Dr. Claudio Naranjo

Dr. Claudio Naranjo

Dr. Claudio Naranjo is a Chilean psychiatrist who was part of the early Esalen Staff, created the International SAT program for personal transformation and has lately been mostly interested in changing Education as a response to the world problematique.
Dr. Claudio Naranjo

A passage in Lao Tze’s Tao Te Ching states that when original harmony was lost, laws were created. I am sure that this is congruent with our contemporary knowledge of prehistory: We were equalitarian at the time when we were nomadic hunter-gatherers, while our modern political institutions of legislation and justice fail to give us justice or well being. Thus, it would seem that we should interest ourselves very much in that “original harmony” that our laws seek in vain to restore.

One way of moving in this direction, I have proposed,1 is by drawing a distinction between “normative ethics,” in which good and evil are defined by the obligations and prohibitions formulated by an authority, and “an ethics of virtue,” in which good actions are the natural expression of an inner goodness that has not been obstructed or contaminated by psychosocial aberration.

While the way to foster an ethics of virtue is therapeutic, since it is enough to remove the hatefulness or egocentricity that get in the way of natural wisdom and empathy for healing to take place, the way to foster a normative ethics is to intensify the threats and punishments that underlie the effectiveness of authority and its commands.

The now-long history of this attempt to make us good through rewards and punishment may be interpreted as a long experiment that has not yielded good results: paradoxically, the more we punish delinquency, the more delinquency we have. The more severe and punitive our penal system, the more our prisons are filled. And, as Jung observed, the more we are concerned with morality, the more immoral our society becomes. Yet, we continue to act as if this were not already obvious enough, and, surely, no politician would consider applying to society the Christian teaching of “not resisting evil,” and not responding to aggression with aggression, but with kindness and understanding.

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It is instructive to consider in this context George Lakoff’s notion of an “ideology of the severe father.”  We may formulate such an ideology, precisely, as a belief that nothing can solve problems better than threats and punishment. If a child behaves badly, then, the mother may threaten him by telling him that she will tell Dad when he comes home, so that he will give him a corrective; or schools may threaten those who don’t perform well enough with expulsion and potential poverty, and criminals will be threatened with not only longer sentences, but death.

But, do we truly know that the way of severity, threats, and punishment works better than the way of understanding and support? Or is it rather the case that our society has been operating on a patriarchal bias?

In the realm of ethics, we may say that the patriarchal ideology of severity, already embodied in normative morality, is further intensified when morality becomes moralism.

The distinction between both is, more or less, the distinction between the original meaning of “puritan” and the more common contemporary and critical sense in which somebody may be criticized for being prudish. Yet, also in this case, historical perspective allows us to see that he Puritans were also puritanical in the sense of moralistic, and we are now aware of the dissonance between their sense of virtue and their ownership of slaves, their injustice toward the indigenous peoples, or their male chauvinism.

Nietzsche was the first to question seriously our universally accepted morality of good and evil; but today, psychology and clinical experience have allowed us to understand how conventional morality is moralistic and not an expression of health, but an example of what Freud called “reaction formation”: the covering up of repressed impulses with a semblance of correctness or perfection. In the Gospel we find the expression “whitened sepulchers” in connection with this hypocrisy that many people exhibit, seemingly without any awareness of it; the same metaphor might be applied to cultures, in which a collective sense of honor serves as a screen to hide a collective criminality—such as that of our economic system.

After this theoretical introduction, however, let me tackle the subject of the relation between psychedelics and morality, which I propose to launch with a set of complementary statements:

  1. Psychedelics are, by definition, immoral, since they have been forbidden and criminalized.
  2. Conventional morality, a complex of accusation-guilt-fear-duty and moralism, is normative ethics turned into custom, and only mimics virtue, but, in reality, militates against it, and constitutes a form of pathology that, because of its “normality,” passes for “healthy.”
  3. Psychedelics can heal conventional moral conditioning. This probably contributes to the opposition to psychedelics on the part of those who want to uphold conservative culture.

Now, I will develop my argument, seeking to demonstrate the various things I have stated.

  1. That psychedelics are regarded immoral we may take as a fact not needing further demonstration.
  2. Concerning the statement that “morality is un-virtuous,” let me say that, aside from Nietzsche and others who, since his time, have looked with suspicion upon the matter of good and evil, the earliest statement to this effect we have is the one we find in the myth of the Fall in the Book of Genesis, where “original sin” is characterized as the eating of the forbidden fruit of “the knowledge of good and evil.”

If we take the fall from paradise as a deterioration of consciousness—for which our contemporary concepts are sickness and neurosis—nothing strikes the author of Genesis as more characteristic of such fall or sickness than “the knowledge of good and evil”—that we can also call a concern with morality.

Before going any further, I should respond to the many that may feel that “original sin” is an ancient superstition with little relevance to our real problems today. On the contrary, a concern about being good and about avoiding evil may be seriously considered to have been the most destructive force in human life and human history precisely, because—paradoxical as this may be and as I have already stated—the more we criminalize those we regard evil, and the more severe we become in our prohibitions, the more destructive we become. If we are prone to think of the idea of “original sin” as an irrelevant dogma, it is because the theologians of the past thought of it as a divine punishment that operated genetically. Many today know that the plague of a Universal Neurosis is transmitted from one generation to the next through a psycho-cultural process that operates through child rearing, socialization and education.

But why fuss about words, rather than just agreeing to the fact that a sort of plague (call it original sin or universal neurosis) passes from one generation to the next and seems to be inextricably linked to the issue of morality? It is not, then, that we have fallen from the paradisiac realm of morality, but, rather, fallen into morality—which is to say, into a life of prohibitions and obligations—which, in turn, presupposes an authority that demands and forbids, and, most especially, entails the will to inspire obedience, to subjugate, as well as presupposing punishment and the threat of punishment, which is the best tool for the domestication of the young.

In view of this, and also in view of the possible anachronism of speaking about “original sin” in the twenty-first century, or even of speaking of a Universal Neurosis to a population of “normotics”—who may be better described as zombies, for they have become too unconscious to recognize their unconsciousness, or even their destructiveness—I prefer to say that the gist of both original sin and universal neurosis, and thus the “heart of darkness” at the core of human suffering, is patriarchy: the invention of male dominance, along with the devaluation of motherhood and care, and the criminalization of pleasure and instinct, which has constituted the implicit counterpart to the domestication of children through effective, but sometimes invisible, violence.

Though I would need more time and space to fully develop my view of patriarchy as the root condition of individual and social pathologies, let me turn to my contention that psychedelics can heal the unacknowledged problem of morality. I emphatically re-state that nothing compares with the effectiveness of psychedelics when it comes to the cure of human “fallenness”; call it “original sin,”  “universal neurosis,” or “the patriarchal mind.”

To explain this, I firstly need to explain briefly that I use the expression “patriarchal mind” in reference to the intra-psychic aspect of patriarchy, through which the social phenomenon of patriarchy—a complex of authoritarian violence, instinctual repression, and the undervaluation of motherly care—is transmitted across the generations. While it is doubtful, I think, that we may be able to heal patriarchy, which is a social event of gigantic proportions, we may hope to heal the individual carriers of the patriarchal mind, and to this end, it is desirable that we also have some conception of its structure and dynamics.

While patriarchy is a social phenomenon, the root manifestation of which may be seen in the nuclear family and, more specifically, in what Roman law described as the institution of the paterfamilias, which establishes the ownership of the woman and the children by the father, we my say that the individual’s patriarchal mind is one in which an intra-psychic father-principle (superego) criminalizes the instinctual inner child (or id), and also has the effect of eclipsing our mother-like or compassionate potential through its warrior-like or conquering spirit. In other words: We may say that we are, as MacLean,2 proposed three-brained beings endowed of a reptilian on instinctive old brain, an affective mid-brain that we have inherited from the other mammals, and an intellectual forebrain that most exemplifies us as humans, but that, through the development of civilized life, we have come to identify excessively with our astute and clever rational mind to the detriment of our compassion and our inner freedom.

In light of such a model, then, we can say that psychedelics undermine the forebrain dominance that sustains the (moral) indictment of our natural or animal impulses and also our (immoral or predatory) preference for technology over compassion. It is as if psychedelics could anesthetize our “ego,” or controlling-repressive sub-self, and allow the expression of our natural empathy and our archetypal inner-animal; which is, of course, what empathogens and oneirofrenics do so specifically.

When we turn to the “classic hallucinogens”—mescaline, LSD-25, and psilocybin—it is not so much the liberation of the pleasure principle or our empathic potential that strikes us most, but the experience of transcendence or, to say it in modern terms, the “transpersonal realm”;  something that goes beyond our intellectual, affective, and instinctual sub-selves, and which spiritual traditions have variously called a deeper self, a deeper mind, a deeper reality, or truth, being, not-being, spirit, emptiness, Tao or God. This ineffable or empty realm of holiness or supreme value has always been regarded as something obscured by our imperfections, and is something that may be revealed to one who transcends the root of sickness that is the patriarchal mind.

What is the relation between the triune wholeness of our mind and transcendence—which may be more appropriately described as “mind-blowing” or “annihilation”? I would gladly consider this question next, but I am afraid that by now, I have come to the limit of the space offered me by the editors of Chacruna.


  1. Psychedelics in Light of Morality and Under the Shadow of Virtue.
  2. MacLean, Paul (1990). The Triune Brain Evolution. New York: Plenum Press.

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