Miskatonic Manuscript, Q&A part 2

2014 Vin Portrait

Q: Some readers may object to the role played by psychedelic drugs in this series. It seems to me that you strike a middle ground somewhere between “recreational” use and “therapeutic” use, where the drugs serve a purpose in enabling the characters to navigate among various dimensions, or to ascertain hidden truth, vision-quest style. How do you see the entheogens potentially benefiting mankind? In what ways might they be harmful or prone to misuse?

A: Public-opinion polling is a fairly new concept in Egypt, but last year they conducted a poll in Cairo, they asked everyday Egyptians whether they were in favor of the freedom of religion. A vast majority said yes, they favored religious freedom. Then they asked those same respondents whether they approved of the existing law that makes it a serious crime to try to convert a Muslim to Christianity, whether people who hand out Christian Bibles and try to do that should be expelled or put in prison or even executed. Oh yes, they were in favor of that law, too, by a huge margin. Obviously, to most Egyptians “freedom of religion” just means “freedom to be a Muslim”; anything else should still be a crime.

Americans tend to laugh at that. Ha-ha. How pathetic and benighted and small-minded. We think we’re so much more liberal and tolerant and open-minded. Let’s say I go to my congressman’s office, or my local police station, and I talk to someone there who happens to be a Protestant, and I say, “I’m not a Protestant; I’m a Catholic. And I feel I’m in need of some spiritual guidance. I’ve been praying real hard and I hope God will send me some kind of message to help me live a better life, help me to be a better spouse and a better parent. I’m looking for a . . . gee, I can’t think of a better word than a kind of ‘vision,’ a religious experience to put me on a better, more loving and giving life path.

“So what I’m planning to do is fast for two days, to not eat or drink anything but water, tomorrow. Then at dawn, day after tomorrow, I‘m going to attend mass at my church and I’m going to meditate and pray real hard, I’m going to confession and then I’m going to take communion, and I’m hoping that with the chanting and the incense and the beautiful stained glass in my church, that I’ll hear the voice of God, and receive some guidance and some renewed faith about how to lead a better life. Do you think that would be OK?”

And I think any congressman or member of his staff, any American police official, would say, “Of course. I happen to belong to a different denomination or a different faith, myself. I might not do it exactly that way. But of course you’re free to do that; I encourage you to do that, if you feel that will help you find a path to lead a better life, a more loving and generous life in the bosom of your family and your community. That’s why we have religious freedom in this country.”

But then suppose the next person walks in and says “I feel I’m in need of some spiritual guidance. I hope God will send me some kind of message to help me live a better life. I’m looking for a . . . well, I can’t think of a better word than a kind of ‘vision,’ a religious experience to put me on a better path. So what I’m planning to do is fast for two days, not to eat or drink anything but water, tomorrow. Then at dawn, day after tomorrow, I’m going to take the phone off the hook, put up my ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign, go out in my back garden among all the beautiful plants and birds and butterflies, and eat six peyote cactus, or a dozen hallucinogenic mushrooms, or drop 400 micrograms of LSD, or smoke some di-methyl tryptamine, and I don’t have to wonder whether I’ll have a useful religious experience; it’s pretty much guaranteed. Do you think that would be OK?”

And now that same congressman or police officer, if he’s honest with you, will say, “What’s your address, again? Because if you’re in possession of drugs like that, of plants like that, we’re going to have to send a squad of armed men in combat gear to break into your house tomorrow night while you’re sleeping, and drag you out half-naked in handcuffs for all your neighbors to see; we’re going to arrest you in front of the TV cameras and put you in prison for years. And if you resist in any way, we might even shoot you and your dog.”

Where religion came from

So are we really so much more tolerant than those Egyptians? What happened to “My faith may be a bit different from yours, but that’s why we have religious freedom in this country”? The government in America is specifically barred from favoring, from “establishing,” one kind of religious practice, one kind of spiritual seeking, over another. The First Amendment doesn’t say you’re free to choose your religion as long as it’s a recognizable church with a steeple and a pulpit that your neighbors will recognize and feel comfortable about. The Native American people have been eating the peyote cactus for thousands of years in their religious ceremonies to seek spiritual guidance. It’s very bitter, it frequently makes you vomit, it’s not at all like drinking a six-pack on Friday night to get a buzz on. Their ceremonies are now reluctantly tolerated in some states, but there’s a racial test; you have to sign up with the government and prove you’re of a certain purity of Indian blood. That’s “freedom”?

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The Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann stumbled on LSD in 1943 when he was trying to synthesize the active molecule from a Central American morning glory seed that the native people used in the same way, to initiate a religious experience. The Aztecs called it tlitlitzin or ololiuqui, a seed that naturally contains the ergot alkaloids ergotmetrine and lysergol. The active ingredient of the seed is d-lysergic acid amide, a close chemical cousin of d-lysergic acid diethylamide, which we now know as LSD. Hofmann lived to be 102, and over all those years he insisted he didn’t “invent” LSD; he found it, or rather it found him.

The news agency Haaretz reported a few years back that Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, believes Moses was high on a concoction “based on bark of the acacia tree, that is frequently mentioned in the Bible” when he saw the burning bush and heard the voice of God on the mountain. “There are over a thousand different species of acacia found in southern Asia, Africa and the Americas, and many of them contain psychotropic alkaloids like DMT, a powerful hallucinogen which also occurs naturally in the human brain,” Haaretz reported. “The theory that Moses was under the influence of a psychedelic plant when he spoke to Yahweh isn’t all that outlandish. The idea that religions originated with the ritual use of entheogenic plants — psychoactive plants used in religious or shamanic contexts — is nothing new and has been clearly demonstrated in other cultures.”

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It’s now pretty well established that the Eleusinian mysteries of the ancient Greeks involved traveling to the temple compound at Eleusis and consuming a brew made from hallucinogenic fungus. In fact, our study of primitive peoples shows with great consistency that this is where religion comes from, everywhere. Where in the First Amendment does it say Americans are only free to practice tame, watered-down religions whose sacraments don’t work? Nowhere. Why do you suppose interest in and use of these plant extracts has continued to grow despite absolutely vicious, medieval, over-the-top punishments for their use – during the same 60 years when membership and attendance in the old, pale, bleached-out religions and churches has dwindled away so markedly? Where is the government delegated any specific power to ban or regulate any given plant extract or molecule, to throw people in prison for growing or buying or consuming the “wrong plant”? Nowhere.

A pack of lies

So asking how the entheogens might benefit our lives is the same as asking whether there might be any benefit from seeking a religious experience, from asking God for some spiritual guidance in finding the right path to lead meaningful, rewarding lives. In fact, the state isn’t even willing to let us have that debate, at this point. It simply declares it’s illegal to use any agents — any agents — that actually work in such a search, it threatens us with prison or death by late-night police raid if we attempt to use anything but some fake, watered-down symbolic placebo, sing a hymn, down some little wafer with a sip of grape juice, at which point the “man who’s got religion’ll, Tell us if our sin’s original.”

Worries that someone will get “stoned” on these substances and hop in his or her car and cause an accident are a huge red herring. We all know the drug that’s by far the most likely to cause that to happen. It’s called alcohol, and it’s legal, despite thousands of drunken driving deaths every year. Driving under the influence is already illegal, no matter whether the drug is alcohol or LSD or peyote or anything else that temporarily impairs the judgment and the motor reflexes. But we don’t ban the mere purchase or possession of alcohol –- they tried that a hundred years ago and it didn’t work; they gave up after a dozen years of violence and utter failure, the streets running in blood.

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Yes, these substances are powerful, they have to be approached with respect. If there’s a next book probably we should consider why some people report unhappy experiences with the entheogens. Not surprisingly, it seems to be mostly about our old friends set and setting — users without guides or moral support, unprepared for self-examination or challenges to their inherited & unexamined cosmologies & epistemologies in any real depth.

But trying to dream up these far-fetched hypotheticals for how someone using peyote or LSD or DMT might harm someone else reminds me of the way slave-owners used to argue that black folk weren’t “ready” for freedom, they’d mess it up, that in many cases slaves were actually better fed and cared-for than free blacks. Abolitionists learned not to get drawn into discussions like that, because that’s a discussion designed to distract and divert you from the main point, which is a black person’s absolute right to own his or her own body and the fruits of their own labor, regardless of whether a free black might occasionally go hungry. Freedom comes first.

Well, similarly, every person has the right and the freedom and the liberty to control his or her own consciousness, to seek nourishment of the spirit as well as the body, however he or she chooses. Freedom comes first.

The drug laws are supposed to prevent harm or misuse? That’s nonsense. In fact, the drug warriors have completely forfeited any claim that they can be relied on to advise people about which drugs might be more or less harmful, how or when or where. Once drugs are re-legalized, you’ll immediately see a blossoming of books and videos and web sites and honest doctors who no longer fear losing their licenses if they give people useful, accurate advice about dangerous drug interactions -– don’t use this substance if you’re taking this blood-pressure pill; here’s a safe dose for this one and some reliable places to make sure you’re getting an accurate dose with good quality control; an LSD trip can last 12 to 18 hours, don’t consume this drug if there’s any likelihood you’ll be called on to operate a chainsaw during that time frame. To some extent this is already happening, despite these over-the-top, repressive laws.

The Fearless Drug Warriors — and of course I use that term ironically, they’re only “fearless” because they suit up in combat gear and assault us in the dead of night at a time of their choosing when they know we’re asleep and they’ve got us outmanned and outgunned — these real brave characters aren’t the slightest bit interested in giving people that kind of useful, accurate information. Hell, they won’t even let nicotine dealers provide accurate information about which types of tobacco or smoking products might be less harmful than others. No, instead they claim pot and crack and LSD and heroin and some mushroom growing in a cow pasture are all the same, all equally deadly and dangerous. Now THAT’S dangerous, because once kids figure out it’s a lie — which it is — they tend to throw caution to the winds.

Q: You obviously have strong feelings regarding the War on (some) Drugs, or as Graham Hancock has aptly called it, “The War on Consciousness.” (His banned TED talk by the same name is here.) Many people — particularly older readers — may not understand why it’s such an important issue to you (and therefore, the Cthulhians) … what would you like to say to them?  

A: Why are people unhappy? They feel cut off from any joyful sense of their proper role and place in the world. Kids are seen as unwanted and inconvenient; the government schools make things worse by ripping kids out of their homes and gardens and friendly neighborhoods as soon as they’re toilet-trained, locking them away in these prison-like, fluorescent-lit propaganda camps where they get hazed by the bullies in gym class and the lavatories, teaching kids that their parents are idiots. Divorcing that lout and living on welfare is encouraged, kids are no longer taught that a stable marriage is normal.

The exploration we need to do is internal exploration, finding the hidden truths and paths to happiness with our families and neighbors and garden plots that are buried within us, hidden in the pineal vision-state that we’ve lost the ability to access, probably only in our recent genetic history. Government was never delegated any power or authority to forbid us from seeking peace and knowledge in that manner. People who do that are violating their oaths of office, when they swear to protect our liberties. They are the criminals who stand in the way of peace and our pursuit of happiness.

Is there a subtext to these reactions, these expressions of vertigo, uncertainty, hostility, to tolerating liberty for other people? If there is, I suppose it’s that people show a curious blindness to the evil of government tyrannies over others, until a government strong enough and arrogant enough to imprison people for owning the wrong kind of firearm or growing the wrong kind of plant turns around and threatens some liberty they cherish. Then they’ll squeal and squawk for relief. But it’s curious how many, even then, seek relief only on that single grievance — how few ever reach the conclusion that all those other tyrannies should be abolished, too.

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It always starts with that soothing, “After all, no one really needs this type of gun. . . . no one really needs this plant they say gives them a religious experience.” But in the end, what will a powerful government agree we all need, beyond bread and water, a sharecropper’s shack, and a striped prison suit?

You’re either in favor of liberty, or of tyranny. You don’t get to choose “liberty for me but tyranny for you.” Not forever. The Cthulhians offered the other side peace. But there was no peace.

To be continued: watch for part 3 to post sometime next week. Again, in the meantime, if you have questions or comments for Vin, feel free to post them below.

(FOR PART THREE, click HERE.)

7 Comments to “Miskatonic Manuscript, Q&A part 2”

  1. MamaLiberty Says:

    I’m wondering why you seem to emphasize religion as the context of the drug use. Individual liberty is the birthright of all human beings, including those seeking a religious experience but certainly not exclusive to them. I’m pretty sure that’s not what you are saying in the long run, but that could easily be misunderstood from the essay above. The same is true with the type of drugs involved. There are so many others with medical and personal use (and misuse) but which do not necessarily have hallucinatory properties, and probably no religious connotations of any kind.

    The same freedom applies to every other drug or substance, to be used or even abused at the individual’s own risk. Just like salt, fat and large size soda pop, despite nanny New York type politicians. 🙂

    Just thought that might need to be clearer…

  2. Vin Says:

    Mama is correct, of course.

    The question was about psychoactive entheogens, but I believe at page 181 Chantal laments the fact that a government intended to serve merely as our short-term employee, doing our bidding, now treats American adults “like idiot children,” making it difficult for the average “civilian” even to assemble the kind of minimal military first-aid kit she carries with her on her journey.

  3. MamaLiberty Says:

    Indeed. 🙂 Did you know there is a new, truly revolutionary product that will help save lives in the event of a gunshot or other deep, seriously bleeding wound? Available by prescription only, of course. sigh

  4. Thomas Mitchell Says:

    “I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

    ― Robert A. Heinlein

  5. Thomas Mitchell Says:

    “To seek freedom is the only driving force I know. Freedom to fly off into that infinity out there. Freedom to dissolve; to lift off; to be like the flame of a candle, which, in spite of being up against the light of a billion stars, remains intact, because it never pretended to be more than what it is: a mere candle.”
    ― Carlos Castaneda

  6. Steve Says:

    “Rights” are acquired only once one is arrested.
    Until that happens, there are only morals.

  7. Random Shots for Saturday, 16 January 2016 | Extropy and Sedition Says:

    […] Vin Suprynowicz — Miskatonic Manuscript, Q&A part 2 […]

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