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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:

An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index



Extreme Prejudice, Excessive Force, Zero Tolerance: Cultural Political Economy of the U. S. Drug Wars, 1980-1996

White, Jonathan David. (1997)
Washington, DC: The George Washington University.


ISBN: none

Description: Doctoral dissertation. Vol. 1, vii + pages, 1-276 pages. Vol. 2, pages. 277-540.

Contents: Acknowledgments, abstract, 5 chapters, Appendix: A Chronology of Drug Wars Cinema, bibliography, discography, filmography.

Note: Theses and dissertations are available from UMI, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI., in several sizes and bindings.

Excerpt(s): ABSTRACT

This work investigates the representation in popular culture of the Drug Wars fought by the United States since the election of Ronald Reagan. The central thesis of my study of the cultural political economy of the Drug Wars is that the narcotic anarchy the Drug Wars State purports to suppress is in fact an ideological displacement of the real target, which is the organized and disciplined political agency of oppositional forces. In my first chapter, I outline the political economy of the Drug Wars in order to establish that the real target of U. S. counternarcotics operations is not illicit drug manufacturing and distribution, but leftist guerilla movements in Latin America, and an array of subalterns including poor women, recent immigrants, people of color, and queers within the territorial borders of the U.S. In my second chapter, I offer a critique of "the Addiction Narrative," a popular cultural form which depicts white, upper-middleclass subjects "falling" into desperate poverty and sex work. I trace the relationships this form. seen in films like Less Than Zero, constructs between class and sexuality. both for straight women and gay/bisexual men as addicts. In chapter three, I explore "Psychedelic Orientalism." another popular myth-structure, which articulates a correlation between Asian (especially Chinese/Chinese-American), Middle Eastern, and Native American identities and hallucinogenic drug states. I explore the racist and neocolonialist politics of this form by tracing its history from Thomas De Quincey to recent films like The Doors and Year of the Dragon. My fourth chapter explicates the mythology of "the Illegal Economy of the Border and the Street," a complex system that uses violent fictions purporting to realistically treat the transnational cocaine and heroin trades as a coded discourse on race, class. and nation. My fifth chapter relates these cinematic and literary productions to the theory that the Drug Wars are a form of low-intensity conflict, and argues that low-intensity conflict is ultimately a form of cultural struggle. (page v)

This decisive aspect of early Psychedelic Orientalism, from its initial prefiguration in De Quincey's fearful enemy the Malay to the arrival of the always-fiendish Dr. Fu-Manchu, would play no role in the second stage of Psychedelic Orientalism. But it is always dangerous to speak prematurely of a powerful racist myth as being dead; it was in fact only sleeping, and would return in the Drug Wars of the 1980s and 90s.

Asian Religions, Native Americans. and the Trip--Racist Love (1955-1970)

The first historical stage of Psychedelic Orientalism, as I have argued, can be traced from the publication of the Confessions of An English Opium Eater to the Japanese imperialist occupation of "Manchukuo," from 1822 to 1938. It would be nearly two decades before Psychedelic Orientalism, in what appears at first to be a radically different form, would resurface in the literary and scientific culture of the West. There is a dialectical opposition between the first and second stages. Both construct the drugged mental state and the subjectivity of colonized peoples as mutual signifiers; however, the first stage articulates this relation in terms of what Frank Chin and Jeffrey Paul Chan call "racist hate," and the second, in terms of Chin and Chan's concept of "racist love." Whereas the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries confronted the Asianization or North Africanization of white drug-users as a terrible crisis, a miscegenatory threat to the West, or a nighnnare, the Psychedelic Orientalist writers of the 1950s and 1960s greeted the Orientalization of the Western subject as a form of enlightenment or liberation from false consciousness. It would not be an exaggeration to describe this new philosophy of cultural transmigration as one of the core literary and intellectual traditions of the 1960s, and certainly the most important theoretical modality of that particular account of the era as "the Psychedelic Sixties." To this tradition belong many of the most influential writers of the period, including Aldous Huxley, Alan W. Watts, Timothy Leary, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Carlos Castaneda, Paul Bowles, and Robert Anton Wilson. It is this historical moment which witnesses the coining of the term "psychedelic," meaning "mind-manifesting," as an alternative for terms like "psychotomimetic," "hallucinogenic," or "narcotic" and, in a conceptual move that would have enormous significance, the core drugs of this second wave of Psychedelic Orientalism are no longer opium and hashish, but LSD, peyote (and its derivative, mescaline), and teonanactl mushrooms (and their derivative, psilocybin).

It is possible to date the rebirth of Psychedelic Orientalism from the publication of Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception. In this first text of the second stage of the historical development of Psychedelic Orientalism, every major element of the resuscitated genre appears. First, the work avows that, through ingesting psychotropic drugs, the narrator acquires spontaneous, complete, penetrative insight into the deepest mystical truths of Asian religion. Second, Huxley utilizes Psychedelic Orientalism as a discourse about Native Americans as well as the traditional peoples of the "Orient." Third, the text portrays these transformations of white subjectivity not as nightmarish terror but as ecstasy.

In The Doors of Perception, Huxley's 1953 experiment with mescaline becomes the means of his understanding the inner workings of Buddhism.

The Beatific Vision, Sat Chit Ananda, Being-Awareness-Bliss, for the first time I understood, not on the verbal level, not by inchoate hints or at a distance, but precisely and completely what those prodigious syllables referred to.


The Zen parable of the hedge at the bottom of the garden (which is, the master tells the student, the "Dharma-Body of the Buddha") becomes "all clear as day, as evident as Euclid. Of course the Dharma-Body of the Buddha was the hedge at the bottom of the garden". Huxley's phrase "as evident as Euclid" is especially suggestive of his project of appropriating Buddhist philosophy for the West; Euclid, as Greek philosopher-mathematician, is indelibly associated with that imaginary history, "the Western Tradition."

In its first phase, Psychedelic Orientalism transformed whites into their own fantasies/nightmares of the colonized, but it did so in a very particular, carnal way (as is already implied by the earlier elaboration of the three axes of the hedonistic, the sadistic, and the passive); the Oriental minds into which they were translated had no real secrets to divulge, except the sensory thrills of their bodies. This initial phase of Psychedelic Orientalism is a part of the cultural political economic extension of control over the bodies of colonized peoples, as labor in imperialist capitalism. By contrast, the second phase of Psychedelic Orientalism (1950s/60s) demonstrates a new valiung (in both senses of the word) of the thoughts, ideas, and beliefs to be experienced "firsthand" by the white Americans changing into colonized others. But without a doubt, the greatest interest, indeed the single preoccupying interest of the 1950s and 1960s generation of Psychedelic Orientalists is religious experience. Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Hinduism, Yaqul religion, Taoism, Andean Indian religions, and Sufism all suddenly render up all their secrets to their drug-using white interlocutors.

That The Doors of Percention's spontaneous insight into Asian religion occurs under the influence of mescaline, which Huxley describes as that "friend of immemorially long standing" to "primitive religion and the Indians of Mexico", helps to contextualize the theoretical problem of just how Psychedelic Orientalism, that scheme for representing Asian Americans, comes to bear on Native Americans as well during this period. One of the crucial transformations of the Psychedelic Orientalist tradition in its second historical stage is the extension of its logic to include Native North, South, and Central Americans. Orientalism is an elastic system, developed by Europeans (including Euro-Americans) to designate certain modes of otherness more, in many ways, than certain geopolitical categories. Its use is warranted, however, in discussions of Psychedelic Orientalism of the Sixties and after, because that discourse so completely, and repeatedly, confounds Asian and Native American cultures, using the traditional mechanisms of Orientalism (as historically elaborated to describe peoples in Asia and the Middle East). Of course, the culture and history of Yaqui Indians, for example, are radically dissimilar from those of the Chinese--but no more so than the Chinese from Algerians, Orientals of equally long standing. (pages 212-214)

Unlike the form of Psychedelic Orientalism that prevailed from before the Opium Wars to World War II, Huxley's The Doors of Percepetion does not construct the Orientalization of the white narrator as pathogenic or nightmarish; instead, the experience takes the form of ecstasy and illumination. In Aldous Huxley's work can be seen the transformation of values that 1950s-1960s Psychedelic Orientalism represented in the philosophical evaluation of drugs, and the underlying structures of anti-Asian racism that remained untouched throughout the upheaval. This may be imagined as a dialectic between Huxley's psychedelic dystopia, the soma-opiated planet of Brave New World (1932), and his psychedelic utopia, the moksha-illuminated society of Island (1962). "Soma" refers to the mysterious ecstatic drug of the Rig Veda, which Robert Gordon Wasson contended was the fly-agaric mushroom; the 1932 novel depicts the Fordist world-controllers using a drug whose very name bears the stamp of Asian religious mysticism to keep the populace passive and languorous--in other words, to psychedelically Orientalize (in the negative sense of the first historical phase of the genre) the entire world. By contrast, the mushroom in Huxley's last novel, by which the idealized nation of Pala is enlightened, is also associated with Asia, but instead of embodying the most despised aspects of that continent, it now represents the spiritual possibility of the Orient; the moksha mushroom is the Asian half of the longed-for "unproblematic" synthesis of East and West, the counterpoint to Europe's contributions--Pala's language, logic, and science.

After The Doors of Perception, Huxley published Heaven and Hell, which made clear that the De Quinceyan tradition of being "transported into Asian scenery" was not abolished in the new Psychedelic Orientalism, but merely transformed. What remains intact in this revaluation is the colonial epistemology of travel as "discovery," a near-total synonym in the history of Europe for conquest and domination. This procedure, according to Huxley's metaphorical structure, did not reside in history, but in the psyche:

A man consists of what I may call an Old World of personal consciousness and, beyond a dividing sea, a series of New Worlds--the not too distant Virginias and Carolinas of the personal subconscious and the vegetative soul; the Far West of the collective unconscious, with its flora of symbols, its tribes of aboriginal archetypes; and, across another, vaster ocean, at the antipodes of everyday consciousness, the world of Visionary Experience. (pages 216-217)

The metaphor of the colonial exploration and conquest for the psychedelic revolution did not end with Huxley. This language is picked up by the Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary, a writer who, while studying and emulating Huxley, consistently took Huxley's rhetorical innovations in Psychedelic Orientalism much farther than would be dared in Island, The Doors of Percention, or Heaven and Hell. The materials created by Aldous Huxley, Alan W. Watts, Robert Gordon Wasson, and Louis Lewin are transformed into Psychedelic Orientalism in its purest state in the crucible of Timothy Leary's theoretical work. Leary is undoubtedly the thinker of the 1960s least understood by contemporary scholarship. It is customary either to compose elegies to him, as Allen Ginsberg does, as "a hero of American consciousness" ("Foreword' xviii), or to dismiss him as a dated crank. In terms of his contemporary reception, Leary's writings are irrelevant; as a demigod like pioneer or as a joke, Leary is always a metonymic stand-in for the Sixties legacy itself on trial. Such programmatic responses have obscured serious analysis of his influential and sophisticated theoretical work, and the central position it occupies in Psychedelic Orientalism's power to elaborate and affirm racist and colonialist ideology while ostensibly discussing human consciousness. This is the key to Leary's work, and through it to all of Psychedelic Orientalism. (page 218)

Psychedelic Orientalism, applies to Leary's work as well; not only is drug experimentation metaphorically represented as colonial exploration. but actual sightseeing in the East is encoded as drug experience. "A trip to India is a full-blown LSD experience" (High Priest). One facet of the Learian representation of psychotropics use as travel, tourism, or colonial exploration is so commonplace now that it may escape many readers that Leary himself coined the term trip to describe the psychedelic experience.

In High Priest, Timothy Leary created the central document of the Psychedelic Orientalist boom of the 50s and 60s. As the title's double-entendre on "high" implies, the topic of High Priest is the proclamation (or usurpation) of religious authority through experiences of drug intoxication. Although, significantly, High Priest begins and ends with Mexican Indian religion, and although the entire psychoactive pharmacopeia with which Leary experiments is knowledge appropriated from Native North and South American religious and scientific knowledge, the main emphasis in High Priest is upon Buddhism and Hinduism. Leary emphatically asserts that LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline have not only opened to him the mysteries of these religions, but that in fact he, and not a traditionally-trained Asian religious leader, is the genuine informed repository of this knowledge. At the same time, Leary confidently reassures his readers that Hinduism and Buddhism both designate "the past".

Hinduism divulges all its inner meanings to Leary and to other whites, provided they are sufficiently exposed to psychedelics. Under the influence of LSD, a white woman becomes "pure advaita vedanta. She was Krishna, lecturing Arjuna" (High Priest). Similarly, while on a DMT trip, Leary reports "sudden understanding of the meaning of terms from Indian philosophy such as maya, maha-maya, lila" (274).76 In a description of a later LSD trip in an American Hindu temple, Leary continues his project of consuming Hindu religion:

I saw that day in the temple that we are all Hindus in our essence. We are all Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Laughing Krishna. Immutable Brahma. Yes and Asiatic-sensual Siv a. Stem Kali with bloody hands. Undulent flowering Laxmi. Multi-armed Vishnu. Noble Rama. That day in the temple I discovered my Hindu-ness. (pages 220-221)
The lasting consequences of Leary's usurpation of Hindu religious authority are evident in the contemporary social construction, among many non-South Asian Americans, of the very meaning of the Hindu liturgical and philosophical vocabulary which Leary, through LSD, transparently knows and can teach. Rita Chaudhry Sethi writes, "Western appropriation of Hindu terms reflects the perception of religion as charlatanical; the words have been reshaped through their use in the English language with an edge of irreverence or disbelief'. As an example, Sethi cites "Nirvana," which in Hindi signifies "freedom from endless cycle of rebirth," but which in English usage designates "Psychedelic ecstasy; drug-induced high". Sethi also notes the contemporary use of the term "guru," a legitimately trained theological or philosophical instructor in Hindi but almost invariably a snide term for a self-important quack in English, a pejorative meaning which has been acquired in large part precisely because of Leary's use of the term, along with curandero, to describe himself. Through Allen Ginsberg's researches in Andean Indian ritual hallucinogen use, Leary studies the role of curanderos in functioning as guides to tripping subjects; immediately afterward he begins describing himself as a curandero. Both of these postures assumed by Leary, as guru and curandero, he links to his role guiding the experience of persons under the influence of psychedelics, and the whole question of the guide is a very important one in High Priest. The work is divided up into narratives, each called a trip, marked with its own hexagram from the I Ching (another mark of the appropriative impulse of Psychedelic Orientalism), and each such "trip" has Leary under the tutelage of a guide; William S. Burroughs, Robert Gordon Wasson, Aldous Huxley, Allen Ginsberg, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert are among the guides in Leary's trips.

Besides Hinduism, Buddhism--and especially Tibetan Buddhism--is an Asian spiritual tradition over which Leary assents his personal knowledge and authority. According to Leary, Allen Ginsberg "discovered the Buddha nature of drugs with Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder and Bill Burroughs" (High Priest). Leary describes drug trips as "satori," appropriating a term for a specific form of spontaneous enlightenment from Zen traditions (High Priest). (pages 220-221)

The diamond metaphor thus in fact designates precisely that "beauty"--an aestheticization of value--which is created by the scene of brutal exploitation that is already always invisible.

One of Leary's "guides" in High Priest is Alan W. Watts. Watts is the only professional scholar of Asian religion among the pantheon of Psychedelic Orientalist writers, and by the time his major contributions to the genre, the drug-experience narrative The Joyous Cosmology: Adventure In The Chemistry of Consciousness (1965) and the essay "Psychedelics and Religious Experience" (1968) appeared, he was already famous for having authored one of the most important popularizations of Zen Buddhism in English, The Meaning of Zen (1957). This professional background as a more traditional Orientalist provides a critical context for reading his writings on hallucinogens and East Asian spiritual traditions. In The Joyous Cosmology, Watts discusses mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD-25 as a shortcut to the truths of Taoism and Zen without these traditions' usual laborious study and discipline: (page 226)

Hallucinating A People: Native Americans and Psychedelic Orientalism in the Drug Wars

The renewed popularity of Castaneda, Leary, Burroughs, and Ginsberg in the 1980s and 1990s may in part be explained by the rise of the third historical phase of Psychedelic Orientalism. What is remarkable about this most advanced stage of the discourse is that it wields enormous power while, in effect, saying nothing new whatsoever. The Psychedelic Orientalism of the Drug Wars era is a complicated synthesis and pastiche of elements of the first two historical stages of this discursive tradition, "retooled" in Aglietta's language to meet the production needs of a new moment in U.S. cultural political economy. By "production needs" I refer specifically to the primary structural function and power of Psychedelic Orientalism in the Drug Wars: the production of more efficient systems for the exploitation and domination of Asian Americans and Native Americans. (page 235)

Peyote use by non-Indians participates both materially and ideologically in the dispossession of Native North Americans. The materiality of this process of expropriation, however, should be understood as both accelerated by and implicated in the conceptual aspect. One way we may begin to theorize this is to note the importance of the commodity-value of "Indian spirituality" to the commercial sale of peyote; at the same time that, as Mary Crow Dog points out, non-Indians consume the cactus "just like any other drug to get stoned on," they are also sold a product imbued by its ideological system of distribution with easily assimilable Indian magical secrets. But at the same time, the continuing legal prohibition on cultivation of peyote for religious purposes (only Indians' gathering of the increasingly rare wild cactus is permissible) involves the hermeneutic of condemnation as illicit drugs--a status the plant acquires through the law's preferential understanding of peyote as the hallucinogen consumed "just like any other drug to get stoned on" over, for example, peyote as a sacrament or peyote as a medical treatment for alcoholism. It should be understood, then, that non-Indian society's relation to peyote, in tandem with U.S. law's recognition of an exceptional relationship between Indians and peyote, contributes not to a sense of Indian ceremonial right, but to the Psychedelic Orientalist myth that peyote is a "hallucinogen" and Indians a "hallucinogenic" people. (page 239)



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