Turn on, tune in, cash in, [and examine the heart].
Call it trickle-down transcendence... in parsing the history of psychedelia, there is one distinction that proves, if not hard-and-fast, then certainly very useful. It’s the split between elitism and egalitarianism. And historically, this tension has long compromised our ability to reckon with the broader import of the psychedelic gestalt… champions of the traditional psychedelic trip fear that the for-profit model is now poised to compromise, or co-opt, the broader cultural and spiritual promise of today’s psychedelic renaissance. And the evidence for that view of things appears to be mounting.
One of the first things it’s important to grasp when learning about psychedelics is that binaries aren’t especially useful. In the clinical context, psychedelics straddle psychology and neuroscience, materialism and mysticism. It’s a state of in-betweenness that Hopkins researcher Albert Garcia-Romeu calls “paradoxicality.” As he tells me, “The either/or becomes a false dichotomy.” [However], In his classic dystopian novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley conjured the futuristic drug Soma, an all-purpose opiate that offered, as he wrote, “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects.” Soma was a kind of neutered psychedelic—a miracle drug that allowed users to escape the miserable conditions of their existence, while also blotting out any urge to question the nature of those conditions. As one character describes it: “A gramme is better than a damn.” For skeptics surveying the present pharmaceutical land rush in low-dose psychedelics, a distinct whiff of Soma hangs in the air. Deeper self-understanding should, by rights, be extended to society’s natural leaders: the businesspeople, artists, computer engineers, politicians, and others occupying the highest corridors of power. The elitists had a deep respect for the power of psychedelics, but also believed that such power should be concentrated at the top. Call it trickle-down transcendence.