The Ship of the Sun is Drawn 1
I got the revolution blues, I see bloody fountains,
And ten million dune buggies comin’ down the mountains.
Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars,
But I hate them worse than lepers and I’ll kill them in their cars.
The spaghetti theory of conspiracy is nothing if not psychedelic. In a psychedelic fashion, though, conspiracy theory loops back upon itself, paranoid and snarling. As I’ve tried to show with these posts just as conspiracies extend and branch out from the tiniest biological organisms to the realm of the gods themselves, conspiracy theorizing is likewise diverse, contradictory and in a marginal existence of ceaseless vicissitude.
For this reason conspiracy theories about the psychedelic movement especially, one would think, should mirror the groundless, fluctuating nature of their subject. Not necessarily so. In very recent years, in contrast, there is a fast-growing tendency to conclude that the psychedelic movement emerging out of the sixties and continuing in fractured pieces even today can be explained very simply: the whole tie-dyed cloth was designed and manufactured by the malefic Powers That Be.
A Deliberate Creation
This is exactly the thesis of a May, 2013
by Joe Atwill and Jan Irvin entitled, “Manufacturing the Deadhead: A product of social engineering.” Beyond the title itself, the authors explicitly state their full thesis early on in the long essay.
Most today assume that the CIA and the other intelligence-gathering organizations of the U.S. government are controlled by the democratic process. They therefore believe that MK-ULTRA’s role in creating the psychedelic movement was accidental “blowback.” Very few have even considered the possibility that the entire “counterculture” was social engineering planned to debase America’s culture – as the name implies. The authors believe, however, that there is compelling evidence that indicates that the psychedelic movement was deliberately created. The purpose of this plan was to establish a neo-feudalism by the debasing of the intellectual abilities of young people to make them as easy to control as the serfs of the Dark Ages.
Such a thesis, denying “blowback,” accidents, spontaneity, unforeseen consequences, unpredictability, limited autonomy, etc. is thoroughly absolutist in nature. Absolutist conspiracy theories, as explored in previous posts, however satisfactory they are in creating a comprehensive narrative to ostensibly explain the current sociopolitical reality, do not accurately reflect the complexity and nuances that make up that reality.
There is really no doubt that government and far more nefarious agencies were and are involved in promoting and “manufacturing” various aspects of the psychedelic counterculture. The name of their game, after all, is control. However, we go far astray in our analysis, I believe, when we conclude that every facet of this movement was contrived and engineered from the get go. Such a conclusion is not only inaccurate, failing to account for obvious complexity, but it also robs us of taking inspiration in and gaining knowledge from genuinely liberatory elements of the sixties counterculture.
It is crucial that we attempt to know precisely how we are being manipulated and hoodwinked, and in this the research of Atwill and Irvin, as well as others like Dave McGown, is indispensable. We must not cling to illusions. But we must also not make the opposite mistake. The same dominant faction that gains from tweaking and prodding the counterculture in desired directions also gains in the widespread acceptance of conspiracy and revisionist theories that reject the counterculture in total. Such theories promote paralysis in the face of a seemingly omnipotent elite and they also severely limit our own options of resistance.
The present post, then, will not try to demonstrate that the counterculture which captured the attention of the world in the sixties and onward is wholly good. Neither, though, will it conclude, along with Atwill and Irvin that it was and is just a product of social engineering, just a colossal hoodwink. Instead I hope to show that any comprehensive theory of the psychedelic movement, and similar movements, must be psychedelic in itself — spaghetti-like. This doesn’t make for an easy-to-grasp, black-and-white, Hollywood storyline, but is reality ever really like this?
There is no need for a point-by-point refutation of Atwill and Irvin’s article. Much of their research appears pretty sound. Jan Irvin’s research on R. Gordon Wasson is especially revealing and alarming if accurate. The authors present a somewhat garbled grab-bag of every available anti-counterculture conspiracy theory and criticism, from Timothy Leary being a CIA spy to Woodstock being a designed spectacle to debase US culture through its images of stoned hippies humping in the mud. The John Birch Society in its heyday likely could not have produced a more damning indictment.
Unlike the more conventional right-wing based attacks on the counterculture, however, which made the case that the hippies were a sort of Trojan Horse for world communism, Atwill and Irvin go much further in their conclusions. The goal of the Agenda, as we’ve seen, is not communism but a neo-feudal Dark Age featuring eugenics, depopulation and near universal, back-breaking servitude for the masses.
Where did Irvin and Atwill come up with this horrific vision of the near future? In fact, their view is not so different from other absolutist conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and especially the very articulate Alan Watt. If there is a “mainstream” of absolutist conspiracy theorizing Irvin and Atwill fall firmly within it. If anything, though, it is their emphasis that makes them unique. To bring about this New Word Order of shit-kicking peasant stinkards and their transhuman lords and masters, they conclude, the psychedelic movement was absolutely essential.
As evidence for this Agenda the authors cite the work of Terence McKenna. Didn’t McKenna, the indefatigable psychedelic evangelist, constantly promote the idea of an Archaic Revival? Isn’t the Archaic Revival entirely synonymous with the Dark Age? Didn’t McKenna admit in an interview, published in The Archaic Revival and quoted by Atwill and Irvin, that he was a “soft Dark Ager“?
I guess I’m a soft Dark Ager. I think there will be a mild dark age. I don’t think it will be anything like the dark ages that lasted a thousand years…
This certainly appears to condemn McKenna. He is clearly advocating neo-feudalism! He must be an agent of the Agenda! It is worthwhile, though, to look up McKenna’s entire quote. Jan Irvin, to his credit, constantly exhorts his readers to check his facts. I’ll take his advice. McKenna is asked if he thought, in agreement with certain futurists, that humanity would have to pass through a new dark age in order to attain a higher state of collective consciousness. Here’s his full response:
I guess I’m a soft Dark Ager. I think there will be a mild Dark Age. I don’t think it will be anything like the Dark Ages which lasted a thousand years — I think it will last more like five years — and will be a time of economic retraction, religious fundamentalism, retreat into closed communities by certain segments of the society, feudal warfare among minor states, and this sort of thing. I think it will give way in the late ’90s to the actual global future that we’re all yearning for. Then there will be basically a 15-year period where all these things are drawn together with progressively greater and greater sophistication, much in the way that modern science, and philosophy has grown with greater and greater sophistication in a single direction since the Renaissance. Sometime around the end of 2012, all of this will be boiled down into a kind of alchemical distillation of the historical experience that will be a doorway into the life of the imagination.
Terence is obviously quite off in his timing but there is no indication that he is in any way advocating a new Dark Age as a positive end for social control — quite the contrary. He is saying that there may unfortunately be a wholly undesirable and unnecessary, yet extremely brief, period of reaction before the real goal emerges: the “
doorway into the life of the imagination.
It is readily apparent to anyone spends any amount of time listening to or reading Terence McKenna that he is in no way an advocate for a Dark Age as he defines it — economic retraction, fundamentalism, closed communities, feudal warfare, etc. His advocacy of the Archaic Revival, on the other hand, is completely antithetical to this. And, once again, McKenna is very lucid in what he means by this term.
Terence argues that in a time of general crisis a society will naturally look back to a time in its history when possible solutions or the means of resolving the current crisis might be found. Thus, during the dissolution of the medieval worldview individual Europeans turned to the classical age of Rome and Greece to find new inspiration, resulting in the Renaissance.
McKenna, an admirer of both the Renaissance and classical Greece, concludes that the combined crises of modernity are so dire that we must look back even further to a time before the State, before organized religion, before the hierarchical stratification of society, before the severing of humanity’s link with the rest of nature — all key features of both the Dark Age and today.
This time is found in the long archaic (not ancient and definitely not medieval or feudal) age of the paleolithic. And, to anticipate a stupid objection, McKenna is not advocating a return to the Old Stone Age. He is saying that there are many things that we urgently need to learn from our “primitive” ancestors and still existing hunter-gatherer tribes.
Fortunately, movements in art and in the wider culture and counterculture have from the late-19th century onward attempted to learn these lessons. Anyone who would equate the terms “Archaic Revival” with “Dark Age” in McKenna is either completely missing the point or is consciously misrepresenting his message.
The Fungal Bureau of Intoxication
Could it be, though, that McKenna is being devious in his presentation? If, as Irvin and Atwill assert, McKenna is an agent of the nefarious Agenda then isn’t it very possible that he is seducing people with his highly-cultivated charm and elocution to accept a vision of the Archaic Revival which is actually something completely opposite to what he says it is, namely a new Dark Age? If this is the case, Irvin and Atwill present no evidence of it. Irvin does claim, however, to have caught McKenna admitting that he
just this sort of agent.
Irvin presents this evidence, “an explosive audio clip,” in an article from August of last year explosively entitled, “NEW MKULTRA DISCOVERY: Terence McKenna admited that he was a “deep background” and “PR” agent (CIA or FBI).” The clip can be listened to here, but this is the damning quotation:
And certainly when I reached La Chorerra in 1971 I had a price on my head by the FBI, I was running out of money, I was at the end of my rope. And then THEY recruited me [laughter from his audience] and said, “you know, with a mouth like yours there’s a place for you in our organization.” And I’ve worked in deep background positions about which the less said the better. And then about 15 years ago THEY shifted me into public relations and I’ve been there to the present.
What is conspicuously absent from Jan Irvin’s account of this is the
. McKenna’s audience during the talk and nearly all of his subsequent listeners have realized that Terence is making a joke about being recruited by the Mushroom. Absolutist conspiracy theorists, in contrast, are notorious for not having a sense of humour. In objection to this fairly basic interpretation of McKenna’s words Jan Irvin reveals that he is definitely well within the absolutist camp:
1) Do mushrooms have organizations, deep background and public relations (propaganda)? Or does a spy agency?
2) What would mushrooms need with a public relations or propaganda department? Or is that something a spy agency would have?
3) Would mushrooms tell him the less said the better: “deep background positions about which the less said the better”, or is that something an agency would do?
4) Do mushrooms have “positions”? Or does an agency?
5) Are the mushrooms able to pay him because he’s out of money? Or is that something an agency could do? (remember he’s in trouble for smuggling)
6) Are mushrooms able to get him out of trouble with Interpol and the FBI for DRUG SMUGGLING? Or is that something an agency like the CIA or FBI could do?
7) Do mushrooms answer the story of what happened to him after his arrest? Or is that something that his employment as an agent would do?
Wow. Irvin does seem to have a point (or seven!) here. All those who laughed will surely not laugh last. The evidence is in! If there is anything, though, to take seriously I think it is McKenna’s confession that he was recruited by the Mushroom. He is admitting to a conspiracy here, and it is one that is far vaster in scope than anything the CIA and the FBI combined could think up. Irvin, unfortunately, does not appear to take this sort of conspiracy seriously.
The less interesting, more banal story of McKenna as FBI/CIA agent has been thoroughly “debunked” elsewhere on the web so there is no reason to go over the boring business again here. It is interesting (and funny) to hear Terence’s brother Dennis’ take on the whole thing. Here is Dennis in an interview from May, 2013 (at 35 minutes in):
I just feel kind of sorry for Jan, actually. He seems to have this need to see conspiracies where none exist…. This is the web of delusion that you can fall into if you’re not careful and I think he has. … It looks like pathology to me, and a lot of people see that. But then Jan will say, well, you won’t go through these 20 databases that I’ve sent you and these 200 links. And you’ve got to understand, no Jan I won’t, because for one thing I don’t have time and the fact there are connections does not necessarily a conspiracy make. I mean, yeah, Terence talked at Esalen and Aldous Huxley talked at Esalen that doesn’t mean that Esalen is involved in some plot for world domination. … I just don’t buy it. It just seems like a waste of time. … I would think I would know that [Terence was an agent]. I would think he would have said something. You know, we were close. But then maybe he was but he didn’t even know he was. I don’t think so. I don’t know if you’ve seen Jan’s website? What is that? This is… like the [Terence’s] Timewave in a way — this elaborate model that you come up with that explains all and everything if you could just see it. I’m not seeing it, Jan, sorry.
Pathology or not (and, to be fair, Dennis is calling his brother similarly nuts), the obvious response for an absolutist conspiracy theorist would be to claim that Dennis is also a part of the conspiracy. This is essentially Jan’s response. A big deal will be made out the fact that Dennis didn’t directly deny that his brother was an agent. This, according to absolutist logic, is tantamount to admitting that he was an agent.
If this was all Irvin and Atwill had on Terence McKenna it would seem like pretty flimsy stuff. Yet of course this is not their full argument. As Dennis explains, Terence is condemned for connections, real or illusory, that he had with institutions and people like Esalen, Huxley, Teilhard de Chardin, Marshall McLuhan, etc. As a lover of synchronicity I will accept all of these connections and more. I just doubt that any of these prove that McKenna was, consciously or not, working for an Agenda to enslave humanity.
For me to try to refute these assertions would involve plunging into the “20 databases” and “200 links” and that is not really my purpose here. McKenna himself is only one small facet of Atwill and Irvin’s mega-thesis and even to definitively prove that McKenna was a saint, which he by no means was, would not really shake the core of their claim. It is a good idea to look into some of this research, though, just to see if it stands up to scrutiny.
A Dose Of Disinfo
Another key player in the conspiracy, according to Atwill and Irvin, is Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD. If a psychedelic conspiracy really exists then Hofmann has got to be in the thick of it, right? Atwill and Irvin present their most damning evidence against Hofmann:
Though like many of those associated with the origins of the psychedelic movement, Albert Hofmann is called “divine,” evidence has come to light which exposes him as both a CIA and French Intelligence operative. Hoffman helped the agency dose the French village Pont Saint Esprit with LSD. As a result five people died and Hofmann helped to cover up the crime. The LSD event at Pont Saint Esprit led to the famous murder of Frank Olson by the CIA because he had threatened to go public.
A footnote informs us that this “evidence” is taken from journalist Hank Albarelli’s 2009 book, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments. If we look into the mass poisoning event in Pont-Saint-Esprit in 1951, we quickly find that Albarelli is about the only person claiming that the CIA dosed the village with LSD. Steven Kaplan, a professor of history at Cornell University who also wrote a book about the events of the French village, has described Albarelli’s theory as “absurd.”
I have numerous objections to this paltry evidence against the CIA. First of all, it’s clinically incoherent: LSD takes effects in just a few hours, whereas the inhabitants showed symptoms only after 36 hours or more. Furthermore, LSD does not cause the digestive ailments or the vegetative effects described by the townspeople…
Now it could be that Kaplan is himself a conspirator assigned the task to whitewash the odious deeds of the CIA, but oddly it is not Kaplan that Irvin and Atwill place under suspicion. It is Albarelli. Apparently it was Albarelli who attempted to thwart Irvin’s research into Gordon Wasson’s ties to the CIA:
An example of how Wasson’s activities for the CIA have been kept hidden is the work of MK-ULTRA “expert” and author Hank Albarelli, a former lawyer for the Carter administration and Whitehouse who also worked for the Treasury Department. Though Albarelli presents himself to the public as a MK-ULTRA ‘whistleblower’, he apparently attempted to derail Irvin’s investigation into Gordon Wasson.
But wait a minute. If Albarelli has been outed by Irvin and Atwill as a disinfo agent then why is he cited as the sole source of “
” that Albert Hofmann assisted the CIA in dosing a French village with LSD? Might not this also be disinformation? At the very least this is an example of extremely sloppy research by Irvin and Atwill. To use a source which these authors themselves go on to discredit in order to attempt to slag Hofmann is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. One wonders how much more of Irvin and Atwill’s research, if one was feeling particularly masochistic and had a ton of time to sift through it, would similarly transmute into shit.
Leveling The Playing Field For Everyone
Fortunately, though, Jan Irvin has education on his side.
education — not the kind we plebs get from ordinary public schools and universities. Jan has rediscovered the Trivium — the ancient arts of Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric, which along with the Quadrivium make up the Seven Liberal Arts. On his website we can listen to a genuinely fascinating series of podcasts on the Trivium, largely presented by Gene Odening.
In the first interview with Odening we are told that the Trivium is the educational method, ancient in origin, which is even now taught at the boarding schools of the elite. The purpose of the Trivium is to develop critical thinking. It essentially is a tool to see through the bullshit, to expose the conditioning, propaganda and manipulation that we all face. So far so good. A foolproof methodology of critical thinking is definitely desired. The three arts are conveniently broken down as follows:
 General Grammar
(Answers the question of the Who, What, Where, and the When of a subject.) Discovering and ordering facts of reality comprises basic, systematic Knowledge Formal Logic
(Answers the Why of a subject.) Developing the faculty of reason in establishing valid [i.e., non-contradictory] relationships among facts, systematic Understanding
 Classical Rhetoric
(Provides the How of a subject.) Applying knowledge and understanding expressively comprises Wisdom or, in other words, it is systematically useable knowledge and understanding
Sounds great. Comprehensive and handily applicable. It actually sounds strangely familiar. Oh, I remember where I heard something like this — in a talk by Terence McKenna:
The world is so tricky that without rules and razors you are as lambs led to the slaughter. And I’m speaking of the world as we have always found it. Add onto that the world based on techniques of mass psychology, advertising, political propaganda, image manipulation…There are many forces that seek to victimize us. And the only way through this is rational analysis of what is being presented. It amazes me that this is considered a radical position. I mean, this is what used to be called a good liberal education. And then somewhere after the sixties when the government decided that universal public education only created mobs milling in the streets calling for human rights, education ceased to serve the goal of producing an informed citizenry. And instead we took an authoritarian model: the purpose of education is to produce unquestioning consumers with an alcoholic obsession for work. And so it is. [at 12:55 minutes]
Here McKenna almost sounds as if he listened to Jan Irvin’s podcast — except that this was recorded way back in 1994. The similarities between the two, though, are striking. By “
a good liberal education
” Terence is undoubtedly referring to the Seven Liberal Arts which includes the Trivium. His concerns are also identical to Irvin and Odening. He is advocating a “
rational analysis of what is being presented
,” a system of “
rules and razors
,” in order to deflect the “
many forces that seek to victimize us
The one glaring difference between Irvin and McKenna on this point is their view of the sixties. According to McKenna students and other protesters gained their critical view of the establishment through a public liberal education and the use of psychedelics. According to Irvin and Atwill it was the use of psychedelics and the lack of a proper liberal education that so definitely duped the sixties generation. How could such divergent opinions be both generated by two seemingly sincere advocates of critical thinking and the Trivium?
But beyond this how could McKenna, that outed agent and psychedelic snake-oil salesman, be an advocate for the Trivium at all? Is he just lying? Are we to assume that every time he tells his audience to “question authority — even my own” and “try it for yourself” that he actually means “do exactly what I say”?
There may be a solution to this puzzle. As we progress through Irvin’s “Trivium Education” podcasts we come to a very fascinating interview with Kevin Cole, a Trivium Method student of Odening and Irvin. Cole relates how in his own research he discovered that the Classical Trivium and the Seven Liberal Arts were actually used as a complete system of control by the elite for centuries.
The Classical Trivium, we finally learn, is entirely different from the Trivium Method (perhaps we should start to call it the Trivium Method™?) which was developed by Odening and interpreted by Irvin in order to free minds rather than to enslave them.
It’s obvious, therefore, that McKenna is only an advocate of the Classical Trivium and not the liberating Trivium Method™. The similarity of language and purported methodology is only there to deceive. That clears up that. But hold on a sec — weren’t we told on the first of these podcasts that the Trivium Method™ was ancient and that it is still taught to the children of the elite? A confused commenter to the Cole episode, and a now distraught former acolyte, expresses similar concerns:
To be honest, this upset me quite a bit. This shed light on the enormous amount of bullshit about the classical trivium that was spewed for a few years by Gnostic Media and Tragedy And Hope.
Here are some questions I have for you:
What form of education, if not the classical trivium, is taught to the “elite?” It seems that all of your previous claims about the trivium being taught to the “elite” was pure conjecture.
If we are inherently free, why do we need a “liberating” education?
Why was Gene Odening so misinformed about this? Why should I, after watching this video, continue to use the “trivium method” which is now so clearly a misunderstanding of the true classical trivium on the part of a “self-taught scholar?”
These are only some of MANY questions that need to be answered. I’m sure I’m speaking on the behalf of many others who feel the same about this issue. There’s been a lot of conjecture and bullshit, and we demand answers.
Jan Irvin, master of Rhetoric, responds with his usual balance of wisdom, subtlety and eloquence:
We have ALWAYS explained that the trivium was used for mind control. If you haven’t caught on to that, you weren’t paying attention. There was 3 years of grammar alone that had to be done to flush all of the misapplication of the trivium out. Gene has always explained from day one that it was used for control. He never said it wasn’t. That was the ENTIRE PURPOSE of releasing it! To level the playing field for EVERYONE! If you want to be controlled by those who misuse it, then don’t study it and live in ignorance. It seems you weren’t even paying attention to what this video had to say, as the video explained that what Gene has put forth is the first time it’s been used for FREEDOM. Can you show us were we haven’t said it was used for control by the elites?
Ah… so the trivium is
the trivium. There is no contradiction here. The trivium can be used to both liberate and ensnare. Kind of like a good trip and a bad trip? If we accept, though, that Odening’s new Trivium Method™ is a way to liberate the masses while the old Classical Trivium is used for mind control there is no need to additionally accept that the TM™ is ancient and therefore well-tested. Like any new system of thought, or any ancient system, every aspect of it must be held up to full scrutiny.
Irvin is fond of saying, for example, “do not put your Logic before your Grammar.” By this he means to not approach a situation with a ready-made theory of
it is like it is. Instead we must first compile and examine all of the available facts of
(the Grammar) and only then can we attempt an explanation (the Logic). A valid explanation can only arise if the basic facts do not contradict one another.
A problem emerges, however, with determining these “facts.” If we say, for example, that who Aldous Huxley is, is an evil promoter of eugenics and world government then we already have reasons why we have concluded this. We have already put our Logic before our Grammar. Each fact is at first a theory. But a supporter of the TM™ might say that this is acceptable because our reasons for concluding that Huxley is a supporter of eugenics and world government are also based on facts — Huxley’s family ties to the Eugenics movement etc.
This might all be valid. These facts might in turn be very sound, but we still would have reasons for accepting them as facts. A pure fact though, pure Grammar, the whats and whos and wheres, may be impossible to separate from why. This may seem like nitpicking, but over and over I’ve seen the no-logic-before-grammar clause being used by Irvin in an attempt to out argue his opponents. It doesn’t hold water.
As an example, if we accept as fact, as Grammar, that Aldous Huxley is a tireless advocate for totalitarian rule then the letter he wrote to George Orwell, cited by Irvin and Atwill, discussing which of their dystopic visions is more accurate, will strike us as being very sinister. If in contrast we view both Brave New World and 1984 as novels intending to warn people against creeping totalitarianism then our reading of this letter will be very different.
Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.
If we have already concluded as fact, as Grammar, that Albert Hofmann is a CIA agent then it is easy to believe that he helped poison a French village with LSD, even though our only source for this “fact” is from a writer that we have already discredited.
Like every other human theory, Irvin and Atwill’s theory on the manufacture of the counterculture is supported with cherry-picked “facts.” This is not so much a condemnation of their theory as it is to state that they are, like anyone else, all too human. The application of the Trivium Method™ no more guarantees the truth of their theory than does the application of the apologetics of Thomas Aquinas.
What happens when “facts” are encountered that don’t appear to fit this theory? What do we do, for instance, with Mae Brussell’s well-reasoned theory that the Manson murders were an Establishment psyop designed to disorientate and discredit the growing counterculture which directly threatened elite control?
If, as according to Irvin and Atwill, the hippies were “manufactured” in order to transform culture then why would TPTB try to bring down their own creation just a couple of years after it gained mainstream attention? Was Mae simply wrong? Was she also an agent?
And what about the conservative reaction in the Reagan eighties against all vestiges of the former counterculture? What about the “Moral Majority”? What about the promotion of “family values”? What about the “culture wars”?
Are Reagan and Pat Robertson the good guys here? Did the CIA’s program fail or did another phase of their manipulation kick in — the clichéd and misunderstood Hegelian dialectic, perhaps? And then there were the nineties when the psychedelic pied pipers like McKenna and others were once again set loose to dose the imaginations of a whole new generation. Did the Agenda move back on track or did it even more come off the rails?
I’m not saying that these facts cannot be worked into the theory of Irvin and Atwill. Absolutist conspiracy theories can usually absorb any fact that is thrown at them. As far as I know, however, they have not yet been shoehorned into the mix, and when they are the resulting mess is not necessarily going to be logical.
Uncertain and Incomplete
And yet increasingly in recent years logic is equated with certainty. Debunkers and “skeptics” of every stripe are on the march. “Pseudoscience,” claims of the paranormal, conspiracy theories, spirituality, alternative medicine — the whole ball of “woo” is in the crosshairs. In the face of this, into the viper’s den of
and rational wikis, steps fearless researcher and podcaster extraordinaire, James Corbett.
In a largely overlooked Aug. 2012 podcast entitled “Logic Is Not Enough,” Corbett dares to present a bit of heresy — humans are really not all that logical and logic itself can only take you so far. He illustrates this by simply showing how even the most logically sound argument can reach a false conclusion if its premises are wrong.
Beyond the scope of formal logic, Corbett explains that Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in physics and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems in mathematics both demonstrate that even within these hardboiled fields of study unpredictability and indeterminacy rear their ugly heads. With or without logic, certainty is elusive.
Buckminster Fuller, in a conversation from 1967, takes this all much further than Heisenberg (or Corbett!):
Heisenberg said that observation alters the phenomenon observed. T.S. Eliot said that studying history alters history. Ezra Pound said that thinking in general alters what is thought about. Pound’s formulation is the most general, and I think it’s the earliest. [quoted in Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era]
By studying the history of the sixties counterculture, Atwill and Irvin are altering history. By thinking and writing about their theory, I am altering it. Both alterations are fine and should be expected. The problem arises when we think that we have captured the history or the idea.
To tie a living thing down, to analyse it and to categorize it, is to change it. And by attempting to do so it changes us. It should not take a physicist or a mathematician to “prove” this. And it is, of course, the poets who would realize this first. (I’ll discuss in depth the wisdom and folly of Ezra Pound in the second part of this essay.)
In his podcast, Corbett reminds us that much of the “Agenda” aims to refashion irrational individuals into logical machines. Elite control freaks like George Bush Sr. avow that ‘‘The enemy is unpredictability. The enemy is instability.” To be truly logical is to be entirely predictable, entirely stable. A logical person, a person well-trained in the Trivium Method let’s say, can be counted on to say and do the logical thing at every step. He or she is not overly emotional, not contradictory in his or her actions and thoughts, and is entirely stable. A clockwork orange.
The usual argument on why the CIA gave up its research on LSD and other psychedelics is precisely because they have unpredictable effects. They can be used to decondition people but they are very poor at reliably reconditioning people. Who in the world has ever had a predictable psychedelic trip?
Irvin and Atwill are correct to warn us about how post-Freudian sorcerers of schlock like Edward Bernays use advertising and propaganda to target us emotionally, scramble our logic, and to direct the course of culture. Irvin and Atwill’s attack on the state education system and the entertainment industry as instruments to “dumb down” is indispensable. Critical thinking and reason, more than ever, are required.
There is a broader way to look at all of this, however. In Corbett’s podcast episode we briefly hear a clip from an interview with cognitive scientist, George Lackoff. Lackoff explains that reason, contrary to what was thought in the 18th century and what is still accepted by political and social institutions even now, is not fully conscious, unemotional or subject to formal logic. Instead it is embodied, it is driven by empathy for others over “enlightened self-interest”, and it frequently perceives metaphorically not logically.
An individual human is by no means a logical machine, nor is he or she entirely driven by irrational emotions. We are complex even contradictory creatures. It may be that there is no possible way, in disagreement with Huxley and Orwell, for our psyches to be fully bridled. On the other hand, it may be equally impossible to develop a foolproof method for preventing attempts to bridle them.
All methods fail for some and succeed for others. Psychedelics aren’t the whole answer, neither is the Trivium Method™. Contradictions are out there and in here always. As Walt Whitman wrote:
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
The conspiracy, the conspiracies, are also contradictory. They are also embodied, emotional, metaphoric, fluid, unpredictable, multitudinous. So is the counterculture. So is a psychedelic trip. So is Jan Irvin. So is this post. The pop-up fallacy machine would likely blow a gasket processing what I’ve written here. I really don’t care.
Corbett mentions one last fallacy that might help me out: the fallacy fallacy. This is the false presumption that just because a claim is poorly argued, and/or it contains many fallacies, that the claim itself is wrong. It may just be, though, that I’m making a fallacy fallacy fallacy: the equally false presumption that the fallacy fallacy somehow excuses poor argumentation and/or the use of fallacies. There’s a conspiracy theory for you. Here’s another:
Conspiracy theory, in my humble opinion, is a kind of epistemological cartoon about reality. Isn’t it so simple to believe that things are run by the greys, and that all we have to do is trade sufficient fetal tissue to them and then we can solve our technological problems, or isn’t it comforting to believe that the Jews are behind everything, or the Communist Party, or the Catholic Church, or the Masons. Well, these are epistemological cartoons, it is kindergarten in the art of amateur historiography.
I believe that the truth of the matter is far more terrifying, that the real truth that dare not speak itself is that no one is in control, absolutely no one. This stuff is ruled by the equations of dynamics and chaos. There may be entities seeking control, but to seek control is to take enormous aggravation upon yourself. It’s like trying to control a dream.
The dream or nightmare may not be controllable, but it does have a certain structure, a patterned energy, a flux of phosphenal filaments. And it is both bound and sent spinning by spaghetti.