National Day of Mourning

“Silence is a weapon. Violence is the message. Take the time to listen.” – Silence is a Weapon by Blackfire

“I won’t beg permission to walk the land they claim to own, and I won’t pay no fucker to gain access to the stones. The rich have stolen and buy and sell our earth, but it belongs to no one or to all by right of birth.” – Take Back the Land by Oi Polloi

“This boundless epoch we’ve bestowed upon your savage, empty lands; well of course mistakes were made! But as far as human progress goes welcome to a slightly higher plane of innovation and opportunity for your trampled communities.” – Comply/Resist by Propagandhi

Thanksgiving brings something out in me. I’m certainly an American, both  by birth and dint of the inexorable pull of an identity born of television, automobiles and starch. These weren’t things that I was born to like. I got inculcated to this cult early by way of a lack of alternatives. There’s nothing else. You binge on T.V. because there’s nothing else to do. You binge on white flour because it’s the easiest thing to eat when wrongness is punching you in the brain. You drive because the other options take too long (if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford a car). These things aren’t really anyone’s fault. Or maybe they’re everyone’s fault. 

Our imaginary realm gets caught up in the indigenous past. Some kids play the cowboy and some of them play the Indian. One side kills what the other represents. Either a past we can scarcely touch or the force that chops it up and recycles it into the present.

I wonder why slaves and slave patrollers aren’t a childhood game. It’s not as though there’s a significant difference in time between the two nightmares. It took the technological innovation of railway travel to effectively subdue the indigenous inhabitants of the American West and the Civil War provided the impetus for the laying of track. Maybe it’s just the tastelessness of the imaginary killing of people descended from one group and an acceptance of the fact that the other has been swept from our field of view. 

This is not at all to say that inigenous Americans were effectively killed off. Every holocaust has its survivors. But rather that for many of us they were turned invisible and hidden from view, dubiously celebrated as the grievously offensive mascots of sports teams. 

My memory is terrible. There was a time when this was not the case. I don’t think there’s anything to be done about this. I’m not going to take one of the modern snake oils that promise cognitive improvement. I think I just need to accept that the events of the past and information flowing from them will be muddled as I progress through life. An outcome of this is that I’ve read a great many books and I can’t match the content to the title. This prevents me from being able to cite much of anything. 

I recall a book, and perhaps it was The Many Headed Hydra by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, in which the assertion is made that as much as the colonization of and military campaigns against the indigenous peoples of this continent was a land grab, it was also a foreclosure of the imagination of Europeans. That there was an implicit threat in the existence of a society that was relatively free of the rigid hierarchies and backbreaking labor regime of colonial existence.

It is a fact that early European settlers of the Americas ran away from their own society, just as slaves ran away from the misery of servitude. At least for a time there was an exterior to all of this. They could fall on their knees and plead to be accepted into the already embattled tribes forced into retreat. Sometimes they fought alongside one another, holding back the encroachment of everything that white society was pregnant with.

Unfortunately these guerilla campaigns didn’t push back the colonizers, though they slowed them. There was an incessant importation Europeans to throw into the frontier landscape as wedges to pry apart territory. These people had only to survive to destroy.

I am reminded of reading a history of my family and being impressed by the fact that one of my forebears had been scalped in what I now understand as an act of revenge. Somehow he survived. I wonder what would have become of me had he died. Would I have been spared the dubious privilege of consciousness?

I can’t really speak adequately to this as a historical process. I know about some of it, but not nearly enough to provide an accurate accounting. All I can really say is that a lot of indigenous people died so that imported whites could have survivably shitty lives.

There is an essay by Christopher Hitchens, nearly thirty years old, in which he decries the fact that some of his academic friends had made efforts to engage with the holocaust that followed European arrival in the ‘New World’. It was all progress for him. All of human history pointing towards some glorious future that seems ever more distant. No apologies for the past. Any horrors were necessary bumps in the road. In fact, indigeneity everywhere was worthy of extermination by the enlightened killers that uprooted it, whether it occurred in Europe, in what is now India, or in the Americas. 

Certainty must be lovely. It must be nice to feel so smug. But now he’s dead and his critique is barely remembered except as a poorly stated argument that was lazily written and glossed over the complexity of history, all for a chance to shit on people with the capacity to experience a wider range of emotions. Whatever paradise he claims was bequeathed by the army of murderers set upon the continent has not been realized.

The blessings of a self-congratulatory modernity enforced from Argentina to the Arctic seem dubious when we consider the possibilities of something else that could have arisen given time and the alleviation of waves of violence. When we think of the missile silos that still dot the landscape; when we watch the next great extinction relegate to the dustbin of history all the plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms that were the partners of humans more concerned with a life that made sense than with towering bronze or marble sculptures celebrating war crimes.  

In my quest for internet distraction I happen across a great diversity of stupid things. Jordan Peterson is one of them. I find it endlessly amusing that this proselytizer of unapologetic domination as a bedrock of modern life got himself addicted to benzos (I think k-pins, not that it matters) and spent three months in rehab trying to kick it, followed by a trip to Russia to try and deal with the protracted withdrawal that allegedly involved akathisia. As someone who has experienced this I have read about the topic. I recall distinctly a psychiatrist who stated that he ‘would not wish it on his worst enemy’. Thats generous. I do.

That a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps intellectualizer of masculinity had to throw himself on the helping industry to kick a drug that most of us just knuckle down and abstain from, followed by an international journey to address a problem that most of us who have been on antipsychotics suffer through just tickles me pink. 

His is the kind of cheap and boring intellectualism that provides internet dickheads with unthinking arguments against gender equality, climate justice and the idea that trans people deserve to get treated with a modicum of respect. His success is predicated on a heaping pile of dummies who can’t handle the sad truth that history has taken the shittiest path into the future, that it made us all assholes, and will likely kill us. He has his share of sycophants but thankfully they’re all bad writers and obvious partisans. 

I think I would take less pleasure in his suffering if it was a point of departure towards the road to repentance. Had he taken to his Youtube channel and said something to the effect of, “So hey everybody. All this time I’ve been pimping myself as a champion of the virtue of men subordinating women  and offering a veneer of reason to shitting on trans people, I’ve also become really anxious. I’m more sensitive than I thought. All this pushback against me, it’s understandable, and I’ve begun to realize that maybe I really am a shithead. I can’t figure out how to apologize adequately for my poorly considered statements that likely contributed to the critical mass of cruelty in our society. As for my opposition to identity politics, I see how I have no grounds from which to criticize these positions. There really is institutionalized racism. There really has been a historical visitation of trauma upon all human beings, but those who have suffered most are not of western European extraction. And the global warming thing, well that was just criminal. I can’t handle who I’ve been and who I am but to jump off of the train I myself set in motion will open me up to bitter reprisal by people who formerly considered me a mentor. And I appear so weak- self aggrandizing self-help shit is my whole schtick and I’m a wreck, shaking in the fetal position as I withdraw from the soft cloud of high dose benzo addiction. It’s all come crashing down. Could someone help me? Love me? Make me whole?”  

But people who are brands tend not to have these revelatory moments. Remorse is something that gets mentioned in a tweet before someone fades into obscurity. While I understand the assertion that most of the people who get tarred and feathered in the public square have already gotten more air-time than they deserve, I think it might be just that moment that needs to be front and center. For one, sincere remorse is agonizing, so if you’re looking for justice an extended treatment of the evolution of a monster would probably provide emotional satisfaction. As well, it serves as a warning. To watch someone’s shredded soul bleed out from the wounds of a public accounting might bring the costs of misogynist violence and toxic masculinity into starker relief. 

While the destruction of the culturally diverse but interdependent continent we live upon reached a number of narrative peaks as Spaniards, Frenchmen and the unfortunate denizens of England, Ireland and Scotland moved Westward, all this serves to drive home a point that many miss. The waves of disease that originated from these early arrivals denuded the Eastern Seaboard of many of its indigenous people, a pestilence that penetrated the continent much more quickly than the human beings themselves. From the South it was apparently pigs that carried zoonotic illness through the rain forests. The virgin wilderness confronted by early chroniclers of the continent was merely a landscape denied its traditional stewards. Check out Charles C. Mann’s 1491 for a more detailed accounting of how this played out. 

This is to say that the ridiculous and sarcastic claim that morons on Twitter launch at people who would do something so radical as express sadness over the loss of a diversity of worlds is both wildly unimaginative and momentously boring. The pat and condescending response is something to the effect of “Why should you feel sad about the destruction of a society that offered plants instead of medicine, swidden instead of plows, and lengthy low intensity conflicts instead of orderly wars of annihilation?” Aside from the hundreds of millions of corpses that proponents of this throw-away argument gloss over there is also a hypocrisy and ignorance that helps to underscore the disingenuousness of the position.

I think there is a missing of the point, or a deliberate blindness to it, by these champions of Western supremacy. They forget (or ignore) the waves of colonization that swept over Europe itself. From the Roman Legion and the systems of governance and division left in their stead, all the indigeneity on the continent was set ablaze. In the wake of this early conquest various campaigns of terror rolled across the land, from the witch burnings that followed on the heels of the crisis of feudalism to the conquest of Ireland. All the peasant wars launched upon the undeserving nobles were met with a culling to leave nothing in the imaginations of the losing side but the fantastical visitations of violence waiting in the wings. And when human progress demanded that the people be divorced from the land there was the Bloody Legislation that offered mutilation, hanging and slavery to the dispossessed.

Perhaps this is the thing that should be kept in mind by white people on this stupid holiday: In our distant past there lies a nightmare, one that we’re scarcely aware of. We have acted as one of the most significant vectors of violence on the planet and have also been on the receiving end. Just as our ancestors cleansed the world of lives that did not adequately fit into the designs of early capitalism, these human ploughshares were hammered into swords by wars of domination launched by Rome, then by feudal lords, then by the states of the early bourgeoisie.

The modern form of death is suicide. It gets referred to as ‘death by despair’ in some circles and doesn’t limit itself to hanging from a rope or firing a bullet into one’s brain, but also encompasses drug overdoses and the numerous ways that alcohol can kill a person. This is born out statistically. I have no reason to judge those who die in this way. I’ve thought about it all plenty of times. All the bitter disappointment, punishing boredom and terrible fear that many of us experience is somewhat obvious in its impact on these statistics.

But we neglect a consideration of the speculative fictions that assail us. Had it not been for the creeping horror of early states and the cosmologies that they erased with swift and brutal violence, would we somehow experience a world that made sense? Would we be people with a point, living in a world of spiritual significance? What technologies would have developed in a world not subordinated to the mundane horror of dollar stores and drive-thrus? What does an indigenous spaceship look like? What would a druidic neurosurgery entail? What machines could have arisen from the plurality of societies were they somehow spared their fates in the thresher of our clown idiot dingbat society? 

I don’t mean to gloss over the other suicide epidemics in our world. While white men have been killing themselves at a startling pace, it is the communities of indigenous people that have seen the greatest increases in death by suicide and this makes quite a bit of sense. (I suppose, thought I have not asked) that at every turn they are faced with the reminders of a world that might have made room for them; watch the sacred drown in a sea of profanity; and see a legacy of violence in a past that is not so distant. They likely know something has been taken and will continue to be taken by a world that doesn’t give a single shit about them except perhaps as names for grade schools. 

I remember a car ride with my father in the not-so-distant past. We were talking about my cousin who had recently overdosed in the bathroom of a retail store. He expressed his lack of understanding. He expressed what a tragedy it was.

I didn’t understand and I said so. How is one surprised that a pain killer is so attractive? We’re all in pain. How is it tragic? He died doing what he loved. Why do we applaud those who can suffer well and find ourselves baffled by those who don’t? Heroin was perhaps the one thing that protected him from meaninglessness. He sank into the warmth of deliverance, one of the easiest ways to leave this world. This isn’t a thing to mourn but a set of ethics to question. Are we brave enough to allow people to leave on their own terms, and why don’t we fight for them when they’re still alive? This earth is a suicide machine that pills and therapists and self-help books can do almost nothing to hinder. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Velvet Glove, the Iron Fist, the Historic Failure, the Blandest Myth

“Love don’t make the world go round, it holds it right in place, keeps us thinking love’s too pure to see another face. Love’s another skin-trap, another social weapon, another way to make men slaves and women at their beckon. Love’s another sterile gift, another shit condition, that keeps us seeing just the one and others not existing.”

Smother Love by Crass

“You see there’s lots of chances in this land of hope and glory. Try and make your own rules, that’s a different story. If you’re a man, you’d better act like one. Develop your muscles, use your prick like a gun. Fuck anything that moves, but never pay the price. Steal, fuck, slaughter, that’s their advice. Are you man enough? Ask the posters on the walls. Have you got what it takes? Guts and balls? Keep your myth of manhood, it’s been going on too long, a history of slaughter is the proof that it is wrong.”

Big Man, Big M.A.N. by Crass

At this point in my life I don’t have sex and I’m generally uninterested in it. Romance holds no allure for me. While just like anyone else I’m interested in causality I hesitate to attribute my general lack of desire for this most human of impulses to any one particular factor. It could be that I’m on a number of medications that count as side effects a diminishment of one’s sex drive. If this is the case I’m fairly grateful for this outcome. There’s nothing so compulsive as the drive towards pair bonding. Freedom from it is welcome, perhaps outstripping the antidepressant effects of these medications themselves. 

Or maybe it’s a learning curve that I’m on. As for many people I find that monogamous partnership that has perfect and unending union as its goal is something that I’m supposed to want. However when I’m on track for this sort of thing I feel stifled, surveilled and limited. I fight against my own patterns of behavior that, although they may be maladaptive, allow me to make it through the day. I’ve got all sorts of undesirable traits that I feel compelled to hide when I’m with someone. I don’t want them to know that I’m a slob. I don’t want them to suspect that I’m lazy. I don’t want them to see me with my shirt off or realize that I sleepwalk and eat during my somnambulism. These are things that are supposed to be secret and I feel threatened when they are subject to the gaze of another. To paraphrase a friend of mine, I can’t take the mirror that it holds up. The judgement of others is something I fear. The judgement of myself is something I’ve learned to live with. 

The illness, or illnesses, that I live with are another factor here. While antidepressants are libido killers, depression itself is too. There are times when I can’t do ‘it’, or anything for that matter. I’ll eat only toast for days or allow garbage and clutter to tower over me. There’s no working, a fact that I prefer to keep ambiguous for anyone but lifelong friends or blood relatives. And of course, there is the constant specter of anhedonia, where pleasure is simply not attainable. I want to like things and put a lot of effort into attempts at breaking through the barrier, but ultimately I’m just acting. I want to return to the seated position and type until my concentration falters, at which point I read ethnographic treatments of mythical monsters. 

Maybe it’s training. I was raised in a household where a terrible marriage was the defining and pivotal source of misery. I can’t point to a relative in the generation preceding mine who didn’t have a marriage crumble after a few years. When the thing that is conveyed to you, over and over again, is that the best thing one can hope for out of life is a disappointing pairing that results in unhappy kids who need to be supported financially by a job that is, at best, tolerable, well, it starts one thinking that maybe the whole deal is a bad one. We mortgage our independence and self-direction to a package of goods that is maggot infested and moldy. 

My experience has been that I’m poorly suited for this way of living. In the last six years I’ve been in two relationships. One lasted for three months. The other one was with someone living in Taiwan. We spent perhaps two months in close proximity to one another and even this was more than I felt I could do. One video chat a week was too much, and ultimately I felt that I was wasting both of our time. These were both uncomfortable experiences for me. I feared the possibility of a greater degree of commitment. I hated the thought of living outside of my sickbed. Breakups are uncomfortable and inevitable and it’s easier to simply avoid the conditions that bring them about in the first place. I need to be free to be sick. 

I didn’t have this self-awareness for most of my life, nor did I have the political savvy to understand that, where partners are concerned, I am a bad person. My early romantic life was typified by me acting like a scumbag and while the more egregious aspects of this diminished over time, it was only rounded ‘round the edges. I went from a cheating and mean person to someone who was simply disappointing. I confused sex for love and love for fulfillment and I never got beyond the first step of this conditional statement. I felt that if someone loved me I would finally love myself and I clearly got this backwards. 

Misogyny is a factor here. I grew up in an environment in which my parents were profoundly unhappy. While my mother seemed desperate to repair the divide, all of her efforts saw my father retreat further. Children were accessories to disdain and annoyance. I came to resent my mother for her inability to leave, a hobbling born of hope destined to end in more disappointment.

Against this backdrop I experienced a great deal of bullying. Some men will be able to relate. A feature of bullying, or at least the bullying that I experienced, is emasculation. You are physically assaulted, sure, but there is a sexually charged element to it. As you get punched and kicked, you are called ‘bitch’ and ‘faggot’, over and over again, as fists rain down. There is a kind of circularity to all of this- are you beaten because your sexuality and gender are in question, or are your gender and sexuality in question because you are beaten? I still don’t know. 

But the effects of this are that you come to hate the parts of you that rebel against the prison of gender, that find no pleasure in masculinity. These integral things, these fundamental oppositions, these ways of being that might lead you to shed your skin and live as something different become the sources of your pain and fear. You’re too young to see that your failure to walk the lines of this binary are anything other than a scarlet letter that singles you out. You come to hate yourself and the people like you who are buried in the toxicity of it all. You become a misogynist and a homophobe, a kind of jailhouse snitch or plantation overseer who seeks redemption by winning the favor of enemies by stomping on the people below you. 

One of the many shitty outcomes of this process is that women become nothing more than a means of validating your masculinity. You use notches in the bedpost as mile markers towards the respect of the people who’ve hurt you. You resent them because they remind you of yourself, the you who was sensitive, the you who was kind, the you who appreciated beauty and walked in ambiguity for just a little while. 

By the time this leghold trap has sprung you’re not even aware of it. The disregard for women and gender rebels is baked in. It feels natural, though it is anything but. To prevent any doubt as to your sexuality you become a violent validation of a thing you never wanted: To be a man, entirely untroubled by the violence that will continue to rain down on people more like you than you can ever admit.

I’ve come to terms with this in the last decade. It is a hard thing to even see and an even harder thing to admit. When you realize you’ve been a traitor to humanity by being a partisan of your feeble genitals there’s nothing to do but cry for a few years and try to salvage whatever time remains. 

Emerging from  scattered islands of punk and anarchism I came upon critiques of romance and gender that provided me with a great analysis of the conundrum that I failed completely to internalize. The great proselytizers of anarcho-punk, Crass (quoted above), made a useful and incisive intervention into the phenomenon of love,  marriage and masculinity. It is nothing aside from the ideal condition for the reproduction of labor power, with a waged male slouching his way towards the factory (or wielding a club) while a woman cleans and cooks and bears children without a dime of her own to show for it. It is the enemy of transcendence, one that promises us the feathered wings of angels while only providing us with the repetition of a dialectic. Loved/Not loved. Worthy/Unworthy. We can’t promise ourselves to humanity in this paradigm. There are no ways to break free from the tyranny of social reproduction when we are trapped like this. 

Emma Goldman is another figure who speaks to this, offering both a personal narrative of her refusal of unyielding monogamy as well as a crique. To read her autobiography is to be dazzled by a life of ceaseless dynamism while fending off the efforts of the men who surrounded her to tie her to them and them alone. This is not to say she didn’t love. In fact she loved furiously, but it was a love for the species in its entirety, for the people in her life and for the ideals to which she was committed. This isn’t to say she was celibate. Quite the opposite. Emma had tons of sex. There were many times she had to painfully extricate herself from the tar pit of monogamy, but she did it. She serves as a reminder of the terrible gravity of the unfreedom that marriage threatens, and an example of a furious refusal to give up and drown in it. 

The indoctrination of this way of living starts early. We watch our parents fight and then we’re bewildered when they assure us of their devotion to one another. Disney heroes find their perfect, magical partners and we forget to ask what happens next. Every move we make as we grow is undergirded by a current of sexuality. Be a football hero. A cop. A soldier. You will be loved. Be beautiful, be a cheerleader. You will be loved. Aspire for more to be loved better, to be as close to perfect as one can be, and the gift of love is still the only prize that you can redeem your tickets for. It’s a Chuck-E-Cheese game that everyone plays and no one wins. 

When I’m not paired my heart is bigger. I am able to orbit something like self-love. The children, relatives and friends in my life are afforded the fullness of my attention and this feels more mutual, more rewarding, and less fraught. I only have to be me for these people. And while I inhabit this frail human body that deteriorates day by day, I feel no compulsion to rage against it. I hope I go into the dark as myself with no one who requires me to deny my suffering or to be any braver than I am. We all leave this world. I don’t know what happens next. If I am nothing then there will be no tears that I can cry about my erasure. If there is something then I can navigate this space with the door firmly closed on the past. Either way I will be more free than I was in life. 

If Trauma Were Bitcoin We’d all be Fucking Rich

“What are you capable of? You can be the one to string them up and beat them to death. When you cut the bodies down, you’ll see the face of your failure and shame. This is a world of professional liars: a bleating chorus of tempered truths, who like pealing church-bells echo its’ virtues sung over and over and over again. Rotting at the bottom is better than living as a fool. I can’t find the meaning in the great achievement. When you commit heart and soul to earning your place, opportunity kills common sense.” – Ordinary People do Fucked-up Things When Fucked up Things Become Ordinary by Propagandhi.

I quote this band quite a bit. Obviously I like them. Having a song that parallels the ethos of these things is helpful. It gives me something to sink my teeth into. I wonder sometimes if it distracts from the essay but then I realize that there are rarely more than five people that look at this in a given day and it’s likely that they all know me.

I’m reading Karl Marx’ Capital for what is probably the fourth time in my life. I’m reading it in a group. Doing anything in a group is challenging for me. I have a profound inferiority complex that, as far as I can tell, is contextually appropriate. I log on to a Zoom meeting and I am greeted by seven people who I have known for over a decade, and in some cases for a solid two decades. I have no doubt that I am loved by them. I’ve gone through some of the most intense experiences a person can have with them. All my memories of these people are pleasant. This might explain why I avoided contact with most of them for the past four years. There’s no reason to taint our time together with my crushing depression.

The painful part of this is that they are living lives that appear to be quantitatively better than mine. It’s a shitty habit, to constantly compare yourself to others, but I can’t seem to stop. I reflect on their middle class jobs, their partners and their economic independence and I feel angry. Not at them but at myself. How is it that I’ve arrived at the temporal center of mid-life with none of the accoutrements that accrue to someone over a span of forty years?

Regardless, I get on the call. I block out the concern that perhaps people speak of me with pity or regret or disappointment. I don’t say much. I let others lead the charge. There’s no shame in listening. 

To varying extents we all identify with a current in Marxism that would be called autonomism. That likely doesn’t mean anything to most people, at least in the U.S. The general contours of this current involves a reframing of the relationship between capitalism and the working class. In general, most Marxist thinking asserts that capitalism is the agential force that acts upon the working class. Autonomism presents an inversion of this relationship- It is the activity of the working class that is dynamic and all of the technical and disciplinary discoveries of society are a reaction to this. 

Perhaps this is simply a preference. We’re all anarchists who, frustrated with the lack of analysis in this tradition, took up Marx’ work for its explanatory power.  Autonomous Marxists presented this in a palatable way and we jumped on it.  

When you talk about Marx people generally recoil in confusion or disgust. Mostly they have no real conception of what he had to say, or at least what he had to say that was important. Often it’s a very peripheral knowledge buoyed by the widespread political impressions that morons get from right wing mouthpieces. Bullshit common sense is proffered by assholes, flapping in the breeze like windsocks, who veil their belief that most of us should just lay down and die in the garb of McCarthyist hysteria. 

This isn’t to say that the history of state communism hasn’t been awful. It definitely has. It’s produced death and misery on a grand scale and polluted the left with dingbats who want to offer Mao, Lenin and even Stalin as heroes. They’re not, unless you admire authoritarian murderers. But it’s also the case that the endless list of dicks on the other side of things are also murderers and authoritarians. They just are afforded an airbrushing by people who think their arbitration of the truth can withstand the scouring wind of historical fact.  

If people have read Marx it is generally The Communist Manifesto that they have a familiarity with, and this familiarity is mostly out of context. The manifesto is a political document written at a particular point in time. It is largely concerned with a number of programmatic points for an organization long dead. A significant proportion of the work is concerned with policy statements such as universal public education and a progressive income tax. These are a general practice of governments around the world that no one would ever mistake as Marxian. Or maybe not. 

It is Capital that is (or should be) the canonical work of Marx’ oeuvre, but it’s unsurprising that nobody reads it. It’s fucking long. It’s exacting. It has very particular assertions to make about the functioning of capitalist society and you have to hang in through a lot to get to these assertions. For a college professor to assign it as reading, even in part, is to run up against both the attention spans and the political leanings of their students. And if you were to even mention it in a high school classroom ugly American parents would call for your death on Facebook. 

In our reading group we approach the text in the way that is suggested by Harry Cleaver. He’s a University of Texas economist who wrote a terrific book called Reading Capital Politically. One of the most useful things suggested in this text is that one begins Capital by reading the last chapter first. This is where Marx presents the rupturing of all previous social relationships that is necessary for the inauguration of a capitalist economy. The essential point is that the system could not be born unto itself whole cloth. It required an initial influx of human labor, money, and private property where there had been none before.

The way this plays out on the ground is through a thoroughgoing application of violence that encompasses the destruction of feudal relationships in Europe, the theft of millions of Africans and their transportation into the plantation economy of the United States, and a genocide perpretrated upon the indigenous peoples of the Americas. It amounts to nothing less than a campaign of terror that played out around the world. 

I have always wondered about the psychic components of this process. Inasmuch as there was an initial campaign of violence that had to be deployed in order to bring people, land and money into this system there was also, necessarily, an original accumulation of trauma. People did not go quietly into the night, instead fighting to preserve their traditional rights and ways of living. The answer to this was inevitably to kill or mutilate anyone who resisted. 

One of the perennial assertions of autonomous Marxist discourse is that there is a need in capitalist governance to dissolve and appropriate any renewed practices of ‘commoning’ and to always move towards the ‘real subsumption’ of human life, which is to say that if there’s something that hasn’t yet been commodified they’re gunning for it. Ways of being that resist the penetration of capitalist logics will be eroded, stolen, destroyed, quarantined or otherwise isolated until they collapse, at which point price tags will be rapidly affixed to the corpses on the ground. 

This is to say that capitalism needs bastards and it needs the position of these bastards in society to appear as completely natural. From captains of industry right on down to everyday sexism, from senators to cops, from middle managers to schoolyard bullies, dickheads are absolutely fundamental to the reproduction of human beings as labor power. All of the world’s outliers, from the mentally ill to the homeless to the trans person are receptacles for the sickening cadence of fists. Violence is a labor process intended to turn rebels, dropouts and misfits into retail clerks and Uber drivers. Don’t you dare be yourself. For even one generation to escape this process would destabilize the global order. For labor power to be reproduced cruelty and apathy must be reproduced as well.

Not to trade in platitudes but the assertion that ‘hurt people hurt people’ captures the ethos that I’m trying to express. While I’m not so naive as to pretend that the species was skipping around the maypole and tickling each other with feathers prior to the advent of the current economic system, I think it is fair to say that the application of violence assumes a universality under this regime that is thoroughgoing, constant and baked into the fabric of society. There is an implicit terror to living, in which we are faced with an endless parade of miserable futures should we fail to summon the will to restock coca-cola or detail cars. Too many days out of work and one sleeps on pavement, loses their children, petitions social service agencies for the meager resources of survival, gets arrested, gets sent to the psych ward, back to the street as the cold creeps in, and only then might you be granted the privilege of dying by another’s hands. 

It is guaranteed that there will be functionaries at every step to offer a helping hand only to snatch it back at the last moment. These people weren’t born but made, a legacy of damage done as hope begins to fade. 

Self Immolation in the Best Possible World Part 2

“All remorse, no rebel. A shell of my former shell […] What have we here? The dreaded failed imagineer?”

Failed Imagineer by Propagandhi

I swear I’m on a trajectory here. Just hang on.

The very late 90’s and early 2000’s were a time in which my adolescent visions of a world turned upside down seemed as though they might be pushing their way into reality. I had considered myself a leftist since I purchased my first Dead Kennedys’ record. Despite a lack of any real knowledge of the history or politics of social movements and class struggle I felt a deep connection to the idea that the world was hopelessly fucked but could be saved with enough opposition and savvy argument. Most of my thinking on matters of politics and comportment was delivered by Maximum Rock n’ Roll, the definitive journal of punk culture in the 1990’s. The unabashedly irreverent leftist discourse of punk served as my touchstone of all things political. It was the only friend I had for a while.

My earliest participation in politics was with an organization of a decidedly Leninist bent that concealed their politics until you were invited to sit down with them for their weekly reading group in which three people at a poker table read Lenin.

In hindsight the Eastern Farm Workers Association was bizarre and cultish. They operated out of a thoroughly depressing building in Bellport, NY and it was never quite clear to me what the endgame was for them. They had me assist in phone banking, tabling and visits to the barracks style living arrangements that seasonal farm help lived in. None of this seemed to have much of a point or goal and if it did I’m sure it wasn’t accomplished.

At 17 they asked me to start living with them and to engage in organizing full-time. Then and now I would be hard-pressed to think of something less pleasant. There was always some vile soup sitting on top of a hot plate and the several people that lived on cots in their office were so incredibly odd that it was hard to envision them existing elsewhere. Their desire to have me commit myself to a life in the miserable hole they lived in caused me to pull away. I was already unhappy. I didn’t need their help in maintaining that disposition. 

I remember distinctly an experience of tabling with them outside of a grocery store in the Hamptons. I was probably 15 years old. My hair was bright red and shaved into a mohawk that flopped over in the absence of something to fix it in place. I was still almost a good kid. The quantum superposition of my life had not yet been collapsed into a single, shitty point. 

Tabling for workers’ rights in the Hamptons is a curious thing to do. White weekend warriors stopped into the grocery store for beer, wine and liquor. In a lot cases they were continuing a drinking binge rather than gearing up for one. They looked sick and pink.

We had a standard pitch which largely consisted of begging for money. Whatever political program we were supposed to advance seemed lost in the face of the need to keep the broken people who were steering the organization in their bare brick home.

We were essentially panhandling the upper middle class and wealthy. While I didn’t have enough of a political footing to realize it, these were the people who would benefit most from the exploitation of immigrant labor in the housing boom. If they gave us money or signed a contact sheet they were doing so out of guilt or a dedication to the path of least resistance. 

I approached a man, anglo and over twice my age dressed in the uniform of the vacationing bourgeois: khaki shorts, a polo shirt, boat shoes and a flushed face. I did my best to deliver my pitch from the script. After I finished speaking he told me that he thought I was disgusting and that if his kids ever looked like me he would disown them.

Rage. Black fucking rage. While I was hopeless in a street fight at the time I thought this would be an appropriate moment to check if this was still the case. I wasn’t quite as good at tearing another human being apart verbally as I am now so I just lapsed into a litany of curses and insults. We began to walk towards each other. 

One of the other people tabling got in front of me and gently held me back (bro) and then told me I should go home. We packed up the table early and loaded ourselves into his shitty car, the type of relic that can no longer be purchased in working condition. On the drive west he tried to explain to me why it was important to not be baited like that, but all I could think was that it would have felt wonderful to stab that man in the stomach. 

After I pulled away from the Eastern Farmworkers Association I had few interactions with left politics for a time aside from the antifascist gruntwork of being incredibly hostile and willing to fight. When I did resume my participation in constructive politics it was as a volunteer with Food Not Bombs, which is basically a mobile soup kitchen that serves vegetarian meals in public places. This is an activity that garners a lot more police attention than one might initially suspect.  We would set up our table, liberally sprinkled with literature from various movements, and feed people at a local train station adjacent to a homeless shelter. Mostly it was fun and sometimes it wasn’t.

I have only two distinct memories of this aside from a gelling together of all the inedible crap we cooked. In one instance we watched a group of three neo-nazis leave the station, thick men with shaved heads and patches with blood crosses sewn onto the breast of their coats. A woman called the police on them, hoping (understandably) that such people were outlawed. Unfortunately this resulted in zero arrested neo-nazis and one instance of the police threatening to cite us for distributing food. On another occasion a shit-faced man who looked as though he’d been dead for several days picked up a pamphlet regarding the incarceration of Mumia Abu Jamal and told us that he was going to kill every black person (not in this language of course) New York to Philadelphia. Again, my rage was hair-trigger and I had to be removed from the situation. 

This is all to say that by a very young age I was convinced that the world needed saving and that it was an ethical imperative to participate in this rescue mission despite my boundless rage, bottomless sadness and complete naivete. 

There came a time when I decided I needed to do more. My life was utterly joyless and headed nowhere and I thought that if I threw myself on top of the flames of a burning world a sufficient number of times I might help smother them. A friend was leaving New York for the West Coast to participate in a tree sit near Eugene, OR. The ‘direct action’ component of the environmental movement had, from its beginning, bandied about a breed of self-sacrificing macho posturing that was very seductive for me. What was needed was bold action in which the dedicated few put their lives on the line to save the last wild places in the U.S. This appealed to my sense that martyrdom was the best I could hope for out of life. 

I imagined that if I gave enough of myself to something good it would make me whole and I would finally shake the self-hatred that consumed me. I bought a greyhound ticket and sat next to my friend on the bus with those too poor to fly or drive making their way to the tiny blips on the map that serv as passable substitutes for a destination. 

We arrived in Eugene with our substandard camping gear, a giant tin of rolling tobacco, and not nearly enough food. We slept outdoors in the city that first night. There was a kitten roaming around amongst the homeless and I gathered it up and put it on my chest inside my sleeping bag. It pissed on me and I had only one change of clothes so I went on smelling like cat piss for several days. 

We arrived at the action after an endless drive along logging roads and I was pleased to discover that the action was packed full of assorted subcultural stereotypes. Old hippies. Crust punks. Street kids. I felt inferior to everyone. 

The most senior and trusted people were camping on platforms in the canopy of a stand of old growth trees. The thinking supporting this strategy was that this  would impede any logging. The encampment itself was an attempt at discouraging this. People in the woods could be killed if any trees were felled and so we were told to disappear into the forest if any police agencies or chainsaw wielding he-men closed in. Not long before our arrival a young man had been crushed by a falling tree while implementing this tactic. His hardhat served as a memorial in the camp. 

I was no kind of camper. This isn’t my fault. I grew up in an endless suburb and lacked any role models who could have instructed me in the basic skills of sleeping outdoors. I got soaked from below every night and from above every day. After two weeks I was desperately sick and was well aware that I had not a single skill to contribute to the action. At the end of my stay I simply said I was too ill to continue and that I needed to see a doctor. After being driven to town I asked my mother to wire me money for a bus back to New York. 

I was feverish as the bus crossed the country. In some out of the way place where the driver was taking his break an older man boarded the train and sat next to me. He reached down and grabbed my groin. I was shocked and disoriented and ill and jumped in my seat then turned to look at him. Without a word he stood up and walked off the bus, headed who knows where. 

After arriving back in New York I lapsed into a profound depression. I felt that I had failed at yet another thing, that my life would not be a grand adventure but a ceaseless existence of non-participation in the seat of American normalcy. 

In November of 1999 I watched the anti-WTO protests play out in Seattle, unable to tear myself from the television. I was inspired by the militancy and strategy of the protesters and felt a sense of loss. Perhaps if I had stayed on the West Coast I would have been able to participate in what at the time struck me as a turning point. It appeared as though the masses had come together around the goal of beating back capitalism’s endless throttling of human beings and the natural world. I resolved to renew my participation in the movement. Not long after I involved myself in a local organization that was preparing for the direct action that would greet the IMF/World Bank meeting in Washington D.C.    

This kicked off an intensive participation in the ‘alter-globalization’ movement where we descended on a number of American cities with the intention of forcing political change by blockading the various ministerials, meetings, and conventions of the apparatus of international capital. I spent a bunch of nights in jail and I was fragile. Emerging from these events I did not feel more free. Instead I felt more weary, cynical and defeated. It was readily apparent that street-level action didn’t have a chance of influencing the slow and boring apocalypses orbiting the turn of the century. 

I’m sure that I’m not the only person that came to this conclusion. But I never moved on. I wanted so badly for the world to be better that I was willing to destroy myself in pursuit of some reasonable path through the awful present. I threw myself into everything I could and tried to bury myself in the ashes of one activist flame-out after another.

The revolution is still unrealized. The future is still bleak. The likelihood that anything could wake humanity from the nightmare of pragmatic bureaucracies and cynical, pointless capitalist production seems as far off as anything. But I’m getting old and it is likely that as the young people take to the streets the last thing they need to hear is the naysaying of a failed imagineer. 

Sheer Terror

 I was pretty set on how I was going to approach this week. I knew that I wanted to write about the clandestine factions of the environmental movement. I thought it would be an interesting counterpoint to the Self Immolation in the Best Possible World essay. There was a great quote I was going to deploy and a man I was going to memorialize but then research got in the way and it felt confused and poorly thought out, which is pretty much in keeping with the entirety of the subject. Ethically correct and strategically hollow. Had it been more pessimistic it might have gone somewhere but it wasn’t so it didn’t. 

Then I realized it was going to be Halloween (and likely is Halloween or even more likely was Halloween). So in honor of America’s only likeable holiday I decided to write about my one and only paranormal experience. 

Granted I’ve done a lot of psychedelic drugs and lived a strange life so there are points at which the highly weird has waved its hand in my face. Even the story I’m going to relate takes place in this context, but has been verified by a second party (although yes, the other party was fucked up too). 

There’s a renewed interest in ‘cosmic horror’ that is playing out in film and television, although film itself might be dead and shambling. Stories that fall into this framework are generally concerned with the soul-crushing awareness that forces far beyond our control are not so much hostile towards our species as they are indifferent. This awareness, at least as far as my reading goes, generally drives the protagonist insane. There are monsters, but on the whole we are just incidental bit players in larger dramas. This seems uncomfortably close to the experience of living ‘normal life’ except instead of eldritch gods we have traffic and the nightly news to remind us of how unimportant our hopes, dreams and comforts are. 

Then there is the sort of ‘folkloric’ horror that is exemplified by a film like Midsomer in which a modern and rational person stumbles into some variety of indigeneity or degenerate past. I suppose we could lump a variety of films into this framework, though it gets somewhat messy. HBO’s recent miniseries The Third Day is another example of this. I find the stories that fall into this compartment of the genre to be particularly silly. There is nothing so horrifying as our own culture, and any depiction of a departure from it sounds like a dialing down of the level of terror that humanity experiences on a given day. 

One of the classifications in the genre is ‘apocalyptic horror’ of the type that predominates in zombie stories. Again, I have a fairly hard time believing that an event that led to the downfall of human civilization in the 21st century would be any worse than simply living in the 21st century. Fighting my way through a shambling army of rotting corpses would likely be an improvement over working in a cubicle. The take home from these stories is that humans are the real monsters. And while this might be the case, I wonder why we’re never offered a zombie utopia. All the shitty things people do occur in a particular milieu and in the absence of that it seems equally likely that a societal collapse would provide us with an opportunity to transcend our shittiness rather than ramp it up. 

I’ve seen a fair share of media directly draw upon psychedelia for scares. While I’ve had extremely bad trips in my life, all in all it is consensus reality that is truly terrifying. I would rather confront the world of spiritual significance in all its ugliness than live in the endless purgatory of a well-ordered brain. Being locked in a never-ending loop of normalcy is just as frightening as an encounter with madness. Psychic horror rings true where so many other sub-genres miss the mark.

And this is where I finally arrive at the beginning of a point. The history of psychedelic studies could very well be the set-up for a subversion of horror tropes. It’s got Europeans penetrating the Amazon in search of mystically significant plants. It’s got fussy academics in a laboratory uncovering the foundational components of a radically different worldview and grazing the hull of mysticism. It’s got cultish charismatic leaders and true believers hurling themselves with abandon into the architecture of their minds. It’s got the CIA chucking someone out a window as they experiment with mind-control. It’s got a stripped down clinical world ready to introduce indigenous knowledge into the arena of psychic suffering. It’s at least as much a tale of stolen magic as it is a story of scientific progress and colonialism in all its grim triumphs haunts the mansion of the modern mind.

There are numerous ethnographies of the indigenous cultures that have kept and held sacred the visionary plants of the psychedelic pantheon. It is far less the case that the modern white guys studying these things have been able to grasp a cosmology that is in tension with their advancement through the rungs of popular and professional recognition. 

Combined with the realization on the part of nation states that these departures from the states of consciousness brought on by cars, refrigerators, television and single family homes were a threat to the reproduction of labor power under capitalism, we get a less thorough engagement with what these substances have to say to our culture, the one we’ve so enthusiastically forced upon the world as a universal good. It might be the case that the infantile grasping of western empiricism has taken up the (renewed) study of these substances too late to save us from ourselves. Thus do sacraments become drugs.  

Of course there are celebrations of the white men who ‘pioneered’ the study of these things, such as Gordon Wasson, who provided the Western imaginary with psilocybin and only ruined one indigenous woman’s life and faith to do so. And there are the self-aggrandizing depictions of a band of merry pranksters forcing themselves into the interior of Mesoamerican shamanism in search of ayahuasca offered by Terrance McKenna, who in the grim light of 2020 looks clueless and embarrassing. 

But perhaps I’m not extending sufficient agency to the organisms themselves in this discussion. While non-Western epistemology extends agency to the non-human world, our Abrahamic mode of knowing denies voice and motive to plants and fungi. They are accidental occurrences riding a wave of natural selection, not beings with knowledge and reason. But even with a dismissal of them to the realm of silence it is still evolutionarily advantageous to hitch a ride with people (a la The Botany of Desire), even if we’re going over the falls. 

With this being said, these are the exceptions that prove the rule. We have little understanding of the arc of thinking of figures such as Alexander Shulkin, a man who was filled to the brim with contradictions; or Richard Doblin, one of the driving personalities in the mainstreaming of psychedelia; or Stanislov Grof, a psychiatrist who went so far out of the box that he fell on the floor. 

All this is to say that I can’t figure out why the hell the monoamine oxidase inhibiting alkaloid harmine used to be called telepathine. 

Or, more to the point, I can’t figure out who started calling it that and why they stopped. In the work of Dennis McKenna, brother of Terrence, entitled Sacred Vine of Spirits: Ayahuasca, he discusses a number of botanists working in the Upper Amazon in the latter half of the 19th century who recorded the widespread use of a diversity of psychoactive plants. These early sojourners occasionally participated in ceremonies with the people whose traditions they were examining. 

It is strange that ayahuasca has only been an object of interest for ugly Americans for the last 20 years or so. Considering the relatively early western contact with the sacrament, literary works by both Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, and the proselytization of Terrence McKenna one would think that it would have been afforded a position of honor in our pharmacopia. Perhaps it’s that we’re so loaded up on other drugs and hate and folly that we simply can’t handle it.   

In the early 1900’s chemists began isolating alkaloids from botanical specimens collected by these field researchers. Evidently aware of the reputation of these plants in the cultures that they were taken from, chemists originally referred to the alkaloid they were extracting from Banisteriopsis caapi  as telepathine. This seems an appropriate moniker. All sorts of weird stuff happens on visionary substances, one of them being the (apparent) manifestation of psychic phenomenon. Thus, the weird fluorescent alkaloid in B. caapi received an honorific that inserted a tiny bit of paranormality into a wound carved by the exacting knife of quantitative study. In the present, searching for telepathine on Wikipedia will just result in your being redirected to harmine.  

This chemical is produced in a number of plants but in especially high concentrations in the aforementioned B. caapi and in Peganum harmala, the Syrian Rue. This herbaceous perennial, which derives its scientific name from its relative abundance of monoamine oxidase inhibiting alkaloids, occurs in the wild throughout the Mediterranean and is happy to migrate with human assistance. It has a long history of use in traditional medicine, and for a wide variety of ailments. It has talismanic importance in some cultures, guarding against witchcraft. It’s as good at taking down an evil spell as it is at banishing tapeworms. 

As an added benefit, its seeds are super cheap and readily available on the internet. While it is intoxicating it has avoided any scheduling in the U.S. (although the Aussies will lock you up for having it) and so there’s no anxiety attached to waiting for it to arrive in the mail. 

A tea made from a couple of grams of seeds doesn’t taste bad and produces an experience that’s not entirely unlike being drunk but without the requisite stupidity and bad decisionmaking. There’s a lucidity to it that you don’t normally encounter in things that get you high. 

On the downside, if you’re taking the wrong medications it can kill you by inducing serotonin syndrome. Among many traditional users of plants containing these alkaloids the dosages consumed are reported to be far in excess of what it would require to temporarily inhibit monoamine oxidase. It is thought that these higher dosages induce a visionary psychedelic state distinct from what one experiences when it is combined with plants rich in demethyltryptamine.

With that said, ingesting any of the serotinergic drugs after consuming harmine and harmaline is far different than taking these substances on their own. Monamine oxidase inhibition turns the dial way up on mushrooms, LSD and smoked DMT. The experience is deeper, longer and far more in control. There is no turning on the TV and popping a benzo to wait it out. It has you. 

I was something of a regular smoker of extracted DMT in my early thirties and there wasn’t a moment of these experiences that wasn’t fascinating. It was not unusual to encounter elves, angels, guardian spirits and blueprints for multi-dimensional apparatus. Smoking DMT is the psychoactive equivalent of being shot from a cannon or leaping from an airplane. It is exhilarating and terrifying and healing and where the boundaries of these things might be is not clear. 

At a point I tossed my stash of DMT in a fit of paranoia. When I turned it around and was no longer under the impression that a no-knock warrant was going to result in early morning flash-bang grenades and armed SWAT cops killing my dog I felt extremely sheepish. These are not the kind of drugs you can just buy. You have to work for them. 

So I was excited when a friend extracted some DMT. I figured we’d smoke and then hang out swapping stories afterwards. I had recently gone off of antidepressants for what felt like the thousandth time in my life and while I was on shaky ground it freed me up to experiment with Syrian Rue. I was drinking it in the evenings and hoping against hope that it would deliver me from the searing anxiety I was experiencing. My nighttime tea was mellow. I didn’t encounter the wild and chromatic world of what I thought of as the ‘true’ psychedelics but it soothed my miserably nervous brain and body somewhat. 

Knowing that MAOIs could strengthen and lengthen the effects of smoked DMT I brought Rue seeds that I had punished a coffee grinder with and we drank about 2mg each, steeped in hot water, both of us feeling the stonedness of it. I was excited. I wasn’t someone to shy away from a drug at that time, excluding the ethically and culturally disgusting morass of cocaine, meth and heroin. 

After sitting around and smoking spliffs for an hour he offered me the first session and I took it. I laid down on his bed with a bowlful of pot that I liberally sprinkled with DMT crystals. I invoked my patron, a tripartite mushroom spirit, and then hit the pipe. I heard the all-encompassing hum of the come-on. 

Instead of gates of gold or welcoming spirits I was plunged into darkness. I felt as though I had been dipped in oil. Faces appeared before me, angry and distorted, hostile to my intrusion. I don’t remember all of what I saw, but I remember what I felt. I remember thinking (and this is the exact phrasing) “What the fuck is this shit?” I don’t even recall what ‘this shit’ was, just that it was noxious, offensive, horrible. And then it appeared. 

Floating above a parched and dead plane was a thing that looked much like a rhinovirus, a ball wreathed in spikes that radiated menace and hatred. I was overwhelmed by the horror of it and a certainty washed over me- I was a bad person. I always had been and I always would be. There was no saving myself from the knowledge of my debased failure to be good. What I had thought of myself up until that moment was shattered and pulverized- I was not powerful. Not kind. Not loving. Unforgivable. 

I lived in this state for what felt like a lifetime and I knew I deserved it. This was hell and I was just catching a glimpse of what was in store for me as I aged and failed, crawled my way towards nothing but death. Aeons later I started to surface but the filth was upon me and in me. Panic in my throat. Panic in my chest. In my stomach. Behind my eyes. 

There came a time when I could move though I did not want to. I stepped out of my friend’s room into the kitchen where he sat at a table, looking alarmed as I entered. He said, “I could feel that.” He went on to say that as he got higher from the tea he had attempted to ‘breathe in’ to my trip, settling into a meditative state and then trying to expand into what I was experiencing. After some sustained effort he had opened his eyes and given up, and at that point, upon withdrawing, he felt a wave of rage and disgust emanate from where I had dosed. He said he had felt frightened, concerned that I would emerge from the room in a homicidal frenzy. 

I told him what had befallen me. That something wrong had occurred and that I was consumed by thoughts of my own wretched evilness, every great and minor sin I had ever committed infused in the cells of my body. A physical and spiritual degradation had occurred. I didn’t know if I would ever be alright again. 

Over the course of an hour I chain-smoked rolled cigarettes and unburdened myself of my transgressions, but the burden went nowhere, staying inside me, coming home to roost. I didn’t want to go home, to ride my bike through the city streets filled with a possessing spirit who craved me prostrate and weeping. I didn’t want to go home to my fiancee, a person I’d come to hate over time, whose heart I would inevitably break when I reached my breaking point. 

Things were never the same. I deteriorated. Waking life was breaking me and the spirits of wild had been driven from within me by that wicked orb. 

What do I make of this? Do I interpret it through the empirical lens of the modern monster in which the sickness lives inside us? Or did I fall victim to something? And what of my friend’s perception of this experience? Was it merely the product of two stoned minds convincing themselves that a prosaic event was something else, an effect of non-localized consciousness or spiritual forces so malignant that they were experienced by two minds? And what of his experience? Was it my rage and disgust or was it the rage and disgust of the plants themselves? When psychedelics are an object of worship it is difficult not to take a harsh trip personally. 

I choose to remain ambivalent. It’s a good story regardless of interpretation. I’d rather it be secondhand, an anecdote relayed instead of a direct experience, but we don’t always get the succor of ignorance we wish for. Among enthusiasts there is a tendency to regard all trips that don’t result in a psychotic break as ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’ rather than ‘bad’. The thinking here is that hard trips contain wisdom and knowledge that may be difficult to come to grips with but that is necessary for spiritual development. 

I think I can get on board with this. The experience detailed above was the fall of a psychic hammer upon a nail that had been put in place by a far different experience of glowing love and forgiveness. In tandem they served to remove the corrosive and toxic masculinity and anger that had animated my life for many years. It hurt terribly, but sometimes terrible pain is the best teacher.