July 16, 2020
The Drug War Virus at the Institute of Art and Ideasby Ballard Quass
how IAI speakers limit their ideas to those that conform with drug war ideology
Stephen Hawking has said that philosophy is dead, failing to realize, of course, that such a statement is itself philosophical in nature and therefore self-negating. It's as if Hawking had told us that, "General ideas are dead," failing to realize that the claim itself is the most general of all general ideas. Yet after scanning the subject matter of the lectures being offered at IAI, the Institute of Art and Ideas, I almost think that Hawking had a point, albeit in spite of himself.
Despite the institute's lofty-sounding claim to be challenging "the notion that our accepted wisdom is the truth," I cannot find one single IAI lecture that even acknowledges the fact that we live in a scientifically emasculated world, a world in which scientists and philosophers are forbidden to study, let alone use, thousands of psychoactive plants. We live, that is, under the science-defining limits of a drug war in the exact same way that Galileo lived under the science-defining limits of the Church.
It's amazing that this enormous government interference in science, a drug war which tells us what plants we are even allowed to study, should be all but invisible to an organization that claims to be "rescuing philosophy from technical debates... and returning it to big ideas." What idea could be bigger than the fact that the drug war is impeding scientific research that could give us a whole new outlook on human consciousness and the human being's place in the world?
But don't get me wrong. I am not criticizing a lack of IAI lectures about the drug war here. Indeed, I'd rather see no IAI lectures on the drug war at all rather than to have that subject cordoned off into its own little lecture series, as if it had nothing to do with the rest of the world, kind of like a course on basket-weaving or knitting. The problem is not our failure to talk about the drug war: it is our failure to grasp the way that war has limited our very ability to "do science."
This is why I balk at the idea of listening to many of the IAI lectures, despite having previously paid for the opportunity of doing so: the lecture descriptions make it clear that the speakers, for all their academic laurels, have never stopped to consider the role that the drug war has played in limiting their research, and hence their conclusions and outlook, on the topic on which they otherwise purport to be giving us the latest, if not the last and final, authoritative word.
Take Mike Salter's lecture on "Life without Labels: Problems with modern mental health." Surely Mike is going to be talking about the great addiction crisis of our time, the fact that the drug war has limited psychiatry to using highly addictive synthetic drugs from Big Pharma, thanks to which 1 in 4 American women have to take an SSRI or SNRI every day of their life, until death do they part from the psychiatric pill mill. Surely Mike is going to blow the lid off this travesty and call for immediate change.
But the brief course description and bio gives us no sign that Mike Salter is even aware of such a problem. His focus, instead, is on the stigmatization of patients through labeling, a concern that would have been cutting-edge, no doubt, in the 1970s, but seems a little recherche to a veteran 21st-century psych patient like myself, who doesn't mind how you label him if you would just give him a non-addictive psychedelic alternative to the damned expensive and mind-clouding Effexor that he'll otherwise be on for life (having been told by his own psychiatrist that the drug in question is harder to quit than heroin).
In other words, Mike Salter's lecture is meaningless to me because Mike reckons without his host: he is blind to the current situation, possibly because he is so used to the drug war status quo that he considers it to be a kind of normal scientific baseline, and one that therefore does not need to be mentioned when discussing the state of affairs in the real world.
But Mike is not the only IAI speaker who "reckons without his host," who ignores the role that the drug war plays in limiting the scope of his or her presentation on their subject of choice.
To illustrate this fact, I end with a list of three more currently advertised IAI lectures, followed by a brief note explaining how the speaker in question is ignoring the role that the drug war plays in shaping and limiting his or her observations on the topic under consideration.
"How to Help Your Body Help Your Mind," by David Fuller of Rebel Wisdom
David might take exception to me classifying him as a self-help author, but if he is one, then he is in good company when it comes to self-censoring viz the drug war. For the last 50 years, self-help authors have done everything in their power to describe positive feelings and attitudes under the dubious assumption that folks can adopt feelings and attitudes merely by hearing them described in minute and extensive detail. Such authors never point out that the informed use of various psychoactive plant medicines can help one achieve those feelings and attitudes in a few hours. Why not? Because we've all learned our drug war propaganda well: we know that the use of illegal substances can only lead to sorrow and heartbreak, right? (the Vedic religion and the Eleusinian Mysteries not withstanding). And so, like most self-help authors, David ignores such substances as a matter of course, probably not even aware of the fact that he's censoring himself on the topic.
(That's why no one even thinks to protest drug war restrictions in this area because all the authors write as if Mother Nature's meds have nothing to offer us when it comes to self-help, anyway: in other words, they all write as obedient members of a drug war society, with a jaundiced Christian Science view of Mother Nature's plant medicines, enforced by regular drug war propaganda on TV and movies, in which illegal plants are never used for anything except evil.)
"Mechanisms of the Mind by Margaret Boden
Again, the course intro gives no indication that Margaret is going to deal with the role of the drug war in impeding our study of human consciousness and the mind. This is particularly worrying in an AI-obsessed culture, where we are excited about implanting electronic devices into our brain as soon as possible (a la Elon Musk) while completely ignoring the fact that we've been forbidden by law to improve that same brain by nourishing it with psychoactive plant medicine. I don't begrudge today's nerd the option of modifying their brain with electronics, but it speaks volumes about the modern disdain for Mother Nature when we're willing to take those kinds of risks at the same time that we shrink in horror from the idea of improving our brain with plant-based "brain medicines," many of which are non-addictive and almost all of which are far less addictive than Big Pharma antidepressants.
"The Case Against Reality" by Donald Hoffmann
As one familiar with the profound insights to be gained from psychedelic experience, at least under the right conditions, I find it presumptuous for any scientist to draw conclusions on the nature of reality without any reference whatsoever to what Mother Nature's plant medicines seem to want to tell us on this subject. Plato's whole philosophy of the soul was inspired by the psychedelic-fueled Eleusinian mysteries (which lasted for alomst 2,000 consecutive years until tellingly banned by Christian Emperor Theodosius II) and one of the world's earliest religions was founded to praise the metaphysical insights provided by a psychedelic plant. Of course, if Hoffmann truly believes that there's no "there there" when it comes to psychedelic experience, that's fine, but let him say so in order that folks like myself can challenge any misunderstandings which might have led him to that conclusion. Maybe he's fallen for the drug warrior lie par excellence, namely that psychoactive substances somehow start frying the brain the minute that they've been criminalized by politicians (notwithstanding the fact that cocaine sharpened Freud's mind and psychedelics helped Francis Crick identify the DNA helix). We could then suggest to Hoffmann that if any substances "fry the brain," they are the antidepressants mentioned above to which 1 in 4 American women are addicted, those "meds" which were never intended for long-term use and which now appear to conduce to anhedonia in veteran users.
The point is not what Hoffmann thinks about Mother Nature's psychoactive substances: the point is that he ignores the subject entirely, apparently in an act of subconscious censorship, forcing his readers to speculate on how his views of "reality" might have been modified or changed had the author lived in a free world wherein the metaphysical hints from psychoactive substances could have been freely followed up and investigated without the threat of government interference and possible arrest.
No, Stephen Hawking, philosophy is not dead, though you wouldn't know it from checking out the courses at IAI. That said, philosophy is indeed in the thrall of the drug war, which tells modern thinkers both how and how much they are allowed to think on any given subject:
Meditate until you burn a whole in the rug to find the truth, says the drug warrior, but don't use those evil things called drugs to achieve peace and insight. Speculate about the power of metallic implants to turn us all into bionic superhumans, but don't talk about improving human beings with plant medicines. Speculate as wildly as you please about reality, to the point of saying that this very sentence does not exist, but don't you so much as hint that plant medicines can give us insight into the true nature of the world, those plants being pure evil, as we all know, right? Right?
Philosophy is Dead, Stephen? It almost seems like it might be, but I trust it will be revivified once great thinkers (including those speakers featured on IAI) start owning up to their reliance on hidden drug war prejudices about Mother Nature's plant medicines.
Until then, we can say that Hawking was right, albeit for the wrong reason. Or, to paraphrase a line from HP Lovecraft (an author who refused to shun the creative inspiration provided by plant-based medicines):
"I perceive that comic irony has justified Stephen Hawking's words while secretly confuting their flippant meaning."