A talk at Extra Second London 21/2/17:
“There are 100,000 marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music – Jazz and Swing – results from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.” It’s 1937 and the speaker is Harry Anslinger, formerly a commissioner in America’s Bureau of Prohibition then from 1930 he was promoted to chief of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Everything you need to know about the War On Drugs is there in his words: obviously the racism, that root hatred of the Other; the fear, the disgust of sensuality and enjoyment in those sneers about “entertainers” and in the weird misogynistic need for government-officials to concern themselves with whom white women are “seeking sexual relations.” But besides all that there’s this key word “Satanic,” their “Satanic” Jazz and Swing and marijuana usage, the War On Drugs goes way back and it’s a Holy War, a crusade against Sacraments which aren’t Christian and are therefore of the Devil, Sacraments which are very different to the Eucharist where the Body of the Lord is a little white wafer, and the Blood of the Lord is a grape that has rotted; marijuana on the other hand manifested with music, with Jazz, with Swing, not music to sit and listen to but music that makes you move, sounds to take you out of your stillness, ex stasis, and so, in response, we see a continuation of thousands of years of Authoritarian war against the senses, against the body, against the brain, we see Harry Anslinger alongside fellow 1930s cryptofascist William Hearst who was the Rupert Murdoch of his day, and this lot kick up a bit of a campaign: Reefer Madness. Soon men with letters after their names, PhD, MD, are warning the world that marijuana “not infrequently leads to violence,” marijuana “makes the smoker vicious, with a desire to fight and kill,” and on and on and on. One interesting thing about the anti-drugs crusaders is just how quick and eager they are to lie.
Although… Consider tobacco: it’s really fallen out of favour with governments recently, there’s been the various smoking-bans and restrictions on advertising and packaging, there’ve been efforts to ensure that everyone knows and sees images of the risks of smoking, and all this, I think you’d have to say, is a war on tobacco; not a war on the people who use tobacco. But compare that with psilocybin, “magic-mushrooms”: you can spend up to seven years in a cage plus have to pay an “unlimited fine” for eating a mushroom. If it’s such a fucked-up awful dangerous mushroom why not just tell everyone how fucked-up awful it is? There are mushrooms that can kill you or seriously damage you, there are poisonous berries and leaves: we cope. The thing is, psilocybin isn’t dangerous, it isn’t toxic, you can’t overdose on it, nor is it addictive; in fact a recent study suggests that people who use magic-mushrooms are less likely than average to be addicted to any substance. There haven’t been many clinical studies involving psychedelics but the Holy Inquisition has allowed a few, there was this one on addiction while another claimed to demonstrate a link between psilocybin usage and “new psychological understandings and personal insights,” you can find that online if you want to see how they quantify “new psychological understandings and personal insights”; also, psilocybin was used in the early 60s in prisons to aid the rehabilitation of prisoners, and more recently it’s been trialled with promising results as a treatment for problems ranging from OCD to cluster-headaches; there’s no indication of any long-term side-effects and we’ve had plenty of time to find that out, the use of magic-mushrooms has been traced back to prehistoric times in Europe and North Africa while in Central and South America we know it’s been used for centuries at least, because we know that when the conquistadores swarmed over from Europe and spread across the continent destroying everything and enslaving everyone, they encountered religious-ceremonies involving magic-mushrooms, they banned the ceremonies, they banned the mushrooms. The War On Drugs goes way back…
There’s an early 20th Century writer, H. L. Mencken, an American journalist-essayist who was generally pretty cool, he went to war with redneck fucks wherever he found them, but he could be a bit of a redneck fuck himself: he’s one of those people, you’re reading him and suddenly he’s going on about the inferior races… Okayyyy; you’re a product of your time I guess… One thing he said was something like, Even if those inferior races turned out to be not so inferior after all, even if the grand theory of racism turned out to be wrong, even then it would make no sense for whites to treat non-whites as equals because whites have got fifty uninterrupted generations of Culture behind them, whites have got Shakespeare, whites have got Beethoven, whites have got “Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like horse and carriage.” How could Negroes and Hispanics and Filipinos hope to aspire to these cultural heights? One obvious point Mencken missed was that in those same “fifty uninterrupted generations” these non-white races would themselves have been learning a thing or two, they’d have their own religions and arts to attempt to preserve and pass on despite Slavery, despite colonialism; and come the 20th Century there’s a level of freedom whereby these suppressed cultures can emerge, we see that happening in all sorts of ways but perhaps most noticeably, most profoundly, in music: suddenly there’s Jazz and Swing, there’s Blues, Gospel, new music which swallows the shit out of the bland, insipid culture of the time. New music accompanied everywhere by old drugs: so in America you’ve got reactionary old Harry Anslinger ranting about Satanic music fuelled by marijuana usage… I’m talking about America because America really leads the way with all of this, but the War On Drugs is by no means just an American thing or a White Western thing or a Christian thing, psychedelic paganism is illegal everywhere. Here in Britain, Jazz and cannabis led to the exact same moral panics, these manufactured scares that decent people, generally decent white women, were being corrupted by the heathens’ hashish and were dancing new dances in underground mixed-race dens while out in the colonies, in India and in Egypt, traders and diplomats and the sons and daughters of traders and diplomats were sampling the goods, getting the giggles under the strange eyes of strange gods: something older and weirder and more pelvic than Christ shakes free gets loose goes on a rampage and soon, by way of Rock & Roll and Beat poetry, nothing’s the same, the culture is utterly transformed, there’s a whole lotta going on going on and this is just the start, this is just hash and grass and saxophones, the munchies, the Fear, the Pleasure Principle, right-brain games… Laws that were specifically introduced to allow non-whites to be thrown into jails where the conditions of Slavery could be recreated were increasingly being used on whites too, the cops were chucking their own children into prison but as Elvis struts and thrusts strange-eyed strange gods make their next move.
Those magic-mushrooms: in Mexico in the Cold War 1950s a holywoman named Maria Sabina made contact with an American banker named Robert Wasson and his Russian paediatrician wife Valentina, Maria Sabina gave the gift of tryptamine molecules embodied in psilocybin mushrooms to the representatives of these two nations that had just figured out how to destroy all life on Earth and were looking like they’d maybe give it a try. Meanwhile in North America, in Canada, a psychiatrist named Humphry Osmond, who will later coin the magic word “psychedelic” in correspondence with Aldous Huxley, encountered the ritual use of peyote among the local indigenous tribes, Osmond went on to use this cactus-juice in various research projects, including giving it to alcoholics with very positive results, also to fellow psychiatrists and to philosophers. And again right around the same time, in South America a biologist named Richard Schultes similarly encountered the use of ayahuasca among the tribes that had escaped extermination. Ayahuasca is also known as yagé although the first name given to it by Western researchers was telepathine because of the amount of weird psychic phenomena that seems to accompany the drinking of this brew; it’s something you come across a lot in the literature of psychedelia, I’ve never experienced it myself but there are many reports of two people or several people being on the same drug at the same time and with their eyes closed they’re inhabiting the same abstract visionary landscape and it’s the same landscape, they can describe exactly what each other is seeing, and if something happens they all see it happening. Now that could just be deranged druggy bullshit… But you hear it a lot, and it would presumably be quite easy to design experiments to test that and if it’s true then right there we’ve got a new scientific paradigm because that doesn’t fit with anything we currently know about the mind or about chemistry.
And again, in this same 1940s-50s period, another psychedelic channel opened up, this one was in Europe and here the process was completely different, the invention of LSD was basically Alchemy. Briefly, a Swiss chemist named Albert Hofmann synthesised LSD in his lab, tested it and it seemed to be completely inert, no effect whatsoever. Quite some time later Hofmann had what he later described as a “strange presentiment” that he should have another look at LSD, so he did and doing that he spilled a tiny tiny tiny bit on his fingers… Shortly afterwards, Albert Hofmann got on his bike and started cycling home. Turned out LSD wasn’t completely inert after all and it’s active at tiny tiny tiny doses…
So this all happens right around the same time, and through to the early 60s it’s striking things how respectable the use of psychedelics is: before the law gets involved, before the media tells people what to think, it seems like pretty much every bright mind is interested, from scientists to Pentagon war-planners, from baseball legends to movie-stars, there’s the founder of “Time” magazine and the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, bankers and paediatricians, biologists, novelists, CIA operatives, in England members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, pranksters and poets, and psychologists, including Timothy Leary, a professor at Harvard: it was Leary and his team who gave psilocybin to inmates in jail. Leary first sampled Maria Sabina’s mushrooms in Mexico in 1960 and had, on that trip, encountered the three and a half billion years of DNA’s evolution not as a fact but as an experience, he’d seen what Psychology is made of, had seen that this was Religion, right here: Leary and his colleagues began expounding a scientific mysticism, an empirical transcendence, and after a period of intense… colourful… experimentation, they announced their findings, their strategy: “Start Your Own Religion,” they put out a mass-produced pamphlet called that, “Start Your Own Religion,” this was something new and incendiary there and then, they said take what you want from the past and from other people’s systems and traditions but the route to Divinity is the route you make for yourself so write your own Gospels, be your own High Priest, turn your house, your flat, into a temple, why not turn it all into a temple; Leary and his “League for Spiritual Discovery” preached a theological anarchism and people were listening, people were rejecting empty hierarchies and proclaiming their own spiritual authority, everyone could their own Visionary. There was an explosion of psychedelic art and sounds and fashions and beliefs, and festivals: these days festivals are banal, any yuppie who wants to let off steam can have a weekend here and there getting fucked up in a field, but don’t underestimate how bewilderingly pagan those first festivals seemed, there wasn’t really any precedent for them. And this wasn’t a few philosophers and psychiatrists with names like Aldous and Humphry, this was millions of working-class and middle-class men and women who were living a bright new faith.
Fortunately the world had a Hero to protect us from Heresy: Richard Nixon. At the height of the Vietnam War Leary was tagged “the most dangerous man in America” and busted; peace and love were criminalised and crushed. Nixon introduced the phrase “The War On Drugs” and from the start it was more than a metaphor: Dan Baum in his book “Smoke & Mirrors” starts in 1968, the year Nixon became President, and goes through to the Clinton 90s when the book was written, listing for each year what civil-liberties were suspended in the need to persecute stoners and trippers; what military forces were redeployed to wage war on those of their own citizens who might be using drugs; what Orwellian laws were introduced, including something called forfeiture. Again this is only in America at the moment but we’ll see how that goes: in America tight now the police are allowed to seize the property of anyone suspected of being involved in drugs, and even if those people are subsequently found Not Guilty or if the case never goes to trial the police can just keep everything; literally all a cop has to do is say “I smelt marijuana-smoke” and they can help themselves to whatever they want. A journalist named Sarah Stillman, in a 2013 article in “New Yorker” magazine entitled “Taken,” documents loads of cases of cops just pulling over people’s cars – mostly, as it happens, non-white people’s cars – and just taking that car, keeping it, keeping whatever cash and jewellery they’ve got; the homes of suspected druggies and the homes of their parents and even their grandparents have been seized by the police and sold by the police to raise funds for the police and, again, as one defence-lawyer has noted, “with real-estate forfeitures it’s overwhelmingly African-Americans and Hispanics.” This practice, this law, has been criticised, has been challenged, and the justification that has repeatedly been given for it is explicitly financial: these are tough times, the financial crisis, Austerity; how else can a poor struggling police-department hope to get by if not with the funds raised from forfeiture? but Sarah Stillman in her article gives examples of those funds then being donated by the police to anti-immigration groups, and to churches, and to Christian Evangelist programs, including one called “The Missionettes,” which aims to “teach girls to obey everything Jesus commanded.”
- “PIHKAL,” A & A Shulgin.
- “Cosmic Serpent,” Jeremy Narby.
- “Intoxication,” Ronald Siegel.
- “Cosmic Trigger,” Robert Anton Wilson.
- “Smoke And Mirrors,” Dan Baum.
- “Changing My Mind, Among Others,” Timothy Leary.
- “The House I Live In,” Eugene Jarecki.
- “Shadow Dancing In The USA,” Michael Ventura.