by God, is also deeply problematic. The European Enlightenment, if it was anything, was an attempt to do away with the need for a higher authority in the form of a metaphysical being administered by a religious authority and to liberate the individual.
The advancement made by reason, was to recognise that the individual could find freedom and autonomy by connecting first to that authority as something greater within, trusting in one’s own intuition and experience, with no need for an intermediary. This was truly liberating and put man at the centre of the universe and also allowed for these liberated individuals to collaborate from the ground up. It was anti-hierarchical, and it led to the growth of commerce and trade and a challenge to monarchical and clerical power. This presented other problems, those connected to industrialisation and colonialism, but the liberating power of the individual has persisted throughout history and been taken up willingly throughout the globe running parallel to imperialist enterprises.¬† This materialist view, this extinguishing of the soul, had in turn its more spiritual component in the form of nondualistic eastern philosophies, which also ironically led to solipsistic thinking, which denied external reality and suffering and even in its most virulent form, a denial of the one’s personal existence and free will.
Further, this secular liberalism also led to a reaction, or rather a development, which was to subsume the free agency of the personal will to a greater cause, that of independently existing materialist forces. Eventually this led to the creation of ideologies, such as Marxism and Atheist Materialism, which sought to impose its supposedly objective idea of the greater good onto the individual, which paradoxically was not supposed to exist, but was nevertheless coerced into subsuming itself to the greater good of the state or to scientific materialist authority. In this sense, both Nazism and Stalinism, come from the same fundamental error of thinking, which sees the individual only existing to serve the state, emerging as one ideology imposed on its people. This is the fundamental mistake of historical materialism, which led and can only lead inevitably to the gulags and the killing fields, to the concentration camps, to state coercion, psychological suffering and environmental destruction and madness.
The only politics that can work that will unite people is one that recognises humanity as an interdependent set of identities, which encourages personal agency, and sees one’s personal identity, as illusory as it may be, in a greater cosmic sense, situated in an environment and universe which is itself alive and in continual communication, which acknowledges a responsibility to that interplay. No one can have the complete picture. The picture, to be a healthy reflection of the individual and collective will, must be continually shifting and being modified, in a great, big, joyful dance. The aim must surely be to encourage personal sovereignty and autonomy as well as interdependence with other autonomous beings and a deep sense of respect and reverence for oneself and one’s environment. No one above, no one below, no god, no masters, and no coerced obedience to any state apparatus, which must exist, if at all, only to serve the people, to mediate in the lightest and most benign way possible disputes between individuals and groups, and whose existence must only serve the will of the collective, itself a collection of continually shifting patterns, known as human beings.
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Zen in the Art of Permaculture Design – Stefan Geyer: A Review

Zen in the Art of Permaculture Design, by Stefan Geyer, is really a book about a way of living and interacting with our environment which struggles to fit into linear descriptions in our commodified, corporatised culture, which seems to demand such binary descriptions. The neat device used by the author to better help understand permaculture, which is his passion and his way of life, is to introduce a second hard-to-define philosophy, Zen, as a way of explaining the first. It might seem counter-intuitive, but it works very well in using each ti reflect the other, and it allows a broader perspective of both philosophies.

Ask nine different people working in permaculture to define what permaculture is, and you will nine different definitions, which can be infuriating to those who rely on rational, easy to understand ideas that can be quickly implemented. Working with nature, not wasting what you have, learning to plant and grow seeds by harmonising seemingly separate forces, are some of the basic ideas, but often the message comes from experiential, hands-on learning and a deeper listening to nature, which is not common currency in urban culture; a certain way of observing and listening to the messages coming in from our surroundings, is unique to each individual. This can be confusing to those who want a catch-all description, one that reads like an instruction manual.

This is a short book in terms of words and chapters, and there are basic descriptions about what permaculture is for the beginner. It is written in simple and poetic language, standing on its own as an inspiring read, especially when poetry and stories from the Zen tradition are brought in to give deeper explanations of how to trust our intuition. But the themes and ideas go deeper than the shortness of the book would suggest, so much so that in an agitated state as I was towards the end of last year, with so much going on for me on an emotional level, I found it very difficult to settle into reading the book and taking in the message of slowing down to listen more to what messages are coming from inside us as a response to our immediate surroundings. Yet, each time I sat down to read, I felt the resonance of the words and how this could serve as a set of core principles to those who wish to pursue a way of life not tied into the increasingly fraught, technology driven and financially dependent and disposable culture we have become so used to.

Stefan Geyer has been involved in Permaculture Design for many years. He lives in the heart of London where he works in hotel management and combines this by organising an annual gathering of Permaculture practitioners and thinkers in a festival held in central London every July, The London Permaculture Festival. His idea of finding the wisdom and poetry of the Zen and Taoist philosophies as a reflection of the “Way of Permaculture”, is itself poetic. It understands that permaculture is about more than just growing edible vegetables and herbs and collecting water. It is a philosophy about slowing down from the technological chatter in order to tune into the natural rhythms of nature so that we can move from that more centred and authentic space. This is a book to read if you grow food, or have some kind of garden you tend to, or if you have any interest in living a life closer to nature and in creating resilient communities. But it is also one to ponder for those wishing to embark on a lifestyle change, for those wanting to learn how to manage the many conflicting inputs and to find a grounded method for living life.

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Planetman – Love Rebel: A Review

Planetman’s latest album Love Rebel, a collection of nine songs delivered in a warm, upbeat roots reggae style, with some gypsy and ska influences, is the embodiment of the life and work of a musician who lives by the messages in his songs. Planet – as he likes to be known – was born Adir Tov in Israel, of Yemeni Jewish ancestry, with strong connections to pre-Israel Palestine. He refused to serve with the Israeli army and was sent to jail several times for his principles, but moved to Europe, where via Amsterdam and club/festival culture, he soaked up many different musical influences, before finding his niche, in the positive one love philosophy that he expresses in his music in venues such as Passing Clouds, where his parties and gatherings were legendary in their time for bringing many different musical and cultural influences together.

In my time in London, during the Peace Not War years between 2003-2009, mixing in and out of the various anti-war collectives and with different activists, I was introduced to Passing Clouds, the music and arts venue just off Dalston Road, organised by Eleanor Wilson, who had a deep understanding of how political activism and music combine, who was central to bringing such an eclectic mix of musicians and artists from the streets rather than from an agency. The venue has featured musical styles from around the world with a strong African and Caribbean influence, mixed with urban dubsters, grizzly and sparky socialist and anarchist punks and gypsy folk in acoustic and electric combinations. With nights of films and discussion from a variety of alternative political frameworks, including Permaculture and Transition events, to young trendies looking for an eclectic night out, there was always something for every one here, as long as you are open-minded and willing to share.

Passing Clouds had politics and a rootsy culture at the heart of its community project and it was evident in how they embraced whoever was local and wanted to play music and get involved that they were living their ideals in a very grounded and practical way. Sadly, the venue was taken over by a new landlord and the Passing Clouds crew are currently seeking out a new venue, unless the old venue becomes available again. Central to the music gatherings over the years as been Planetman and his band, the Internationalz. This album gives a flavour of some of those special Passing Clouds nights.

The album deals with themes of love as a spiritual and unifying force and the true rebelliousness of refusing to submit to a system that crushes humanity in its coldness and selfishness. The tone is uplifting and embracing and the style will be familiar to anyone who likes the music, words and singing of Bob Marley. Planet’s voice and inflections are very similar to the world famous artist. To my ears there’s a smoother tone to Planet’s singing, but the message is an extension of that same philosophy, a recognition of what we are needing to move from the many crises we face into a new human and societal connection. The album starts and ends with Love Rebel as the title, but whereas the opening track is a traditional reggae sound, the final track, Love Rebel, Fly, has a more psychedelic flavour, a spacey way to end the album, as if the album itself is akin to the artist releasing a dove of peace and hope into the search for an island in the sun.

This is an album to be embraced and sustained by, an inspiration to those who may be dropping their heads at the seeming hopelessness of the political landscape, a collection of songs that conveys the spirit of the Passing Clouds community, the spirit of the rebel artists, musicians and poets as well as expressions of the indigenous voices that have shared and continue to share their stories and their visions of a brighter world where courage in the face of oppression can be both radical and loving. In short, this is the life that Planetman lives and shares and one which I feel is needed more than ever in these interesting times. I would recommend this music to anyone with a beating heart!

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Psychedelic Science 2017: a political perspective

It was a beautiful experience in itself to attend the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference held in Oakland, California, organised by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in conjunction with the UK’s version, the Beckley Foundation. Over 2,500 attendees of all ages attended, numerous scientific talks were presented on the latest research into a range of psychotropic substances, which all happened in an impressive venue; various stalls and psychedelic or “visionary” art, music and psychotropic superfoods were offered for our enjoyment; workshops, films and discussions on the possibilities of ending the brutal drug war that has claimed so many lives and incarcerated so many otherwise law-abiding people were presented in further rooms across the Marriot Hotel complex were a constant source of education and discussion and inspiration.

But if one is willing to notice it (and one must), the demographic of such events may be cause for concern. Yes, there are people from different ethnic groups, but not many, the vast majority seeming to come from the usual white, middle class, affluent groupings you see also in new age and personal development fields, as well as the sober, suited middle-aged white men you might see in any medical practice or perhaps pharmaceutical company board room. The price of a three-day festival running into several hundred dollars makes the accessibility for those from a lower economic status a difficult prospect, and perhaps there are other reasons too. There was talk towards the end about the possibility of extending scholarship funding to allow greater access, but a deeper and more frank discussion has to be developed about this exclusivity and what it means politically in the research and the future strategy for an effective social campaign against prohibition and the devastating effect it has on society.

MAPS makes no secret of the fact that in the 1980s their policy committee specifically distanced the organisation from the countercultural element of the psychedelic hippy culture of the 1960s and 70s, the likes of Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna. In one sense this made perfect sense and has no doubt been of help in gaining respectability among the very policy makers and medical professionals they need to convince. Of course, these bastions of the psychedelic underground still draw a sizeable portion of the largely affluent young, white crowd, who ride on the back of that intellectual and spiritual rebelliousness.

But visionary art selling for $28,000 a pop may leave some wondering whether this is all just an elitist exercise in pseudo-radical posturing. That MAPS is looking for at least $25 million in funding for the third phase of their FDA-approved MDMA research, may leave one wondering just what deals need to be made either consciously or unconsciously with corporate finance in order for medically approved prescription psychedelics to become part of the psychiatrist’s choice toolbox. Psychedelic remedies to treat the damage that our present neoliberal system inflicts on individuals, and by extension our society and planet, will hardly be lessened much less eradicated were approval to be gained.

But there is cause for optimism, which I found in the midst of this a festival mainly centred in white male privilege and reductionist scientific cheerleading. One of the talks I attended was with a panel of speakers all involved in some way with marginalised communities of colour and indigenous groups, who raised concerns about diversity and representation at these groups, as well as key issues regarding cultural appropriation of the increasingly faddish trend among westerners in using Ayahuasca, Peyote and San Pedro among other sacred plants, either in authentic, semi authentic or increasingly westernised pseudo ceremonies. Additionally, scientists are also researching the neurological effects of these plants, and are increasingly isolating the active chemicals in these substances for further study. The variety of research is phenomenal and many would agree it is needed, but is the right respect being shown to the cultural heritage around these concoctions or indeed of the communities whose habitat is being destroyed in ever-greater ways by our corporate western culture?

What are we moving towards? Is this just a space for the new elite? How can the rest of us bring our contribution and show due respect to other cultures while keeping our own authenticity? How can we look at the drug war, which disproportionately affects people of colour and those of lower socioeconomic status, in a light that allows for prohibition to be seen in the context of draconian laws, which disproportionately affects people outside the hippy demographic? What are the festival-goers and Burners and the like actually doing to agitate for constructive change? Are we stuck in psychedelic spiritual bypassing, thinking our psychedelic experiences, our visionary art, our funky moulded leather “tribal” wear selling at $250 a belt or $700 a calf-skin jacket, is going to create a “psychedelic tribe” that will bring in a new world of enlightened beings who will bring about utopia?

And what of conventional psychiatry, which is built on a discrete scientific and medical model, which sees the individual as separate in space and time from their surroundings. Mental anxiety and anguish is often treated on a case-by-case basis, rather than recognised as the product of collective anxiety emerging from a set of human and environmental relationships existing within a fundamentally dysfunctional society. How do we recognise that governmental prohibition of certain drugs is rooted in that same dysfunction and how do we move to a new perspective? That will be explored in part two.

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The compliance of science: the depoliticisation of psychedelics in mainstream culture

 

tacitusScientific materialism is the driving force of corporate capitalism and neocolonialism. Psychedelic political and spiritual culture stands opposed to this and by its nature is a challenge to this destructive ideology

Scientific materialism is the dominant philosophy of the modern age, and has been for over a century. The combination of science and technology as a tool, and capitalism and colonialism as the ideology driving its progress, has led to a widespread transformation of habitat and global indigenous communities. Alongside this essentially atheistic materialism, liberal secularism, originally a religiously motivated ideology that came out of the European Enlightenment, attempted to mitigate the destructive aspects of this transformation, but time and again has been cast aside, as corporate profit and nationalism remain a brutal mental and emotional driving force that has been effective in redirecting popular dissent at confrontation and crisis points, preserving the authority of establishment elites and institutions.

In the midst of these dominant ideologies, much progress has been made on a surface level, in saving and prolonging life, engineering fuel and communication pathways, journeying to other planets, a deeper understanding of the composition of the natural world, and deeper still into the very substance of matter.

Liberal secularism has also broken ties with church and state and allowed human autonomy in specific areas of life. But as ecological and social breakdown rises, and the limits of corporate capitalism are exposed, racism, sexism and bigotry have intensified. Psychological anxieties seem also to be on the increase, and extreme militant religious fundamentalism has become the focal resistance to corporate capitalism and materialism in its willingness to use violence as a reaction to the violence inherent in the system. The fundamental nature of being remains elusive for the materialists and the venom with which they attack competing ideological worldviews, particularly those of a religious or spiritual nature, is very likely to be psychologically connected to this frustration at the limits of physicalism to understand the nature of consciousness and a denial of the connection between reductionism and globalisation.

The development of psychedelics over the past 50 years offered a bridge between the physical and idealistic perception of reality, between science and religion itself, and it seemed for a time that ideas and philosophies were converging, and a political revolution was somehow linked to this, nowhere more evident than in the late-1960s and again in the late-1980s where alternative communities challenged the dominant modes of thought. But the political establishment, a mixture of traditional religious and atheistic worldviews, joined forces each time against a set of ideas that demonstrated nonconformist even revolutionary attitudes, threatening those who sought to retain control of the narrative, of the ultimate power to define reality. So laws were tightened, rebellious individuals and groups were militantly policed and imprisoned, and idealistic political resistance was attacked by all means deemed necessary.

But a new development began to take shape in the 1990s, as scientists consciously distanced themselves from the political elements connected to psychedelics and began to focus on neurochemistry and developing brain-imaging technology, which demonstrated the positive benefits of certain psychedelic substances to treat a variety of physical and psychological conditions causing distress in individuals. While alternative and more psychospiritual treatments continued, the dominant worldview found it much easier to accept this less political, more physicalist model, and the scientists focusing on this aspect seem to have become the spokespeople for the resurgence of psychedelics in the mainstream media with calls for medical licensing rather than an outright end to prohibition. Now it seems that the very notions of spirituality, religion, shamanism, even spiritual political views once intimately bound with psychedelic use, are being marginalised in favour of this sanitised, corporate friendly model of psychedelic health.

The risks with taking the reductionist, scientific approach is that at the very moment when a libertarian culture, with its open-hearted view of spirituality, sexuality and multiculturalism, is being attacked in quite vicious ways by the ascendancy of post-fascist ideology, psychedelic science is playing handmaiden to these forces by remaining apolitical and hoping these repressive forces will grant some licensing to allow the doctors to prescribe psychedelics as medical treatment, while researching the effects of these substances on brain chemistry. The possibility that these substances could provide the revolutionary perspective that might challenge the evidently repressive forces, perhaps even offer insight that might aid activists and campaigners in looking for alternative methods of challenging these tyrannical structures, is being pushed aside for a different kind of political expediency, one that is compliant to the forces of repression.

Can psychedelic, political and spiritual activists who want a complete end to prohibition find common ground with scientists and politicians? Can an integrated worldview to face the ecological and social challenges of the 21st century be created? Or is it time to recognise that legalisation of psychedelic substances will never be granted in this present system and to recognise the nature of the challenge and to find common cause with activists rather than government-approved scientists? The cognitive freedom to explore consciousness and create spontaneous recreational spaces, including non-materialist, non-rational, even post-factual perspectives, must be fearlessly expressed, not only in the face of the political establishment, but also the scientific establishment, and the reductionist ideology which has become prominent in the field of psychedelic research must be challenged. The transformation of the social and political order, which is visibly sinking into totalitarianism as it destroys the planet and any semblance of civilisation and humanity, no longer allows for politeness in these matters.

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