The War on Drugs, Terence McKenna-style...
excerpted from 'A Weekend With Terence McKenna' Feb. 1992
Modern industrial civilization has very skillfully promoted certain drugs and suppressed others. A perfect example is caffeine. Caffeine -- I hate to tell you this -- caffeine is a fairly dangerous drug. It isn't dangerous in that a cup of coffee will kill you, but a lifestyle built around caffeine is going to -- you're not going to live to be a hundred years old, or even seventy, unless you are statistically in the improbably group. Why is caffeine not only tolerated but exalted? Because, boy, you can spin those widgets onto their winkles just endlessly without a thought on your mind. It is *the* perfect drug for modern industrial manufacturing. Why do you think caffeine, a dangerous, health destroying, destructive drug, that has to be brought from the ends of the earth, is enshrined in every labor contract in the Western world as a right? The coffee break -- if somebody tried to take away the coffee break, you know, the masses would rise in righteous fury and pull them down. We don't have a beer break. We don't have a pot break. I mean, if you suggested, 'Well, we don't want a coffee break. We want to be able to smoke a joint at eleven,' they would say, 'Well, you're just some kind of -- you're a social degenerate, a troublemaker, a mad dog, a criminal.' And yet, the cost health benefit of those two drugs, there's no comparison. Obviously, pot would be the better choice. The problem is, then you're going to be standing there dreaming, rather than spinning the widgets onto the nuts. (laughter)
Coca leaves would be very good. I suspect in the near future we may see the legalization of coca as a sop to the mentality that wishes to see cocaine... Andy Weil, who's a good friend of mine -- we don't agree on everything, but -- a few years ago he had great enthusiasm for a coca chewing gum. And I never got on the bandwagon because I didn't see that we needed another high focus industrial stimulant on the market. But coca would be great, and certainly in the Amazon, if you're a padrone, you encourage your workers to chew coca. I mean, they're worthless without coca. Give them coca and put a machete in their hands and they will just flail for hours at the bush.
Another example that's interesting, that shows how blinded and unaware we are of how drugs have shaped our society...We all know that slavery ended in the United States in the Civil War. And most people, if you question them, think that slavery existed before the Civil War in many places back into ancient times. This is not true at all. Slavery died in Western civilization with the collapse of the Roman empire. During the Dark Ages and the medieval period, if you owned a slave, you owned *one* slave. It was the equivalent of owning a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. It was an index of immense wealth, and social status, and that slave would be a houseboy, or a cook or something like that, someone close in to you, taking care of you. It was inconceivable to use slave labor in the production of an agricultural product, until Europe acquired an insatiable desire for sugar.
Now, let's think about sugar for a moment. Nobody needs sugar. You can go from birth to the grave without ever having a teaspoon full of white sugar. You will never miss it. Throughout the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, sugar was a drug, a medicine. It was used to pack wounds, to keep wounds septic. And it was very expensive and there was very little of it. Nobody even knew where it came from. It was called cane honey, because they knew it came from some kind of jointed grass, but nobody had a clear picture of what sugar was.
Well, when you extract sugar from sugar cane, it requires, in pre-modern technology, a temperature of about 130 degrees. You cannot -- free men will not work sugar. It's too unpleasant. You faint, you die from heat prostration. You have to take prisoners and you have to chain them to the sugar vats. And so, before the discovery of America, in the fifty years before the discovery of America, they began growing sugar cane in the east Atlantic islands, Madeira and the Canary Islands. And they brought Africans, and sold them into slavery specifically for sugar production.
Now when we get American history, they tell you that slaves were used to produce cotton and tobacco. In fact, this is not quite the truth. They had to find things for slaves to do, because they brought so many slaves to the New World to work sugar, and they had so many children, that then they just expanded and said, 'Well, we've used slaves to work sugar, we might as well use them in cotton and tobacco production.' In 1800, every ounce of sugar entering England was being produced by slave labor of the most brutal and demeaning sort. And there was very little protest over this. It was just accepted. To this day, sugar cultivation in the third world is a kind of institutionalized slavery. Christian, you know, the Popes, the kinds of Europe, all of Christian civilization acquiesced in the bringing back of a practice that had been discredited during the fall of Rome, in order to supply the insatiable need for sugar. It was an addiction. It had no cultural defense whatsoever.
These things (psychedelics) have another quality which we haven't talked too much about, which is, the psychedelics are the source of special information. And these hierarchies want to control the information. I mean, in other words, it's the pipeline to God problem. You know, the Protestant Reformation was a whole effort to overthrow the Papal claim that you couldn't just pray. You had to have theologians interpret scripture and dogma, and they would gently guide you toward the right understanding, but that you weren't supposed to have a direct relationship to spirit. You were supposed to leave that to experts.
So I think that's another issue, that the psychedelics empower, with gnosis, true information. And every society is based on a lie of some sort. So having people going around the official lie and getting in touch with reality turns them into social dissidents. And you have to control that. I mean, that was exactly what happened in the 1960's. What happened was, too many people were getting stoned, and then checking out of the official canon of the culture. And people just said, you know, 'You can take that job and shove it.' And this was very alarming. Now every society can tolerate a certain amount of this. You always have people who just aren't playing the game. But what happening in the 1960's was that LSD entered the picture, and LSD is different from all other psychedelics in one tremendously important quality, and that is:
A single skilled chemist, in a small apartment, with about $40,000 worth of equipment, in a single long weekend, can produce forty to sixty million hits of a drug. Forty to sixty *million* hits! This is a loaded gun at the head of society. Now I wrote a book on growing mushrooms, and years ago grew mushrooms quite a bit. And I can tell you, an absolutely dedicated mushroom grower, working his ass off for six months, can produce maybe four or five thousand hits of mushrooms. In other words, it's entirely a neighborhood phenomenon. It doesn't affect the dials that measure the fate of society. But you produce forty to sixty million hits of a drug, you have entered the realm of global politics. You now probably have more power -- you and your friends probably now have more power to affect the fate of the world than, let's say, the government of Switzerland. Well, no, not Switzerland, they have the banks. But -- the government of Finland, let's say. You have just shoved Finland out of the way and taken your place in the hierarchy. So no government would put up with that for a moment.
You see, the hidden issue, and it need not be hidden among us...the government always tries to paint itself as the mother hen, concerned about her errant chicks. And so, to keep you from crashing into other people on the freeway, to keep you from leaping out of buildings or committing society, we have to control these drugs. As a matter of fact, you know, this is absurd. More people die because of alcohol than all illegal drugs combined in a given year. The government is not your friend on this issue. The government is very concerned to control the mass mind. And marijuana -- my God, since the British Commission on Hemp, which was in 1889, I believe -- the British East India Company commissioned a study of hemp -- they have spent millions and millions and millions of dollars to find something, anything, you name it, wrong with cannabis. There is nothing wrong with cannabis. It is the most thoroughly tested, pawed over, and examined drug in human history. And they just come up with the lamest stuff. I mean, they tell you, you know, you're gonna have tits. Give me a break. They say, 'You won't be motivated in your job.' Like your job is supposed to be the (pinnacle) against which all things are to be measured.
And I think people on our side of this question have been tremendously naive, because people just think, 'We just have to convince them that it's harmless.' *It ain't harmless.* It is a knife poised at the heart of dominator values. It would make the modern industrial assembly line, political loyalites, the macho image projection -- all of these little tricks that they're running are severely eroded by cannabis. And they will stop at nothing to eradicate it. Look at the budget of the DEA -- what are they doing? They're giving, 65% is dedicated to cannabis eradication. Heroin gets 20%, coke gets all the rest. It's demonstrably absurd the way the money is spent, unless you have a secret agenda of some sort. And if your agenda is to suppress the evolution of unwanted social attitudes in the American public, then you have to keep your eye on cannabis very very closely. The new guy who heads the War on Drugs, Martinez? This guy, I heard him on NPR this week, and his most passionate moment in the half hour interview was, he said, 'We have pushed the price of an ounce of cannabis past the price of an ounce of gold, and we're going to keep it that way.' Nothing about eradication, talk about keeping the price high. The fact that they refuse to tax it when they're starving for revenue shows that there must be a secret agenda. It doesn't make any kind of sense.
When I wrote this book, I did a lot of research on an area I didn't know that much about, which is, let's say from 1500 to the present, drugs of addiction. And what I discovered is drug smuggling is like assassination. If the government isn't involved, it never seems to really happen. And governments have been using drugs for centuries as forms of secret revenue. This whole sugar thing that I laid out to you, those were decisions made by the crown heads of Europe in collusion with the Pope. It wasn't common people who set those policies in place.
During the 1960's, when the black ghettos began to come apart, suddenly number three China white heroin was cheaper and more available than it had ever been in any time in this history of the heroin problem in the United States. Why? Because the CIA saw, you know, all these black guys are getting up, a bunch of uppity niggers as the government calls them, you just smother it in heroin. Get everybody either hooked or making money...
And they don't care really about the effects of drugs, and one group, one faction will work against another. For example, I'm a great aficionado of hashish, and hashish became very hard to get in the United States in the late 70's. But as soon as the Russians invaded Afghanistan, suddenly there was massive amounts of excellent Afghani hashish, at prices that nobody had seen for fifteen years. Well, the reason was, the CIA knows that hashish is not really a problem. But what they wanted is, they wanted an income for the mujahadin. And they had to pay for all these weapons. So they just started bringing it in wholesale. And it wasn't even a smuggling operation. I mean, I received reports from people who said, you know, 'Smuggling? They're not smuggling. They're unloading it on pier 39, union local 1030 is taking off, you know, five hundred pound blocks of hashish by the tens of thousands.' And the day the Afghan war ended? They staged an enormous series of interlocking busts on their own infrastructure, and they closed it down, and they pulled it to pieces.
When Khomeini kicked out the Shah, the Iranian heroin business then fell under the control of the mullahs, and at that point, suddenly cocaine emerges as a major problem in the United States, because we just switched our supply lines. We could no longer depend on Iranian heroin, because we couldn't depend on these screwy Islamic fundamentalists, so we just turned toward all of these company assets in Honduras and Ecuador and Columbia. Very, very cynical.
You know, it's only been a hundred and twenty years since the so called opium wars. Very few people know what the opium wars, what was the issue in the opium wars. Well, it turns out the British government wanted to deal opium in China, and the Chinese Emperor told them to get lost. And they flipped. And they sent naval units, and they laid siege to several Chinese cities, and they forced the Chinese imperial court to agree that they could deal as much opium as they wanted on the wharves of Shanghai...
The Japanese, when they invaded Manchuria in the Second World War, they immediately began producing heroin and opium in vast amounts, not then as an economic strategy, but as a strategy to break the will of the Chinese population by encouraging addiction, and there was vast amounts of opium addiction. If any of you saw 'The Last Emperor,' you recall that his mistress was severely addicted to opium, and it depicted it in a number of scenes.
So governments have very cynically manipulated drugs, so that the drugs which make it possible for capitalism to function are cheap and freely available, and the drugs which erode dominator values, or cause people to question their situation, are savagely suppressed.
How can we win if we're taking psychedelics (which erode the ego)? I think that what we have to say is that we must win by example. You know, the I Ching says you must never confront evil directly, because then it learns how to defend itself. The hippies were certainly no threat to the government as a military force, but as an example, as a model for others to follow, I think they scared them to death. They were probably very happy to see them all turn into Weathermen and begin hurling Molotov cocktails. *That* they understood. They could relate to that. But flowers in the barrels of their guns spelled ruin and defeat, and they knew it.