A Revolution without Enemies
A longer version of this essay originally appeared in Fifth Estate, North America's longest-running anti-authoritarian periodical.
Do ravers, psytrance deejays, and general devotees of dance parties have anything to offer the social revolution? Do we need faith freaking and fomenting connections between communal tripping and collective transformation? In the radical activist milieu, our co-revolutionaries remain unconvinced that ingesting a substance and gyrating ‘til dawn could have any impact on the general insurrection. But in Croatan, this is possible.
The idea of Croatan as I understand it was first envisioned by Hakim Bey in the Temporary Autonomous Zone, and then, by many more authors in Gone to Croatan: Origins of North American Dropout Culture, edited by Ron Sakolsky and James Koehnline. The idea has since been invoked in name and game at a rural dance and philosophy gathering called Croatan held in Western, North Carolina in 2006.
As Bey tells it, some of the first colonial settlers who came to this continent rejected the imperialist imperative and became “gray eyed” Indians who “opted for chaos over the appalling miseries of serfing for the plutocrats.” This chaos, of course, differs from what the fear-mongers mean when they condemn chaos: this chaos combines wildness, organic ecstasy, wilderness, and an unkempt and untrammeled riot of green beauty. Always a rejection of slavery and subjugation, chaos is anarchy before ideology. Few things have captured this primordial impulse in the modern world like the psychedelic experience, and I find it resonant with the “origins of American dropout culture” impulses expressed by Bey and expanded upon in the Sakolsky-Koehnline anthology.
We are all one
Since Tim Leary still steals most of the headlines—and many of them bad—for psychedelic proselytizing in the ‘60s, I thought Allen Ginsberg deserved his due as one of Leary’s most articulate defenders, colleagues, and fellow-travelers. Ginsberg’s shameless integrity and sultry innocence offer charismatic counterpoint to Leary’s more superficial and self-serving crusades for psychedelic freedom.
Reviewing the new Leary biography in a recent issue of the Nation, Neal Pollack portends that today “it’s harder than ever to swallow the idea that mind-altering drug use could transform our staggering society.” My thesis pursues another possibility—at the same time I realize that Pollack has a point and that many of the younger psychonauts I encounter at festivals fail to focus on the revolutionary force flavoring their recreational mindfood.
Ginsberg’s old words give new juice to the eternal debate about the social implications of the cultural rituals shared by those who imbibe power plants and pills—reminding us that LSD “teaches one not to cling to anything, including LSD.” For Ginsberg as for me, insights gained in the Gaian mind of great visions have the inherent but often unrealized potential to renovate daily life forever—and this notion is inextricably linked to poetry and spirituality. While the psychedelic warrior’s mission to change consciousness engages in combat on an internal battlefield, Ginsberg never avoided more public confrontations with what he called “a vast conspiracy to impose one level of mechanical consciousness on mankind and exterminate all manifestations of that unique part of human sentience.”
All the Ginsberg quotes come from the Barry Miles biography and two indispensable, posthumous volumes of prose that I finally picked up last spring, even though both were published around the turn-of-the-century, shortly after Ginsberg’s death in 1997—Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays, 1952-1995 and Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews, 1958-1996. While Ginsberg will always be known best as a poet, these two texts reveal his prose voice in essay and interview form to be as lucid and liberating as anything in his innumerable volumes of verse. Like his spiritual mentors Whitman and Blake, Ginsberg would never confine his poetics to the prison of short-sighted definitions concerning genre and category.
As articulated by surrealists and Situationists, poetry occurs at the moment desire erupts to dissolve the boundary between art and life—so much more than stanzas and rhyme schemes. Or, as Lautréamont suggested, “Poetry must be made by all.” Ginsberg’s statement to the underground press after the summer 1968 protests outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was called “All is Poetry.” To Vaneigem, poetry equaled revolt equaled radical self-management, where pleasure and attraction are the only basis for meaningful work. Most utopians see turning work into poetry as the bliss-based infrastructure for creating the new society. Following 19th century philosopher Charles Fourier, Peter Lamborn Wilson describes this new world as a place where “our quotidian routine has the same texture as your highest adventure.”
If all is poetry, if everything’s sacred, then everything’s sacred poetry—even the mundane, concrete, toxic tourist-traps of plastic utopias and paved-over wilds. This logic, of course, has lead to preposterous hypotheses of numinous nonsense. But at the same time, if one is to believe the basic postulates of everything from quantum physics to chaos science, from eastern philosophies to the North American, indigenous world-view, the seemingly sappy slogan that we are all one is truer than truth. Abandoning the poison of hyperrational materialism, ignoring the annoying appropriations of new age charlatans, and accepting inherited wisdom that is both intuitively and intellectually irresistible leads us to both shocking and comforting conclusions.
Ginsberg imported the conversation on the psychedelic experience into poetic form. Admitting that he wrote not only about his experiences tripping, Ginsberg would compose whole poems while stoned on various substances. While it was still legal, Ginsberg was given LSD -25 in 1959 by Gregory Bateson at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto. The results were discussed with his father and shared with his readers in the visionary verse of “Lysergic Acid,” included in Kaddish and Other Poems, first published by City Lights in 1961. “This drug seems to automatically produce a mystical experience,” he reported to his father. In a trance, he visited a “Coleridge world of Kubla Khan” and saw “Hindu-type Gods dancing on themselves.”
With the raving epiphanies that Ginsberg and others achieved while on acid and within what he called “the ocean of heaven,” we become “one giant breathing being—one giant beating being that we are a part of and which we always forget that we are together the God of the universe.”
A decade later, he was still promoting LSD’s liberatory potential. In his famous Playboy interview, he cited a psychiatrist who noted how the drug “inhibits conditioned reflexes” and argued, “That’s what’s really significant—and so political—about LSD. That’s why there’s what’s called an acid revolution, as well as why police are against its use.”
While Ginsberg’s commentary during the interview itself doesn’t seem infused with medicine of any kind, he responded with detail when asked to discuss the LSD experience.
“What does a trip feel like? A creeping sensation comes over your body, a change in the planetary nature of your mammal eyeballs and hearing orifices. Then comes a sudden realization that you’re a spirit inhabiting a vast animal body containing giant apertures, holes, circulatory systems, interior canals and mysterious back alleys of the mind. Any one of these back alleys can be explored for a long, long way.”
As he elaborates in illuminated tangents, the revelatory refrain—however worded—remains a constant: “At the height of the acid experience, your mind’s the same mind that’s always existed in all people at all times in all places: This is the Great Mind—the very mind men call God. Then comes a fascinating suspicion: Is this mind what they call God or what they used to call the Devil? Here’s where a bum trip may begin—if you decide it’s a demonic Creator. You get hung up wondering whether he should exist or not.”
Hippy claptrap & the hierarchy within
Ginsberg’s public and profound statements were confirmed by the exploratory masses in internal cathedrals of cacophonous beauty and beatific terror. But by the late 1960s and early 70s, many cultural critics—parroting government propaganda—dismissed this kind of transcendent transparency as outrageous hippy claptrap; today’s naysayers would simply snub similar pronouncements as obsolete hippy claptrap. The legacy left by the so-called “hippies” deserves the primary research of intimate conversations—not media-friendly condemnations as superficial as what the critique argues the hippies were.
Here in Tennessee, we have the benefit of knowing many elders who came here 35-years ago, wide-eyed and wild—to be the new world as part of The Farm’s dedicated fusion of the spiritual and psychedelic. Many of these postmodern refugees from the hippie revolution of their youth defy the blanket generational criticisms that crusty young critics make.
One of Ginsberg’s many gifts to us is that he did not segregate the battle against this society from the war within our souls, including the dark place where we see that the enemy is ourselves and is an illusion.
What if we would collectively—with or without drugs—uncover the biosocial reality of unique sameness and interminable interconnectedness? Would we discover that the psychedelic, shamanic sensibility is, in fact, factual on a level more authentic than our approximate notions of authenticity itself?
Blake—who proclaimed in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “man has no body distinct from his soul” and that “everything that lives is holy”—would likely agree with such a crushing indictment of dualism and dreary materialism. In the preface to Gone to Croatan, Ron Sakolsky proposes, “If we can question the division of our world into the categories of ‘civilization’ and ‘barbarism,’ then we have begun to question all forms of hierarchy.”
Those who cling to strictly oppositional ideologies of radical resistance might take issue with such a sweeping collapse of any us-versus-them dialectic. What if questioning “all forms of hierarchy” included challenging the stance of moral superiority adopted in radical circles by those who claim righteousness as a badge and use it as a bludgeon on anyone who disagrees?
Without a higher synthesis, without a way out from this either-or dance, we see an almost infantile attachment to moral authority, the preschool preoccupation with absolutist notions of right and wrong that lead to fanaticism and fundamentalism. Since any constructed binary from light-versus-dark to self-versus-other requires placing one side on top, any dualistic thinking, then, is inherently hierarchical. When people adhere to a vision of revolution that requires enemies, they see themselves as always justified, as the perennially oppressed underdog, focusing on the hierarchy without and ignoring the hierarchy within—their own sense of ethical pre-eminence.
As we live through the tumult and terror of today, we need colleagues and comrades and loving companions to join us on the adventure of abolishing the society that abolishes adventure—not new reasons to purge friends from the club after verbal jousting over ideological minutiae.
Life should be ecstasy
In psychedelics or poetics, in spirituality or anarchism, I’m not looking for the answer or any answer—only tempting options and tantalizing offers. A quest that seeks the answer, I’m afraid, begins with the wrong kind of questions. Yet we seek in heretical religion, radical poetry, and psychedelic revolution what people have always sought in sex, drugs, and rock and roll: unencumbered joy.
Even an enlightened hedonism freaks out the rigid, repressed, monastic, and self-righteously ascetic set that loves to lecture the rebels as to how widespread collective sobriety would bring the revolution sooner. Ginsberg always rejected such self-induced mass misery and reiterated his most irrepressible themes: “Life should be ecstasy. We need life styles of ecstasy and social forms appropriate to whatever ecstasy is available for whoever wants it.” To Ginsberg, the pleasure paradigm is the program. “We need a million children saints,” he demanded, “adept at high unhexings, technological vaudeville, rhythmic behaviors, hypnotic acrobatics, street trapeze artists, naked circus vibrations—magic politics to exorcise the police state.” For Ginsberg, this is what’s practical: “ecological reconstruction and the achievement of clear ecstasy as a social condition.” Such a simultaneous focus on earth and earthiness terrifies the teetotalers that inhabit even the most alternative of cultural enclaves.
Of course, we expect such well-lubricated rhetoric to rile the crude curses of the christocrats, but what of the fundamentalist leftists? We need a counterargument to counter Theodore Roszak’s antiseptic critique that our medicine-made mystical aspirations are nothing more than what he calls a “counterfeit infinity,” a religious commodity, a pseudospiritual fantasy in a pharmacological package. An important, radical writer whose The Making of a Counterculture and numerous other books are brilliant on so many other levels, Roszak puts quotes around the words “psychedelic revolution” to signal his disdain and principled denial of the transformative power that the hippies found in acid. Roszak called Timothy Leary’s mysticism a mystique, relegating the idea of a revolution based on turning-on and blowing minds to the illusory status of “private little trips” that have “nothing to do with radical social or cultural attitudes.”
Even if the manna of mind-altering is a private indulgence as Roszak and too many others insist, even if the psychedelic expedition is more shortcut and sham than shamanic journey, even if all recreational drugs are just a calculated conspiracy to keep the masses stoned and politically impotent, we still might need a revolution to protect our prerogative to experiment.
To this day, an antithesis to the experimental and experiential path postulates that any inspiration or insurrectionary altitude induced by a substance is somehow a sordid soulfulness, a second-rate spirituality, a bargain-basement buddhahood. Of course, aerobic exercise, focused meditation, careful breathwork, body arts such as yoga and tai chi, and so much more can also help people elevate consciousness.
But the judgment that those who want to face the mind-expanded mystery through particular substances are merely too lazy to try the other methods belies a moralistic bias that rejects or refuses to understand the depth of the drug experience. Moreover, while altered and ecstatic states achieved through non-chemical means are amazing unto themselves, they are not necessarily the same as the psychedelic journeys. Unfortunately, advocates of the former too often employ a moral barometer when lambasting those who choose drugs for sacramental reasons.
Even while imbibing powerful intoxicants does not guarantee instant or even gradual change at the personal or political level, many still find an intrinsically anti-authoritarian quality within these experiences. Ginsberg asserted: “If acid helps people see through conditioned hallucinations, then acid’s a threat to such police states as now exist in America and Russia.” The late psychedelic crusader Terence McKenna corroborated such claims, “Psychoactive drugs . . . challenge the modern idea of the ego and its inviolability and control structures. In short, encounters with psychedelic plants throw into question the entire world view of the dominator culture.” These bold hypotheses are more than hippy hype—they suggest an inherently anarchic kernel in the psychoactive coinage.
The mystical experience, if anything, offers a gargantuan glimpse of the possible. And often, we need to describe the possible in practical as well as poetic terms. Pressed by the Playboy interviewer to define his vision as socialism, collectivism, or anarchy, Ginsberg retorted, “Those are just words, To say that nature’s resources—sun, water, and air—should be available to all makes more sense.”
Further into the discussion of actual solutions, Ginsberg gave his version of what a new world might include: decentralized society, economy, and “new forms of social credit”; “organic Adamic communes”; “healthy foods” and “seasonal and communal rituals” to “respect the sacred body of the land we inhabit”; “enlarged variant family structures”; “the reorganization of educational systems in order to provide proper training in nonconditioned, spontaneous consciousness”; the end of “hang-ups like fear of death, sexual obsession, and either love or hate for the American flag.” To summarize, Ginsberg implored, “Progress requires abolition of race ego, national ego, boundaries: it requires planet-citizen consciousness.” Without naming it communal anarch or what the Living Theater called the Beautiful Nonviolent Anarchist Revolution, it sure sounds like both.
After living cloistered lives in the cells of modern tedium, after too much television and telephone or mediocrity and microwave, after a life where what passes as spiritual truth is more like a faked orgasm for the jaded soul, the psychedelic moment can open a wide window on the world, different worlds, more beautiful revolutionary heavens and more terrifying reactionary hells.
God is an earthquake
Indeed, the psychedelic life is not all love and light, incense and peppermints, gnomes and nirvana. Much hubbub has been made about the self-induced insanity of the bad trip, a self-made misery borne of miscalculations of dose, context, and psychological predilection. As real as these torturous, brain-ripping travails in the darkest cave of our mental mortality can be, they cannot really be called “bad trips” by the serious practitioner.
Visionary artist Alex Grey—whose accomplished, intricate renderings are overtly the product of a psychedelic world view—warns about the weirdness one might find in the divine matrix. In The Mission of Art, he explores this problem found in a saccharine softening of the mind-bending blow: “The mystical experience is not some dreamy fantasy”, as anybody who has been there can agree. In his book The Idea of the Holy, Rudolf Otto writes of the ‘mysterium tremendum,’ the experience of losing control and of awe, dread, and terror when confronting the transcendental. This is something that a lot of New Age artists and musicians forget about. As Rabbi Hillel said, “God is not just flowers and bird songs, God is an earthquake. One is shaken to the core and the ‘little self’ dies (rarely permanently).” After the self of selfish conformity to the consumer culture dies, a radical awareness can awaken from the amnesiac ashes and usher in universally selfless selves no longer slumbering in the nightmare of history.
Such notions have an inevitably religious component. If we’re going to invoke religion, it’s so important to invoke the idea of a Heretical Religion. I’ve borrowed this idea from Peter Lamborn Wilson, inspired by his work on the margins of Islam in the books Scandal and Sacred Drift.
Religion as heresy varies from all systemized and standardized beliefs. Heresy means “to choose.” According to Wilson, this inherently poetic project is a “cooperative venture among world heretics, rebels, artists, visionaries” and cannot be “based on theology or politics or any other one dimensional grid.”
Obviously, one seeker’s revelation is another cynic’s abomination. Eternal epiphanies get rewritten as code. To the neopagan, the only code is “Harming none, do as you will.” For the radical Christian, the communist egoist, and the veteran psychonaut, “loving your neighbor as yourself” is easy after any mystical moment because you do not see your own or your neighbor’s separation from the cosmic self. Such duality-dissolving and divinely dialectical anti-dogma lead us to the synthesis that steeps religion in the elixir of its own disappearance.
Heretical religion might mean playful and purposeful deviance and defiance within a religion—here, I’m thinking of the renegade mystics within established denominations who regularly drop revolutionary thought-bombs on their peers in the pews. Religious Heresy might mean the passionate devotion to variety, freedom, choice. So devoted are we to freedom, we might call it a kind of pious promiscuity or promiscuous piety.
The stadium-nature of the postmodern megachurch is religion as mass-media spectacle. Imagine a first century Gnostic getting lost in an amphitheater like that. At our festivals, heretical religion is for participating clergy only, where our religion might compel us to jettison believing in god for actually being god. This beatitude in becoming is a blossoming of our goddess-buddha-mary-christ-dionysus nature—it feels like yoga, breathing, dancing, fucking. That groovy blooming—dynamically colorful and dizzy like Godfrey Reggio’s celluloid—certainly comprises a central component in our fascination with the psychedelic, the tantric, the shamanic.
Reversing the apocalypse
Undoubtedly, based largely on his mystic, mantra-moaning mania, some people saw Allen Ginsberg as a simplistic and syrupy prophet in the Timothy Leary vein, and as such, they could not take him seriously as a poet. As early as 1961, Ginsberg responded to the collective rejection of Beat wisdom by the literary and journalistic establishment with an almost evangelical fury: “That these horrible monsters who do nothing but talk, teach, write crap and get in the way of poetry, have been accusing us, poets, of lack of ‘values’ as they call it is enough to make me vow solemnly (for the second time) that I’m going to stop even trying to communicate coherently to the majority of the academic, journalistic, mass media and publishing trade and leave them stew in their own juice of ridiculous messy ideas . . . . But alas the square world will never and has never stopped bugging the hip muse.”
Of course, Ginsberg never stopped. He communicated quite coherently to the United States Senate about the benefits of LSD in 1966, helplessly hoping to keep it legal. He consented to interviews with conservative commentators on national television and shared intimate details of his pansexual sluttiness with puritanical audiences. To study the frank, fearless disclosures concerning promiscuous gay sex, mind-altering drugs, and magical anarchy that Ginsberg gave the straight, conservative, uptight media during the days of J. Edgar Hoover and COINTELPRO should give hope to contemporary rebels facing our own fears of being spied on, infiltrated, and otherwise harassed by the undercover creeps who support the endless war on everything based in the brutal Bush agenda.
If we want to undo the dire reality of ecological and military destruction, we must be proponents of love and change. But can we really make a revolution with pills and prayers, potions and poems?
In 1969, Ginsberg considered the problem of revolutionary tactics in the following manner, a magickal approach that I think is worthy of considering once again:
“Although a minority is aware what the next step is, what about the majority who are plunged in darkness, flood, apocalypse, and destruction? How to redeem these ‘ignorant armies’ who clash by night from their own bad karma?” Already, Ginsberg crystallized the quandary that placed his Weatherpeople contemporaries in an ethical quarantine. What to do when the moral minority wants to redeem the ignorant majority? Ginsberg confronted the question that troubles anarchists still: “Violent confrontation? Violence begets violence. Revolutionary violence begets fascist tyranny. So, though the noble impetuosity of confrontation by some New Leftists may seem appropriate to a situation in which long-haired angels are surrounded by pigs, the problem remains: how to cast the Devil from the hearts of swine?”
Ginsberg followed with his concept of a mystical cure: “Since we’re in an apocalyptic situation, old historical dialectics no longer apply. I prophesy that the only way to reverse the apocalypse is white magic, since the apocalypse itself is incarnate black magic. What would be the effect of total sacramental harmonious shamanistic ritual prayer magic massively performed in the American or Russian political theater?”
Are we any less troubled today? If any human can be called “swine” in the sense that the 60s’ radicals meant when they said “off the pigs,” it’s the puny-minded punishers who pummel the earth and imprison her defenders. At least today, we have the benefit of a majority of people the world over acknowledging the severity of the ecological crisis. Each day that passes in the automobile-centric culture that Henry Miller dubbed the “air-conditioned nightmare,” the planet burns itself towards meltdown through mass resource extraction and consumption on an incalculable scale. Kurt Vonnegut puts it bluntly in a recent interview with Rolling Stone: “We have destroyed our entire planet over transportation-whoopee.”
While I’m not ready to join Vonnegut’s “humans are a mistake” eviction of evolution, who can blame him for suggesting such in a culture driven by drivers of SUVs and breeders of large families. You may not believe in magick—but at least admit you’d accept some sorcery if it showed up tomorrow to put the oil-pushers out-of-business.
Consider what I learned the other day doing research on the Green Scare: the vehicles that jailed earth-warrior Jeff Luers destroyed in a symbolic, desperate, and heroic act of defiance were rebuilt and resold. A car is reborn! That’s how sacred property is to those who have sold our common ancestor—the land—for the temporary thrill of cruising on pavement at 80 miles per hour.
As early as the late 1970s, Ginsberg reckoned that redeeming America was a “lost cause,” quoting Kerouac’s dictum that “it doesn’t matter.” Invoking Dostoyevsky, Ginsberg confronted such millennial despair: “Free from hope and fear, the great liberation doesn’t deny our delight in the ‘sticky little leaves of spring,’ a green insight that once saved the despairing hero of a Russian novel. This ‘Hopelessness’ is not the same as pathogenic despair, it means freedom from egocentric preconception.”
Such a fatal unmooring from faith in any future may free us to do the magickal street theater of our time. From pie-wielding pranksters creaming creeps with banana cream to the Center for Tactical Magic’s tricksterly tactics, street theater is the place where acid-flavored antics have always married anarchy.
Such a daring endeavor as dancing into the halls of power to proclaim the moneyless, propertyless, psychedelic jubilee should not be parodied and petrified by mass unconsciousness. Only Ginsberg’s fearless and reckless demeanor demanded the attention of a generation.
In 1966, he went to a Unitarian church to preach his preposterous gospel: “I propose, then, that everybody including the President and his and our vast hordes of generals, executives, judges, and legislators of these States go to nature, find a kindly teacher or Indian peyote chief or guru guide and assay their consciousness with LSD ... Then, I prophesy, we will all have seen some ray of glory or vastness beyond our conditioned social selves, beyond our government, beyond America even, that will unite us into a peaceable community.”Tweet