Psychedelic Capitalism, The Sacred and Counterculture Visions
For some reason the current discourse around psychedelics feels a lot like the discourse around the web (in its early days) as well as the discourse around mindfulness. In both cases, the subjects have been co-opted by consumerism, but not entirely consumed by it.
The web was supposed to bring a kind of utopia, and it feels like only the faintest vestiges of that vision still remain. But those corners of the web are wonderful, and powerful in their own ways. As for mindfulness, corporations have latched onto a self-serving notion of it, a way to wring more out of people. They have framed mindfulness practice as an intervention to help employees cope, but cope with what? With the problems of modern life that corporations subject us to in the first place. But this co-opting hasn't destroyed what's actually valuable about a true mindfulness practice.
Modern corporate/consumer culture has perverted much the web, and embraced a perversion of mindfulness practice, and I can easily imagine the same thing happening with psychedelics. I think it's inevitable that psychedelics will be co-opted and perverted by modern corporate/consumer culture. But this perversion will exist simultaneously with truer and deeper engagement with psychedelics.
It will be important to have people like you around to help the rest of us navigate between these and stick to the healthy paths.
Thank you for this great piece. Balanced and nuanced as always with RW. It was strange to see the painting by Mark Henson, hell future to the left, paradise lost to the right, an almost exact "copy" of a painting I saw when I was crossing the border between Zambia and Malawi, 2003. Probably a copy of Hensons work.
MAPS is about to be captured, if it hasn't already. Listen to the Joe Rogan interview with Rick Doblin: https://www.jrepodcast.com/episode/joe-rogan-experience-1964-rick-doblin/, in particular the way Rick squirms and wriggle when they start talking about private equity investment and making money.
well thanks for telling us all of this.
The core intent of capital is the commodification of everything it encounters - whether extrinsic and material or intrinsic and nonmaterial. To illustrate its omnivorous insatiability is to look at it’s global assault and assimilation of cultures needing to be swept away as impediments to private enterprise (capital) from the nineteenth century until our present moment. This blind tyranny of commodification and it’s consequences are universally destructive on every shore it lands upon only to dishevel and break. Indeed, to draw this lesson into our Immediate reality is to experience the so-called professional class, with it’s denial and dismissal of being driven by the need to establish captured markets and create and sustain knowledge monopolies. Learned monopolies available only via the cash nexus of purchasable expertise. What capital creates and reproduces is a world, in brief, of maldistributed ever-growing private wealth accumulation and continuous and accelerating material consumption with death-dealing outcomes to nature and human nature.
To reflect on Amerika, the pre-eminent historical illustration of consumer culture rapaciousness; creating it’s blend of ever increasing alienated lives comprised of hopelessness, loss of meaning, lack of fulfilment; steeped in loneliness and psychic immiseration is to witness the spectre that haunts the world of psychedelia. An economic and material immiseration all but denied and not spoken of in the same breath as the American identification of being exceptional.
Certainly, as their present history emerges into the light of day, that cannot be what they mean as being exceptional. Case in point, they are the world’s only country in which school children are routinely murdered en masse; whole ethnic communities fill its prisons. It’s prisons and the people in them viewed principally as profit-making investment properties worth billions of dollars for their share holders. Indeed, the community of the challenged too are a multi-billion dollar private industry of personal wealth accumulation. This same practice of commodification and private wealth accumulation underlies health care, the mental health industry, hospitals, for-profit substance abuse recovery centres and the newest edge of capital invasion “spirit hacking,” and surveillance capitalism.
The point being, that at it’s very origin Amerika is a nation of hustlers.…people relentlessly focused on naked self-interest. There is simply no question that the majority of Americans live in a materialistic, self-interested way. AlexIs de Tocqueville characterized the fretful, overwrought tenor of American life. It is, he writes, a worried life built of the perpetual chase of a success they will never attain. Their purpose in life is an inchoate material triumph, blindly trusting the delivery of the biggest profit in the quickest time. These are unquiet souls…their way of life unrelenting. Author Francis Grund, in 1826 wrote that “Business is the very soul of an American: he pursues it, not as a means of procuring for himself and his family the necessary comforts of life, but as the foundation of all human felicity,” (happiness). An English visitor commented that he had never “overheard Americans conversing without the world DOLLAR being expressed.
From American life in the 1800s to our present day little has changed about the vaunted “American way of life,” remaining, as exhibited in the nineteenth descriptions, to the current nation of grubs blindly pursuing the “almighty dollar.” As illustrated by contemporary America, being the home of six of world’s wealthiest men; men intent on capturing more wealth while having acquired more than almost half the people on the planet. To think that the commodification of entheogens will not happen is to be blind to this history of materialistic “Western culture,” as the raisin d’être of Being.
This broken culture, broken for centuries, a culture of wars, genocides - the biggest and endless one taking place in both continents of the New World, holocausts, extinction events, intolerance, discrimination, maldistribution of services and goods, institutional violence from the family to the myriad institutions of its social order needs to end. End, so that it is utterly forgotten before it extinguishes this uniquely precious space of evolution. It’s an unspeakably huge cosmos driven by the emergence of greater complexity and greater evolution. If we refuse the invitation, what prevents us is the trivial addiction to pursing only a phantom in our heads - money. As Eddy Grant comments, “Good God!”
Thank you for this article! And the Trojan Horse metaphor seems apt. The path to cannabis legalization was built on the medical benefits of cannabis for cancer patients, chronic pain sufferers, and people with PTSD, among other. As medical approval went forward, legalization for recreational use followed (partly because almost anyone could get a prescription for cannabis in the states where it was medically legal). So the Trojan Horse was Therapeutic Value, and the hidden cargo of warriors was cannabis.
Now we are on a similar path with psychedelic substances, primarily psilocybin, along with MDMA (which is not psychedelic but has demonstrated therapeutic value as well as being popular as a club drug). And, once again, the Trojan Horse is Therapeutic Value. Which is attractive, because that worked with cannabis, but at a deeper level it works because we have become a Therapeutic Society. Any personal difficulty can now be traced, with variable effort, to an antecedent trauma, qualifying the suffering individual for some variety of therapeutic treatment. Persistent Grief is one of the newer pains to be medicalized, and I was amused (if that's the right word) to hear an interviewee defend the addition of Persistent Grief to the psychiatric diagnostic index for the reason that, "If we can't diagnose it as a medical disorder, we can't get insurance companies to pay for treatment." Soon there will be a medical diagnosis for Persistent Procrastination, and I'll be first in line for whatever drugs they have to offer.
I am all in favor of legalizing cannabis (with appropriate guard rails against consumption by children and other inappropriate users). And I am convinced that cannabis is not only safe (when used as directed) but also effective as a medicine for multiple ailments (though perhaps not as many as you local CBD shop would like you to believe). But I see a problem in the fact that Therapeutic Value was used as a catspaw to move cannabis toward recreational use, and the problem is that those in favor of recreational cannabis legalization used a false pretense by piggy-backing onto the Therapeutic Value horse (if that mixture of metaphor is not too disturbing). In other words, medical legalization and recreational legalization should be distinct issues. Now, before you give up on me as a complete pedant, I am getting toward a point, and my point is that Capitalism will find every possible way to commodify anything it encounters. It is not surprising that medical cannabis is commodified, because, after all, it is a medical commodity: something that can be charged to insurance. It has dollar value (and I'm sure we'll see some might profitable cannabis-based medicines, more sooner than later). Now recreational cannabis is already headed toward monopolization by large investors, and small growers/sellers will likely find themselves squeezed out. Thus does capitalism feed itself.
Which brings me back to psychedelics. Like Mr. Beiner, I have benefited beyond measure from my experiences with psychedelics. Those experiences have been life-changing. And I agree with Mr. Beiner that the more important aspect of those experiences lies in the changes of perspective that (under good circumstances) follow from the experiences. And I believe that every adult person should have the opportunity to have those experiences, just as every citizen of Athens had the right to experience the Eleusinian Mysteries. The question for me is: how can this be done without allowing the psychedelic experience to become one more commodity in the giant amusement arcade of modern capitalist culture?
For that I have no easy answer. There are plenty of psychedelic tourists already, paying lots of dollars to travel to exotic places for a dose of ayahuasca, psilocybin, or toad venom. At the same time, the Native American Church has managed to keep its peyote ceremonies out of commodification, and that is partly because peyote remains illegal (and difficult to obtain).
My only conclusion can be that legalization of psychedelics will not, in itself, bring forward any deep cultural change, and in fact psychedelics will be absorbed by the Blob that is Capitalism. Deep cultural change has to come first, and if that cannot be co-opted and commodified then it will be outlawed, with stringent punishments. Because, Capitalism does not appreciate having any competition.
Great article! Very rich! My focus is on transforming the economic system, and I dream of a movement of movements. Mapping the various tribes, identifying shared values and developing a strong new cultural narrative seems equally important in this context. Considering that we are running out of time, maybe a skillfully guided psychedelic session could help to speed up the process.