I Didn’t Choose to be an Anti-Authoritarian

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.” — Psychiatrist Bruce E. Levine

People tend to think that anti-authoritarians are know-it-all smartasses or belligerent egotists, too good for the rules, too unwise to trust in the judgments of their elders and betters. But I feel that people who unquestioningly accept authority are throwing away their own brainpower. And anyways, I never had a choice but to be anti-authoritarian. Criticizing an anti-authoritarian of my type is like picking on someone for their skin tone or sexual orientation — you’re bothering someone about an aspect of themselves they never had any control over.

So this is how I came into anti-authoritarianism:

When I was four years old and entering Kindergarten, I looked up to my teacher Mrs. Mitchell as a wise crone figure. Learning to read a clock at Wilson Elementary was as exciting as learning transfiguration at Hogwart’s could have been. One day, Mrs. Mitchell was telling us all we had better listen to her whenever she was speaking to the whole class. Needless to say, I’m paraphrasing her: “I can see everything from up here, so I can tell who’s listening and who isn’t, and if you don’t listen to everything I say you’ll be in trouble.”

Really? Can she really tell who’s listening? Seemed like she’d have to be a mind-reader, and even at four years old I had the feeling that mind-readers were either imaginary or very rare. I had to test her unbelievable claim, even though there was no way I would break that witchy old crone’s wise and just rules. So, I stuck my finger into my right ear, the one facing her, and continued listening out of my hidden left ear. She promptly yelled at me for not listening, aggravated that I had apparently broken the rule just as she was explaining it. I had tested her claim about identifying all the listeners and found it to be false, for which I instantly felt guilty.

Outside of my own parents, Mrs. Mitchell was my first encounter with authority. And now, through a sort of informal science experiment, I knew that even the nicest and most appealing authorities would lie for their own convenience. Every authority thereafter would be questioned; the really sham-ful authorities would be challenged and resisted.

So anti-authoritarianism is an old, old part of me, as ingrained as my attraction to women or my love for cheese. It’s not some rock ‘n’ roll posture or a path of devilish temptation.

Without trying to impose my will on the entire world, I do very much hope that more people will wake up to the revelation I discovered at age four.


Sasha Shulgin: a Light in the Dark

The great chemist and psychonaut Sasha Shulgin died peacefully of liver cancer on June 2, 2014, at 5 in the afternoon. He was surrounded by caregivers and listening to Buddhist meditation music, and passed with little struggle. I know his work better than the well-meaning obituary writers out there, and I want to tell you what he accomplished in his lifetime. It’s not to a honor the great man, which I could only do an inadequate job of, but to pull away the veil of establishment taboo and show something of the scope of his underappreciated work.

I have to skip right over his prodigal childhood and World War II Navy experience, not to mention his graduate work at Berkeley and his early professional work at Bio-Rad.

Moving right along: in the 1960’s, Sasha worked for Dow Chemical and invented Zectran, the first biodegradable synthetic pesticide (a huge ecological advantage over pesticides like DDT, which linger in the environment and accumulate up the food chain.) He was rewarded with free reign over a generously-appointed corporate lab. Not long before, someone had introduced him to mescaline on a sunny California day, and he’d been totally impressed by the experience (you can see his original write-up in the first of his lab books posted online.) So it was natural enough that mescaline was the substance Shulgin wanted to tinker with in his new lab. He experimented with alterations of the molecule, at first pursuing the all-too common medicinal chemistry approach of sifting for the most potent compounds through animal tests. Dow soon lost interest in Shulgin’s forays into medicinal chemistry (they prefer bulk chemicals and paint to pharmaceuticals, and on top of that, psychedelics became taboo over the course of the 1960’s.)

Shulgin became an independent consultant and set up a ramshackle laboratory on an old farm near San Francisco. He often found paid work testifying for either drug enforcement agencies or defendants accused of drug crimes, while continuing to make new variants of mescaline.

Shulgin believed in investigating new drugs as pure exploration, but hoped to find therapeutically useful drugs and even promote an expansion in human self-awareness as an antidote to human self-destructiveness.

He tested new drugs first on himself. He was aware of Albert Hoffman’s 1943 experience with LSD: Hoffman had started testing LSD at the 250 microgram level, believing that that was the smallest amount of any drug which could possibly have an effect… but Hoffman was knocked on his butt by a drug more potent than any discovered before! Therefor, Shulgin started with miniscule doses, and then took a nearly doubled dose a week or two later, until some hint of activity was found (poisons are just as likely as the next great breakthrough.) This work led to the Shulgin Rating Scale for rating the power of drug experiences, ranging from ” – ” for no perceptible effect up through ” ++++ ” for perceived omnipotence.

If Sasha found something worthwhile, he might take some with his wife Ann (married 1981), and then with a research group made up of close friends. The research group met on Sundays and enjoyed dinner and wine after an experiment. They included psychologists and lawyers and were able to help Sasha publish his work by qualifying as their own Institutional Review Board, for a time. The group soon found that the compounds differed in their qualities as much as in duration and potency. They investigated hundreds of Shulgin-designed derivatives of mescaline and spice rack oils (as from the peyote cactus and parsley,) and information about their synthesis and proper use was eventually collected into the book PiHKAL. Later, Shulgin tinkered with the structures of DMT and psilocin (as from ayahuasca brews and magic mushrooms,) and he wrote up over a hundred novel compounds in the sequel TiHKAL. Some of his more recent synthetic work began from new inspirations found naturally in various psychedelic cacti and poppies.

As the institutional environment became more oppressive, the research group was unable to continue getting published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The Shulgins started Transform Press as a vehicle for self-publishing, and published PiHKAL and TiHKAL as fiction during the 1990’s. As a result, Chemical Abstracts, repository of the list of all chemicals known to humankind, has rejected some of Sasha’s compounds as fictional!

In 1976 a graduate student (whose name I will try to find) called Sasha Shulgin on the phone to report smashing results with a chemical gleaned from the literature: 3,4-methylenedioxy,N-methylamphetamine, better known as MDMA, ecstasy, or molly. At first Shulgin treated MDMA as a “low-calorie martini,” but as he shared it with the research group he saw it help people make remarkable personal breakthroughs. The drug lacked the colorful or disorienting effects of LSD or other infamous psychedelics, which suggested it would make an ideal drug for psychotherapists to give their patients.

A member of the research group, Leo Zeff, used MDMA in his therapy practice and began sharing the secret with other therapists. He developed new techniques for working with patients under the influence and was known as “The Secret Chief.” People said MDMA was like “six months of therapy in one session,” which is immensely gratifying to both patient and practitioner. Therapists worked with qualified chemists to obtain the chemical, and the practice was perfectly legal.

Someone with less discretion found out and decided that MDMA should be made available to everybody. Larry Hagerty and others in the inner circle of Dallas MDMA dealers were motivated not only by the ample profits, but also by the desire to save humanity much as Sasha himself had described in an especially zealous talk! Thousands and thousands of doses were sold in the Dallas dance club scene. In 1985 the DEA noticed and acted to ban the drug, not only from clubs but from therapists’ offices as well.

MAPS, a non-profit that runs on donations, today funds studies into MDMA to treat the fear of death in the terminally ill, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in veterans and rape survivors, and social anxiety in the autistic. MDMA’s capacity to quell human suffering is well-demonstrated, vast and legally forbidden. MAPS faces an uphill battle to fund the extensive testing required by the FDA, which only a few cartelized pharmaceutical companies have ever been able to fund.

Sasha Shulgin produced many interesting compounds besides his role in passing along MDMA. 2C-B is a sense enhancer and aphrodisiac; DiPT disrupts the perception of pitch and harmony; TOMSO is a psychedelic which manifests no effects until combined with alcohol; CPM leads to eyes-closed fantasy, yet the structurally similar MAL leads to visual chaos with the eyes open. ARIADNE has been investigated as an anti-depressant. 5-MeO-DiPT enhances orgasm. All of these compounds may present uses for therapy or creative work, and certainly all of them present clues and new puzzles for brain science. Investigation into them is a legally tortured pursuit, especially in the United States. The vast bulk of Shulgin’s compounds have been only very superficially investigated.

Shulgin’s work is carried on by chemists and therapists around the world, often quietly.

His one-time student David Nichols has worked within the system, and extensively probed the molecular mechanism of MDMA at Purdue’s pharmacology labs. He also is the founding President of the Heffter Institute, which conducts research into psilocin mushrooms as medicine.

Sasha inspired his friends Earth and Fire Erowid to provide the best information about drugs available online. Erowid.org is especially sharp at keeping current with new synthetics that appear on the grey and black markets. The site helps users understand what they are getting into and stay safe, and even to get the most out of their drug experiences just as a therapist would help a patient to do.

Paul Daley came to the Shulgin farm in 2007, to help in the lab after Sasha’s eyes failed due to macular degeneration. Recently the pair was working on techniques for growing peyote, for such time as this becomes legal for the Native American Church. Another project seeks to help cluster headache sufferers with an efficient synthesis for 2-bromo-LSD. 2-bromo-LSD is not a psychedelic or an interesting head drug of any sort, except that it aborts clusters of “suicide headaches” said to be among the most physically excruciating of all human experiences. Shulgin and Daley were working on improving the synthesis of an unapproved drug with little hope for running the approval gauntlet — suggesting that they might have been hoping for others to distribute 2-bromo-LSD in an underground fashion, just as earlier circles of doctors did with MDMA. Their allies in the 2-bromo-LSD project are the Cluster Busters, a patient organization.

In 2013, Daley reported that 87-year-old, blind, dementia-addled Sasha was still joining him in the lab every day. Sasha was no longer on top of the work but he hung around in the lab and cracked corny jokes about whatever was going on. Those are some of the best things about working as a chemist anyway.

Sasha is survived by his wife Ann, a writer and lay therapist with valuable contributions in PiKHAL and TiKHAL. I find her work on integrating the shadow to be especially interesting and useful. She was also a great support to Sasha, taking care of him when he was ill, and cooking meals for the Sunday experiments.

There is every reason to believe that when these drugs are freed from their taboo status, they will allow us to make strides towards physically understanding the brain-mind correlation, and relieve vast amounts of human suffering. It will take dozens of scientists decades just to chase down all of the suggestions mentioned in PiKHAL and TiKHAL.

Some may eulogize Shulgin as a colorful character, “Dr. X, the inventor of ecstasy” or the like, but understand that Shulgin’s work is just the beginning of an unfolding Big Bang in mind science and medicine. After the superstitious and ignorant Church (of unlimited government authority) stands out of the way, we’ll recognize Shulgin as a giant of science like Galileo or Einstein.

The Vipers are Winning

From the 1920’s on, certain jazz musicians were known to smoke cannabis before playing, as it is a performance-enhancing drug for musicians. It reduces creative inhibition to some extent, opens up the flow of emotion, allows for a richer experience of sound, and most crucially, it slows the perception of time, allowing for quicker or more considerate improvisation.

The musicians who relied heavily on cannabis were called “vipers,” and you can get a great look at their culture by reading Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow. He was a Jewish convert to Blackness, about equally well-known for his clarinet playing and for selling joints in jazz clubs. (Youtube, of course, is populated with viper songs probably posted in violation of copyright, for which reason I would never, ever encourage you to listen to them.)

Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, kept a file on “Musicians and Marijuana” and persecuted jazz vipers to the best of his ability. He ran into certain areas of resistance, such as a unionized Hollywood that refused to narc out its people, and a flood of hate mail that resulted when he told the U.S. Senate that he needed more agents to hunt musicians — “And I don’t mean good musicians — I mean jazz musicians.”

The war on marijuana has never been anything but cultural: waged by people who don’t like the music, don’t like Mexicans and “Negroes,” don’t like tie-dye or long hair on men, etc. Other prohibited drugs are known to cause problems for their users and neighborhoods, but marijuana is conspicuously safer than alcohol or even caffeine. Many people have been imprisoned or had careers ruined over an argument about which cup of tea.

The futile fight against the vipers is breaking down today. The curtains are closing on the culture of sneering at pot.

The mainstream and wildly popular Hollywood gossip news agency TMZ has a history of following celebrities around, “catching” them smoking pot, and snickering about it. Sometimes a celebrity catches punishment for some stupid blunder like trying to take weed on the plane, and then TMZ’s staffers will blame the victim. (It adds insult to injury, but they also mean to discourage stupidity in this way.)

Yesterday, May 28 2014, marked a major breakthrough in the struggle for marijuana acceptance (and thus legalization.)

TMZ ran a sad story regarding a video leak of clean-cut boy-band One Direction smoking a blunt in their SUV as they drove to the airport to leave Peru. At one point Louis passed the blunt to Zayn and said “One very very important factor of Zayn’s warm up of course is Mary J, herself.” (Confirmed: Zayn, at least, is a viper.) The sad part of this story is that One Direction slammed the leaker but had no comment on their recreational and artistic use of marijuana. To paraphrase, “How dare you expose us for behavior that is perfectly moral and healthy?”

When a caller to “TMZ Live” said that medical marijuana laws were to blame for young people like One Direction smoking pot, the TMZ staff cut her off the line. Host Harvey Levin declared that in 10 years pot will be fully legal and the fans who are upset at One Direction now will probably be smoking down themselves.

In an awesome story, Linkin Park’s staff called a local sheriff to report that their fellow musicians Sublime with Rome were in possession of marijuana. (Sublime with Rome is the band Sublime with a new front-man, following the death of Bradley Nowell. Their music in influenced by rock, rap, and reggae, all of which embrace cannabis.) Sublime returned backstage after their set and found their weed and rolling papers confiscated. The sheriff left a note telling them to come down to the station to pick it up –“P.S. — it’s a trap!”

Rome explained that Sublime plays their shows after consuming at least a half a joint each, making them true vipers. TMZ’s staff took the tone that the narcing was the outrage — how could any rock musician betray the rock culture of smoking pot? Levin declared, “it’s like wine!”

Brad Delson, Linkin Park’s guitarist who wears a giant sound-deadening headset on stage, apparently complained about Sublime’s weed smoking to his security crew, who called the sheriff. Linkin Park claims that they offered to replace the weed but Rome Ramirez claims that all they want is either an apology or their weed back.

This is the first marijuana controversy ever to revolve around the question of whether someone will have their weed returned.

About TMZ: TMZ is more progressive than any other news program in both their editorial views and their format, which allows contribution from the drones in the background on their computers and takes some meaningful comments from viewers. I’m sure that they are only able to get away with this because they are “not serious.”

Cannabis is part of music, and among the many reasons that persecuting it is wrong, this is a free speech issue. People need to be free to change the texture of their consciousness in order to think and act freely. When people identify with the artists instead of the cops, we are getting close to ending the long and pointless war on vipers.

Ideologies of the Ring

Fascism: Let Boromir take the Ring and name him King. Then Gondor and the chosen Numenorean race will be restored to their former and rightful glory.

Libertarianism: Give Gandalf the Ring. Make him promise to use it only in dire need.

Socialism: Give Gandalf the Ring. Let him use it to preserve and improve Middle Earth.

Marxism: Give Gandalf the Ring. Let him use it to preserve and improve Middle Earth — and make him promise to throw the Ring away after everything has been perfected.

Anarchism: Throw the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom!

So-called Apathetic: As Faramir said: “I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway.”

Swear Proudly

It was not until 1972 that the Oxford English Dictionary finally included the words “fuck” and “cunt.” The National Campaign for Real Swearing issued a statement: “We’d be a bunch of lying cunts if we didn’t say that we were totally fucking delighted.”

Why wouldn’t scholars of English acknowledge these two words from the OED’s origins circa 1895 until 1972?

Because they were scared. Someone who hated swearing would open up the dictionary, go straight to the entry for “cunt,” and then become terribly angry at the cartographers of the English language because they, too, had an interest in this word “cunt.” There would be a campaign for censorship, and the British parliament might well be pressured into shutting the dictionary down. There could be book burnings. All because some people get off on hating the words “fuck” and “cunt” (apparently, many, many people hate the human body. Not only sexual but even excretory words can be outcast into the cussing category.)

“Cunt” and “fuck” are two of the most ancient swears in English, with cognates in the Germanic and Scandinavian languages. At first, they were neutral or slightly vulgar words with no power to shock.

In the year 1230, with Europe locked under the control of an anti-fornication Catholic Church, many English towns featured a street named “Gropecunt” or “Gropecuntlane.” That is where the prostitutes were to be found, due to the economics of neighborhoods and downtowns, or because local law restricted them to one street. Now, this may not be a utopian dreamworld of sexual freedom, as some of the hookers were doubtless poor women with no other options, but still…

1) Gropecunt Lane is a decidedly more pleasant street than Shite-burn Lane or Pissing Alley.

2) If you visited a town where the street signs said things like “Grab-a-titty Avenue,” you’d relax knowing that it was safe to use any kind of language.

Over the late medieval period, a few new Gropecunt Lanes were established, but others had their names censored to Grape Lane and the like. A long stretch of sexual tightening-up was happening, culminating in the Victorian Era, when piano legs were covered up as maybe too sensual and anti-masturbation devices were a boom industry. Half a century before the Victorian Era even got started, Francis Grose wrote “A Classical Dictionary of The Vulgar Tongue” (1785) and listed the c-word as “C**T: a nasty name for a nasty thing.” This revulsion is utterly irrational, as even strict Bible adherents accept that cunts may be a source of pleasure inside the bounds of God-and-church-approved marital bliss.

Yet, revulsion for all that lies below the waist cannot explain all the swears. In her book “Holy Sh*t,” Melissa Mohr explains how harmless words like “bloody” were imbued with the power to shock and offend:

The 18th and 19th centuries’ embrace of linguistic delicacy and extreme avoidance of taboo bestowed great power on those words that broached taboo topics directly, freely revealing what middle-class society was trying so desperately to conceal. Under these conditions of repression, obscene words finally came fully into their own. They began to be used in nonliteral ways, and so became not just words that shocked and offended but words with which people could swear…

From Farner and Henley’s 1890-1904 “Slang and its Analogues:”

[“Bloody” is] an epithet difficult to define, and used in a multitude of vague and varying senses. Most frequently, however, as it falls with wearisome reiteration every two or three seconds from the mouths of London roughs of the lowest type, no special meaning, much less a sanguinary one, can be attached to its use. In such a case it forms a convenient intensitive, sufficiently important as regards sound to satisfy those whose lack of language causes them to fall back upon a frequent use of words of this type.

The lower-class British were swearing up storms to make their language more intense and offensive to higher-class Brits. This was a period in which workers had to be polite to their bosses, but bosses could be rude to their employees. Thus, rudeness was a way of letting off steam, even a comfort (“I’m amongst my own people and I don’t have to watch my mouth.”). The upper classes assumed that the lower classes swore because they were mean and stupid, as illustrated by Julian Sherman’s 1884 “Cursory History of Swearing” and its commentary about “bloody”:

We cannot disguise to ourselves that there is much in its unfortunate associations to render its occurrence still exceedingly painful. Originating in a senseless freak of language, it has by dint of circumstances become so noisome and offensive … Dirty drunkards hiccup it as they wallow on ale-house floors. Morose porters bandy it about on quays and landing-stages. From the low-lying quarters of the towns the word buzzes in your ear with the confusion of a Babel. In the cramped narrow streets you are deafened by its whirr and din, as it rises from the throats of the chaffering multitude, from besotted men defiant and vain-glorious in their drink, from shrewish women hissing out rancour and menace in their harsh querulous talk.

Well, fuck Julian Sherman and the bloody, bloody horse he rode in on. When the medievals were renaming their Gropecunt Lanes, they were merely trying to downplay the prostitution in their towns, not especially objecting to the word “cunt.” But when such words were being freely used by the working class and poor, consciously flouting middle-class conventions, that really burned people up and established certain words as worse than vulgar: profane or obscene.

It’s also popular to use words that annoy the pious. You can take the Lord’s name in vain or wish damnation on someone. I try to avoid the blasphemous swears, because I am not Christian and so I’m blaspheming someone else’s religion (but anyone who had to go to church as a kid has good reason to use the blasphemous curses.)

All in all, swearing represents a defiant recognition of human sexuality and other aspects of the body; it represents class awareness and struggle; and it represents rebellion against repressive church influence. Supporting sexuality, the lower classes, and spiritual liberation with the magic words is against “civility,” in the sense that civility means deference to one’s oppressors. Of course, there are times to protect the haters with euphemisms, but remember that the problem is with their snobbish ears, not your sailor’s tongue.

Thanks to the intense disapproval of the wealthy, pious, and body-hating, swearing relieves acute pain and presumably other stresses. In a karmic twist, those looking down their noses imbued the words of the downtrodden with true power. (But, the effect is more powerful the less frequently you swear.) Swearing is not just good for self-expression, it’s good for your entire body.

Swearing is healthy and in all cases expresses support for liberty against repression. So swear proudly. Swear for your sanity, swear for your love of humanity. Fuck yeah.

A flaw in Statism?

Ted Bundy committed 30 murders before the law caught up with him, locked him up and executed him. John Wayne Gacy managed to claim 33 victims in his lifetime, and just as terrifying, he painted pictures of clowns.

These American serial killers attracted the attention of sophisticated, technologically advanced law-enforcement agencies, who tracked them down and stopped them with relative swiftness. In the developing world, killers sometimes make it farther. Luis Garavito killed at least 138 Columbian children over a run of at least five years (but over 400 deaths and disappearances of street children have been blamed on him.)

So, your worst nightmare of a remorseless killer might take out as many as 400 fellow human beings through individual effort.

Through the US killer drone program, Barack H. Obama has ordered the deaths of perhaps 4,700 people. This number is based on Senator Lindsey Graham’s admission from February 2013, since which many more people have been killed.

Discounting any federal death warrants, discounting his management of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, discounting black operations and the American intervention in Libya, we can pin 4,700 deaths on Barack Obama: he explicitly signed off on the drone attacks which ended these people. He had them whacked, terrorist, bystander and child.

The evidence supporting the drone attacks is secret. Thus, the only argument in favor of drone attacks is that the U.S. government really knows what it is doing… this is an argument from authority, generally agreed upon to be a logical fallacy, and of no value to truth-seekers.

Barack Obama has no rational defense for ordering the 4,700 deaths. He is at least ten times as dangerous as the planet’s worst serial killer ever. Wouldn’t you like to have a beer with him?

Perhaps there is some flaw in the philosophy that allows us to tolerate Obama and the other heads of state.