“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” – René Descartes
“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.” – Voltaire
THE UNIQUE THING about psychedelics is that they provide the user with direct access to subjective realms so inconceivable to “normal” waking consciousness. These altered states, emphatically, seem to catalyse a transition towards “abnormal” or “alternative” lifestyles and belief structures. Turns out that turning on, tuning in, and dropping out is decidedly incompatible with modern Western neo-libertarianism, but psychedelics might be just the tool we need to counter the ever growing threat of consumerism in Western society.
So I ask you to suspend your disbelief, at least for the duration of this article, as you imagine that everything you thought you knew about drugs was wrong. Studies in behavioural economics and cognitive science have taught us that our realities are shaped to fit our belief systems and cognitive biases, whilst the mass social experiments conducted by Edward Bernays in the wake of the First World War taught us that “public relations” (the politically correct term for propaganda) could subtly but powerfully mould the collective mind of the population to fit with the ideals of a select few individuals. Do you see the problem? Individuals are slowly but surely losing control over the one thing that can be truly be called theirs – their minds – and this process is so immersive that we need an incredibly powerful tool to undo the processes. Psychedelics are just that tool.
Daniel Pinchbeck’s Breaking Open the Head examines how certain substances, held in such high esteem throughout the world’s indigenous cultures, are not only repressed but ridiculed in contemporary Western culture.The use of psychedelics is documented to date back 75,000 years throughout indigenous shamanic cultures, where they are revered as sacred technology, awakening the mind to new levels of awareness. Shamanic use continues today in secluded pockets of the world where visionary plants are worshiped like gods; their use and the knowledge they convey constantly challenged by the encroachment of Western ideals.
Breaking Open the Head is part seeker’s memoir, part psychonaut’s field guide, and part anthropological investigation into the world’s shamanic cultures, and it makes a compelling argument for the role of psychedelic awakening in global change.