Posted by: goatberg | March 3, 2008

McKenna Monday

This is an excerpt from The Terence McKenna Special that KMO podcasted last week.

From minute 100 to minute 109:

Largely what I’m talking about here is the reclaiming of experience. This is what’s been taken from us. This is why the new music and dance culture is so important. This is why drug culture is so important. This is why the celebration of sexual minorities is so important. This is all about coming to grips with who you really are and how you really feel. You know, you are not owned. It is not he or she or them or it that you belong to. And we have been told that we have to fit in, we have to make sense; this is not true. We are creating a world the celebrates diversity, that celebrates the uniqueness of every person. The complexification of our species is a process directly dependent on the complexity that we each bring to the process. The diversity that is spreading through society is a concomitant to the boundary dissolution.

And I really believe that science’s inability to make sense of human beings in the world, as part of nature – to make sense of art, love, hate, aspiration, fear – the failure to make sense of this is the failure to come to terms with the transcendental aspect of reality. We are the best evidence there is that something extraordinarily unusual is happening on this planet. And that it’s not something which will go on for millions of years. It began about twenty-thousand years ago. It’s a self-advancing, self-expanding, self-defining process, and it takes no prisoners. You know, there is no going back. There is no going back from the momentum that history has imparted to the human imagination. There is only a going forward into what is called a forward escape; through art, through design, through management and integration. We have to push the art pedal to the floor. We have never designed our societies. We have never managed our societies or our lives. We have never tried to make what we were serve an aesthetic agenda, and that’s why we’ve created a mess. In the absence of an aesthetic agenda what we’ve created is Animal House on a global scale. So now it’s time to pay the piper.

And, just in closing, the catalyst now is a combination of technologies – solid state technologies – and pharmacology. The world that we are leaving behind, the world that failed us, was a world of ideology and mechanical technology. And the ideologies are one by one going down the tubes: Marxism, Freudianism, Fascism; they one by one will be discredited. They cannot sustain. And the mechanical technologies cannot be sustained. They pollute. They dehumanize. They wreck the planet. What is coming into place is a world where drugs replace ideology. That’s why drugs are so terrifying to those who oppose them. That’s why they say: ‘You want to escape. You want to take drugs to escape.’ That’s right! You want to escape. You want to escape fascism, communism, socialism, existentialism, phenomenology, positivism, all this stuff. You want to escape ideology into the felt presence of the body, which means drugs and sex and syncopated music. Parallel to this development, and happening in different sectors of society, is the hard wiring of our imaginations; the building of databases that we can access instantaneously that make the human past co-present with the now. The boundary dissolution that I’m talking about includes the division between past, present, and future. This is what it means to end Newtonian time. It means that the past, present, and future become a co-extensive domain where everyone then awakens to the fact (which was always there to be observed) that there is not simply one past, there is nothing called the past. I have a past, you have a past; it’s not the same past. Consequently, the futures we are going to are different. We created our realities as a species and as an individual. And so what we’re passing through here in the now, in this lecture, in the 20th century, is a moment of community, a gam as Melville would say. A gam is when two sailing ships, two whaling ships meet at sea. That’s what we have here, a gam, a moment of dialogue, and then we will each go back to our own private Idahos. But the thing to take back to those private-Idahos is the awareness that human history secures the central importance of human beings. We are part of a universal adventure. What happens to us decrees the fate of a vast set of universal processes and circumstances. We are not ephemeral or irrelevant to each other or to the greater whole. This is the truth behind psychedelics that the aboriginal societies have always known, and it’s the truth that we had to sacrifice in order to make the prodigal journey into matter. But the prodigal journey into matter has now been concluded. We’ve found the top quark, we’ve shut down the super collider – now we need to go back to the problems of the human soul, and there isn’t much time, but the tools that have been put into our hands are the most powerful tools there have ever been; the Gaian connection into the vegetable mind of the planet that we are trying to mirror and hard wire on a human scale. Nature is full of interest and affection for humanity. It’s up to us to discover that humanity in ourselves – because we have gone so sour along the rational path – and connect up with the rest of nature. This is a process which is happening. But it’s a birth; it can go with ease because we help it from this side, or it can be traumatic because we resist, and as McLuhan said: Insist on driving the automobile of history using only the rear-view mirror. That’s no way to proceed. We need to wake up, smell the coffee, turn on the lights, get loaded, and direct the human future toward a mirroring of aspirations such that we are pleased then to turn the enterprise over to those who follow us.

Well, that’s that I think.

I don’t want readers confusing my focus on McKenna these days with some sort of blind commitment to his unique brand of new-age anti-dogma. I do think he was brilliant, but like any man on his soapbox, he should be greeted with healthy skepticism.

Obviously, this “prodigal journey into matter” he speaks of had not ended in 1994 when the talk was given (just consider that for a moment: this talk was given in April 1994 in NYC), and still hasn’t ended today. Hell, May might present us with evidence of the Higgs particle. And the idea of a world in which “drugs replace ideology” is an interesting thought but sounds like ideology itself.  In criticizing his more outlandsish arguments or pointing out the (at least imaginative) flaws in his reasoning, though, it’s important not to miss the inspirational nature of his central message: the world is weird; reality is weirder than we can imagine, and each of us is free to imagine as weird a world as we’re able. When we recognize our freedom to shape our individual reality, we begin to break down the confines of the culture that reared us. For me, the rest is icing, intellectual carnival gaming, and poetic flourish.  Food for thought.  And an acquired taste for sure.  But let’s be fair, the man had a way with words.

His emphasis on the importance of psychedelics may seem antithetical to his passion for independent thinking, but if one examines his reasoning carefully, he or she will find sound logic behind his advocacy of rare, large dose experiences. I’m not going to break it down for you now, but if you want to engage on the topic, leave a comment. he basic argument is within the proper context, the proper set and setting, large dose psychedelic experiences can cleanse the pallet of the mind providing a wider perspective with which to navigate the marketplace of ideas. They are tools to help the individual understand himself and reality, powerful tools.  Like any powerful tool they can be used ethically or unethically, and they are dangerous. That last point can’t be stressed enough.  Not a toy!  Not a toy!  The overall point I am trying to make (and I recognize that I am on the defensive here already) is that if you come at McKenna with all the cultural baggage and anti-psychedelic propoganda we’ve all been brought up with – for instance, that these things we refer to as psychedelics are just destructive “drugs,” lumped in with other schedule 1 substances like crack or heroin – you are going to miss the point.  Enjoy him for what he was, a beautiful nut.

 I’ll get over this whole Terence phase soon enough.  It’s still novel for me, but it’s wearing off. 

More from McKenna next Monday.



  1. beautiful nut, agreed. And I come to the table with a wholly inexperienced, anti-psychedelic upbringing, but there’s still something to say for having this kind of visceral, incomprehensible exchange with reality, without the use of McKenna’s holy large doses.

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