Quickie Post — Drugs, Enlightenment, and Nazis (Oh My!)

One more year, and the gang’s all here…

Just so you know, I’ve never been a Kool Kid. That does not mean I haven’t smoked some dope — I have — and I even did a hit of LSD once when I was about 18. It was supposed to transform my life, but instead it did absolutely nothing, even while all my fellow trippers were freaking out around me. That probably says more about my brain than anything else. Keeping it real is my core ethos.

So I guess I’ve always been Old School about enlightenment in general. I do know Kool Kids, some of whom are dear friends, who tolerate my general attitude of sardonic stoicism. And it seems like a couple of years back there were more than a few taking the Shaman trail down to South America to take ayahuasca or some such icks. It just doesn’t interest me — and while I like to drink wine (I’m up for a bicycle tour of Austria’s Wachau Valley!) I’m definitely more of a Wim Hof kind of guy — get high on my own supply.

I always find it interesting when a new wave of various activists (not going to mention names here) start promoting some version of a new brain drug to raise consciousness. I do believe in the medicinal benefits of nutrition, so I’m not dismissing this stuff out of hand. My own green tea pills I take definitely make me more clear-headed. But once you get beyond that realm, I’m most definitely a nay-sayer. I’m more in the camp of the old Buddhist masters. You want enlightenment? It ain’t free. The brain has 4.5B years of evolution honing its emergent possibilities. The odds you’re going to hack yours up another level is extremely likely to be BS — or long-term damaging. I’d rather take a dunk in freezing water. And I do.

From my last 3 minute dunk in the Clearwater River, IDchilly (5 degrees C for my rest-of-the-world readers!)

If drugs work in any real way in the brain as far as accelerating function, they’re far more likely in accentuating the v-Memes and knowledge structures your brain already has in it. Accentuation MIGHT give you an edge in creating some more branching. But if you see yourself jump up a significant level, it’s far more likely that it’s made part of your brain mushy, giving you temporary neuroplasticity in the short run. And that might be a good thing — sometimes we just have to shake things loose.

But as a chronic practice? More likely that your brain starts deforming after a couple of cycles, like a bad run of thermoplastic polymer. It’s not long until your brain starts resembling the half-melted candles from that last Hippy Party you went to. You can redline your car engine also. Get back to me on how that affects long-term reliability.

As far as general enlightenment, you really have to put on the blinders to believe this. I’ve written earlier about the Nazis and drugs, here’s the Guardian’s take, and here’s another fun, short piece with similar insights. Published in the online journal, Psymposia, there are a welter of examples of exactly the kind of “bad stuff gone wrong” with contemporary Nazis that possess eery parallels to history. The past didn’t go anywhere.

I’m all about self-improvement, up to some narcissistic limit. But I’ve never found another path to enlightenment, or status as an übermensch, outside of experiencing, thinking or not-thinking. So if you ask me, you want the good stuff — get out on your bicycle, cut sugar out of your diet, and take a cold dunk every now and then. Get high on your own supply! And for me, I’ve never found a better place to both ponder and meditate than on a 30 mile ride, on a no-car bike path. Perfect.

14 thoughts on “Quickie Post — Drugs, Enlightenment, and Nazis (Oh My!)

  1. I have a slightly different take on this. Maybe it’s inspired from having done more psychedelics. I should point out, though, that I was always a bit odd in that I could be tripping out while maintaining an intellectual discussion. That was during my period of severe depression and accompanying depressive realism. Keeping it real, sardonically or otherwise, was never a problem for me.

    Anyway, you might recall the post I wrote, Diets and Systems, that was partly inspired by your own work on diet and addiction.

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  2. I have a slightly different take on this. Maybe it’s inspired from having done more psychedelics. I should point out, though, that I was always a bit odd in that I could be tripping out while maintaining an intellectual discussion. That was during my period of severe depression and accompanying depressive realism. Keeping it real, sardonically or otherwise, was never a problem for me.

    Anyway, you might recall the post I wrote about addiction, Diets and Systems, that was inspired by your own work. But I’ve been developing a related argument. It’s not only that addictive foods and substances have increased with civilization, starting back in the Axial Age with the cultivation of sugar cane, opium, etc along with the earliest controlled agriculture (farming before that consisted of semi-wild fields mixed with weeds). We have to also consider what those addictive substances replaced.

    That brings us to the psychedelics. They aren’t a short-cut to enlightenment for they are central to human nature. Consider DMT, a common psychedelic in plants around the world but also a chemical our brains produce and use. Plants and animals, humans included, co-evolved as part of complex ecosystems and our brains are part of those ecosystems. Some would argue we have evolved to use psychedelics, as there are survival advantages. Many other species will intentionally consume psychedelics and other intoxicants. This appears to be normal behavior, not some strange biohacking phenomenon among humans alone.

    It may have promoted certain areas of evolution and neurocognitive development (Psychedelics and Language). Indigenous people, besides imbibing themselves, would give psychedelics to their dogs to increase their sensory awareness for hunting. For humans, these substances promote lateral thinking which is key for problem-solving. There is a reason why shamanic traditions use them as initiations for changes in identity or in dealing with challenges and crises. Indigenous people prized this fluidity of self, as it was central to their entire sense of being in the world.

    We modern Westerners have lost this once normal human capacity of ‘shapeshifting’, of personality transformation. This might be related to what might also have been loss of synaesthesia (Synesthesia, and Psychedelics, and Civilization! Oh My!). And synaesthesia, in how it can increase memory capacity, might have been key to the pre-literate mnemonic systems of traditional societies — see the work of Lynne Kelly (The Spell of Inner Speech):

    “Language is inseparable from our experience of being in the world, involving multiple senses or even synaesthesia. The overlapping of sensory experience may have been more common to earlier societies. Research has shown that synaesthetes have better capacity for memory: “spatial sequence synesthetes have a built-in and automatic mnemonic reference” (Wikipedia). That is relevant considering that memory is central to oral societies, as Kelly demonstrates. And the preliterate memory systems are immensely vast, potentially incorporating the equivalent of thousands of pages of info. Knowledge and memory isn’t just in the mind but within the entire sense of self, sense of community, and sense of place.”

    How did we do this. My suggestion is that civilization increasingly replaced the psychedelic mindset of shamanism with the egoic consciousness of addiction (“Yes, tea banished the fairies.”). In the way that Johann Hari argues that the addict is the ultimate individual, maybe the psychedelic shaman was the ultimate non-individual permeable and extended (David Hume’s bundled self, Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind, Ernest Hartmann’s thin boundary type, etc).

    If my theory is correct, then psychedelics aren’t merely another category of drugs among many others. They represent something core to humanity in how the mind functioned for possibly hundreds of thousands of years prior to modern civilization and agriculture.

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    1. This is a very interesting comment, and basically makes the point of a mapping symbiosis between social structure and the chemicals in food — which I had directly, but not systemically and evolutionarily made.

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      1. If you read my post Diets and Systems and then read my other post “Yes, tea banished the fairies.”, you’ll get a good sense of my argument. It’s part of a set of posts I was writing about what I’ve called the agricultural mind.

        In fact, I have one long post, The Agricultural Mind, that extensively goes into the scientific research. The other part of the equation, besides loss of psychedelics, is loss of regular ketosis, something also discussed in that long post.

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      2. I could give you some brief background on my thinking. There is a reason I think someone would be wrong to think of psychedelics as a shortcut to enlightenment, as that is getting things in the wrong order. Historically speaking, it’s only after the psychedelic mindset is lost that people become concerned about something like enlightenment.

        The talk about enlightenment only began in the axial age, long after the practice of psychedelics was common. Agriculture in its most limited form began 10,000 years before the axial age. Enlightenment, as such, is a rather later concern for humanity. And it was only with that later concern that people spoke of a sense of loss of the divine, of Eden, etc and a sense of not being at home in the world. Julian Jaynes talks about this as nostalgia for archaic authorization from voice-hearing, what he calls the bicameral mind.

        I’d argue that this is no accident, the order of events. It is the loss of that earlier mindset that created the longing for a return to the sense of being at home in the world that had weakened over time. Yet at the same time, egoic consciousness had built up more rigid mental walls that it felt it needed to defend. The animistic and bicameral mindsets allowed for multiple voices to be heard, but the newer egoic consciousness required a narrowing down this field of awareness to a single voice in creating an intensification of self. This reduced this self to the isolated individual.

        This was accomplished, as I conjecture, through addictive substances (and a high-carb diet) that have this focusing effect. That is opposite of psychedelics that, instead, expand the mind and the senses. In meditation practice, there is this immense effort to quiet all the chattering voices or to find the space between the sound. This demonstrates how much we struggle against those animistic and bicameral minds that continually irrupt from the non-conscious. We don’t know how to handle them, as they no longer have functional place within the social order.

        So, we have to constantly imbibe carbs, sugar, caffeine, nicotine, etc to maintain a sense of control and focus. Our modern mind has been socially constructed through many kinds of changes. Diet and substance use was central to this. Ask people to give up their high-carb diet and addictive drugs and you’ll quickly see how resistant they are. Our mindset and hence our entire society is dependent on it.

        Did you noticed Michael Pollan’s new book. It’s about caffeine as an addictive substance. He thinks it is to be largely given credit for the rise of the modern world, in particular industrialized capitalism. I’d agree. Others have made the argument that caffeine and sugar fueled the Enlightenment Age. Here are some things that stood out to me:

        https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/02/10/803394030/michael-pollan-explains-caffeine-cravings-and-why-you-dont-have-to-quit

        On his experience of giving up caffeine for three months

        “The thing that really struck me was that I’ve never had [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder]. I can focus pretty well. I felt like, oh, this is what ADHD is like. I can’t keep stuff out of the peripheries. The peripheral information and sense data keeps rushing in and getting in the way. I felt like I was a horse that had taken its blinders off and suddenly I could see too many degrees of circumference. So that was a real problem for working. I really had trouble sitting and writing and staying still.”

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/voraciously/wp/2020/02/05/caffeine-has-been-a-boon-for-civilization-michael-pollan-says-but-it-has-come-at-a-cost/

        “Caffeine makes us work harder. Is that good for us or not? What is good for a species?” Pollan says. “The kind of person caffeine made us, someone more likely to be striving and ambitious and highly productive, does that necessarily make us happier?”

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      3. I realized I forgot to mention the most key point. Psychedelics are opposite of addictive drugs in one simple way. They are not addictive.

        In fact, some of them are anti-addictive. Some addicts who have taken Ayahuasca have had their addiction disappear. It’s as if psychedelics can reboot biological functioning back to factory settings.

        Maybe this has something to do with the focusing nature of addiction vs the expansive nature of psychedelics.

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      4. I had a thought about your tripping and about mine as well. We are both very intellectual individuals. That probably means that we have strong egoic consciousness with strong boundaries of self.

        Psychedelics didn’t easily faze you and it takes a lot to faze me. Few people could talk on psychedelics in the way I did. My Jaynesian narratizing voice doesn’t shut down easily.

        It probably requires higher doses of psychedelics to breakdown egoic consciousness for intellectuals. We are more resistant to the psychedelic mindset.

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      5. Did you read my post on tea and beer? I referenced your work in it, if only briefly:
        https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2019/06/30/yes-tea-banished-the-fairies/

        “Let me make some connections. Alcohol is a particular kind of drug. Chuck Pezeshki argues that, “alcohol is much more of a ‘We’ drug when used in moderation, than an ‘I’ drug” (Leadership for Creativity Isn’t all Child’s Play). He adds that, “There’s a reason for the old saying ‘when the pub closes, the revolution starts!’” Elsewhere, he offers the contrast that, “Alcohol is on average is pro-empathetic, sugar anti-empathetic” (The Case Against Sugar — a True Psychodynamic Meta-Review).

        “Think about it. Both tea and sugar were foods introduced through colonialism. It took a while for them to become widespread. They first were accessible to those in the monied classes, including the intellectual elite. Some have argued that these stimulants are what fueled the Enlightenment Age. And don’t forget that tea played a key role in instigating the American Revolution. Changes in diet often go hand in hand with changes in culture (see below).”

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  3. I’m glad you brought up the Nazis. And I appreciate you reminding me of the book Blitzed. That perfectly demonstrates my theory. Some of what is said from the Guardian article really confirms the points I was making.

    Addictive drugs, especially uppers, made industrial fascism possible in the way Pollan argues that caffeine made industrial capitalism possible. In both cases, it allowed people to maintain focus, intensity, and stamina for long hours and late into the night for many days… followed by collapsing in exhaustion at night, on weekends, or when the Blitzkrieg was over. Then later on when the Berlin wall was torn down, it was psychedelics and ecstasy that helped tear down the walls of the war-traumatized mind.

    The author didn’t think it made “National Socialism any more”, but I’d disagree. One of the most interesting observations of Julian Jaynes was how with the weakening of the communally-oriented bicameral mind that a new rule-oriented brutal tyranny arose that never before existed in all of history. I’d add that was right before the collapse of those civilizations in the Bronze Age and then centuries later began the cultivation of the addictive substances.

    This new kind of rigidly hierarchical and centralized authoritarianism was the other side of the rise of egoic consciousness. It would become the twin spectres of ultra-nationalism and hyper-individualism. In both cases, it shuts down the older way of being that constantly threatens to irrupt from the shadow. It’s the desire for a singular voice to enforce a singular order, whether from cult of personality or cult of ego.

    “I remember the 90s. The wall had just come down, and I was experimenting with party drugs like ecstasy and LSD. The techno scene had started up, and there were all these empty buildings in the east where the youth [from east and west] would meet for the first time. They were hardcore, some of those guys from the east – they didn’t understand foreigners at all – and the ecstasy helped them to lose some of their hatred and suspicion. […]

    “Some drugs, however, had their uses, particularly in a society hell bent on keeping up with the energetic Hitler (“Germany awake!” the Nazis ordered, and the nation had no choice but to snap to attention). A substance that could “integrate shirkers, malingerers, defeatists and whiners” into the labour market might even be sanctioned. At a company called Temmler in Berlin, Dr Fritz Hauschild, its head chemist, inspired by the successful use of the American amphetamine Benzedrine at the 1936 Olympic Games, began trying to develop his own wonder drug – and a year later, he patented the first German methyl-amphetamine. Pervitin, as it was known, quickly became a sensation, used as a confidence booster and performance enhancer by everyone from secretaries to actors to train drivers (initially, it could be bought without prescription). It even made its way into confectionery. “Hildebrand chocolates are always a delight,” went the slogan. Women were recommended to eat two or three, after which they would be able to get through their housework in no time at all – with the added bonus that they would also lose weight, given the deleterious effect Pervitin had on the appetite. Ohler describes it as National Socialism in pill form. […]

    “Blitzed looks set to reframe the way certain aspects of the Third Reich will be viewed in the future. But Ohler’s thesis doesn’t, of course, make National Socialism any more fathomable […]

    “You think it [nazism] was orderly. But it was complete chaos. I suppose working on Blitzed has helped me understand that at least. Meth kept people in the system without their having to think about it.”

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  4. Here is the moral of the story: Many substances put into the human body (according to individual choice, food systems, doctor prescriptions, authoritarian regimes, etc) can affect thought processes, behavior, ways of relating, personality, and sense of identity.

    When an entire society or its leadership alters choices and incentives, structures and systems (be it the USDA pushing a low-fat/high-carb diet or the Nazis pushing meth), the changes to individuals can transform the culture itself — such that former ways of living and being are lost from living memory and the present system becomes justified with ideological realism and fatalism, just the way the world is or has to be.

    Diets and drugs, as with linguistic relativism, has immense power to shape our sense of the world. Such things can be used to fortify not only mindsets but all that is socially constructed. The kind of modern hyper-individualism or ultra-nationalism might not otherwise be possible without the substances produced by modern industrialization. Remove those substances, as happened when the allies bombed the Nazi factories producing drugs, and the system can’t be maintained.

    But the powers that be will always seek better substances to this end. If the Nazis’ preferred drugs led to a society-wide health crash after a couple of years, drug companies will look for even better drugs that can sustain intense functioning over a much longer period, even if it still finally destroys the health of the individual.

    And if not drugs, there are many other methods of biohacking to seek particular results of increased production and social control. One way or another, according to my argument, this involves the addictive mindset.

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    1. There is another side of this as well. You linked to a Psymposia article, “Lucy in the Sky with Nazis.” By the way, they also did a podcast on it:
      https://www.psymposia.com/podcasts/lucy-in-the-sky-with-nazis-psychedelics-and-the-far-right/

      Obviously, it’s complex. One problem is many people lack historical context. Liberalism and the reactionary mind have always been twinned forces in modernity. Some of the most reactionary people I know, in fact, identify as liberals. This isn’t a ruse. The reactionary is the shadow of liberalism. And liberals lacking awareness, which is most liberals, will fall prey to it.

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2019/01/26/reactionary-mind-is-not-normal/

      The contrast of psychedelics and addictive substances is not the difference between liberalism and conservatism, between progressivism and reaction. Rather, the addictive mindset strengthens egoic consciousness, both in its forms of hyper-individualism and ultra-nationalism.

      A fully psychedelic society, as seen with tribes, tends toward a more organic communal and egalitarian style that lacks much hierarchy or centralized power (e.g., Piraha). That isn’t to say that a tribe can’t be oppressive in its own way, but the point is that it functions in an entirely other way.

      Now a culture that mixes the two kinds of drugs and mindsets creates another set of conditions, specifically in the set and setting of industrialized capitalism. We are in unknown territory. But the reactionary throws caution to the wind because, in the end, the reactionary is a radical who is obsessed with visions of change at all costs.

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2018/04/08/violent-fantasy-of-reactionary-intellectuals/
      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2017/11/20/the-fantasy-of-creative-destruction/

      Basically, there is no doubt that psychedelics, along with many similar substances we ingest, can alter perception, thought processes, identity, and even the sense of reality. And it’s clear that when enough people experience such changes it can fundamentally alter the culture and social order.

      In a society where the addictive mindset is dominant, the experience and outcomes of psychedelic trips wouldn’t be the same as what is observed, for example, in shamanic cultures where addiction is rare to non-existent. The entire context has been altered.

      Addiction narrows and rigidifies mental boundaries, whereas psychedelics loosen them. But when the two are combined it gives the dual power of eliminating old boundaries and creating new ones, a perfect combination for brainwashing, especially with how psychedelics make the mind vulnerable.

      This potentially could be used for diverse ends, some of them quite horrific. Still, the potential for transformation remains. If we slowly shift back toward a society that is more psychedelic and less addictive, there might be changes that even the right-wing reactionaries won’t be able to predict, much less control or co-opt.

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  5. About those within capitalism seeking to co-opt psychedelic use, here is another article that looks at another aspect:

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2020/02/psychiatry-capitalism-recuperation-psychedelics/

    “Recuperation is so successful because it co-opts some valid critiques of our society, while removing what is threatening. Many have already written about how the mental health industry recuperated the socially-oriented, compassionate, self-disintegrating tradition of Buddhist meditation into the modern, consumer-oriented, individualist exercise of wrangling your stressed-out brain into “mindfulness.” Most people genuinely benefit from mindfulness because it addresses part of a genuine problem in our inattentive culture, but the threat of a collective struggle against the root causes of this suffering are no longer part of the discourse. The fate of mindfulness is not an unfortunate, isolated incident. It is part of a long history of the recuperation of Magical ideas — ideas that are naturally “troublesome,” “unpredictable,” and “irrational” — which dates back to the origins of capitalism. […]

    “To be clear, I am making no claim on how this narrative of psychedelics relates to their “effectiveness” in relieving any particular cause of diagnosed mental illness. To do so already presumes a medical model of dealing with distress. Nor am I am saying that psychedelics have no role in psychiatry. I am saying that “set and setting” includes the way these substances are framed in our imagination. How we imagine these substances as “plant medicines,” “drugs,” or as “a doorway to the divine” is just as important as their neurochemical effects. Their magic and their power to transform our insight and the sources of our suffering will be limited if we allow psychedelics to be recuperated into capitalist and biomedical frameworks.”

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