“So how are you going to drug Stewart – in his Mormon coffee?”
That’s Jay talking about Utah’s then new District 2 Congressman, Republican Chris Stewart.
“Ryan couldn’t even begin to get him to think during his protest at a Stewart town meeting. The guy’s hopeless.”
Ryan is young, gutsy, passionate. On his first day as a public school bus driver in Salt Lake City, he altered his route slightly so the students on board could see the large protest near the Federal Courthouse – a protest against the sentencing of Tim DeChristopher for ‘disrupting’ a Federal fossil fuel lease auction (see Bidder 70 for details). Ryan was fired from his new job the next day.
“Stewart has been deprived of any intellectual puberty. He’s an anti-science ideologue, a far-right Republican – an arrogant denialist – and a Mitt Romney wannabe,” Jay said.
Jay helped during my campaign against Stewart in 2012. Jay’s tall, thin, bearded – and emotional and even impulsive, like Ryan but some 40 years older. He has a deep, resonant voice – and is impatient for change.
“But he is Mormon, meaning he believes in ‘agency’,” I said. “Maybe he can accept a ‘revelation’.”
“The Revelation won’t come from his Church,” said Bill. “That is truly hopeless.”
Bill (William) is a PhD plant ecologist – a good friend. We meet about weekly to talk and commiserate. He loves to read, ponder, discuss, but rarely acts. He almost never writes a letter or asks a question in public. We sometimes call him William – the Connector because he loves to bring different people together.
Bill continued: “The Mormons just had their General Conference. Three of their Big Twelve died recently – they had three big slots to fill.”
He was referring to Mormonism’s twice a year General Conference and to their ruling body, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The Quorum advises and reports to the First Presidency, a three man group reporting directly to Jesus Christ.
“Yes,” Jay said. “And they filled them with old, Utah born, white guys. So much for recognizing diversity.”
“Well, we didn’t expect a woman – but someone at least off-white would have been interesting,” Bill added.
“Someone with some hope of receiving a revelation or two would have been helpful,” I said.
“A little LSD might work – better, Ecstasy.” That was Peter – he’s been there, he knows.
Peter’s a close friend – fond of Nepal, impossible hikes, and pushing the limits. He was in Salt Lake to see me and meet Jay and Bill. He’s the most ‘experienced’ of our group.
Lucien added: “Ayuhuasca is easier to get. Maybe we could enroll him in one of the new clinical studies!”
He was joking, of course. Lucien and I are closely related. He also lives in Oregon, and was in town for our discussions.
I had talked with each of them, individually, about my concerns and plans. This was the first meeting of the entire group. They were getting to know each other.
We went on. Is the ‘engineering’ of revelation reasonable? Legal? Ethical?
“Real education is about revelation,” I said, “getting people to relax their preconceptions and getting them to think – rationally, objectively, critically.”
“Not in Utah,” said Jay, “nor in roughly half of this country.”
I had no ‘experience’, although some of my in-laws and friends do. Clinton and Obama apparently experienced marijuana, but I got through Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement, and my California-based education in the sixties without smoking – or taking – anything. ‘You’re a pharmacologic virgin’, an anesthesiologist colleague once told me, decades before my interest in revelation engineering.
We agreed to do some homework – and to meet again the next day.
“Have you heard about Delphi – and the Oracle?” Bill asked. He’s well read, interested in everything, and a great conversationalist. We were talking about my early ideas for the ‘project’.
“Tell me more,” I said.
“The Greek God, Apollo, had a site, Delphi, where a priestess, supposedly Apollo’s voice or messenger, said wise things – advice, predictions, cautions… It was so significant and important that a temple was built on the site and became known as The Oracle of Delphi.”
Bill loved history, especially archeologically-based history. He had heard of the ‘vapor’ mechanism – that the priestess, according to popular historian Thomas Cahill, was apparently high on vapors. The Delphi oracle or priestess was called Pythia – and she was stimulated and empowered by a sweet smelling vapor.
There is credible evidence that the site indeed had seismic activity, underground springs, vapor releases, and was likely a source of at least sporadic hydrocarbon releases. The current consensus seems to be that the active agent was ethylene – the reason some sniff glues, solvents, etc. Once used as a sweet smelling anesthetic, ethylene produces – in light doses – a sense of mild euphoria. Plants produce and respond to ethylene – it seems to be a regulator or signaling agent. Some Delphi stories suggest that the vapors were the sweet breath of Gaia – the breath of God. There’s also an oleander hypothesis – that ingesting or breathing oleander smoke may help explain the priestess’ behavior.
“There’s an earlier theory about the Oracle,” noted Lucien. “There’s a lot written on the history of hallucinogens and cannabis. The Greeks used to drink it with wine and ate hemp cakes to get high. Hemp seed vapors can turn most anyone into an Oracle of sorts.”
“Right,” Bill added. “And there’s credible evidence for medicinal and even psychedelic drug use that even pre-dates the Romans and the Greeks.”
“Soma is what it was called in India, Tibet, and China,” Peter said. “Long before Huxley experienced mescaline and wrote The Doors… he called his Brave New World drug soma.”
“I’ve done a bit more reading on the Oracle and Delphi,” Bill said.
“I’m not surprised.” I said. “It’s not really homework, is it?”
“Nope. If you’re alive and curious, it’s life.”
“It’s the excitement of experimenting – of figuring things out.”
“Which is the title of one of Richard Feynman’s little books – The Pleasure of Figuring Things Out,” Bill continued. “It’s also about the pleasure of just learning something new.”
“Which reminds me of a recent post on writing and teaching, by James M. Lang:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
“That’s the first line of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Bill said, excitedly. “Such curiosity, such staying power – and you can’t stop reading!”
“You never know when and where what you’ve learned will come in handy,” I smiled.
Bill continued: “There’s a book by William Broad called The Oracle – very complete and fascinating. He starts with a quote from Socrates on the Oracle: ‘The greatest blessings come by way of madness, indeed of madness that is heaven-sent’.
“Or chemically facilitated?” asked Lucien.
“It was likely chemically facilitated at Delphi,” Bill continued. “The priestess acted hallucinatory, possessed, even mad.”
“So Cervantes may have been quoting Socrates, in the last lines of Don Quixote: ‘Too much sanity may be madness – and the maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it ought to be’.”
I don’t recall where the link to the Eleusinian Mysteries came from – someone must have told me something. But when they did, it immediately reminded me of my own honor society initiation at San Jose State, well over 50 years ago. I was a clueless undergrad at the time, with no idea that such a significant and seminal event in my own development may have had its origins in Greece.
Tau Delta Phi was San Jose State College’s (now University) honor society. I was a fresh UC – Berkeley dropout, newly transferred to San Jose. Confused. Disillusioned. Great grades that first semester at San Jose, qualifying me for Tau Delta Phi membership. Little did I know, until very recently, that my initiation was based on ancient Greek rites.
It was an evening event. We assembled on a street adjacent to a University building, lined up, single file – as I recall. I was with one of my housemates at the time, also a new initiate. There were only a handful of us and some dozen or more ‘leaders’. Our ‘teachers’ – members and former initiates – were in white gowns. It was dark. We were fitted with blindfolds, so we ‘wouldn’t be distracted’, nor know where we were going, or where we had been, or who was questioning us. We were led into the building – various floors, corridors, rooms. We could hear but we could not see. Each initiate was questioned – many times – by multiple leaders. Questions involved personal philosophy, education, perspectives, knowledge. But it wasn’t really about knowledge, it was about thinking, arguing. There was no alcohol, no drugs – just darkness and questions, discussions, criticism, dialog; it went on for many hours. It was not harassment – it was about personal growth and intellectual development.
It was an incredible experience.
That was way before David Foster Wallace and his 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College. If only I had been exposed to his level of perception and thinking some 50 years ago I might have learned and accomplished much more – and been more helpful in working to save the world.
The Tau Delta Phi initiation was a transformational moment. It was when I really began to think for myself, really developed some self-confidence, some intellectual foundation. I had been through a rite of intellectual and philosophical passage. It inspired me to take Philosophy of Personal Values – the best course I’ve ever taken.
Some fifty-five years later I learn about Eleusis and its ‘Mysteries’!
About 2000 years ago – and for 2000 years before that – a rite of passage and mental expansion was performed in ancient Greece. Steeped originally in pagan Greek religion, it apparently evolved into a rite for responsible citizenship – a process for self-understanding – for proceeding, for transitioning, from one world or state to another. It was finally snuffed out by Christianity just before 400 AD, because the Eleusinian experience was at odds with Christianity’s insistence on a God who didn’t seem to like self-transcendence.
Not much is known about the Eleusinian ceremony. It started out as a pagan religious ritual to be kept secret, upon penalty of death. That’s why the activities are referred to as the Eleusinian Mysteries.
There are several somewhat incomplete descriptions, including Mylonas’ Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, 1961. The Road to Eleusis, 2008, by Ruck, Hoffman, and others is very relevant to our interests and project. It was a multi-day event, involving processions, sacred objects, a special drink or potion called kykeon, and periods in the dark, probably blindfolded. It was held in and near Eleusis, among fields well suited for the growing of barley and other grains.
A type of barley was harvested, extracted with water and mint, transferred to special cups or chalices, and solemnly presented to the initiates to drink, after a long procession, fasting, and various ceremonies. They then waited in darkness. Slowly a hallucinogenic-like experience evolved. This ‘trip’, in the presence of mentors, sacred objects, and other initiates, ‘…evoked alterations in their souls.’
The original Eleusis-focused event gained great prominence. It became a component of Athenian citizenship. Over the years the rites apparently expanded throughout Greece and even major parts of the Roman Empire. The event was apparently held every five years (some say annually) at a giant initiation hall in or near Eleusis, with over 3,000 inductees!
The Road to Eleusis notes that
…revelations about the essence of human existence and about the meaning of life and death must have been imparted to the initiates. The ceremony lead to healing, …to the transcendence of the division between humankind and nature – …the abolition of the separation between creator and creation.
No wonder Christianity was opposed!
Cicero, a Roman philosopher and statesman, apparently experienced the ‘Mystery’, saying:
…Athens brought forth numerous divine things, yet she never created anything nobler than those sublime Mysteries through which we became gentler and have advanced from a barbarous and rustic life to a more civilized one…
“From ‘barbarous’ to ‘more civilized’ – that’s exactly what we want. That sure sounds good to me,” Bill concluded.
“I saw in Stamets’ book on Psilocybin Mushrooms that the Aztecs did something similar, an annual ‘Feast of the Revelations’ involving mushrooms, honey, and chocolate,” Lucien said. “There’s very little documentation. The Catholic Church may have stamped out the practice shortly after the Conquistadores arrived.”
Although my Tau Delta Phi experience didn’t involve any potions or drugs, the Oracle of Delphi and the Eleusinian Mysteries apparently did. Indeed there is evidence for mind-expanding chemical use throughout history, on all continents, by many if not most cultures.
Ruck also published Mushrooms, Myth and Mithras in 2011. In Mithras he notes that Eleusinian-like rites and initiations were very common throughout much of the ancient world, utilizing a variety of fungi for the chemical agents. Some of the ceremonies involved intense, rhythmic drumming to facilitate transcendence. He notes that today some isolated groups of Kurds use similar ceremonies. And today some of that Kurdish Yazidi sect are being targeted and slaughtered by the ISIS ‘caliphate’ in Iraq.
Masonic or Free Mason groups also employed rites and rituals involving chemical agents and active vapors.
Ruck concludes with:
What better a hope has humanity than to tear asunder our preconceptions and psychological obstacles … to our present folly, and to more fully realize our best hopes for a more civilized future?
If the Greeks and other ancients can employ drug-induced revelation, then perhaps so can we.
“So we need to institute an Eleusinian-like experience as part of the swearing in of newly elected public officials?”
“It makes more sense than a hand on a bible,” added Jay. “Republicans do like pageantry – and recognition.”
“And some of them like to smoke. Wasn’t former Speaker Boehner a pack a day guy?” I said. “He apparently smells and exudes smoke, according to his replacement, Paul Ryan.”
“Well, Boehner is largely out of the picture now – and so is Kevin McCarthy – originally Boehner’s heir apparent!”
“Before Kevin verbally blew off his own toes,” Jay smiled. “Republicans – the party of chaos.”
“I don’t think getting Paul Ryan – or any of them – to smoke pot is the way to go. We need something stronger, more empathetic, more effective. Some entheogen – an empathy-inducing psychedelic might help – yes, an empathogen,” Peter suggested.
Jay: “Easy to say and very hard to do. Except for marijuana in a very few states, they’re all illegal. And Tea Party Republicans won’t agree to magic incense at their swearing in!”
“It has to be clandestine,” I said. “Clandestine and all at once.”
“What are you smoking?” asked Lucien.
“Nothing, yet. I’m a pharmacologic near-virgin, remember?”
“The Eleusinian ceremonies were voluntary, weren’t they?” Lucien continued.
“Sort of – they were ‘expected’ of all good citizens. That probably means not quite voluntary. The historical record is not very complete.”
“In Island – Aldous Huxley’s last novel – he describes an initiation ceremony for all youth – involving physical ordeals followed by ingestion of a transcendental agent, moksha. His key character, a Dr. Roberts, says: ‘When it’s time for them to learn the deepest truths …we…give them four hundred milligrams of revelation.’ They repeated the experience every year until they graduated to adulthood.”
Interesting. And moksha apparently means liberation.
It got me thinking – and doing more homework. Time to put my old, latent organic chemistry training – and drug delivery days – to work.
What might psycho-pharmacology really have available?
Albert Hofmann died in 2008 at the age of 102. His work and journey is documented in LSD – My Problem Child, first published in German in 1979, with the third and most recent printing in 2005. A recent and very good biography is: Mystic Chemist, 2013.
Hofmann, working at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, first synthesized LSD in 1938 as a chemical derivative of ergotamine, a component of ergot, a fungus often common to rye plants and also widely found with wheat and barley. Grains heavily infected with ergot – and breads made from such grains – can cause severe human toxicity and even death.
Hofmann’s precise and exquisite organic chemistry skills led to many derivatives, the most interesting and important of which is lysergic acid diethylamide; he labeled it LSD-25, now commonly just called LSD, lysergic acid, or ‘acid’ in popular drug slang. It was not until 1943 that Hofmann personally experienced the psychedelic effects of extremely small quantities of LSD-25 – the most powerful and potent psychedelic agent known. He was apparently the very first to experience an LSD ‘trip’. As LSD-25 is non-addictive and has very low toxicity, starting in 1947 Sandoz made the drug available to chemists, scientists, and physicians for research purposes. The practice was stopped when psychedelics were declared illegal in the United States in 1968.
Aldous Huxley helped popularize psychedelics via his own personal experiences, made well known by his little book: The Doors of Perception, 1954. The term psychedelic was coined by Humphrey Osmond, one of Huxley’s mentors. Osmond was a psychiatrist working in Saskatchewan – one of the very earliest LSD investigators. Huxley experienced mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD. He was already an internationally recognized writer and intellectual when he published The Doors of Perception.
Awareness of LSD and other psycho-drugs and their diffusion into popular culture was facilitated by a group of fascinating, creative, forward-looking (and some careless) individuals, resulting eventually in abuse and overuse of LSD and other psychedelic drugs. The drugs were declared illegal in 1968, thus stopping nearly all scientific and medical research with them in the United States. Limited studies did continue in several other countries.
Illegalization makes the illegal agent even more desirable and popular – and fuels an extensive street trade and economy – with no regulation and thus potentially dangerous products. Much illegal use and abuse did continue in the U.S.
Sidney Cohen was an objective, respected physician and LSD researcher who in 1964 published a seminal book, The Beyond Within. This is, in my opinion, the most poetic, succinct, and informative book title I have ever encountered. He published an updated second edition, with two additional chapters, in 1968, just before the 1968 ban. Cohen’s rational approach to the subject and good writing skills put the LSD situation on a solid foundation. He wrote:
A pill does not construct character, educate the emotions, or improve intelligence. It is not a spiritual labor-saving device, salvation, instant wisdom, or a shortcut to maturity. However, it can be an opportunity to experience oneself and the world in a new way – and to learn from it.
There is a vast beyond that lies within… We will not see the complete end of LSD taking until something even more attractive comes along…The present cast will have to leave the stage before a more hopeful, new beginning can commence.
The 1968 illegalization encouraged skilled chemists to develop non-illegal versions of the drugs: so-called non-psychoactive substances (NPS) which are ‘legal’ until they are explicitly declared illegal. A number of very creative and skillful organic chemists rose to the challenge, including Dr. Sasha Shulgin.
Shulgin’s summary is the clearest I’ve seen: the P, T, and Q molecules. The Qs are based on a double ring structure containing nitrogen (N), called the isoquinolones. Shulgin’s last major book, with Wendy Perry, is called The Simple Plant Isoquinolones.
The P class is the subject of his first major book (with his wife Ann) called PIHKAL (Phenethylamines I have Known and Loved, 1991-1998). The basic structure is a benzene ring, with three methyl ether groups (called methoxy) on one side and a three carbon chain on the other end. The Ps could be considered the simplest class, with only one ring as the core chemical structure. Mescaline is the best example.
A combined two ring system where the second ring includes a nitrogen, an indole structure, is the basis of the tryptamines. This is the T class and the subject of the Shulgins’ second major book, TIHKAL (Tryptamines I have Known and Loved, 1997-2014). Psilocybin is the best known example. The amino acid tryptophan is another indole-containing chemical. It is often written that LSD is another member of the T class, although LSD is far more complex chemically than psilocybin or tryptophan.
For both the P and T classes, a two carbon structure with a nitrogen on its end is required for psychedelic activity. That same structure is also characteristic of methamphetamine.
MDMA can be thought of as a highly modified P class, where two of the methyl ether (methoxy) groups have been ‘forced’ together to produce a second ring containing five atoms – two of them being oxygens. This unique structure (called a heterocyclic methylene-dioxy ring) is found in the natural compound safrole, which is often used as a starting material for MDMA synthesis. MDMA’s unique, unusual structure provides a pharmacology very different from the more traditional mind-altering compounds.
There are various ways to look at the many different molecules – structurally and functionally. Good summaries of psychedelics and related neurochemicals are available:
Daniel Perrine, The Chemistry of Mind-Altering Drugs, 1996.
David Nutt, Drugs without the Hot Air, 2012
Mike Power, Drugs Unlimited, 2013
Ben Sessa, The Psychedelic Renaissance, 2012.
“Hofmann could make almost anything – and Shulgin made nearly everything,” Tom said. He was new to the discussion. Tom and I worked together some decades ago on materials for medical devices. He’s one of those organic chemists who can make almost anything. He even looks a bit like Shulgin! I recruited Tom by telling him I was starting a new, interesting, politically effective, and largely illegal project. Tom was well aware of my concerns about the state of the nation and the planet – and was generally in sync with the concerns of the group. He was interested.
“I’m working with – and leading – a very small group concerned with the rapid deterioration of our democracy – and the rapid and possibly irreversible degradation of the planet,” I said. “We think that the time for politics is over.”
“Because it doesn’t work?” Tom asked. “Because of gerrymandering, money in politics, plutocracy?”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “The nation is so far over to the right – controlled by a bunch of simplistic, uninformed, and largely apathetic ideologues.”
Tom is another avid New York Times reader: “There was a good perspective by Douthat in the Times recently – related to evangelicals supporting Ben Carson’s candidacy. He said there is an ‘…evangelical tendency … to look for a kind of godly hero, a Christian leader … evangelical Christians … are always looking for a hero’.”
“Until the general population feels so oppressed, used, and manipulated that they actively rebel, nothing will happen,” Jay said.
“And by the time we reach the rebellion threshold,” Bill added, “ the degradation and deterioration will likely be irreversible, so we need to rapidly engineer an Eleusinian-like experience – a set of practical revelations.”
“Yes,” I seconded. “And it has to involve a sufficient number of elected officials and opinion leaders – in a short enough time window – to result in a change of mental, psychological, political states.”
“A National Revelation!” Tom said.
Tom had lived in Utah a long time – he understands revelation.
“Exactly,” I said. “A National State Change.”
“Cool,” Tom said. “I get it.”
“You do want an empathogen, like MDMA, don’t you?” Peter asked. “Huxley, Osmond, and Hubbard didn’t know about it because it didn’t exist in 1962.”
Actually, it had existed since 1914, when Merck patented it, and then again in 1960 when two Polish chemists again synthesized it. But its psychoactive characteristics were not generally known.
Peter’s reference to Hubbard refers to Captain Hubbard, a gutsy, charismatic, early LSD apostle who advocated using LSD for political and societal enhancement. He was called the ‘Johnny Appleseed of LSD’.
“I think so,” I said. “We want to, secretly, ‘engineer’ an internal revelation which leads our ‘initiates’ to be more compassionate, caring – more interested in humanity as a whole rather than solely in the individual – and more caring for the planet. We want all to feel an empathy for the planet.”
“You want to make Buddhists out of them!” Bill said. “Buddhists say the three major components of Wisdom are Interdependence, Mindfulness, and Compassion.”
“Sounds more and more like MDMA – Ecstasy,” Peter continued. “If they’d only called it Empathy, rather than Ecstasy, it might be legal today.”
“If you’re buying stuff on the street, would you buy Ecstasy or Empathy?” Lucien asked; he knows about ads and messaging.
“The terms empathogen, entactogen, and entheogen are used more or less interchangeably – but they are different,” I explained. “Entheogens relate to spirituality, visions – even religions – to seeing or experiencing God – to awakening the God within. The 2012 book edited by Thomas Roberts, The Psychedelic Future of the Mind, covers the field. LSD, mescaline, ayahuasca – the traditional psychedelics – are usually considered entheogens.”
“MDMA is not,” Peter said. “It’s an empathogen and an entactogen – meaning touching the self within.”
“What’s the dosage range for MDMA?” I asked.
“Roughly 100 milligrams of pure MDMA,” said Peter. “LSD works in the microgram range – 100 micros of LSD results in quite a trip. It’s the most potent psychedelic known. Most other drugs, like MDMA, require a thousand times higher dosage.”
“Delivery will be very difficult. We probably want something extremely potent, like LSD – micrograms rather than milligrams or grams,” I suggested.
“If it’s LSD, 100 micrograms is an incredibly small amount; there would be issues and difficulties because it is so potent,” Lucien noted.
“LSD is too hallucinatory – it’s for trips, not empathy,” Peter noted.
“But, how is it – or they – to be delivered?” asked Bill.
“How can we deliver illegal ‘drugs’ to groups of mentally rigid people who would never agree to ‘taking’ such drugs – and do it in an encouraging and facilitating social environment conducive to new thinking and even revelation?” I asked.
“Did you ever hear of a book called, Poisoning the Press? It’s fairly recent but was about Nixon and his cronies in 1972,” Jay asked.
“Is that the one where they put LSD on the target’s steering wheel?” Peter asked.
“Yes. They were after Jack Anderson – a muck-racking Utah columnist who covered the White House and the Capitol. Nixon wanted him killed.”
“Utah, again,” shrugged Bill. “But why not spike his milk directly?”
“The milk proteins would likely bind some of the LSD,” I said. “And, as you’ve suggested, they couldn’t spike his drinks, because he was a Mormon.”
“Yes, with nine kids as I recall,” Bill said.
“He might have absorbed enough LSD to go on an interesting ride – or road trip,” Peter smiled.
“They actually hoped he’d absorb enough to have a ‘hallucinogen-crazed auto crash’ – hopefully lethal.”
“And?” Bill asked.
“Apparently G. Gordon Liddy offered to assassinate Anderson ‘on the street’ – himself – as all other methods being proposed were just too iffy,” Jay said. “But it never happened. I think the whole Nixon pyramid fell apart at about that time.”
“The Eleusinian process was largely voluntary, in large groups, heavily facilitated by mentors and ceremony, and socially accepted and encouraged – and took a week or so to accomplish,” Bill added.
“And it was to help facilitate the development of socially responsible and effective citizens.”
“Yes, but it’s unlikely we’ll have access to large ceremonies or large groups.”
“Who are our targets?” Tom asked.
“Not targets,” I said, ‘you mean our ‘patients’.”
“Aren’t we talking about decreasing evils – political, economic, and environmental evil? Isn’t our goal to protect and save the planet from the evil of modern economic humanity?” That was Jake – normally quiet, but this time almost explosive in his intensity and commitment. He’s got a proud arrest record for environmental causes.
I knew Jake as a U undergraduate. He worked with me as an intern and then as the webmaster for my sites. He has worked with Peaceful Uprising, the group founded by and with Tim DeChristopher after his Federal auction action, arrest, and conviction. Now referred to as PeaceUp! they are focused on stopping tar sand development.
Jake continued: “It’s humanity we are really trying to ‘save’ – from itself. It is about evil – about irreversibly damaging the planet and thus endangering all of humanity. So our targets must be those doing or facilitating such evil.”
“Then that means the climate deniers, the Koch Brothers, the fossil fuel establishment,” Jay said.
“Yes, and the others pushing for a growth-oriented, consumption and resource-based, unregulated, ultra-Capitalistic economy, “ I added.
“So it’s not just Congressmen and Supreme Court Justices?”
“No, but perhaps we can start with them.”
“I think you need to expand the list to include truth deniers – liars. They’re the foundation for political evil. They deny, rewrite, expunge, destroy truth – deny reality,” Jake said. “We’re now in a planet-wide Tragedy of the Commons, and almost no one gets that.”
“Yes. They deny environmental realities, they deny gun violence realities, they deny everything they choose to not believe.”
“Did you see the recent Times editorial on Cruz, Ryan, and Obama’s very minimal executive orders on guns?” Jay asked. “The Times wrote ‘…hallucinatory fictions peddled by opportunists like Mr. Cruz’.”
“And by Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan – and the rest of the GOP circus,” Bill said.
“Putting them on LSD can’t hurt,” Peter smiled. “They’re already hallucinating.”
“But in the wrong direction,” Bill added. “And they’re not really hallucinating – they are opportunistic liars pandering to a scared, simplistic, fearful population.”
“Even selfish, evil-doing liars – even psychopaths – can experience revelations,” I suggested.
“Perhaps,” Bill said. “Mormon Church revelation functions as a history reset. They just ignore the past history, the past revelations, and start fresh. That’s why Romney was called the Etch-A-Sketch candidate in 2012. He just reset his old positions. They don’t need to rewrite history – they just ignore it!”
“And Catholics do something similar, on an individual basis – we call it Confession,” I said, recalling the Catholicism of my ancient adolescence. “They then start fresh, cleansed, expunged. Catholics and Mormons don’t lie – they just say ‘Opps’, and move on. Catholic Confession and Mormon Revelation have nearly the same function.”
“But Mormons don’t even have to say mea culpa – or a bunch of Hail Marys,” Bill noted. “They can just hit reset – and all is new and well.”
“Very efficient, isn’t it?”
Jake was very interested in our discussions, but was too young to be directly involved in the project. Although he already had an arrest record via his Tim and PeaceUp! related protests, I felt we couldn’t involve him any further. Bill agreed. We each kept working with him on our other projects, but stopped talking about MDMA or psychedelics.
“Our earlier discussion ties to a piece I just read by a former CNN investigative reporter,” Lucien said. “She said psychedelics saved her life, via a reset-like mechanism.”
“McKenna said the same thing back in 1989,” Peter said, referring to Terrence McKenna, who focused on psychoactive plants and fungi. “I heard him once, way back. He said the ego is like a tumor, growing by taking in unchallenged, taken-for-granted assumptions, resulting in what he called the dominator personality – and a dominator society.”
“Yes. His Esalen video is linked to on the CNN gal’s new site, www.reset.me ,” Lucien continued. “She quotes McKenna as saying that we have to reset our ego regularly – and that psychedelics can do that.”
“McKenna also said,” Peter recalled, “that our ego is really a pathological condition – it needs to be treated.”
“And that can be done via a psychedelic reset?” Lucien asked.
“That’s exactly what he said.”
“That’s what the CNN lady and reset.me is advocating,” Lucien said.
“Instant revelation, via instant reset,” Bill concluded. “Sounds like something Mormons should do at their semi-annual conferences – or every Sunday.”
“Amen,” I said.
“I don’t think we should consider new psychoactive substances just to skirt the law. Nearly all are not as good and most are really illegal anyway – and will be declared specifically illegal in a very short time,” Peter noted.
“Actually they’re all illegal. The designer drug laws of 1985 generalized the definition of illegal drugs to include nearly everything, including MDMA.”
“I think we need to be able to ‘deliver’ to individuals; to small groups, like a small committee or staff; and to bigger groups, like Supreme Court Justices. If so, we may need different methods of delivery.”
Bill: “Volatiles via inhalation; liquids via aerosols, skin contact, bathing or ingestion; and solids using pills, foods – via the GI tract.”
“On the street, solids are often dealt with by snorting, as well as by pills. It’s all dependent on dosage, solubility, speed of delivery,” said Peter.
“And that’s dependent on the specific drug or drug derivative; it’s size – molecular weight; it’s acid-base, polar, and hydrophobicity character; and the other chemicals in the mix. It’s all involved in what the pharmacy people call compounding,” I added.
“Well, I can probably synthesize the stuff – with the help of Shulgin’s books and papers,” Tom said, adding: “You weren’t told, but back in the late 70s when we were working in your U lab on hydrogels, I dabbled a bit trying to make several psychedelics, just for fun.”
“I certainly did not know,” I said. “How far did you get?”
“Making psychedelics was sort of a rite of passage for young organic chemists back then,” Tom answered. “Nearly all my friends in Goldstein’s lab made some, but most were too cautious to try any. This was before Shulgin began to publish on MDMA.”
“But you’re not so cautious now?” I asked.
“Why should I be, now? Tom said. “My situation – and the planet’s – have dramatically changed.”
“I was told at a dinner a few weeks ago that U Chemistry students chalked a large exterior wall of their building with structures of drugs – for display to the public at graduation ceremonies – ten or so years ago.”
“Chemists like chemistry – and chemicals.” Tom said.
Diana and I heard an NPR TED Radio piece about ‘willful blindness’ – about Margaret Heffernan. She addresses selective and willful ignorance in one of her books. She notes that there is a
…legal concept of willful blindness: You are responsible if you could have known, and should have known, something that instead you strove not to see.
That means you are indeed guilty if you ignored or denied something that is an obvious fact. Denial – or contrary ‘belief’ – is not a defense. Intentional ‘blindness’ or intentional ignorance is no excuse. We convinced ourselves that what we are discussing and planning is not evil – it is for societal and planetary good – it is about correcting ‘willful blindness’. I recalled reading, many years ago, someone quoting a part of the UNESCO Charter:
Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that we have to erect the ramparts of peace.
Our project is to assist ‘the minds of men’ (and women).
And in considering evil, the other, and the enemy, I recalled the great lyrics from South Pacific:
You’ve got to be taught
To hate and to fear.
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year …
You’ve got to be taught
Before it’s too late
Before you are six,
Or seven or eight
To hate all the people
Your relatives hate.
And – for those who have been so taught, our goal is to undo that old teaching. We call it revelation.
“Many years ago I heard about an event in Orinda, where Owsley did a demonstration with DMSO.” Peter, again. He did have a varied youth.
Owsley Stanley was the Grateful Dead’s sound man and was personally responsible for providing millions of doses of LSD in the sixties. He died a few years ago in Australia.
“You were on a first name basis with him?” I asked.
“It was all first names back then.”
“Ken Kesey had some fantasy about using DMSO and LSD to transform the California Democratic Party,” Lucien added. “There’s a short section in Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid book on it.”
“There are ways to increase skin permeability, to allow faster and more effective drug penetration and absorption,” I added. “Today there are better enhancers than DMSO – and the new ones don’t smell!”
Matt is an activist climate justice lawyer, with an office near the U and right above where Bill and I often meet for our luncheon discussions. Matt was Tim’s lawyer on the Federal lease auction case. He provided background and perspective for me on water and land issues during my 2012 run for Congress. I sought his perspectives and advice on State Change.
“You do know how illegal this all is?” he asked. “Everything you’ve told me is illegal – and legally indefensible. Tim couldn’t use good intentions. He couldn’t use ‘Save the World’ arguments during his defense. The Judge ruled it not legally relevant.”
Tim knew that what he was doing was formally illegal; that he’d likely be charged, convicted, and sentenced; and that he’d probably have to serve time. It’s in all his speeches. It’s the foundation to non-violent resistance: you get arrested and you, often, do time. It’s understood. But our situation would be different.
“I don’t know if there is a legal precedent for changing people’s minds – chemically. But making, selling, owning the stuff is illegal, yes,” Matt continued. “And poisoning people is certainly illegal.”
“But hypnosis isn’t illegal; charlatan TV evangelists aren’t, seducers aren’t,” I protested. “Are quacks, cheats, swindlers, or psychic manipulators illegal or liable? Not in our society today. Even lying seems to be no longer illegal – it’s now called free speech by our own Supreme Court.”
“And condoned – even advocated – by Republican presidential candidates,” Matt responded. “No one ever suggested the legal-justice system is rational or reasonable.”
“It is possible to have visions, altered consciousness, and trip-like experiences via fasting – or even hyperventilation,” I said. “And that’s legal. In fact there’s a well known former LSD therapist who continued his practice after LSD was banned – by using hyperventilation and rhythmic music – he calls it ‘holotropic breathing’.”
“Well, even I know enough chemistry,” Matt said, ‘to know that hyperventilation can lead to alkalosis and, if significant and prolonged, to changes in cerebral metabolic activity and even EEG patterns.”
“Hard to believe you’re a lawyer,” I smiled. “Unfortunately we don’t have time to engineer visions and revelations via extended holotropic breathwork. Drugs are faster, easier, more effective.”
“Yes, but very illegal. Have you considered inhaling Carbogen? It’s 2/3 oxygen and 1/3 CO2. I’ve heard it gets you high quickly – and legally.” After pausing, Matt added: “See that’s what I learn by being on the Department of Chemistry Advisory Board.”
“That sounds like an early, faster version of holotropic breathing,” I noted, “or of hyperventilation.”
There is much more to holotropic breathwork. The techniques go way, way back. Stanislav Grof’s Psychology of the Future discusses the relationship to Chinese chi and Japanese Ki as well as Indian pranayama. It’s used in various forms of yoga and in Sufi, Buddhist, and Taoist meditation. Music is a key part of Grof’s approach, as well as in Balinese and Inuit Eskimo versions.
‘The combination of music with faster breathing has a remarkable mind-altering power,’ Grof writes. But the technique is slow, requires many sessions with good mentors or therapists, and simply takes time. Grof concludes:
The most powerful technique of inducing holotropic states for therapeutic purposes is, without any doubt, the use of psychedelic plants or substances.
MDMA is fast, effective, safe – and illegal.
“If you’re going to go ahead with your clandestine Eleusinian plan, read The Burglary,” Matt said. “Do as they did.”
“I’ve read The Burglary – and saw 1971. Your brief discussion after the showing was fascinating. I had no idea you were involved with the Church Committee,” I said. “I especially liked John Raines’ comment: ‘…it was time to move from non-violent protest to non-violent disruption’.”
Matt continued: “We have a functionally indifferent citizenry, born of cynicism, wallowing in a delirium of fear. We do have Wiki-Leaks, and Snowden, a Senate report on NSA activities, and a few Libertarians crowing about freedom and privacy. But you are right – the political situation is likely to get worse – a mental change of state is needed. But there is something new, thanks to Tim DeChristopher.”
“Are you referring to his new Climate Disobedience Center and the ‘necessity defense’?” I asked.
“Yes. The necessity defense was allowed in a Seattle case of five activists charged with trespassing and disruption of a mile long oil train. Amy Goodman’s program covered the trial, and said that ‘…the presiding judge will allow the defendants to argue their actions were necessary because of the threat of climate change’.”
“As to why the judge made such a ruling, DeChristopher wrote in a recent op-ed in The Guardian:
The judge has shown himself to be committed to a fully open trial of all the factors that would drive people to risk their bodies to stop fossil fuel expansion. This kind of openness is distressingly rare for civil disobedience cases in American courts. Why this particular judge, Anthony Howard, is breaking ranks in this climate trial is unknown, but I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that he is young enough that he will still be alive in 2050.
“It’s possible that if you and your colleagues are arrested and charged you might be able to use such a defense. Unlikely, but possible – it all depends on the judge.”
“That’s slightly better news,” I said. By the way, the commercial DVD of 1971 includes a special feature – a panel discussion with several of the burglars, the author of The Burglary, and the film’s producer – and includes Edward Snowden via Skype from Moscow.”
“Thanks,” Matt said. “I have to hear the interview.” Pausing, he continued: “I certainly do not advise you to break any laws … but if you do, consider doing it secretly – and keep it quiet for the rest of your lives. That’s the only way to stay out of jail. But do understand – you’ll probably be caught, convicted, and spend the rest of those lives in jail.”
“Goodbye and good luck,” he smiled.
We had also discussed youth, fear, the lack of drive or passion, the need for heroes, education, narcissism of public officials, and the popularity of youth-oriented novels and films, like The Hunger Games and Disney’s Frozen.
I shared Matt’s perspectives and advice – and the information on Tim’s new Center – with the group, continuing “We’ve all seen CitizenFour and know about Greenwald’s No Place to Hide – on Snowden and the NSA. And there’s a billion plus dollar new NSA facility in Bluffdale, just South of us.”
“Don’t try to talk us out of this,” Jay said. “I’m in. I’m pushing 70 – and a fan of Jim Hansen, who said: ‘At my age I am not worried about having an arrest record.’ I can learn to shut up in public – and keep a secret.”
Knowing Jay, I wasn’t so sure about his being able to be quiet. And I know he’s only 65.
“And I’m pushing 74,” I said. “It’s time to do something that has a chance of being effective – of working.”
“Me, too,” added Tom. “And in case you didn’t already know, my cancer diagnosis gives me just three to six months of reasonable function, so let’s get on with it.”
And Peter: “My annual Amsterdam excursions might be helpful. My heart is problematic. My cardiologist is a bit too honest with me – I know I could go anytime. Until then, I can be chief tester. I’m in.”
“Me, too,” said Lucien. “I’m a tester, too – and could help Tom in the lab.”
“And you, Bill – the world’s greatest connector?” I asked.
“My plant background and credentials could be very useful. I still run a greenhouse at the U – and my annual trips to Australia could be helpful. And it’s time I stopped complaining and did something.”
“You mean to make up for never writing letters or op-eds, or going to legislative committee meetings?” Jay probed.
“Or running for office,” Bill agreed, looking straight at me.
Bill did a lot of things in the background – introducing people; telling his friends and colleagues about events, news, happenings, events; and just bringing people together – a real connector.
“Didn’t you make the original connection between the Tafts and the U – which led to the U’s new Environmental Humanities Center in Montana?” I recalled.
“Yes. I first tried to get The Leonardo interested in Taft’s property and ideas – via Merry Mull.”
The Leonardo is Salt Lake City’s downtown Center for Art, Science, and Technology – www.theleonardo.org . We often called it The Leo.
“The Leo didn’t really exist then,” I said. “It was still a vision, a dream at the time. But when Merry left to join the U’s Humanities staff, you encouraged the U connection with the Tafts, right?”
“Yes. Merry already knew them. We had made a trip to Centennial Valley together when she was running The Leonardo project.”
“Well, it all worked out. The Leonardo exists, and so does the U’s Taft Center in Montana.”
Jay looked at Bill and Tom – then at me: “You already knew we’d come on board, didn’t you?”
“We did have our earlier individual conversations about the possibility. I thought you’d each be very receptive to the idea.”
“Receptive isn’t the right word. Let’s say enthusiastic,” Bill said.
“Then that makes six of us,” I said. “Not exactly the Justice League, but a good, varied group. A NATURE magazine cover last month was all on superheroes – cartoons of people and companies doing great things for the planet.”
I continued: “As we go forward, we need to talk differently. We must no longer discuss this project with others. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, we’ve moved on – we’re doing other things. We’re just peripherally curious about politics, drugs, psychology, etc. No action…just talk. Just six harmless guys talking about saving humanity.”
“With no time to lose,” Bill added.
“It’s homework time,” I said. “Let’s begin by reading, or rereading, The Burglary. If you haven’t seen 1971 yet, here it is,” I said. “It finally became available for personal purchase – at Target, of all places.” I handed the DVD to Bill. “Note that the DVD also includes a nearly 90 minute discussion between the 1971 Burglars and Snowden. Fascinating!”
“And I’ll review the Shulgin and Hofmann books,” Tom added.
“And the Shulgin documentary Dirty Pictures; it’s on this flash drive, about 90 minutes,” Lucien said. “If anyone asks, you’re watching molecular pornography.”
“Great,” I said. “I’ll get the books. I buy so many books from Amazon that there’s a good chance they won’t even be noticed. They’ll come to me – then to you.” I handed my copy of The Burglary to Tom. Jay had already read them.
The Shulgin books arrived a week later. I gave the set to Tom.
We agreed to meet often, each having done substantive homework. We are all avid New York Times readers and Google/internet users – and each of us has a small network of well informed, interested, and involved friends providing information, ideas, and perspectives.
“When we meet, everyone present will speak and contribute. We are a team,” I said, adding, “The Supreme Court, according to Justice Breyer’s new book, has an unwritten rule – nobody speaks twice until everybody speaks once.”
“And we, obviously, have to be very well prepared,” Bill added.
“Homework!” Jay chided.
I talked with Jake about Snowden and the NSA, but not about our now active project, harmless. Jake was too young to involve in such a dangerous project. I wanted to be sure that he – and all of our advisors, friends, and family – were protected from our clandestine actions.
After more thought and homework I made some difficult and unilateral decisions related to moving ahead with harmless.
As we are likely well below NSA’s active ‘radar’ for now, we won’t bother with serious encryption, covering our email and internet trails, or becoming otherwise paranoid about possible surveillance. We will ‘wash our hands’ from online connection whenever we can – and minimize cell phone, text, etc. usage. And also minimize use of public wi-fi, Bluetooth, and related conveniences.
Pondering secrecy, I recalled a meeting with Drahoslav Lim in Prague some 40 years ago – before the Berlin Wall came down. Lim was an early Czech mentor and advised me on hydrogel chemistry. He was restricted and being monitored due to working with Western scientists and especially for overstaying an early 1970 scientific visit to Salt Lake City (he had returned to help his old and ailing mother). He insisted we meet at Hradcany Castle, on the grounds, talking only while walking in the open stretches – not under trees or near structures. Surveillance technology then was not what it is today. We walked and talked about how I might assist him. We were careful, but he also said
…there are so many people listening to so many others that it becomes one enormous collection of unrelatable and unprocessable information.
That was long before the film The Lives of Others, well before ready access to computers, and before the NSA, of course. But the Lim comment did suggest to me that we might raise as much suspicion by being too careful than by simply being prudent. Thus no encryption, no drawing attention. We’re harmless.
We are developing a common sense code for the agents we’ll be considering when we do have to email or talk on the phone. For example, LSD is now LDS (we’re in Utah!), and MDMA is now MADD (Mothers against Drunk Driving). And MDMA also stands for the Medical Device Manufacturers Association – a good fit for my bioengineering credentials! MDMA will also be referred to as moksha – easier to remember than kykeon! Our people-of-interest entries are now referred to as ‘patients’. Other terms will evolve as we need them. Our evildoer priority list and its individual entries will also be coded.
This book will likely not be released, made available, or published until the actions we develop and plan are actually carried out. Unlike Mark Twain’s Autobiography, we expect the book to come out well before 100 years from now – perhaps in 20 or so, perhaps less. The project will be kept quiet, secret, unknown until we unanimously agree to release it. It will all stay hidden – in the words of Ralph Metzner – ‘ ...out of respect for the restrictions and prohibitions of mainstream culture’. We have obviously, been influenced by The Burglary and by Matt’s advice.
The Plan is to enhance politics and government via empathogen-enhanced revelation prepared by and delivered by harmless.