As noted in an earlier dispatch from this Dig, psychedelic pharmaceutical executives are exploring the idea of giving active-duty soldiers psychedelics, and are quick to assure the public that this is unlikely to turn military grunts into peacenik hippies. This is a departure from many historical assumptions about psychedelic use — and even some recent academic literature.
Psychedelic drugs have long been revered for their ability to pull back the curtain on reality and inspire grand visions for the future. And over the last decade, a number of academic papers have been released with results implying that psychedelics may aid in the creation of a healthier, more equitable world. These papers have suggested that psychedelics may lead to users being more politically liberal, inspire greater nature-relatedness and galvanize peace between warring nations, like Israel and Palestine.Instagram post by Rick Doblin, the executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
But while these results may be true for some, there are an abundance of counterexamples that suggest psychedelic use, alone, will not bring about a healthier world.
Author Eric Lonergan has suggested that psychedelics are “politically pluripotent,” writing that “they can strengthen all sorts of political movements depending on the political orientation of the individual and the environment — the political set [state of mind] and setting [where and with whom psychedelics are used].”
This framing allows for positive experiences such as those listed above, in which psychedelics inspired more progressive politics, deeper eco-consciousness and anti-war sentiments. But it also creates space for the many counterexamples of psychedelic use which have not concluded in these results.
The following reading list provides a primer for dispelling the myth that psychedelics will usher in a progressive utopia without accompanying political activity aimed at systemic socioeconomic change.Psychedelics: Politically Pluripotent by Eric Lonergan
Lonergan defines the idea of psychedelic “political pluripotency” and explores whether psychedelic drugs are politically left, right or neutral.Right-Wing Psychedelia: Case Studies in Cultural Plasticity and Political Pluripotency by Brian Pace and Neşe Devenot
Pace and Devenot examine case studies of psychedelic users with unexpected political ideologies, such as anti-LGBTQ culture war profiteers, eco-fascists, neonazis, right-wing billionaires and more. Leading up to this paper, Pace published a number of investigations into right-wing figures who discuss their psychedelic use publicly, including Jake “the Q Shaman” Angeli; Frederick Brennan, the founder of 8chan (a forum where three mass shooters have unveiled their manifestos) and William Watson, a prominent face from the January 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol.Strange Drugs Make For Strange Bedfellows: Ernst Junger, Albert Hofmann and the Politics of Psychedelics by Alan Piper
Piper makes the case that psychedelic use is not relegated to the left-wing, providing examples of historical psychedelic use by Nazis and present-day embracing of psychedelics by the Radical Right, who promote conservative revolutionary thought within the New Age milieu.The False Promise of Psychedelic Utopia by Shayla Love
Love examines the nuance of psychedelic utopian narratives and interviews contemporary writers on the subject, concluding that “some advocates claim that widespread psychedelic use will change the world for the better. But it’s not so simple.”Acid liberalism: Silicon Valley’s enlightened technocrats, and the legalization of psychedelics by Maxim Tvorun-Dunn
Building on Pace and Devenot’s Right-Wing Psychedelia paper, Tvorun-Dunn explores how Silicon Valley elite have integrated psychedelic mystical experiences into belief systems and philosophies that are explicitly anti-democratic, individualist and essentialist.From Mining to Mushrooms and The Misadventures of Toxic Bob by Russell Hausfeld
From “Mining to Mushrooms” investigates the infiltration of the psychedelic pharmaceutical industry by companies, investors, and executives from extractive industries. And “The Misadventure of Toxic Bob” spotlights the life of one psychonaut who went on to wreak outsized environmental destruction across the planet.A Response to “Early Reflections on Interviews with Palestinians and Israelis Drinking Ayahuasca Together” by Sawsan Nur Eddin
A critical response to research using the psychedelic brew, ayahuasca, as a peacemaking tool between Israelis and Palestinians.Dear Psychedelic Researchers by the Plus Three Podcast team
An open letter to researchers in the psychedelic field, asserting that “psychedelic medicalization will not revolutionize mental healthcare without systemic socioeconomic change.”Magical (Psychedelic) Thinking in the Era of Climate Change and COVID-19 by Rachel Peterson
Peterson interrogates the assumption in psychedelic discourse that individual experiences of oneness will necessarily transform society for the better.Psychedelics for Climate Action? By Erica Avey
Avey asserts that even if psychedelics play an integral role in the history and future of human imagination, consciousness and health, use en masse will not solve the climate disaster or save humanity.
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