Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Musing on Psychedelics


Just trying to get your attention.

While many people extol the virtues of psychedelics in many of the circles I've run in, mostly in opposition to the parroted rhetoric of the mainstream culture, I think it's simply meaningless to propose that a substance is inherently good or bad. The statement doesn't even make sense. Psychotropic chemicals have a variety of effects, most of which are not really understood, on a nervous system and consciousness that also exists more in the shadows than the light. The question of their use is whether exploring these uncharted waters is worth more than the risk. What could be a more American pursuit than blindly using a little of that Manifest Destiny machismo and plunging forward?

(Of course, that's a myth of America that's mostly been replaced by another one. The modern one has more to do with various overreactions to fear.)

Oh well. On my way home from the farmer's market today I found myself mulling over this, and thinking back on the discussion about this topic the Gen Hex authors had at Alex Grey's CoSM (recording here if you want to check it out). And as my thought process leapfrogged around, as it does... it occurred to me that the actual lesson provided by these chemicals seems to be relatively simple. It's the same basic lesson you see in the Bardo-- let go. Oh, hey look, the wall is bleeding. Let go. I'm 50 and my life is a wreck. Let go. That hawk-headed God has giant tits and it's starting to unnerve me. If you hold on, it can become a demon, but if you let go, it becomes bliss.

And once you really get that, you simply don't need them anymore. Though you can get to the same place by doing yoga all day. Sure, you'll lose it all the time and get caught up in God-knows-what-thing that won't matter in 100 years anyway. You'll do that because you're human and that's part of the experience of being alive. But in the back of your mind now, you have that spot you can fall back to, that place where you learned you can fall back from anything and observe a sensation from the outside. And if you think that sounds like a defense mechanism we all (maybe) heard about in Psych 101, that's because it probably is. Like all defense mechanisms, dissociation is only pathological when it is out of control. Otherwise, it's one of many tools.

Chew on it and let me know what you're left with. I'm going to make some tea.

(By the way- For a modern adaptation of some of the ideas in the Bardo, I suggest Jacob's Ladder. Spoiler alert: the whole movie is the process of him dying, it's all internal mythology.)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Clash of Civilizations and Primacy of Ideology

As I continue working on my first chapter for IoM, I hit on something in passing in a paragraph that I'd love to have dealt with by another contributor. I will likely deal with it some myself in a later section I have planned, but this is worthy of serious consideration:

"...At the same time, in the case of those myths that do resonate with the multitude, the anxiety that underlies the wholesale exchange of the profane for the sacred produces a throwback to the "old time religion." The mythic aura of a yesterday that never existed drives such cultural movements as we see demonstrated in the movie Jesus Camp. This reaction cannot be restricted to one ideology. As Samuel P. Huntington explores in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, the coming world conflicts will be driven along ideological and cultural fault lines. The extremists driving these conflicts are borrowing from mere echoes of myths from thousands of years ago, catalyzing existential fear, hate, or desire. This alchemy produces poisonous splinter factions, fundamentalist groups that produce many of the illnesses our cultures otherwise exhibit in concentrated form. Far from being in the minority, these “splinter groups” have been responsible for much of the history of the 19th and 20th century that has made its way into the books, whether we are speaking of rise and fall of communism, the second world war, or the ongoing strife in the Middle East. Though exploring this in depth would take us far afield, it is worth noting that the mythologies utilizes by these groups have all been repurposed myths, whether we speak of the selective use of scripture by Muslim or Christian fundamentalists, or the more bizarre relationship between National Socialism and occultism, which underlined the rise of the Third Reich. These are generally culturally inert, but have the potential to overcome the whole of a culture in crisis times, as the Nazis did after World War I. However, myth as a whole cannot be considered a result of such use. Nor can myth be "killed," in any event. It can be a healing as well as destructive force."

Myth of Progress (in progress) 2.0

Oftentimes the direction of a thought process occurs across various social networks, these days.

The other day I posted this to twitter:

@agent139 So long as our civ is driven by the myths of progress, & the industry that follows it, psych desire will stripmine ecological capacity

This was ported over to Facebook and it triggered a reaction from a friend, ""Myths of progress"? Go throw your computers and devices in the river, while your at it, toss in your clothes (also products of development and technology). Oh, and stop going to the doctor, next time you get a broken bone you just walk that shit off like a man."

This point is actually well taken, but follows (I think) from the first definition of myth I list in the IoM editor's intro that Reality Sandwich ran earlier this week. A myth like "progress" or "individuality" represents not a single belief but a complex belief structure, often with levels of strata that can be hard to excavate. Calling it a myth is no slight; however different results follow from different cultural complexes, different myths.

I'd like to explore this issue more, and hopefully expand on it in greater depth in one of my articles in the book.

My reply:
Every myth has positive and negative effects. The Enlightenment gave us a new license on science, it also brough about new possibilities for global conquest (& war)- science itself gave us both penicillin & the bomb. (Many other things too, you get my point.) If a myth of individuality & progress wasn't embedded in our culture, something else would be- which would yield its own +s & -s.

In my opinion there's a particular problem with marrying progress (a teleological obsession- towards goals / ends) with the myths that come along with capitalism. But that's going to take half a book for us to explore.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Immanence of Myth introduction on Reality Sandwich

Reality Sandwich ran the editor's introduction I'm working on for Immanence of Myth:

"James Curcio is currently collecting submissions for an anthology entitled The Immanence of Myth (click the following link for submission guidelines). In the article below (a version of the anthology's introduction), he lays out the ideas that will frame the anthology -- particularly concerning the evolving role of mythology in our post-industrial, highly technologized, capitalist society."

Read the full article now.


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