Dissolving arbitrary mental boundaries is what psychedelics are uniquely good at doing. They dissolve boundaries between the conscious and subconscious mind, they dissolve the boundaries that separate people, they dissolve boundaries of identity and culture, they dissolve boundaries of time and space. Most people profit from the grand project of boundary dissolution, it introduces them to the wider horizon of reality. But there are those among us who for which the maintenance of boundaries is a daily struggle. They are trying to create an ego, trying to create a complete ultimate view of the world, these are not candidates for the psychedelic experience. My concern is that the fearful among us have set the social agenda for all of us, so we are all told psychedelics are somehow corrosive of social values, compromising of sanity. The psychedelic experience is the most important experience a human being can have this side of the yawning grave, the boundary dissolving capacity of these psychedelic substances act as if they are a reset button, we are not ultimately the creatures of our culture. Ultimately we are biologically defined, and biologically connected. Yet our culture and fearful mindset we inherited makes us only notice differences when we see our fellow species, never the similarities. And what the psychedelics do is inject an enormous amount of distance between us and our learned cultural values.
‘Drugs’ is a word which has polluted the well of language. Part of the reason we have a drug problem is because we don’t have an intelligent language to talk about substances, plants, psychedelic states of mind, sedative states of mind, states of amphetamine excitation. We can’t make sense of the problem and the opportunities offered by substances unless we clean up our language. ‘Drugs’ is a word that’s been used by governments to make it impossible to think creatively about the problem of substances and abuse and availability and so forth and soon.
In our society Drugs mean that which cures us and the greatest social problem of the generation. So there, right there, you see schizophrenia involved in thinking about drugs. Apparently there are ‘good’ drugs sanctioned by science and medicine and ‘bad’ drugs used by brown people in strange rites and growing in unusual plants in distant parts of the world. This kind of thinking – because it’s naïve – leads of course to social problems and bad politics and bad social policy.
From the time I was very young I was fascinated with the idea of extremely dramatic changes in consciousness from which one recovers after a few hours induced by plants. And I discovered through the writing of Aldous Huxley and other people that this was a world-wide religious and cultural phenomenon that my own western cultural upbringing had completely over looked or even denied.
These substances have had a far greater influence on culture than previously realized. To my mind human history is the story of one substance after another distorting or transforming human values and society. A perfect example would be sugar. Most people don’t even think of sugar as a drug, and yet we may think that cocaine distorted moral and political values in Latin America. But sugar brought back slavery. Slavery actually died with the Roman Empire. Nobody worked agricultural products with slaves in the middle ages. It wasn’t until the early 1400s that the Portuguese began producing sugar and they used up jews and prisoners and so then they started buying human beings from Arab traders. And the pope was in on the deal and everybody was in on the deal. I mean this is drug corruption of the central institutions of society on a massive scale.
Nowadays we have alcohol, we have tobacco, some of the worst drugs health wise. Historically it seems that every society chooses a small number of substances – no matter how toxic – and enshrines them in it’s cultural values then demonizes all other substances and then persecutes and launches witch hunts against those users whenever some political pretext requires witch hunts and persecutions. So, it’s an old game and it’s been played in many places. Hope-fully part of the advancement of society toward ideas of universal human rights and that sort of thing certainly must include the idea of the universal human right to take responsibility for and to alter your own state of consciousness as you see fit. I don’t think we can even pretend that we are on the edge of a civilized dialogue until we grant that people’s minds – like their bodies – must be a domain free from government control. In American law we have the notion of ‘life,liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ If the pursuit of happiness means anything it must mean the right to use and experiment with substances and plants.
Now we need to catch up; we need endless amounts of research. The fact that these things have been illegal in most countries for fifty years means there is a huge lag in understanding the impact of these things on human beings. How many people have taken MDMA, and yet MDMA has not been thoroughly studied by science. How many people have smoked DMT? Same thing. In a way, by making these things illegal we’re setting ourselves up for a potential catastrophe, someday, when some side-effect is overlooked because the drugs were not rationally re-viewed with an eye not toward keeping them out of the hands of the public but with an eye toward public safety and educating the public in safe use of these things. The state should not in the matter of drugs, anymore than in the matter of sex, act as the secret agent for the agenda of the church. And that’s what’s happening. People want to stimulate themselves. They want to explore their consciousness. They want to sedate themselves. Who are we to stand in their way with a moral ideology and the long heavy arm of the law to interfere with that? It distorts civilized values. That’s the bottom line: drug repression distorts civilized values and political discourse.
Anyone who has actually been around people using psychedelics knows they have tremendous therapeutic potential, tremendous potential to launch people into confrontations with aspects of their personality or their history that they are in denial of. The people who hold that these psychedelic substances have no application have very little actual personal experience with them. It’s the old story of: ‘My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with facts.’
I think it’s a great tragedy of twentieth century science that the original excitement about exploring consciousness and mental illness generated by the discovery of LSD gave way to establishment paranoia and repression of drug using populations. The excitement in psychology when LSD was first introduced was like the excitement in the physics community when the atom was smashed and everybody thought, well, now we’ll understand mental illness, schizophrenia, the traumatic memory so forth and so on. And instead the government lost its nerve because it saw that these substances have a potential for deprogramming people to institutional values. And that was so terrifying that all the promise for mental illness and creativity studies and so forth and so on was sacrificed to institutional paranoia about the fact that drugs might actually cause people to wake up to some of the abuses and scams that were being run by late modernism and capitalism.