Terence McKenna smoked cannabis for the first time during Easter vacation in 1965 when he was 18 years old. He had inherited “the programming,” as he called it, from his “middle class straight parents” that “the road to hell was paved” with cannabis. But he had also read Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and others who had been more specific, informative, and curious about the plant. It took McKenna “a couple, or three” encounters with cannabis before he figured out what it was doing to him. As an adolescent, he’d been “what they call ‘a nervous child’”; now, as a young adult, it came to him “with the force of a revelation” that:
The mere smoking of a small amount of vegetable material could completely invert the structures of my personality and socialize me, as it were, into a reasonably functioning member of the community in which I found myself.
Within a few months, I had integrated [cannabis] into my lifestyle as really the central practice of my life. And it has remained so up until just two or three months ago when, under the pressure of my apparently dissolving marriage, I stopped smoking in order to see, really, what sort of effect it would have.
I was in sort of the absurd position of being in psychotherapy with a woman who I respected very much, and who seemed to be a very skilled psychotherapist—except that she had no sophistication whatsoever about cannabis, and the therapeutic process kept looping back to the issue of my cannabis ingestion.
This conversation would happen:
Psychotherapist: Well, now, how many times a day do you do this?
McKenna: Eh, ten to fourteen.
Psychotherapist: And how many years have you been doing this?
McKenna: Well, 25, 26, 27?
McKenna discerned that cannabis was “impeding the therapeutic process”—not due to its effects on him, but because of its effects on his psychotherapist’s attitude toward him—and so, “to remove this issue from the menu of issues we were dealing with,” stopped smoking it. He said:
And I’m happy to report that, though I was at that time the heaviest and most continuous cannabis user that I have ever known or ever heard of, it was no big deal: I simply stopped smoking it, and took up reading in the evenings, and it seemed to have no impact on my psychological organization at all, except that, I must say, my dream life became considerably more interesting in the wake of that decision.
After a number of months without cannabis, McKenna continued smoking again—every day for the rest of his life, except when his “access to cannabis was interrupted,” due to travel or other reasons. But he didn’t necessarily recommend this constant, daily cannabis use, as he explained in 1998:
I’m an inveterate cannabis user, and I wish in a way that I could get a slightly better grip on my cannabis use, because I think the real way to do cannabis is like once a week, by yourself, in silent darkness, with the strongest stuff you can get, and then immense amounts of it.
The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently, more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field. Studies of non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those experiences. Moreover, in humans, new non-invasive techniques are readily available to survey the correlates of consciousness.
The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures. In fact, subcortical neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals. Artificial arousal of the same brain regions generates corresponding behavior and feeling states in both humans and non-human animals. Wherever in the brain one evokes instinctual emotional behaviors in non-human animals, many of the ensuing behaviors are consistent with experienced feeling states, including those internal states that are rewarding and punishing. Deep brain stimulation of these systems in humans can also generate similar affective states. Systems associated with affect are concentrated in subcortical regions where neural homologies abound. Young human and nonhuman animals without neocortices retain these brain-mind functions. Furthermore, neural circuits supporting behavioral/electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep and decision making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod mollusks (e.g., octopus).
Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex. Magpies in articular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.
In humans, the effect of certain hallucinogens appears to be associated with a disruption in cortical feedforward and feedback processing. Pharmacological interventions in non-human animals with compounds known to affect conscious behavior in humans can lead to similar perturbations in behavior in non-human animals. In humans, there is evidence to suggest that awareness is correlated with cortical activity, which does not exclude possible contributions by subcortical or early cortical processing, as in visual awareness. Evidence that human and nonhuman animal emotional feelings arise from homologous subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily shared primal affective qualia.
In an interview recently, Aftab Omer observed that I seem hesitant to describe Sacred Economics as a post-capitalist economic vision. I replied that I am not talking about the end of capitalism, bur rather a transformation in the nature of capital, so that capitalism no longer bears the social dynamics to which we are accustomed.
After the interview, Aftab probed a little deeper. “As you know,” he said, “the essence of capitalism lies not in the kind of money being used, but in control over capital in a broader sense. Why then do you not describe your thinking as post-capitalist?”
One reason is simply strategic: the term “capitalism” is so fraught with a century and a half of ideological baggage that it is impossible to use the term without triggering blunt political categorizations, throwing the conversation onto well-worn and deeply rutted paths. For example, it invites comparisons with the failed experiments in state socialism of the 20th century, or suggests that I don’t value individual enterprise and initiative.
There is a second, and deeper, reason why I avoid the term: if we define capitalism as the private ownership of the means of production, and post-capitalism as ending that private ownership, we are still reifying “ownership” or property as an absolute category. But in fact, ownership like money is nothing but a social agreement, a system by which society allocates certain exclusive rights to decide how capital is used. Even in the most resolutely capitalist countries, this right is never absolute: to take a trivial example, zoning ordinances severely limit what we can do with our property in American suburbia.
What is more relevant to me than the fiction of property is the precise nature of the social agreements that define and underlie property. In Soviet state socialism, despite ideology to the contrary, it was actually a small elite group that decided how the means of production were to be deployed (and who reaped most of the benefits). In that sense it wasn’t so different from Western capitalism.
Reading Sacred Economics, one might think, “This is still capitalism. It still allows private ownership of land, factories, intellectual property, and other means of production.” But if we don’t see ownership is a reified category, an absolute predicate, then the matter is not so simple. Because what is this “ownership”? What is the social agreement that the concept embodies? It is rather different than what we have today.
Echoing Roman law, to own something today implies the right to ”use, enjoy, and abuse” it. In other words, all the benefits derived from it are yours, and you are under no obligation to use it in a way that benefits society or the planet. (As mentioned, this has seldom entirely been the case in practice.) What would ownership mean if we significantly altered this Roman law conception? That is what Sacred Economics proposes. First, it circumscribes the private right to “use and abuse” property by penalizing socially and environmentally harmful activities like polluting. Secondly, inspired by Henry George, it separates as much as possible the “enjoyment” (i.e. the fruits) of ownership from the fruits of the labor and creativity added to the thing owned. This means eliminating “economic rents” – the proceeds one obtains through the mere ownership of property, as opposed to the improvement of the property or the wise use of the property. Thirdly, it limits the extent to which one may enclose the cultural and intellectual commons, in part by curtailing copyright and patent terms. Finally, it asserts a public interest onto financial capital by subjecting money to a demurrage fee, a negative interest rate, that discourages hoarding and encourages zero-interest lending, in essence making money less of a thing you can keep, hold, and own. Hold onto it too long, and eventually it will no longer be “yours.”
These might seem like technical reforms that leave the fact of ownership of the means of production unchanged, but actually they change what “ownership” means. When we understand that property is a fluid concept, a broad label we give to a complicated set of social agreements, then it becomes hard to say what is capitalism and what is not.
At bottom, the blurriness of the concept of ownership implicates the blurriness of the concept of the owner. Who, or what, owns property? The 17th-century thinkers that developed the philosophical foundations of property law (and law in general), Hobbes, Locke, Pufendorf, Hutcheson, etc., despite their differences, all pretty much took for granted a world of separate indivduals giving consent, entering into contracts, and making free-willed moral choices. It is from this assumption that libertarian ideas about the sanctity of property and the sanctity of contract are born, along with the irreconcilable difficulties that arise in integrating these with the good of the body politic. Private property (its presence or absence as an absolute category) goes hand in hand with the separate self. A system grounded in the understanding of our inter-existence, in the fluid and fractal co-construction of self and society, no longer takes ownership as a well-defined category. The terms capitalist, socialist, post-capitalist, and so forth, because they draw on ownership as an elemental concept, are therefore a little bit obsolete.
“Do you know what I need? To escape into the mountains, surrounded by tall trees, I will lay on the moss, and breath in the scent of mushrooms, flowers and wet soil.”—Le’echappee, LD (via littlebabybug)
“Here’s what’s really going on. Constitutional Democracy itself is broken. Not just “in America”; but across the world. As an idea. Because it has few defenders left. And so the thugs and men with guns have simply stormed in, and…taken it away.”—Umair Haque at Medium. Can Democracy Survive? (via protoslacker)
“We have grown up on this planet, trapped, in a certain sense, on it, not knowing of the existence of anything else beyond our immediate surroundings, having to figure the world out for ourselves. What a courageous and difficult enterprise, building, generation after generation, on what has been learned in the past; questioning the conventional wisdom; being willing, sometimes at great personal risk, to challenge the prevailing wisdom and gradually, slowly emerging from this torment, a well-based, in many senses predictive, quantitative understanding of the nature of the world around us. Not, by any means, understanding every aspect of that world but gradually, through successive approximations, understanding more and more. We face a difficult and uncertain future, and it seems to me it requires all of those talents that have been honed by our evolution and our history, if we are to survive.”—Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience (via probablyasocialecologist)
“If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.”—Fyodor Dostoevsky (via zenbushblog)