VA hospital’s LSD experiments sped brother’s fall into schizophrenia, Lee’s Summit man fears
“My brother was living a tragic life,” Michael Rowland says of the late Robert Rowland. “It was a preventable tragedy.” Now 71 and living in Lee’s Summit, Michael Rowland wonders if a possible LSD experiment could have lit his brother’s full-blown psychosis in the early 1970s. “It’s not just my brother,” Michael Rowland says. “There were others. What happened to them?”
MacCruiskeen » Mon Oct 17, 2016 9:41 am wrote:Bad, bad drugs.
Bad, bad hippies.
Bad, bad Conspiracy Theorists™.
Bad, bad Russia.
(Are we starting to see a pattern here?)
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Albert Hofmann, “The Discovery of LSD and Subsequent Investigations on Naturally Occurring Hallucinogens”, in Discoveries in Biological Psychiatry, edited by Frank J. Ayd, Jr., and Barry Blackwell, New York: Lippincott, 1970. http://www.psychedelic-library.org/hofmann.htm.
Albert Hofmann, LSD and the Divine Scientist: The Final Thoughts and Reflections of Albert Hofmann, Rochester: Park Street Press, 2013.
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David Black, Acid: a New Secret History of LSD, 2003
John C. Lilly, The Center of the Cyclone: An Autobiography of Inner Space, New York: Bantam, 1973. http://bookos-z1.org/book/1176211/8463e9.
John C. Lilly, “Dolphin-Human Relation and LSD 25”, in The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy and Alcoholism, edited by Harold A. Abramson, New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967. http://www.psymon.com/psychedelia/articles/lilly.htm.
John C. Lilly and Kutera Decosta, “Sex and Drugs with Whales and Dolphins”, New Realities, March 19, 1997. http://www.newrealities.com/index.php/t ... munication.
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Mark Christensen, Acid Christ: Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Politics of Ecstasy, Tucson: Schaffner Press, 2010.
Michael E. Kreca, “How the US Government Created the ‘Drug Problem’ in the USA”, http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig/kreca1.html
Alexander and Ann Shulgin, Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved (TIHKAL): The Chemistry Continues, Lafayette: Transform Press, 1997. http://www.erowid.org/library/books_onl ... hkal.shtml
The San Francisco Chronicle: Joel Selvin, “For the unrepentant patriarch of LSD, long, strange trip winds back to Bay Area”, July 12, 2007, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.c ... QV7HS1.DTL and http://slash.autonomedia.org/node/5621
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[Anonymous], “LSD – the case for legal change”, http://www.lsd25.20m.com/
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R.C. [sic], “B.C.’s Acid Flashback”, Vancouver Sun, December 8, 2001, http://www.maps.org/media/bcflashback.html
R.E.L. Masters & Jean Houston, The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience, New York: Dell, 1966, 2000 http://www.erowid.org/library/books_onl ... rience.pdf.
William Braden, The Private Sea: LSD and the Search for God, New York: Quadrangle, 1967. http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/lsd/braden.htm.
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The countercultural mode of the 1960s-80s marked the final attempts to rescue the glory of systems from the maw of nihilistic collapse. It failed, and we live in its wreckage.
It would be polite to say “enduring influence” but I’d rather call it “wreckage.” As civilization burned, we built two vast, fantastical, ornate galleons as escape ships. But they were not the slightest bit sea-worthy; and they collided and broke up in the harbor. The crash left a floating mass of broken spars and tangled lines, choking access to the exit.
Millions of people are still trying to live on that flotsam, so you call across: “It’s a pile of water-logged junk; the rest will sink soon; why don’t you come join us in our fleet of nimble new watercraft?” They jeer that your pathetic little boats are made of plastic, and you say “it’s not plastic, it’s a kevlar composite kayak,” and so on.
This is a metaphor for the development of modes of meaningness over the past half-century. “Kayaks” will become clear only when I get to the fluid mode. But let’s talk galleons: the two countercultures.
I define the countercultural mode of meaningness as:
Developing a new, alternative, universalist, eternalist, anti-rational system for society, culture, and self, meant to replace the mainstream.
I discuss two movements that fit this definition: the “hippie” counterculture of the 1960s-70s, and the “Moral Majority” counterculture of the 1970s-80s.1
Goals for this discussion
The content of the countercultures is still all around us: rock concerts and televangelists, for instance. Such content is familiar to everyone, and needs no review.
The structure and function of the countercultures may be less understood. What problems did they address, and how were their solutions supposed to work? In what ways did they succeed and fail, and why? That is my topic here.
One goal is to understand the continuing influence of the countercultures, and especially the way their “culture war” has polarized Western societies. I will suggest that much of this polarization is due to a pervasive misunderstanding of the structure and function of the countercultures. Better understanding might help heal the rift. The two had much more in common than they recognized—both in terms of what was right about them, and what was wrong. They were both good-faith attempts to rescue systematic eternalism, using similar methods. That was impossible, however, and they both failed for the same reasons.
The following mode, the subcultural mode, can only be analyzed as a response to countercultural failure—so the failure must be understood. The subcultural and atomized modes also failed, so we still have most of the same problems—but in different forms, because each mode has transformed meaningness in its own way.
The countercultural mode is “native” only for the Baby Boom generation. It is very different from the subcultural and atomized modes, native to Generations X and Y. One goal of this whole history of meaningness is to help give people in each generation access to each other’s way of processing meaning.
Overview of the section
I’ll begin by expanding on the definition “new, alternative, universalist, eternalist, anti-rational systems,” showing how the two countercultures fit each part of that.
“The counterculture” generally refers to the youth movement of the 1960s to early 1970s. The idea that the American “Christian conservative” movement of the late 1970s and 1980s was also a counterculture may seem implausible at first. It does fit that definition, however.
I will suggest that the two countercultures are best understood as monist and dualist, respectively. You might call them “leftist” and “rightist,” but those words are not well-defined. In fact, “left” and “right” changed their meanings during the countercultural era, in what I will describe as a “ninety degree clockwise rotation.”
Both countercultures attempted to address the problems of meaningness caused by the failure of the systematic mode during the first half of the 20th century. Although the content of their proposed solutions were often opposed, the structure was the same. Both attempted to create a new, optimistic, revitalized systematicity, by rejecting rationality and developing new religious technologies of the self. Both sought to reform society by collapsing the distinction between the personal and the political.
Both countercultures used the time distortion tricks of “invented traditions” and “timeworn futures” to make their dubious proposals seem more attractive. The “hippie” counterculture pretended to be progressive, but mainly recycled early-1800s Romanticism; the “Moral Majority” counterculture pretended to be traditional, but had a radical modern agenda. These deliberate deceptions account for some of the acrimony of the culture war.
Although both countercultures developed impressively thick and wide approaches to problems of meaning, both failed, for the same reason. Systematicity can never succeed on its own terms; it cannot be absolute. Reality is nebulous, and systems cannot fully grasp its variability. The universalism of the countercultures was their undoing. They could not accommodate the growing demand for cultural, social, and psychological diversity. Subcultures could, and did.
I find understanding the countercultures as monist and dualist helpful, in the light of my earlier analysis of what is right and wrong in these two stances, and how the correct aspects of each can be combined and reconciled in the complete stance of participation. This suggests ways the “left vs. right” polarization of current politics, culture, and society might also be resolvable.
The countercultures were the two final attempts to rescue eternalism: the last gasp of modernity. The following, subcultural mode was the first in-breath of the post-systematic—or post-modern—world.
The failure of social and psychological systems propelled the 1960s-80s countercultures. Societies had required selves to conform to modern, unnatural systems of employment, government, and religion. These arrangements were invented and imposed with little regard for individuals or local communities.
They were founded on economic, political, and theological theories that were mainly abstract and rationalistic. They ignored innate human needs, desires, and proclivities. It’s a wonder they worked for as long as they did.
These obsolete modern ideologies included, for example, Taylorism, the Westphalian nation-state, and the Victorian family.
Scientific Taylorism was the dominant theory of industrial management. It explicitly treated workers as machines whose performance should be optimized with intensive management controls.
A state is legitimate, according to the modern Westphalian international system, if it rules a nation. A “nation” is defined as a set of people who share a single culture and social system. Rulers, therefore, did their best to force uniform systems on as many people as possible. This typically involved destroying most social traditions and institutions intermediate in scope between the nuclear family and the state.
The ideology of the traditional family developed in the 1800s, and in that century was mainly restricted to English-speaking middle class Protestants. (So it was not traditional for the working class, or for many American immigrants.) Its precisely-defined gender and parent/child roles, emphasis on a sharp division between the nuclear family and outside world, and strict life-long monogamy are historically unusual. They don’t function well for everyone.
The crisis of the self showed that organizing one’s psychology to systematic requirements, with a hard public/private boundary, was unworkable for many people. The fragmentation and isolation of communities and individuals was intolerable. After spending the 1950s whistling past the graveyard of systematicity, renegotiating the relationship between self and society became obviously urgent in the mid-1960s.
The previous half-century had developed two alternatives, totalitarianism and existentialism, which were pathological extremes of collectivism and individualism. The countercultures attempted new, less absolutist renegotiations of the self/society relationship, which blurred the hard line between the two. However, both countercultures also drew on both totalitarianism and existentialism, and affirmed the values of both individualism and collectivism in ways that were incoherent and still extreme. This tended to heighten the self/society conflict, even while attempting to defuse it.
The countercultures failed because they retained systematic constraints—especially, universalism. They assumed that there must be one right way for individuals to be, and one right model for society, and the two must fit together harmoniously. Rather than challenging systematicity as such, they proposed new, alternative, universalist, eternalist, anti-rational systems. That is, countercultures, as I have defined them.
Reforming self and reforming society
Free speech protest rally
Image courtesy Jason
Both countercultures wrestled with the self/society conflict at both ends: at the self end through psychology and religion, and at the society end through “values-based” political action.
On the whole, the monist (“hippie”) counterculture wanted to reform the public sphere to better match private proclivities; the dualist (“Moral Majority”) counterculture wanted to reform private souls to better match public morality. So the monist counterculture was more influenced by existentialism, and the dualist one by totalitarianism, although both drew on both (as we shall see).
In both countercultures, some activists argued that individual spiritual transformation was a prerequisite to social change, and others argued that social reform was a necessary support to constructing better selves. Despite internal conflict between these wings, both movements adopted the Romantic idea that personal change can quasi-magically fix society by the propagation of good vibrations. Both also adopted the Romantic idea that if only society were properly organized, everyone would live together in happy harmony.
The next two pages, “Rejecting rationality, reinventing religion, reconfiguring the self” and “The personal is political,” describe both countercultures’ reform efforts at these two ends. Inevitably, they overlap to some extent, because both movements’ program was to merge them.
The remainder of this page is an overview of these programs, in terms of particular problems in the self/society interface and their attempted solutions. Some worked reasonably well, and were adopted as stable policy by governments; others were harmful or just obviously impractical. I will sketch the vicissitudes of these innovations in later modes: subcultural, atomized, and fluid.
Overall, both countercultures sought to replace the artificial, seemingly-arbitrary social and personal requirements of the systematic mode with ones they considered natural. Unfortunately, their ideas about what would be natural were, in both cases, completely crazy. (In my opinion; but also this was widely acknowledged once the countercultural era ended.) Because both countercultures were eternalist, they took their insane ideologies as absolute and universal, and so tended toward harmful totalitarianism.
Replacing artificial systematic requirements with natural ones remains a popular goal. It’s a decent impulse, but unfortunately there is currently no alternative to artificial social systems capable of supporting a global population of billions. The future, fluid mode must find ways to simulate natural (choiceless) roles while keeping artificial systems running—at least until we develop some other alternative.
As I mentioned, both countercultures tried to blur the public/private boundary as a way of addressing alienation and isolation. This was a step in the right direction, but I will suggest that one reason the countercultures failed is that they offered no structural change in the self/society relationship. The development of subsocieties—structures intermediate in scale between family and state—was a major contribution of the subcultural mode.
Both countercultures considered rationality and objectivity the source of modern meaninglessness, materialism, and the loss of the sacred. Both rejected rationality, embraced subjectivism, and tried to evert subjective meanings to re-enchant the world; to restore its inherent sacred meaning. This was extremely harmful, I think. I hope the fluid mode can recognize meaning as real but neither objective nor subjective; and rationality as a valuable tool, but not an absolute principle to be worshipped.
Technologies of the self
Acting according to formal roles, as demanded by systematic societies, is unnatural. If you develop a systematic self, it can be comfortable and empowering, but for most people it feels alienating. Why should artificial, systematic demands take precedence over your personal feelings and your relationships? Your public self feels false: mere play-acting of an arbitrary, often humiliating or incomprehensible script.
Both countercultures adopted the Romantic conception of a true self. That is an idealization of the private self, freed from arbitrary public conventions. Not the private self as it is, because that is neurotic and sinful and false, but the self reformed and perfected. You should find your true self, and then you should be true to it. You should speak and act from that self, regardless of social judgement, because it would comport naturally with the correct social organization. This is “sincerity” and “authenticity”—key values of both countercultures.
There is no true self, so this approach was mainly harmful. The atomized mode effectively abandoned “authenticity,” because it is obviously impossible to be “true” to an atomized self.
Modern employment is dehumanizing. (Deliberately so, under Taylorism.) The countercultures developed personal and small-group practices for personal emotional fulfillment, self expression, and “finding yourself.” These seem to me on the right track, but had limited success, mainly due to universalism—the denial of diversity. The subcultures made their greatest contribution here: expressive communal practices for “DIY” exploration of psychologies, aesthetic culture, and social models.
In complex, modern societies, most people have multiple formal roles, in additional to natural (biological) ones. The contrasts between roles cause internal fragmentation; you internalize external ways of being as “multiple selves.” Conflicts among them are disruptive and painful in both the communal and systematic modes, which expect internal coherence.
The countercultures promised new technologies for re-unifying the self. These didn’t work. The subcultural mode began to develop ways of managing a fragmented self; for reconciling and switching among selves. The fluid mode finds internal diversity comfortable and empowering.
Many counterculturalists tried to make membership in one of the countercultures the unifying theme of their identity. They considered themselves first and foremost conservative Christians or liberal New Agers; and only after that insurance claims managers, Iowans, or softball players. Their community was not their town, church, or company, but the brotherhood of all participants in their counterculture. This resonated with universalism: both countercultures treated all their members as equivalent. Countercultural identity didn’t work well, because a nation-scaled group is too large a group to provide functional community; and because each counterculture merely suppressed and denied its internal diversity.
Ecstatic experience is the natural antidote to rigid social requirements. That was banned in the systematic era. Modernized, rationalized Christianity had mostly also eliminated experience of the sacred and transcendent, emphasizing this-worldly humanistic ethics. Both countercultures produced new religions and quasi-religions emphasizing ecstatic practices, “direct experience,” and the supernatural. I think this was an important step forward, although the details were mostly wrong.
Both countercultures tried to reorient society away from formal, systematic roles toward natural ones: family, unstructured friendships, and local communities. This was the obvious response to the painful gap between the private and public selves. However, it represents a partial reversion toward the choiceless mode, which isn’t capable of sustaining contemporary civilization. That could eventually become disastrous.
Both countercultures sought to revise systematic social norms to make them more natural. The monist counterculture thought humanistic, egalitarian norms would be more natural. The dualist counterculture thought godly, hierarchical norms would be more natural. This divergence led to the destructive and unwinnable culture war.
In the face of mid-century anomie—the breakdown in public morality—both countercultures tried to strengthen social norms as well as revising them. Their reforms emphasized “ethics” and “values,” which fused with, or even replaced, politics. Notoriously, the two countercultures disagreed violently about military and reproductive “values,” which also fed the culture war.
“Family values” were—and are—the central culture war issue, actually. Both countercultures agreed that “traditional” families weren’t working as they should. The monist response was to dissolve or replace the model; the dualist counterculture tried to strengthen, support, and universalize it. During the subcultural era, American society reluctantly accepted a compromise allowing diverse sexual and family models, but upholding the “traditional” one as ideal.
Both countercultures recognized the value of local communities, which the systematic mode had eroded. Both invented new local community models: monist communes and dualist megachurches. Communes failed quickly; megachurches remain vigorous. The subcultural mode developed subsocieties as another new model for community, which unfortunately did not survive atomization. The atomized mode provides virtual but limited community through internet social networks. Overall, the problem of community is still mainly unsolved.
Pentecostal snake handlers (Mark 16:17-18)
Rejecting rationality was the central conceptual move of both countercultures. Rationality was a foundation of the systematic mode. When the systematic mode conclusively failed, rationality got the blame.
Both countercultures explicitly abandoned rationality and adopted anti-rational religions: “Eastern” and “New Age” on the monist side; fundamentalist and charismatic on the dualist one. All these new religious movements discarded traditional social norms in favor of inner transformations supposedly wrought by “spiritual” practices.
In the systematic mode, you create a rational, systematic self. A systematic self has a clear boundary, so it is not flooded by the emotions and expectations of others. You act as the administrator of an internal world of principles, projects, and formal roles. A systematic self is far more sophisticated than a choiceless one, and is a prerequisite to participating effectively in a systematic society.
Unfortunately, this sort of self is unnatural. Living as one sometimes exposes contradictions between systematicity and human nature. It can give the feeling of being a tiny cog in a vast, uncaring, meaningless machine—the “Iron Cage” of rationalized bureaucracy. When a society imposes systematicity rigidly, it becomes psychologically intolerable for many people.
The countercultures demanded to renegotiate the relationship between self and society. Both began by rejecting rationality, and the systematic principles, projects, and formal roles that rationality justified.
I defined countercultures as “new, alternative, universalist, eternalist, anti-rational systems.” The only distinctive part of this was the anti-rationalism.1 “New, alternative, universalist, eternalist, rational systems” had been tried repeatedly during the systematic era. These included, for instance, capitalism, communism, socialism, nationalism, fascism, democracy, Freudianism, and existentialism.2
The systematic mode used rationality to maintain eternalism: belief in fixed meanings. Having abandoned rationality, both countercultures turned to religion as a foundation for eternalism. Mainstream Christianity had been rationalized in the 1800s, so the countercultures constructed alternatives: the New Age in the monist one, and a reworked Evangelical Christianity in the dualist one.
The countercultural religions developed ecstatic, quasi-magical, anti-rational technologies of self-transformation. These aimed to remake the self to strengthen it against the depredations of systematic society and—particularly in the dualist counterculture—to adapt it to better conform to systematic demands. They also promised emotional, social, and pragmatic this-world benefits, whereas traditional religion emphasized self-denial, devotion to God, and other-world salvation.
The two countercultures tried to solve many of the same problems, drawing from the same limited set of pre-existing cultural tools. Superficially opposed, they attempted many similar solutions. I find these similarities remarkable, but the point of this page is not to draw the interesting historical parallels. Rather: we mostly still have these same problems—although subsequent modes of meaningness have contributed some additional tools toward solving them. Understanding the countercultures’ attempts, and how they failed, may help us now.
Overall, anti-rationalism was a disaster, I think. The self/society relationship did need extensive renegotiation—and still does. However, we can no longer live without rational social systems, and we are diminished as human beings if we lose the ability to create rational selves. The countercultures picked the wrong target, and the alternative, anti-rational systems they built were profoundly dysfunctional. When their failure became obvious, the modern world ended. We live in the wreckage, called “postmodernity.”
All is not lost. Rationality still works—just not as an ultimate foundation. Rationality does not actually contradict meaningfulness, only eternalism. The fluid mode needs to reclaim rationality, while recognizing its nebulosity and limits.
The remaining sections of this page explain:
Why the countercultures rejected rationality: to rescue meaning
How they constructed new religions as alternate foundations: reviving Romanticism
The form of those new religions: subjective individualism
The religions’ promises to reform the self: to deliver unity, authenticity, and ecstasy
Their promises of material benefits: health and wealth
An assessment of their legacy: a disaster, but one we are recovering from
Rationalism and its discontents
Science: ruining everything since 1543
Rationality ruins everything. As you know. As everyone has known for hundreds of years.
Back in the choiceless mode, all things were charged with inherent meaning, mountains were inhabited by benevolent and terrifying gods, and you always knew what you were supposed to do. Then rationality came along and pointed out that meanings can’t be objective, there are no spooks, and you can’t derive ought from is. And the world was disenchanted, emptied of meaning, and turned into mere matter.
Charge of the Light Brigade
But wait! The heroic Romantics, on their magnificent steeds of poetry, mounted the counter-charge, plumes flying from their noble helms, against the machine guns of materialism. Meaning, they cried, was subjective, revealed by emotion, intuition, and aesthetic appreciation. We can re-enchant the world in the mystic artistic unity of our True Selves with Absolute Reality.
Alas, in mundane modernity, superior firepower defeats valor. The existentialists, seemingly the last ragged company of Romantics, fell, ignobly, in the late 1950s. Rationality demonstrated that meaning cannot be subjective either; Romanticism inevitably collapses into mere nihilism.
Meanwhile, rationality had turned its guns inward. During the first half of the century, rational certainty destroyed itself—in philosophy, mathematics, and science. Not only had it obliterated all other sources of meaning, rationality finally demonstrated its own meaninglessness.
Then what? asked the founders of the countercultures, in the 1960s. Rationality had been exhausted. All possible rational bases for systems had been tried, and had failed. Also, scientific rationality was apparently to blame for all the Twentieth Century horrors: the World Wars, loss of Christian faith, rampant materialism, ecological devastation, abortion, and nuclear weapons. Anyway, meaning obviously does exist, so if rationality says it’s neither objective nor subjective, it must just be wrong.
Reinventing religion: anti-rationalism as the cure
Well, this is easy! Reject rationality, and recover meaning from its most salient source: religion. (In fact, rational analysis shows that eternalism is wrong. If eternalism is misunderstood as the only defense of meaning, any serious attempt to rescue it must reject rationality.)
Unfortunately, Mainline Protestantism—America’s dominant religion—could not do the job. It had been modernized, remade for compatibility with the dictates of rationality, and thereby drained of most of its meaning. The 1920s fundamentalist vs. modernist war was about this; the fundamentalists lost then. But they were right, in some sense. The modernists were on a slippery slope to secularism, and Mainline Protestantism became a hollow shell of hypocrisy, pretense, and going through the motions.
In the 1950s, religious commitment, despite its high levels, was superficial and largely a matter of vogue rather than conviction. Most self-proclaimed believers had little knowledge of the teachings of the Bible. To be a member of a mainline church was more a matter of adhering to convention born of the desire for social belonging. Churches were functioning mainly as social and civic clubs.3
So both countercultures constructed new, anti-rational religious movements to provide the meaningfulness Christianity had lost. The monist counterculture rejected Christianity in favor of “Eastern religion” and New Age nonsense. (Both these were mostly vintage-1800 German Romantic Idealism in disguise.) The dualist counterculture replaced rationalized mainline Christianity with anti-rational fundamentalist, charismatic, and dispensationalist alternatives.4
All these new religions promoted wacky mythologies: reincarnated space-faring priests from Atlantis bearing monist mystical wisdom; or the dispensationalist Tribulation and Rapture that separate the sheep from the goats. Such myths are defiant statements of anti-rationalism, putting you unambiguously outside the pale of the mainstream systematic worldview. Once you have publicly asserted your belief in holistic chakra rebalancing therapy, or young earth creationism, you are fully committed to simply ignoring everything rationality says. These “beliefs” are shibboleths that demonstrate your allegiance to the countercultural tribe, and rejection of the previous, systematic mode.
In this page’s analysis, what matters in the new religions is not their “beliefs,” but their practices.5 In particular, this page looks at the goals of those practices, which was to re-form the self, and to cure the body by curing the spirit. The efficacy of these quasi-magical technologies of personal transformation and faith healing was dubious. Having already committed to believing nonsense made it easier to go along with new absurdities.
Although the myths were untrue, they were at least partly functional in keeping new versions of systematic eternalism going. Despite anti-rationalism, the overall structure of justification was left largely intact in the countercultural mode. The countercultures were still more-or-less coherent systems, and still mostly made sense. As systematic reform movements, they retained legacy “becauses,” left over from systematic mode at its peak, and added new ones. However, there were now also unapologetic gaps that no one felt a need to fill, other than with emotional fantasies.
(Three decades later, in the atomized mode, structure finally disintegrated, coherence was lost, and nothing made sense other than in an emotional, associative way.)
The subjective turn and the end of “organized religion”
External, systematic duties are central to traditional religion. For 1920s fundamentalists, religious practice meant sitting on a hard bench, listening to sermons on ascetic morality, sin, and damnation. By the 1970s, nobody wanted that anymore.
The countercultures’ new religious movements were all about me. They took a “subjective turn,” toward internal personal mental states, particularly non-rational ones such as emotions and “experiences.”6 This was explicit in the monist counterculture; probably that is so widely known that I need not detail it here. On the dualist side, some Christian leaders resisted the subjective turn, but many adopted it covertly, and overall the Christian Right mostly succumbed in time. This is less well-known, so I’ll sketch some main aspects.7
The subjective turn accelerated centuries-old trends: Protestant interiority, Enlightenment individualism, and Romantic emotionalism. Especially the last: the countercultures developed a renewed Romanticism, which simply ignored rationality instead of fighting it. (I will trace the historical roots of both countercultures in Romanticism later.)
The religions of both countercultures downplayed objective, external moral criteria. They replaced rules and judgements with a view of ethics as flowing from the individual conscience, “being authentic to your true Self,” subjective feelings of compassion, and “doing what feels right in your heart.” And so: “Phrased in the language of psychology, sinfulness was discussed in terms of therapeutic maladjustment, rather than as the transgression of divine commands.”8
Countercultural Christianity retained some of the rhetoric of moral absolutism from its 1920s Fundamentalist roots. This seems to have been a major aspect of its appeal. There was much talk about Biblical inerrancy, and the Bible as the source of morals; but, for the most part, the counterculture was morally undemanding in practice.9 It placed an extraordinary, almost exclusive emphasis on sexual morality; and particularly condemned sexual transgressions of sorts that its adherents were unlikely to be tempted to.10 This enabled enjoyably self-righteous judgement of Those Horrible People In The Other Tribe (monist counterculturalists).
More generally, the specifics of traditional religion were unappealing, and so they were simply dropped. (This, at the same time the Christian Right was marketing itself as the guardian of tradition.) Subjective individualism was incompatible with Christian doctrine. Most supposed Christians were mainly ignorant of the basic tenets of their religion, and would reject them if they knew about them.11 So doctrine and liturgy were downplayed, with only a few key points retained.12
Subjective individualism was also incompatible with hierarchical authority and institutional traditions, so those disintegrated.13 This was consonant with the American individualism and Protestant anti-clericalism that had allowed for sectarian innovation for centuries. However, the countercultural era took it to new extremes: a “choose-your-own-Jesus mentality” or “cafeteria Christianity.”14
The innumerable Protestant sects had mainly defined their differences in terms of arcane details of abstract theology. Once everyone stopped preaching that stuff, the boundaries collapsed.15 Everyone hates “organized religion”, so countercultural Christianity developed a new social mode, featuring non-denominational churches; decentralized, unstructured communities; and ecumenical parachurch organizations whose lines of authority mimicked secular NGOs rather than traditional religious hierarchy. These achieved unprecedented economy of scale by appealing to Evangelical Christians regardless of sectarian affiliation. Generally, too, they gave people what they wanted, rather than demanding of people what traditional religion required.
Re-enchanting the self
Both countercultures saw the misery of modern life as due partly to inadequate selves. Both used religion as a therapeutic tool for re-forming the self to better cope. Both promoted personal transformation through magical, anti-rational, and supernatural methods. Both promised ecstatic personal fulfillment through direct experience of the divine. Both promised substantial material benefits, to be delivered after the self was properly restructured.
Both promised a better self, featuring self-actualization, self-affirmation, self-awareness, self-compassion, self-confidence, self-definition, self-discovery, self-esteem, self-expression, self-fulfillment, self-help, self-purification, self-realization, self-revelation, and self-transcendence.
Evangelicalism aligned Christian faith with the Holy Grail of the affluent society: self-realization. Unlike the classic bourgeois Protestantism of the 19th century, whose moral teachings emphasized avoidance of worldly temptation, the revitalized version promised empowerment, joy, and personal fulfillment. A godly life was once understood as grim defiance of sinful urges; now it was the key to untold blessings.16
In the face of the difficulty of conforming to an objective moral code, the countercultures sought to instill subjective compassion (for one’s own tribe, at least): an ethics of emotionalism. A moral person was now a happy, self-aware, psychologically well-adjusted one.
The Puritan virtues, required to conform to harsh external norms, were quietly dropped: self-abnegation, self-denial, self-discipline, self-doubt, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and self-surrender.
Promises of unity, authenticity, and ecstasy
The modern contrast between the systematic/public and communal/private worlds produced fractured selves, because you had to be different people in different contexts. Both countercultures sought to dissolve the public/private boundary, and to heal the divided self. In fact, they promised that the self could be unified altogether, replacing the broken ego with the True Self. That might unify even further: with the divine.17
This required supernatural technologies—which the countercultures promised to supply.
Where the systematic mainstream culture required hypocrisy, the countercultures promised authenticity. Where the systematic economy imposed brutal regimentation, the countercultures promised to restore spontaneity and freedom. Finding the authentic, spontaneous True Self was a major project,18 for which both countercultures offered magical tools.
In the face of the disenchantment of the world, and loss of religious certainty, the countercultures promoted ecstatic personal experience of the sacred.
Epistemologically, evangelical revivalism, with its reliance on the immediacy of the divine, faith in intuitive knowledge, pursuit of self-purification and holy living, and desire for a profound personal conversion experience, resembled closely the spiritual aspirations of the sixties movements. Rooted in transcendentalist and romantic conceptions of knowledge, countercultural thinking regarded truth as the result of intense, unmediated, and pre-rational experiences that dissolved the rationally constructed dualism of subject and object and revealed the unity behind fragmented existence.19
Both countercultures developed technologies for provoking altered states of consciousness, or intense emotional engagement, in which adherents found—or thought they found—access to the numinous.
Psychedelic drugs, understood as providing transcendent non-rational insight as well as orgiastic ecstasy, were hugely important in the development of the monist counterculture. The Human Potential Movement turned the quasi-medical private practice of psychotherapy into quasi-religious public performances that resembled Christian revival meetings—and, increasingly, vice versa. The New Age offered consciousness transformation through endlessly diverse methods such as meditation, past-life regression, channelling, yoga, biofeedback, and self-hypnosis.
Before the Twentieth Century, Christianity was mostly about conduct and belief, not experience. This was very much true of American Fundamentalism, which is where the core leadership of the dualist counterculture came from. The idea of “religious experience” is Romantic, dating from the late 1700s, but it remained marginal in Christianity up to the 1980s. At that point, the fundamentalists reluctantly folded aspects of “charismatic” Pentecostalism into the new countercultural religion.
Charismatic Christianity features intensely emotional worship, emphasizing individual experience, spontaneous singing and dancing, and being “slain in the Spirit” (falling to the floor in religious ecstasy). It empowers supposedly-supernatural practices including “speaking in tongues,” divine healing, prophesy, exorcism and “spiritual warfare,” and (in some churches) miracles such as snake-handling and drinking poison without ill effects.20
Both countercultures fetishized concepts of a definitive, personal religious event. Supposedly this was an initial, overwhelming, dramatic, emotional religious experience, which lasts only a few minutes to a few days, but which sets in motion an unstoppable process of internal transformation. That is gradual and less intense, but spreads and deepens, and eventually results in a complete reconfiguration of the self that brings it into conformity with the Ultimate Truth or Cosmic Plan.
In the monist counterculture, this was often called “Enlightenment,” and supposedly came from some sort of “Eastern religion” like “Zen.”21 In the dualist counterculture, it was the “conversion experience,” “being born again,” or “baptism with the Holy Spirit.”22 In the mid-’80s, nearly half of Americans claimed to have been Born Again—probably even more than had been Enlightened.
Promises of this-worldly benefits
God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problem that arises, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves.23
Traditional religion mainly devalued the actual, material and social world, in favor of another, transcendent one, that might be reached in the afterlife or through mystical means. The religions of both countercultures paid lip service to transcendence, but marketed their pragmatic value in this world. Both countercultures promised that you could improve your material and social circumstances by reworking your self. De facto, they celebrated hedonism—within bounds—and (especially on the right) enthusiastic consumption of the fruits of the capitalist market economy.24
New Age quackery and Christian faith healing, both operating more on the soul than the body, could cure diseases without limit. Religions on both sides promised economic success through magical means.
Evangelicals increasingly identified with the materialistic and individualistic trajectories of American society. They abandoned the humility and self-doubt of their Puritan forebears for a therapeutic Christianity that primarily asked “what can God do for you?”
Christian practice became less associated with self-denial, awareness of sin, and tough moral codes than with health, business success, and self-esteem. Conversion came to mean psychological healing. Sermons explained how faith empowered people and helped them become more affluent and better integrated. Churches presented themselves as providers of spiritual and community resources for personal and family needs.
Lifestyle churches showcased religion as useful for personal and social ends, rather than as an expression of devotion to God. By emphasizing self-help, rather than sin and damnation, faith became a means of social adjustment in this life, rather than a preparation for life after death. The countercultural construction of the converted self matched the normative requirements of consumerist market society.25
Assessment: shooting the wrong horse
Rationality was never the problem with the systematic mode. The fault actually laid in eternalism. The countercultures attacked the wrong one. Founded on this misunderstanding, it is not surprising that the countercultural religions were mostly stupid and harmful. That said, they were honest efforts to solve serious problems, and their legacies are not all bad.
The countercultural project of resolving the disconnect between self and society mostly failed, at both ends. That is because it left intact the structure of their relationship, tinkering only with reforms in each separately. In fact, by exaggerating both individualism and collectivism, it made the conflict starker than before.
At the self end, religious leaders promised revolutions in consciousness that would bring about profound personal and social transformation. If many monist counterculturalists had succeeded in seeing through subject/object duality, and always acted from non-rational awareness of the connectedness of all things, then the Age of Aquarius might indeed be upon us. If many dualist counterculturalists had succeeded in accepting the infilling of the Holy Spirit, and always acted from non-rational awareness of the will of God, then the Rapture might indeed be imminent.
But this turned out to be mostly wishful thinking. Available consciousness-transformation methods were less powerful than hoped. Mostly, all the religions accomplished was a change in the contents of consciousness—“beliefs”—not in its structure or mode of being. Counterculturalists adopted some new mythology, and many enjoyed transient non-ordinary experiences brought on by drugs, conversion, or ritual. Few selves transformed significantly and durably.
Intelligent advocates of the countercultural religions—both monist and dualist—might say that they should not be judged by their least rigorous presentations, by populist distortions, or by the effects of their superficial appropriations by the clueless and uncommitted. I agree, if the criterion is the usefulness of the religion to a sincere and intelligent seeker. Thinkers from both countercultures offer valuable insights: Carlos Castaneda and Francis Schaeffer, Starhawk and Rick Warren.
However, here I am concerned with cultural history: the countercultures’ effect on the population at large. Some of that was beneficial:
In both countercultures, anti-rationalism legitimized temporary escapes from grim systemic regimentation, into ecstatic communal altered states.
Religious methods did help many counterculturalists develop greater psychological sophistication (even as many others regressed into pre-rational idiocy).
The “morality wars,” although profoundly harmful to American public discourse, made more people aware of meta-ethical questions, and helped some develop a more sophisticated ethical stance.
Some non-rational religious methods, pursued with sufficient tenacity, may indeed bring about significant, long-lasting change.
Overall, though, the countercultures’ anti-rationality and subjectivism undermined effective systematic understandings, methods, and institutions. (I assume readers of Meaningness understand why this was harmful, so I need not elaborate.)
Originally, both countercultures’ new religious movements attracted many intelligent, accomplished people, because they seemed to offer plausible solutions to the nihilism of the systematic mainstream. Gradually, smart people figured out that they were nonsense and left. As the countercultures faded, most other adherents shook off the silliest parts. By the mid-’90s, both the New Age and Fundamentalism were widely seen as “religions for losers.” This has somewhat limited the damage done.
Rationality after counterculturalism
In the next mode of meaningness, subcultures, having abandoned the failed quest for ultimacy and universality, did not need to take any particular position on rationality. Most neither reaffirmed rationality nor harmed it further. We’ll see, though, that subculturalism developed a new structural approach to the self/society mismatch. If fully implemented, it might make the value of rationality more obvious, and the emotional reasons for opposing rationality less compelling.
Tent in snow with disco ball
Now is the winter of rationality’s disco tent
Unfortunately, subculturalism failed, and our present atomized mode abandons coherence altogether. Without any means for structuring relationships among ideas, rationality is impossible. This could eventually be disastrous. However, unlike the countercultural mode, the atomized one is not against rationality; just incapable of it.
I hope and believe there is an opportunity for the fluid mode to reclaim a relativized, non-foundational rationality. The fluid mode explains that rationality is correct that meaning can be neither objective nor subjective, but points out a third alternative that preserves meaning and thereby avoids nihilism. Its meta-rational perspective appropriates rationality as a collection of often-useful, but not ultimate, tools for co-creating meanings.
How Ken Wilber and Integral Theory Leave Out Justice
May 27, 2015
by Joe Corbett
Recently, Jeff Salzman celebrated his 100th pod-cast on current world events in his weekly broadcast “The Daily Evolver” at Integral Life by inviting Ken Wilber to join him as a guest. Jeff begins his talk with an obligatory salutation to the Good, the Beautiful, and the True (“the big three”), thus setting the stage and drawing the lines for what is to come, namely, a discussion of current events that is entirely devoid of any structural analysis or acknowledgement of social institutions and the prevailing forms of justice within society. This glaring omission of the L-R quadrant of Justice is typical of Jeff’s discussions, as it is of the discussions of all those in the inner-circle of Wilber-speak who say volumes about what they stand for by what they don’t say. But if integral means anything it means including a discussion of all four quadrants, not just three. By continuing to announce “the big three” without Justice, the inner-circle (and the founding members of the integral movement no less!) continues to fail at being truly, fully integral — better than “half-ass” as Ken accuses common wisdom of, but still only three-quarters-ass, and a “broken humanity” to boot without Justice on the horizon of our awareness.
The consequence of failing to acknowledge the lower-right quadrant as the dimension of Justice is no less than an absence of an integral political agenda to mobilize the members and adherents of integral philosophy into a unified organization promoting the ideas and goals of a more beautiful, good, truthful, and just world. Without the vocabulary to properly articulate and frame what’s in the AQAL model it cannot be properly and fully enacted. Discontentment and failure of the movement as a whole is sure to follow without its full realization as a truly integral theory and practice, and that must start by lifting the veil of omission in the Wilber-speak of “the big three”. The silence of integral leaders on the dimension of Justice is deafening, and it reflects similarly how “middle-way” liberals proclaim allegiance to progressive values, but then won’t talk about the role of the apparatuses of power and money in preventing those values from being realized. Which leads me to the next question, are integral leaders at Integral Life and elsewhere corrupt in their own way, just as politicians and others are who walk the line between their donating client/patrons and the authentic interests of truth, beauty, goodness, and justice?
Let me now illustrate how not naming the L-R quadrant as Justice, the inter-objective political and economic relations of society, distorts the articulation of a proper integral analysis and ultimately falsifies its vision and conclusions. In their talk, Wilber and Salzman speak as if the development and expression of consciousness takes place in a vacuum, without social and historical context and free of the distorting influences of power and money. No consideration is given in their analysis to how institutional structures of power and money (media, schools, religion, the corporate-military-police-state) systematically prevent and retard human development. You would think that the founding figure of the integral brand would have learned his lesson from Habermas, but I guess not. How power/money shapes, inhibits, and distorts the development of human consciousness is not even given a passing mention, and this is astounding considering the discussion is coming from leading figures of the integral movement who purport to be concerned about improving human development at large through an integral understanding of its formation and dynamics. Do you really think the corporate-media has little or no influence in holding back the development of human consciousness and society, such that you don’t even need to mention it once? Come on, guys!!
Instead of a structural analysis of the historical and relational obstacles to human development, in their discussion of the Middle East we get a static and essentialist view of ethnocentric tribesmen as little boys with dangerous modern weapons who need to be stopped (you guessed it) by means of dangerous modern weapons. No mention is given to how American foreign policy has contributed and continues to contribute to the interior formation of “terrorists”. Ken does mention, echoing Thomas Friedman, how the Arabs have used oil as a crutch to buy their way around interior development, but he fails to mention that this is the same oil that the corporate-military-fossil-fuel-industrial-complex has sought-out in their own designs for a highly centralized hierarchical global dominance. But without looking at the role of power/money and its effects on global social justice, such contrarian perspectives become invisible, even impossible. So, Ken and Jeff, if we can’t let 7 year olds (with ego based self-esteem) have missiles, then are we to let 16 year olds (with striver-achiever based self-esteem) have them? This kind of questioning is precluded from their a-historical and uncritical analysis.
Wilber also launches into a discussion of the totalitarian forms of western Marxism that arose in China and the Soviet Union, “strangely putting a clamp on the magic-mythic levels” in those countries, even though it is well understood that this is what the leading secular intellectuals of orange-green would naturally do to make their operations more efficient. In the case of Europe and the West, religion (the magic-mythic level) was more organically fused to the leading intellectuals, and it could also be used for control and distraction of the population in the interests of the orange ruling classes, not only for the efficiency of a secular imperialist-state but for the efficiency and valorization of private enterprise. Furthermore, in this context Wilber fails to mention that corporations are basically private tyrannies, and in western capitalism they constitute the vast majority of the economy. These private tyrannies also have overwhelming influence in the political process, thus making capitalist societies essentially corporate democracies, or “totalitarian societies with privatized characteristics”, in a variation on China’s “socialism” with Chinese characteristics. But none of these inconvenient truths are visible to an analysis that doesn’t include Justice, a perspective on the inter-objective relations of society, as a critical dimension, and in the case of Ken Wilber it is clearly the blind leading the blind.
Why Eckhart Tolle’s Evolutionary Activism Won’t Save Us
For Tolle the “mind” is a huge problem. He believes the reason that we have poor art, literature and music is because the world is mind dominated. It is in turning off the mind and stopping thoughts that we find salvation. This is however quite problematic. While certainly people can benefit from stilling the mind, to say that a busy mind is the cause of industrial capitalism or pollution is nonsense. There are lots of people with busy and cluttered minds who are on the forefront of social justice movements. Also, there are many people who have done lots of work to quiet their minds and yet still are supportive or in the least complicit with awful things. Inner calm is not synonymous with anti-capitalistic sentiments. Again, he is identifying a particular social/political agenda or outcome with presence. If only we turn off the mind then society will be better. Yet this is absolutely not the case. Members of the Tea Party can benefit from mindfulness just as left-wing anarchists can. Furthermore, creativity (one of the things Tolle values and is a result of stilling the mind) can be accessed by anyone for any purpose. Increasing the amount of creativity in the world won’t support the political ideas of Mr. Tolle. People can be creative in harmful ways.
Tolle believes that when the mind is still one can listen to and be guided by divine inner guidance. However, intuition is not detached from ones social and cultural conditioning. It is most certainly shaped by the values, morals, beliefs, customs and practices that have already influenced the intuitive feeling. The intuition of a KKK member in approaching issues of race is vastly different than the intuition of a Black Panther member. Any sort of universalizing divine quality that Tolle believes will speak to a particular social or political agenda is pure fiction.
What happens when you still a busy mind in Nazi, Germany? You have a still minded person living in and supporting an oppressive state. Same goes for Imperialistic countries like the United States.
As was the case with Zen Buddhism in Japan during and before WWII, the cultivation of stillness, compassion and love can co-exist with the worst fascism and imperialism. The entire institution of Zen Buddhism – the masters, monks and professors supported the cruel and colonizing efforts of the state and emperor. They defended the “wars of compassion,” gorged themselves in killing and advocated merging the small self with the larger self of the state. This was all done within the monastical, academic and ethical systems of Zen Buddhism. Furthermore, most white people in the history of U.S. have believed themselves to be loving, caring, compassionate people. Many have even engaged in spiritual practices for decades now, yet have been complicit in all sorts of racist, bigoted and Imperialistic actions in America. White people aren’t more aware of their own racism or racist past because they’ve cultivated presence or live in the Now.
Queen of Hearts: An Interview with Liz Elliot on Tim Leary and LSD
The following abridged interview is taken from LSD historian Andy Roberts’ new book Acid Drops: Adventures in Psychedelia (Psychedelic Press 2016). Acid Drops is a collection of essays, interviews and fiction dealing with LSD, and includes a forward by MDMA researcher Dr Ben Sessa.
The history of psychedelia, particularly the British experience, has been almost totally written by men. Of the women involved, especially those who were in the thick of it, little has been written either by or about them. A notable exception is Liz Elliot, former partner of Brian Barritt, who was a friend and associate of Tim Leary and author of Whisper: A Psychedelic Time Script, and The Road of Excess. The full story of Liz’s remarkable life will hopefully be revealed in her autobiography.
With Brian Barritt, one of the first recreational users of LSD, she travelled to Algeria to meet Timothy Leary, before moving to Switzerland to live within Leary’s inner circle, where she and Tim fell in love. Afterwards Liz and Brian lived in Amsterdam where they dealt large quantities of psychedelics and other drugs. Also, she knew Michael Hollingshead, had adventures with the Hog Farm, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, met Burroughs and a kaleidoscope of other psychedelic luminaries. Liz’s story, here focussed on her time spent in Leary’s orbit, is above all else a story of a life well lived and exudes a humanity not often found in other reminiscences from the psychedelic heyday.
Andy Roberts: When did you first take LSD, Liz?
Liz Elliot: In 1965. I knew the Incredible String Band, when I lived in Edinburgh, and they gave me my first acid, through a guy called Vern. Me and my future husband went up to Vern’s and he said the Incredible String Band had decided we were ‘ready’, and he gave us this white powder to lick off a record sleeve and told us to go out and enjoy ourselves, cos it was still legal then. Vern lived in a flat that Clive Palmer, and before him, Spike Hawkins used to live in.
What did you think of the experience?
I thought I was in heaven. Before I first took it I’d only ever had marijuana or heroin or speed and I thought it would be a bit like that. Me and Tam, my first husband, went out and raved around Edinburgh, it was the most amazing thing. I walked along going ‘I’m in heaven, this is heaven!’ My mind was completely blown! I was just so happy to find something so wonderful! From being a sort of underground beatnik I felt justified that things had to change and that straight society was not something I wanted to be part of but before I felt a bit guilty about not being part of straight society.
Liz lived in Edinburgh for about six years before moving back to London and living in squats where she eventually got together with Brian Barritt. He was an early adopter of LSD and one of the first few recreational users of the drug in Britain in the early sixties. Barritt spent four years in prison after being caught smuggling four pounds of hash through customs. He was released in 1969, with plans to publish his legendary psychedelic book, Whisper.
How did you and Brian get together, and who had the idea to get in touch with Tim Leary?
I’d met him years before, through the heroin scene, but we didn’t really know each other. Brian had just been released from prison and I met him at a squat party—he helped me find my son’s scooter. We went for a coffee and that’s how I met Brian again. One night when he was staying with me a friend came running in saying ‘Tim Leary’s escaped from jail and he’s with the Black Panthers in Algeria’. So I said, ‘Let’s go, Brian, come on!’.
In January 1970, Tim Leary was sentenced to ten years in prison for possession of a tiny quantity of marijuana in 1968, later increased to twenty years for a 1965 offence. Following a daring escape in September 1970, planned by the notorious political group the Weather Underground, Leary fled the US and was offered a kind of sanctuary in Algeria by militant US Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver.
What was your first meeting with Tim like?
He invited us up to the place he was staying, where Elridge Cleaver virtually had him in prison with someone watching him all the time. Tim and Rosemary were very isolated at the time, they really had nobody so we got on really well with them and they were pleased to have us there. We had dinner with him and Rosemary, and he gave us a matchbox full of acid! That was Orange Sunshine. We ended up staying there for a year!
Was he at that time expanding on his ideas about how acid should be spread widely throughout society?
Not at all. He was a bit confused—as confused as Tim ever got—at the time. Cleaver was making him carry a loaded gun—though he secretly removed the bullets—threatening to grass him up to the Algerian government and have him thrown out of the country and back to Folsom prison. So Tim had all that paranoia and Rosemary was paranoid as hell, so that didn’t help. Cleaver was trying to get him to use ‘shoot to kill’ as a motto and Tim was changing it to ‘aim for life’, and all this was being reported in the American press.
A total clash of ideologies then?
Yeah. They thought, well, we’re both underground figures, we’re both anti-establishment, it’ll work, but you couldn’t have met two more different people!
How would you describe Tim’s personality as you saw it then?
You know that record My Sweet Lord by George Harrison? We listened to that on an old radio while we were in Algeria, coming through the static, when we were tripping, and I heavily associate that record with Tim. He had a charisma that I’d never come across before and I thought he was absolutely amazing. He didn’t really expound any theories as such but over those dinner conversations we’d go into all kinds of things. He never laid it on you what you should believe or anything, but he always had loads of really interesting information of all kinds. Lots of scientific stuff, information about stars, because we could see so many where we were because there was no street lighting.
Were you involved in the magical rite that Tim and Brian took part in?
No. What happened was Tim said he was going to go into the desert and trip with Brian. I think they wanted to get away from the women, Rosemary and I, and have a man’s trip together. So they drove into the desert and had to go to a place called Bou Saada because Tim and Rosemary had been staying in a hotel there for a while and they’d left something there they needed to pick up. It was acid, wrapped up in something, clothes probably. So they went into the desert and although they didn’t know it at the time it was the very same place and probably the very same river bed where Aleister Crowley and Victor Neuberg had carried out their mescaline fuelled full moon ritual in 1909. And it was a big, big, trip and they kind of basically channelled Crowley and Neuberg.
We touched base at Bou Saada. We did not realise until Brian Barritt told us months later that we were following exactly the route which Aleister Crowley took on his search for illumination. The eerie synchronicities between our lives and that of Crowley, which were to preoccupy us, were still unfolding with such precision as to make us wonder if one can escape the programmed imprinting with which we are born. (from Confessions of a Hope Fiend by Timothy Leary)
Ah, so, at the time they didn’t know it was the same place used by Crowley and Neuberg in 1909?
No, no, no. I was reading something later, one of Crowley’s books, and I said to Brian, isn’t that the place where you and Tim took acid? That’s where Crowley and Neuberg were channelling John Dee and Edward Kelly!
How did you come to leave Algeria and where did you go next?
We saw Tim one day and he said he’d been invited by a group of students to speak at a university in Copenhagen and he asked us if we thought he should go. We were worried that the CIA might be waiting for him at the airport, but off him and Rosemary went, to Copenhagen, and we were expecting them back, but they didn’t come back. Then there was this big thing in the Algerian newspapers saying everyone had been waiting for Tim Leary at Copenhagen airport—including the CIA!—but he’d disappeared while on this airplane flight. It turned out the plane had landed in Switzerland, but we didn’t know this and we were really worried for three weeks or so because we had no idea what had happened. Then we got a postcard from Tim saying ‘We’re in Hesse country, come and find us’. So without Tim it was time to leave Algeria, as we had no money. We hitched to the coast, got a ferry across the Med and ended up living in a squat in London for about six months.
How did you re-forge contact with Tim?
We ended up talking to Tim on the telephone, he contacted us via Whisper and Dave Ball. It was amazing. We were trembling and I remember Brian saying to me that it was like talking to a lover. Brian said he’d go over and leave me in the squat with Davie because we only had enough money for him to go, and I thought, oh, that was it. But then a friend told my story to Dr. Jean Hoerni, one of the inventors of the micro-chip and he gave me £500, a lot of money in 1972, to go over and join Tim and Brian. So I got on the phone to Brian, and then Tim came on and said ‘why aren’t you here? I would have paid for you to come’. I didn’t know anything about networking then but I realise now that Hoerni was expecting me to tell Tim about the microchip.
Was there a relationship developing between you and Tim, Liz?
Brian went off to mix the record in Cologne where the main studio was. But Tim hadn’t been able to go because the CIA would have got him. While Brian was away, Tim and I took acid together and fell in love.
Do you think you were in love with Tim before you took acid together, just you and he, or did the acid precipitate it?
It was getting that way, we’d taken acid often before that but Brian was there, so I didn’t really let it happen. But our acid trip wasn’t contrived for that purpose. I went up to see him in the penthouse he was living in in Corona, which was owned by Christoph Wenger, the grandson of Herman Hesse. We were getting on so well, talking, probably talking cosmic talk and I just thought we could expand on it if we were tripping so I asked him if he had any acid, and he went and got some from Dennis downstairs.
It must have been such an intense experience. How did it resolve itself? Did things between you and Tim develop further?
The situation went on for ages. I remember one time driving along with Tim and Brian in the front and Davie and me in the back and Tim turned round and said, ‘Look Liz, you’re going to have to decide between us sooner or later’. I said, ‘yeah, I know’, and didn’t say anything else!
It’s nice to be wanted!
Well, you see, that was the thing. I was having a wonderful time, with two men treating me like I was the Queen of God Knows What! My low self-esteem had disappeared and I felt wonderful, I’d never felt so good in my life and I didn’t want anything to change. It was hard to know what to do because I’m really quite a monogamous person and I’d committed to Brian. I hadn’t finished the scene with Brian to know that I didn’t want him, and I couldn’t just abandon him. Davie was starting to regard Brian as his Dad and yet I was in love with Tim, although Tim was so much older than me! On the other hand Tim had bought me a car, got an air-hostess to bring an ounce of heroin through customs for me (the last thing I wanted at the time) bought toys and got a nanny for Davie. And how could I presume Timothy Leary, the famous psychologist, a Harvard professor, would want me? He’d done a good job boosting my self-esteem. He must have been amazed to find it was so low when he was psycho-analysing me. For that’s what he must have been doing. But he had such a good brain! There was no way to choose between those two at all, I was very confused.
So what happened, how did it end, Liz?
I was supposed to meet Brian in England. Brian had to go back to London to do various things, see about Whisper, get some more clothes, and Brian had gone ahead and asked me to come so I said ok I will. But I went with Tim to meet this guy representing the Austrian government —Tim was thinking of moving to Austria—so we went to St Moritz to see him and stayed in the Bridal Suite of the Palace Hotel. We had dinner with this Carlton Smith guy and arranged for Tim to cross the border, and the senator just assumed I would be with Tim and Tim asked me to go with him. But I’d promised to go to Brian in England so got Tim to take me to the airport and at the ticket gate he said ‘are you sure you want to go?’. I didn’t want to go, but I’d promised, so he said ‘I’ll tell you what we’ll do, I’ll toss a coin, you choose’. I think I chose heads and I would stay, tails and I would go, so he tossed the coin and it came out heads and he said ‘well, you’ve got to stay’.
“The Fire and the Tale” by Giorgio Agamben
At the end of his book on Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem tells the following story, which he learnt from Yosef Agnon:When the Baal Schem, the founder of Hasidism, had a difficult task before him, he would go to a certain place in the woods, light a fire and meditate in prayer; and what he had set out to perform was done. When a generation later, the Maggid of Meseritz was faced with the same task, he would go to the same place in the woods, and say: “We can no longer light a fire, but we can pray.” And everything happened according to his will. When another generation had passed, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov was faced with the same task, [and] he would go to the same place in the woods, and say: “We can no longer light a fire, nor do we know the secret meditations belonging to the prayers, but we know the place in the woods, and that can be sufficient.” And sufficient it was. But when another generation had passed and Rabbi Israel of Rishin was called upon to perform the task, he sat down in his golden chair, in his castle, and said: “We cannot light the fire, we cannot speak the prayers, we do not know the place, but we can tell the story of all this.” And, once again, this was sufficient.
It is possible to read this anecdote as an allegory of literature. In the course of its history, humanity moves further and further away from the sources of mystery and, little by little, loses the memory of what tradition taught it about the fire, the place, and the formula—but of all this men can still tell the story. What remains of mystery is literature, and “that can be sufficient,” the rabbi comments with a smile. The meaning of this “can be sufficient” is, however, not easy to grasp, and perhaps the destiny of literature depends precisely on how we understand it. If we simply understand it in the sense that the loss of the fire, the place, and the formula is somehow progress and that the result of this progress—secularization—is the liberation of the tale from its mythical sources and the establishment of literature—now autonomous and adult—in a separate sphere—that is, culture—then that “can be sufficient” really becomes enigmatic. It can be sufficient—but to what? Is it credible that we can be satisfied with a tale that is no longer in relation with the fire?
After all, by saying “we can tell the story of all this,” the rabbi claimed exactly the opposite. “All this” means loss and forgetting, and what the tale tells is indeed the story of the loss of the fire, the place, and the prayer. Each tale—all literature—is, in this sense, a memory of the loss of the fire.
Literary historiography has by now accepted that the novel derives from mystery. Kerényi and, after him, Reinhold Merkelbach have demonstrated the existence of a genetic link between pagan mysteries and the ancient novel, of which Apuleius’s Metamorphosis offers us a particularly convincing document (here the protagonist, who has been transformed into an ass, finds in the end salvation by means of a literal mystery initiation). This nexus is manifested by the fact that, exactly like in mysteries, we see in novels an individual life that is connected with a divine or in any case superhuman element, whereby the events, episodes, and vicissitudes of a human existence acquire a meaning that overcomes them and constitutes them as a mystery. Just like the initiated—attending in the dimness of Eleusis the mimicked or danced evocation of the abduction of Kore by Hades and her annual reappearance on Earth in spring—penetrated mystery and found in it the hope of having his life saved, so the reader, following the series of situations and events that the novel weaves pitifully or ferociously around its character, somehow participates in his destiny and, at any rate, introduces his own existence to the sphere of mystery.
Gordon Todd Skinner
Skinner’s mother, a Tulsa business woman named Katherine Magrini, married Gary Lee Magrini. Skinner’s stepfather was a special criminal agent with the U.S. Treasury Department, which, at the time, handled scores of drug investigations. Federal agents visited the Magrini home regularly. From an early age, Skinner learned that he could dabble in the world of drugs right under the government’s nose. Either nobody cared, or nobody noticed.
Skinner tried stronger drugs on his friends, studying them like insects. He was known to bring a tank of nitrous oxide to school so he and his pals could inhale in the bathroom between classes. One weekend, according to a classmate, Skinner experimented on another student, dosing him heavily with something he’d conjured. The teen was later found in front of a full-length mirror, naked and talking to his reflection. He tried to negotiate a cocaine deal with an oak tree.
“I was just a scientist saying, ‘Try this out.’ And unfortunately, they were all just guinea pigs in line,” Skinner recalls. “Some of them thought it was great, and some of them don’t talk to me to this day over it.”
Religion and psychedelics enjoy a marriage over millennia. One of the most evocative myths pertains to Soma, or Chandra, the havoc-creating moon lord of plants in Vedic Brahmanism. “Let Indra drink, O Soma, of thy juice for wisdom,” the Rig Veda proclaims. The ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson equated Soma with the psychedelic mushroom amanita muscaria, the same mushroom that appears in Siberian folklore and ancient Central American pottery. The use of mushrooms, fungi, and other plant-related hallucinogens permeate indigenous spiritual traditions, but it wasn’t until 1938 that a Swiss scientist, Albert Hofmann, tried synthesizing ergotamine (an extract of ergot fungi) and wound up with lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. Reports quickly spread about its mind-altering effects. Even the U.S. government was curious.
Dr. Frank Olson, a biological warfare specialist, stayed at the Hotel Statler in New York City. Unbeknownst to him, the Central Intelligence Agency dosed him with enough LSD to seriously impair his mental state. On Saturday, November 28, 1953, Olson’s trip ended when he was pushed from, thrown out, or jumped out of the glass window of his room and plummeted 10 floors down. The Frederick News-Post said Olson was depressed and complained of ulcers. Today, we know his death was the result of a covert CIA project known as MK-Ultra, which dosed unwitting men, women, and children with LSD for scientific research. The program was declassified in 2001, but nobody knows how many died as a result of the experimentation. Olson’s family settled with the U.S. government for $750,000.
The CIA’s drug experimentation projects took root post-WWII. Initially they focused on discovering new techniques for mind control, torture, and brainwashing. Similar CIA projects grew in scope and ambition during the 1950s, and included subjects like future counterculture figures such as Ken Kesey, Robert Hunter, and Ted Kaczynski. In his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe documented the transition of LSD into American mainstream culture. By the late 1960s, LSD was on the tips of myriad tongues, with about 20,000 being introduced to the drug annually.
In 1966, a gang of sophisticated, elusive peacenik drug smugglers called “The Brotherhood of Eternal Love” became a prolific supplier of LSD stateside and to soldiers fighting the Vietnam War. Using a retail front called Mystic Arts World in Laguna Beach, California, the Brotherhood began its crusade to deliver LSD to the masses, for the purpose of spiritual enlightenment. Under their auspices, the ingenious chemist Nick Sand produced 3.6 million hits of acid in 1969. His product “Orange Sunshine” was the most popular form of LSD of all time.
When core members of The Brotherhood of Eternal Love were busted in August of 1972, Nick Sand was among those whose futures were blotted. Rumor had it that a bright, young trust-fund kid named Leonard Pickard, also an aspiring chemist, donated to Sand’s legal battle. In 1976, Sand was convicted and sentenced to 15 years. He appealed his case on the technicality that he actually produced a close variant of LSD called ALD-52, which was legal at the time. Sand was released on a $50,000 bail and disappeared into the ether. Two years later, Pickard, then a student at Stanford, was charged with attempting to manufacture a controlled substance.
In the mid-to-late ‘70s, LSD production was interrupted by law enforcement. Availability remained comparably low for the next 30 years. The controlled substance was, it seemed, under control. Cocaine-fueled hustlers discoed across illuminated dance floors, Elvis left the building with 14 different compounds in his body, and Nancy Reagan coached children to “Just Say No.” Meanwhile, across the desert, in the middle of the country, a new maestro of the underground drug industry was loosed upon the land.
While Skinner lab-ratted his pals at Cascia Hall, at home he was submerged in a federal alphabet soup. Skinner’s stepfather, Magrini, earned an appointment as criminal enforcement agent for the Internal Revenue Service, and the front door of the Magrini house, according to Skinner, revolved with the constant stream of G-men from the FBI, DEA, IRS, and CBP. Many of them were soldiers in the War on Drugs, a governmental prohibition campaign that was coined by President Richard Nixon and escalated by President Ronald Reagan. In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which poured an additional $1.7 billion into funding the War on Drugs.
“They all came to our house and ate at our parties—I grew up with these guys. They talked shop non-stop,” says Skinner, calling from prison now. “The FBI guys would ask me to look into stuff for them, and I did this on a regular basis.”
Skinner is serving life plus 90 years for kidnapping-related charges. His cellmates refer to him as Dr. Lecter. He distrusts the FBI more than any other agency, and warns that the line is being monitored and that it might be blocked, because “that’s how they do me here.”
...On the witness stand in 2003, Gordon Todd Skinner was 39 years old and speaking like a priest of Soma. But earlier in his spiritual journey, Skinner was seduced into another underworld, one of unholy adventures, a world where drugs were both faith and works. As a young man, Skinner partook in the most secretive of all arts. He became a government informant.
Skinner’s first notable case came in 1983 by way of a money-laundering scheme; he initiated the case by calling Agent McLean with the FBI. In a later and more significant operation, Skinner helped HIDTA, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Group #2 out of Florida (primarily managed by CBP), set up a complex sting operation with a man named Boris Olarte who was in the federal witness protection program. In 1989, Olarte was then used to extradite and arrest José Rafael Abello Silva, a Columbian cocaine smuggler. His arrest contributed to the downfall of the Medellín drug cartel. As he informed, Skinner gathered intelligence on how government agencies dealt with drugs. Work as an informant turned out to be great training for a person interested in the trade, but it wasn’t enough to help Skinner avoid prosecution.
Earlier that year, Skinner was arrested and jailed in New Jersey for distribution of marijuana. Skinner’s bail was set at one million dollars. While serving time, he met fellow inmate William Hauck, who was incarcerated for a sex offense. Through the ‘90s, Hauck surfaced intermittently in Skinner’s life, usually as a truck driver for Katherine Magrini’s company, but sometimes as an accessory to Skinner’s drug-related transactions. Skinner and Hauck were never really friends, perhaps because Skinner suspected Hauck of having longstanding ties to government agencies. Skinner’s suspicions remained benign, until Hauck figured much larger in Skinner’s life.
The Silo Testimonies
Todd Skinner wasn’t just a psychedelic spiritualist, nor was he merely a government informant. He was business-minded, and he understood the high demand for entheogens. If he could just find the right chemist—someone who knew how to set up a sophisticated lab where LSD could be produced—the possibilities and the profits were boundless. Alfred Savinelli, a friend of Skinner’s and part of the entheogen community, recalls when Skinner asked him if he knew where he could meet an elusive, gifted chemist named Leonard Pickard. Rumor had it Pickard was advancing the field of LSD chemistry. Savinelli knew Pickard. He felt Skinner’s ambition and Pickard’s naïveté would make a disastrous combination. Salvinelli shrugged Skinner off.
Pickard was still around, just not very visible. After serving time in the ‘70s for possession and manufacturing, Pickard seemingly vanished from the scene, until he was jailed in the late ‘80s. He did five years for manufacturing. Later, word got around that Pickard was in the DEA’s pocket.
Throughout the 1990s, Pickard continued moving in hallucinogenic circles. While taking classes at UC Berkeley, Pickard attended a series of potlucks—dinner conversations that centered on consciousness studies. He lived in a Zen center, earned a master’s degree from Harvard, and studied the migration of LSD use. Late in the decade, his associates claimed to see the professorial Pickard dealing with large amounts of loot. Pickard explained away any secretive behavior as related to his work for the FBI, DEA, and other agencies.
The similarities between Pickard and Skinner were extensive: both were entheogen enthusiasts, capable clandestine chemists, lawbreakers, and informants for the government. When they met each other at the 1997 Entheobotany Shamanic Plant Science Conference in San Francisco, it was as though their convergence were ordained by a fungal power.
“When I met him, [Skinner] was using exotic structures every week or every few days,” Pickard told Rolling Stone. “He loved to eat ayahuasca and its various analogues.”
Pickard says that Skinner was offering research grants at the conference, which piqued his pockets.
“Basically I just made up quite a story to [Pickard] and told him that we could possibly get some money from [billionaire Warren] Buffett,” Skinner later revealed on the witness stand. “And I had quite a bit of fun with that one, but it really, in the end, upset him quite a bit.”
Pickard and Skinner met several times at Skinner’s house in Stinson Beach, California (its former occupant was Jerry Garcia). It was a party pad frequented by insiders of the entheogen world and the perfect place for Pickard and Skinner to talk business.
San Francisco's hippie dream soon became a nightmare with endless hassles from cops, hardhats, bikers, and black residents of the Fillmore district, who resented the hippies' encroachment (a preview of sorts for the relentless gentrification that would later drive much of SF's black population out of the city).
On the street, LSD was giving way to STP, a cut-rate hallucinogenic amphetamine with a boatload of negative side effects, and plain old bathtub speed.
Bands started playing faster and louder and longer as the new drugs took hold, setting the stage for early heavy metal.*
R.Crumb, who was there
But speed soon gives rise to paranoia and aggression (it was, after all, manufactured by the Nazis for use by the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe). As the bad vibes festered, many of the more ideological hippies began decamping from the cities and forming communes in rural areas.
Those who stayed behind would be swamped by the tidal wave of Golden Triangle heroin that started flooding American cities at the end of the 1960s.
Kind of like today.
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