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- The Psychedelic Renaissance Will Be Decided By Access - November 14, 2018
“The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion.”
– Frederick Douglass
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable.”
– John F.Kennedy
In all of humanity’s history, great moments of change are a constant. The variable is humanity itself, and by which means we usher in change; be it through thoughtful action or enraged violence, rebellion or revolution. The variable of humanity in a moment of change is defined by who’s making the decisions. Not long ago, there was a prevailing concept of “the man” as a shadowy figure off somewhere, removed from everyday society, with his hands on the levers of power. That concept is outdated in today’s world, where “the man” can be a woman, and not necessarily be the white image we see perpetuated in society. That shift in the social dynamic allows for false optics, when those in power can merely present an image of change without producing actual change. It’s the paper bag test in reverse. Image can only outperform action for so long. When diversity becomes about looking the part, rather than embodying the part, the conflict between the “haves” and the “have nots” will continue, and the roles chosen, rebel or revolutionary, will depend on which side of that conflict you’re on. It’s not just about where the psychedelic renaissance is heading, it’s also about how we get there, collectively.
Race is a social-economic construct. It is a tool invented and designed to divide and conquer, and justify the dehumanization of one human being or the elevated social status of another.
Race is a social-economic construct. It is a tool invented and designed to divide and conquer, and justify the dehumanization of one human being or the elevated social status of another. As a method of identity, it is limited in its broad strokes of categorizing and its inherent presuppositions. As true as that is anywhere in the world, it is uniquely positioned within Western society’s recent colonial history, Haiti and the Dominican Republic being an obvious example of this. Another example: A woman of diverse ethnic background is admitted to an academic program about diversity and everyone else in the program, including her professors, are white, yet she is the first woman of diverse ethnic background to be admitted. Is this diversity or not? Does it matter how light or dark her complexion? When we use race as the main measuring stick, the main metric to define success with regards to improvements in diversity, is that a sufficient metric? How is success, when it comes to diversity, being defined, and who is doing the defining? When someone from Latin America can look white, and when someone from Europe can look black, then the measurements of success regarding diversity need to be updated not just for today’s world, but also tomorrow’s.
What does success look like regarding cultural and political diversity? Who gets to decide what that success looks likes? Who gets to decide when that level of success is actually obtained? When discussing diversity as it relates to the psychedelic community, what agreement is there between all the invested groups and demographics that make up that community? Ultimately, it’s not about having better gatekeepers who make such decisions; it’s about not having a gate at all. Gates can be closed, they can be locked, and they create an artificial access point that perpetuates control. The side of that gate that you find yourself on will drastically affect your opinion about its existence and its necessity.
Diversity is a luxury of the included, and a necessity of the excluded.
Diversity is a luxury of the included, and a necessity of the excluded. Which side of the gate you find yourself on will shape the options you have to address its existence. Even within the smaller varied and eclectic communities that make up the larger psychedelic community, there exist challenges to incorporate greater diversity. Each one of these communities faces its own unique set of challenges that will require uniquely tailored approaches and solutions. What does diversity look like in the psychedelic underground? What does it look like in indigenous communities visited by psychedelic tourists or psychonauts? What does it look like in an academic research program funded by grants or funded by the government?
The metrics that are used to define success regarding cultural and political diversity in the psychedelic community will depend greatly on who is asking the question, where they are standing when asking the question, and what their definition of success is. Whatever their make-up and the nature of their mission, institutions are a part of the landscape of the psychedelic community and will remain so going forward. Does that mean you have to join or become an institution to work with or against one? Are institutions inherently wrong because of their limitations, especially as it relates to diversity? Can you have an institution of inclusion, or is exclusion a by gone by product of them?
When we picture the psychedelic community, who is in that image? Does the answer to that question change depending on whether or not you see yourself as a part of the psychedelic community? When looking at the history of the term “psychedelic,” there is in the term its own limitations and assumptions, especially regarding how the term has morphed in the social consciousness since it was first introduced. The prevailing impression in larger society is that psychedelics are “white peoples” drugs; yet, when you say “plant medicine” a different image comes to mind, though both are related; why is that and what can be done to change that? There are stigmas that surround the psychedelic community and there are stigmas within the psychedelic community, and all have an impact. When looking at the history of how psychedelics were introduced to the Western world, even there, you find a diversity of narratives.
Today, the legacy of those narratives is the various ways in which someone can be introduced into the psychedelic community, and also how they come to identify with it. Does that mean there’s a “right” and “wrong” way, or just a difference of ways? When you consider medical versus recreational, or ceremony versus non-ceremony, or the use of the word “shaman” and how that word is being co-opted and its meaning and image changed, are these road blocks or stepping stones to garnering greater diversity within the psychedelic community?
The path forward, where the answers to these and other questions reside, is going to be shaped by the vested interests of those who show up and take action. What form that action takes and who shows up will be determined by the choices we make now. Where we find ourselves on this journey, and at this moment of the psychedelic renaissance, is a pivotal point that will shape everything in the foundation of what is built and will determine if it will be lasting. How access to building that future is shared or not, will decide what someone believes about the direction we are heading in.
However you see yourself, as a rebel or as a revolutionary, the decisions of change will be made by those who show up and take action.
If you are someone who feels that you have the benefit of access, then you are more apt to want to work within the current framework to bring about change, and may see yourself as a rebel. On the other hand, if you are someone who feels that you do not have the benefit of access to shaping the path going forward, then you are more apt to want to take the whole thing down, and may see yourself as a revolutionary. However you see yourself, as a rebel or as a revolutionary, the decisions of change will be made by those who show up and take action.
This paper was presented at Cultural and Political Perspectives in Psychedelic Science, a symposium promoted by Chacruna and theEast-West Psychology Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), San Francisco, August 18 and 19, 2018.
Opening image: Original cast of the face of the Statue of Liberty; Ellis Island. Photo credit: Kufikiri Imara