“No culture on earth is as heavily narcotized as the industrial West in terms of being inured to the consequences of maladaptive behavior,” Terence McKenna wrote in Food of the Gods, “we pursue a business as usual attitude in a surreal atmosphere of mounting crisis and irreconcilable contradictions.” Denying and repressing a knowledge of certain psycho-actives, while sanctioning others (like opiates, uppers and pain-killers), our legal relationship with drugs is complicated and contradictory to say the least. Of course, “black market” drugs, taken without informed consent, cause even more problems. Thankfully, historical websites like Erowid and the recent, scientific drug research via MAPS and other therapeutic uses for psychoactive compounds has come to light. The tables have turned. Yet, this doesn’t excuse those of us psychonauts who have been exploring altered states of consciousness from “coming out of the psychedelic closet.” That’s why conversations, like this one between long-time Reality Sandwich contributor and author Gabriel D. Roberts and Dr. Ingrid Walker of the University of Washington Tacoma, are critically important. Gabe and Ingrid discuss some of the paradoxical ways we think about psychoactive substances in American culture through fear and embrace.
So why are we afraid? What’s there to fear, exactly, in an altered state? We may fear losing our self, but Ingrid does a phenomenal job pointing out in this interview something she calls “the phenomenology of alterity,” or the different experiences of self we have on different substances, “whether it’s a glass of wine at the end of the night, or a joint.” In American culture, what kind of selves are we allowing ourselves to experience? Alcoholic selves. Opiate selves. Caffeinated and amphetamine selves. The alterity of psychedelics presents us with the profound cultural eruption of many selves and many experiences that are trembling at the cultural gateway, ready to break through and, yes, come out of the psychedelic closet.
Here are a few more highlights from the conversation:
Ingrid: “We’ve been around that drug [LSD] for many many decades, so why are we so afraid of it? Yet, what we’re not afraid of is taking tons of opiates through a pharmaceutical prescription from a doctor, or drinking ourselves to blackout. We’re not afraid of that, yet we’re afraid of this Other experience.”
I: “I teach American Studies, and I study culture. Often I look at the United States and I think: the pathologies, the many pathologies at every level. 30 years from now, 100 years from now, I hope people will just look back and think: what, where they nuts? But instead it’s like we keep ratcheting up. The 60s were jut a point of ‘bursting’ out of that repression… There has got to be another one of those coming soon where people just say enough. Enough of the isolation we’ve created.”
Gabe: “I think that is happening… [I’m] working with Reality Sandwich and Disinfo.com, and Hamilton Morris from VICE. There is a resurgence of sorts. What we’re seeing now is a smarter, cleaner version that doesn’t have the same naïveté that happened in the 60s because there were no leaders… The new kind of revival that we could see has to do with being thoughtful, having research, and really being thoughtful about how we do these things.
I: “How can we have this conversation when we know that addiction is real and abuse is real? Culturally, we will continue to go through these patterns, so that’s not a reason to not give people access to these things. We’re doing it already with legal drugs.”
Learn more about Dr. Ingrid Walker’s research, check out Gabe’s homepage, and read Nese Devenot’s “Declaration of Psychedelic Studies” for further perspectives on psychedelic identity.