Psychedelics and the collapse of empires
Are these mind-altering drugs helping Mother Nature shift paradigms?
vol. 4 issue 10
In an occupied nation, could psychedelics be what set us free?
The thought occurred to me recently as I was walking in the woods with the dog. It was apropos of nothing, fully formed in my mind, more “spoken” into my consciousness than generated from any analysis of a situation I might have been engaged in puzzling through.
In fact, I wasn’t thinking about psychedelics at all. I was noticing the extent to which the teeny patch of old growth forest where I live, struggles to remain upright in its liminal state, literally so, between Washington and suburban Maryland.
Before I explore the provocative thought about psychedelics, let me tell you more about the context in which it occurred.
Running through this rare strip of green where I was walking, is the Little Falls Branch, a sweetly burbling rivulet, declinating gently around Precambrian boulders and stones, eventually emptying a couple of miles away from here into the Potomac through a small but dramatic cataract visible from a bridge above, connecting Maryland to Virginia.
Both the creek and the woods have been so compromised by humans, their obvious signs of distress depress me every time I enter the woods, which because the dog has needs, is near daily.
Among the battles the creek faces includes the heaps of litter that finds its way into the water’s current beginning where it does at the posh country club a few miles upstream, as well as downstream where the detritus of thoughtlessness runs through it. There is also the constant presence of E. coli and other bacterial contamination from illegal sewage hookups, and leaks from the poorly constructed and aging sewer system.
The greater affliction of the woods, however, is decades long in its infection: empire building.
Poor or flouted zoning laws that resulted in more concrete than it seems our little hill rising just over the state and city line could accommodate, has meant that for 50 years, an increasing crush of luxury high rises and office buildings have been situated too close to the creek’s banks, so that now there is not soil enough to slowly absorb rainwater and ease it into the creek, the way nature normally intends for the cycle of water and weather to work.
Instead, there is erosion. A lot of it.
Decades of rushing run-off from the increasingly fierce storms that have beset the region of late have toppled an astonishing number of the enormous and ancient tulip poplars, their roots no longer able to withstand both gravity and a lack of earth to nestle them in place. The majority of the towering giants that remain tilt this way and that, and are eerily disfigured, their exposed network of tangled and gnarled roots writhing over the creek’s banks in frozen animation, like the fossilized tentacles of prehistoric sea monsters.
For now, the buildings are steady, although an alarming amount of ground surrounding my own building has been lost, washed into the creek, no longer held in place by the tree’s roots system. The foundation has been exposed. It is not pretty.
As you would expect, people are concerned. There is talk of what can be done. Politicians have been alerted. Bureaucracies have been set to task. Plans are being made. Hands are being wrung.
Even if the land is restored, any stop gaps are temporary as long as the buildings remain, compromising the soil. The buildings are worth hundreds of millions in the aggregate; of course, they will remain. And, it will be the citizen taxpayers, and not the owners of the buildings, who will pay for whatever solutions are delivered.
To that end, it is the fact that private equity money has infiltrated this neighborhood that the woods’ plight seems to matter as much as it apparently does to our local leadership, many of whom are endorsed by the commercial real estate industry.
A real estate investment trust (REIT), with its bizarre lack of shame, publicly touting its ability to cut services, raise rents, and deliver value to shareholders (and not to the people paying the elevated rents and relying on the capitated services) has, thanks to the shake out of the pandemic, quickly snapped up ownership of a sizeable amount of local commercial real estate, including nearly half of the apartment rental inventory.
If trends elsewhere are indicative, this new private equity emperor of our hillside will soon monopolize the market leaving residents with little choice but to pay up or move out…but to where? Such is the empire building everywhere in our city and environs.
Whoever owns the land, owns the power.
That is how empires are made. And the emperors, whether in name or function, rely upon the labor of the subjugated to prosper and maintain their power.
That is to say, while citizens such as myself and others will work hard to protect the woods and the creek, it will be the land-owners who dangle the prospect of a rare tract of green as an asset worth paying more to live near in this urban environment. However, it will not have been the land-owners who did the litter collection, the creek bacteria monitoring, or the lobbying for better maintenance of the woods that will help the REIT owners leverage them as merely a commodity to profit from.
The real quandary is not how to protect the woods, but why any of us would perpetuate a paradigm that would even consider, much less be predicated upon, owning the land to begin with. It makes no sense unless we are interested in continuing to build empires, or at least in allowing others to build empires on our backs.
Whoever owns the land, owns the power. It is an inevitability we do not question.
We came from the land. Every single one of us is made of dust and spit. How do we rationalize owning what we are all made of? And yet, that is what we do. We even try to own the air, space, water – we insist on boundaries that nature does not place upon itself. We forget that we are part of Nature.
This is what I was walking through the besieged woods, along the sick creek, meditating upon when the thought occurred to me that Nature already has the solution to this state of occupation: psychedelics.
And in particular, not the lab-fabricated ones, but the plant-derived ones such as Ayahuasca or psylocibin, and even the ones derived from the venom of poison frogs.
A year ago, I ran a three-part series that included in the many discussions, that there had been widespread use of psychedelics before the Roman Empire quashed that shit; how as psychedelics are now making a come-back, pharmaceutical companies and some regulators fearful they will lose power over their empires if they can’t control who gets access to psychedelics want to quash that shit; and how psychedelics irrefutably expose to their users the falsehood of hierarchy’s, and thus empire-building’s, inevitability.
A lot of history fills the space between the last time psychedelics were used, and now at this point in their resurgence. Notably, it seems that hierarchy evolved when psychedelic ceremonies intended to connect the celebrants to what lies beyond the visible were stamped out by empire-builders, such as the Romans.
This has a lot to do with why we don’t question land ownership. After 5,000 years of being acculturated into accepting the empire as de facto reality, with no mention of the possibility of a much more flexible barrier between what is seen and unseen, the habit of focusing only upon the emperor and his capital dies hard.
The way I see it, since the Bronze Age, when it became possible to mortally wound not just the beast one needed for dinner, but the other guy hunting that same beast, hierarchical thinking has been in the ascendant. Naturally, if you could just keep the other guy off the hunting grounds to start with, it would be easier to feed your clan.
So, land ownership and killing to protect it became a thing. It was perfected centuries later in the Axial Age of the Abrahamic religions when patriarchal tribalism eventually led to the Roman Empire and all other subsequent empires including our own.
That empires were built during the rise of highly organized, hierarchical religion is not coincidental.
These religions were and remain predicated on highly sophisticated stories, reinforced in writing, not just word-of-mouth, although that was and is important, too. Either way, our minds are what were first colonized, with stories and “truths”; once this was accomplished, our hearts and loyalties were easy to cultivate, and so was the justification for taking the land.
Even if we are unwilling to admit that the United States is an empire, our actions, our propaganda, and our laws make clear that empire building is the only thing worth investing in. I maintain that to argue otherwise is silly and specious: empire building is at the heart of our Capitalism. It is what we celebrate. Whoever owns the land – and the oil or other resources within that land – owns the power.
We seem to struggle with what the late Mark Fischer said, that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of Capitalism.”
Translation: it is easier to imagine the world ending than our empire falling.
But now that we’ve used up the resources of the land, now that the planet seems to be dying and its peoples thrown into existential crisis, the emperors must either find another resource to colonize and control, or the empire will indeed die.
With our current battles on Capitol Hill, in Russia, in China, anywhere colonization has occurred, we are witnessing the desperate power grabs of old emperors who see that their linear, hierarchical paradigm is rotting into the humus of the earth.
In cases where they can no longer control the land, women’s bodies serve as proxy. This is a logical extension of the reasoning: if the natural world is something to subjugate to our own ends, there is no gap to cross in taking that view of women.
Although we are also witnessing a handful of billionaire bros attempt to conquer and own space, what I think psychedelics are starting to reveal is the folly of that, too: the mind when enlightened by plants of the Super Consciousness doesn’t land only on Mars. It can live nonlocally, in a realm unmeasured by the old ways.
This is the exciting part.
The patriarchal empire’s prevailing inadequacy is its refusal to balance itself with the feminine. Although matriarchy would be a lot less violent, because its energy would be about enfoldment and not penetration and cutting (war), a paradigm that is not balanced with the energy of the other is ultimately useless. Either you’re always hugging one another, or you’re always killing each other.
But how do we move past empire-building and into a new paradigm that is neither all masculine, which in its purest form is not MAN but simply outward-going, or in physical terms, centrifugal, nor one that is all feminine, which in its purest form is not all WOMAN, but inward-going, or centripetal?
(As an aside, I have often mused that the advent of so much trans-sexuality is the inevitable consequence of the insistence on linear this-or-that thinking, rather than letting people’s experience of themselves be fluid, not “assigned”, which sounds like a horrible memo you get from the worst boss ever.)
In physics, the first law of thermodynamics basically says that energy in a contained system cannot be destroyed. It might change form, but it will not give up the ghost. One empire falls, only to be replaced by another. That’s a closed system.
So, we have to get out of the system of empires. It’s a doom loop.
But how is that possible?
We can’t generate a new paradigm from within the old one. It’s impossible by the laws of physics. But it’s not impossible within the laws of metaphysics!
What psychedelics teach us, if pretty much every single account of psychedelic experience I’ve heard or read about can be believed, is that what sustains us is not owned by us, but is us; that not only is there life beyond this life, consciousness undulates through us, reaching both ahead of and back again, through us, through itself. Some of the most exciting accounts of psychedelic use, to my mind anyway, are of users who experience something akin to being re-rooted to the network of energy that connects humans, trees, and other life, through a central neural network. In other words, people are literally plugged into the earth, realigned in their circuitry with the Mother Earth Board.
If so, then think of the implications for anyone who claims to own any part of the earth.
That claim is abjectly wrong. Dumb, even. Nihilistic.
Psychedelics are not only healing people of their depressions, their traumas, their pain of separation caused by the sorting of hierarchies, these merciful plant and animal guides are plugging humans back into the larger source of truth that supersedes the empire building and hierarchy we’ve known and accepted as inevitable for five millennia, a mere blip in cosmic time. The reports of those who have used psychedelics overwhelmingly are of a peaceful understanding that there is life beyond this one, that we are all connected, that there is joy at our core. It is there for us, always.
Yes, I am aware of the pain all around us. Russia. Ukraine. Abortion. Insurrection. And on and on. We are nothing if not inventive in the many ways to torture ourselves.
Yet, it seems Nature is showing us how to slip through the fingers of the predominately masculine (linear) forces that have run their course. She is propelling us to the next paradigm — even if we don’t use the drugs directly ourselves.
I am not sure how much of the new world will be shaped according to our own visions of what can be, but one thing seems clear to me is that it won’t include owning the Earth and her resources, nor her people, her creeks, her trees.
Nearly a year later from when I ran that series, I think I understand that what we’re experiencing now is a question of physics and metaphysics, and that it is not theoretical. It is happening.
I believe this is true because, although I have not ever used psychedelics, the second thought that spoke itself into my consciousness, fully formed, as though the psychedelics themselves had relayed to me a message through the trees, was this one, filled with hope and the potential for liberation:
“Don’t fret over the woods. They might be suffering, but they are not the ones stupidly perpetuating a lie.”
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