A Call For A Psychedelic Sanctuary — Updated
by Bruce Eisner
Wooden ships on the water very free and easy
Easy you know the way it’s supposed to be
Silver people on the shoreline leave us be
Very free and easy
Sail away where the morning sun goes high
Sail away where the wind blows sweet and young birds fly
Take a sister THEN by her hand
Lead her far from this barren land
Horror grips us as we watch you die
All we can do is echo your anguished cry and
Stare as all you human feelings die
We are leaving
You don’t need us
DAVID CROSBY — CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH
Four decades have passed since fresh winds of change blew our nation and around the world. In Wooden Ships, David Crosby and his friends wanted to catch some those favorable breezes and ”keep the party going.”
The winds turned icy cold as the decade ended and nobody got out alive.
The 1960s were an extraordinary period – a time in which millions of people acted as if they had swallowed some kind of pill which seemed to magically transform. The cultural icon of the man in the thin gray flannel suit with a drink in his hand gave way to the image of a different kind of cocktail party – the kind they had on the popular TV show “Laugh In.”
They were having drinks laced with a different kind of rum. It was not the rum that young John Kennedy’s elders had run in from Cuba in the Thirties that made the Sixties parties swing. The decade of Old Ike with its stolid and stuffy attitude had given way to a new vision of the Western world, as articulated by Kennedy, who was both a symbol of the strong stirrings of change as well as a martyr to the kind of reaction that it would bring forth.
The sixties were a kid of American Glasnot. Roles and ways of doing things that had persisted for centuries were quickly dissolving. In the old South, young Freedom Riders rode into town and threatened to overturn “Jim Crow” discriminatory laws. Women in great numbers decided not to be housewives and play the traditional role of the submissive sex. Many concerned that economic progress might eventually ruin the earth began using the word “ecology” (heretofore reserved for those seriously academic) to talk about a movement often symbolized by the “Whole Earth” as seen by the first humans to orbit the earth. And of course, with the advent of birth control pills, there was the sexual revolution-before the tragedy of AIDS.
It was a period marked by so much cultural change that the highly respected historian Arnold Toynbee observed of this period in American history: “I have been visiting the United States since 1925. Before my last visit (1967), I had been absent for two years, and I came away with the impression that in those two years there has been more change in American life than in all the previous forty.”
Of course, it was LSD in the pills that gave people so much insight. LSD, a potent mind-changing drug with few physical side effects, was discovered in Basil, Switzerland during the dark days prior to World War II, around the same time as a much larger group in New Mexico was cooking up the atomic bomb.
Just as Gutenberg’s revolutionary printing press in the fifteenth century allowed for anyone to own his or her own bible, a privilege that until then had only been enjoyed by the monks, so now the same mass production machines that had turned out bibles (and later Ford motor cars) were turning out insight pills a kind of mass-produced Holy Grail handed to somewhere between one and two million people between 1959 and 1970). The numbers who passed through Aldous Huxley’s well-described “doors of perception,” stepping out of Plato’s cave to glimpse the white light of the sun, far exceeded any generation before it. The mystical experience, from being something reserved for saints, became available on sugar cubes.
For many, LSD was a roller coaster ride through their unconscious-a kind of virtual Disneyland. But for a few, it took on a significance that they called “mystical” or “religious.” It was these profound experiences which led a large segment of the Boomer generation to a commitment to altruism and idealistic pursuits that were to become the passion during what is often referred to as the “Psychedelic Sixties.” In many, that commitment to change has never really faded.
The Psychedelic Movement, as it came to be known by some, grew from a small intellectual elite-composed mainly of writers and artists in Los Angeles, New York, and London-into a mass movement which involved the “best minds of [their] generation,” including college students and open-minded people of all ages. This movement provided a catalyst for many changes that occurred in our culture. The long-haired, bearded hippie with his or her open, loving ways was born as an American archetype as a result of the experiences and unique consciousness that resulted from the use of LSD on a grand scale.
Because these changes were sudden and profound, they were quickly viewed as a fundamental threat by powerful forces in our society which make up the economic, political, and other social strata we call The Establishment. In a rather successful effort to keep the genie in the bottle, they made possession and use of LSD and several other related psychedelic drugs serious crimes.
In making LSD illegal, which was formerly legal and available in powerful and pure forms, the Establishment was able to effectively freeze the fluid changes of the sixties. The Psychedelic Movement lost its ability to pass on to new generations the opportunity to have the powerful experiences that LSD had given them access to, leaving those that came after them to try new synthetic and botanical substitutes which are only a shadow of the real thing.
Despite the repressive actions of the powers that be, young people continued to be fascinated by the lifestyle and values represented by the Psychedelic Movement. Many sought out and some found psychedelic compounds-mainly the psilocybin mushroom and various synthetic compounds-and, although it was harder to find them, they remained determined and persisted. The followers of the Grateful Dead kept the hippie image by following their esteemed band “on tour” each year with the look and feel of the hippies.
Since the Dead’s demise, other bands attract this “rainbow hippie” following. The members of this youth movement used what compounds they could get and were able to gain an inkling of what the million-plus members of the Psychedelic Movement of the sixties had experienced. New generations maintained a faith and trust in the Psychedelic Movement — -treating psychedelic compounds as religious sacraments for all the years that followed the Supreme Court’s ruling that psychedelic compounds could not be protected under the rights given by the First Amendment. And those of us who had those powerful experiences three decades ago continue to value them and to be guided by them.
We million-plus who participated in the Movement gained an understanding of the transparency of the superficial TV show reality most people live their lives. For some these memories endure the p
assage of time. Many of us wondered what a world might be like in which psychedelics were as integral a part of society as traditional intoxicants like alcohol, coffee and tobacco. Some of us still wonder.
The influence of psychedelics permeated many aspects of our everyday life and permanently changed the way we live, love, work, and play. The impact that the Psychedelic Movement made on our culture appears everywhere, from the television commercials for Coors or Porsche that look like underground films from the sixties (complete with their computer-generated effects-impossible back then), to casual clothes in the workplace. Our language is less formal, and filled with the grooving vernacular of those heady times.
Our rock-n-roll society has adopted and made commonplace the rebellious symbols of the youth culture of the sixties. In addition, the tremendous technological advances in many areas give a science fiction veneer to our lives-making them somehow resemble the fast-paced mind acceleration characteristic of tripping. The connection between the cyberspace of computers and the shamanic space of vision quests is one example. The energies and mechanisms of new devices and gadgets we use today almost seem magical, just as our LSD trips once felt.
But while widespread adoption of sixties styles and the external advances in modern technology remain, the metamorphosis of a new culture which sometimes led LSD users in the sixties to think of themselves as a mutant species (“acid freaks”) fast evolving toward a dramatically different and vastly more humanistic society has long faded away.
Certainly there are social youth movements and alternative cultures and a small group of “entheogen enthusiasts” who collect autographed reproductions of seventies style blotter acid the way that some people collect postage stamps
But few among these groups has a feeling as many did in the sixties that a new culture is just around the next corner.
It was in the sixties that the laws against LSD and other psychedelics were first enacted. Laws against marijuana had been on the books for years but LSD was a much more powerful experience and played a central role in creating a large group with world views different from any that had come before it. (see “History of the Psychedelic Rediscovery” by various authors in the web’s Psychedelic Library.
For some who took it, LSD had such an impact that they believed it might provide insights of a similar magnitude in anyone who took it. There is the story told in High Priest by Timothy Leary of poet Alan Ginsberg’s taking psilocybin (an extract of the “magic mushroom” synthesized by LSD discoverer Albert Hofmann and used in early experiments at Harvard with psychedelic compounds). Ginsberg became convinced that if he could get John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev to take LSD, it would end the Cold War; after not being able to get the telephone operators to connect him to either man, he slowly returned to the realities of 1962.
In a way, this kind of thinking colored many of even the most conservative leaders of the Psychedelic Movement. Although known to believe that LSD should be kept for the intellectual elite, even Huxley, in a speech delivered in Copenhagen, Denmark, speculated on a “mass experiment” of social LSD- taking as a remedy to the disturbing directions our society was taking.
However, whether an experiment of mass LSD use would have turned out differently if the Vietnam War had not been part of the scenario will never be known. Those opposed to the war advocated LSD use for everyone as a “weapon” against the US government. If LSD had instead been used as a personal development tool, the urgency to spread LSD use might have been mitigated with the result being a smoother integration into society (fewer “freak outs,” etc).
But LSD was politicized and its image with the public deeply scarred by its association with the anti-war movement. The same kind of social transparency that people felt toward some of the mundane and even violent games people play was magnified when people examined from an altered consciousness the terrible costs incurred by the U.S. intervention in Vietnam. This in turn made the Establishment, already threatened by the challenge to their traditional values by LSD, even harsher in their counterattack on the Psychedelic Revolution. After all, many of those in power felt; these people (the anti-Vietnam policy hippies) were akin to traitors.
There was a split back then in the ranks of the Psychedelic Movement between those who were committed political activists and those who saw LSD more as part of an apolitical spiritual path. There were the famous Hippies vs. Yippies debates and efforts to reconcile them such as the 1967 Human Be-In in San Francisco. Those not specifically political in their participation in the youth culture imagined that when the war was over and society has progressed, LSD and marijuana would join alcohol as socially sanctioned drugs, and that some of the new ways of relating which they had learned using LSD would be assimilated into our society as a whole.
However, as one of those who looked forward with idealism and an expectation of rapid change, I don’t think in my wildest dreams I could have imagined the “War on Drugs.” In the thirty-three years since I first puffed a joint, there has been a trend toward marijuana decriminalization (it certainly is by no means accepted). On the other hand, LSD has been put in the same category as powerfully addictive drugs-heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines, and new drugs such as MDMA-as a threat to the health and safety of our citizens.
As the sixties ended and the seventies began, when Nixon left office and Jimmy Carter became president, there was a sense that there might be some change in the attitudes of government toward drugs. But as soon as Ronald Reagan took office, that hope was quickly dashed. Reagan and his wife Nancy had always been firmly opposed to drugs, and Nancy actively joined the War on Drugs; her “Just Say No” campaign was her personal contribution to the administration.
There were many elements at play here. Reagan was an old Cold Warrior and as the threat from Communists both at home and in the Soviet Union ended, he felt we needed a new enemy to turn our attention to. A new internal enemy to fight was the drug dealer and the drug user became that enemy. While their rhetoric was targeted toward all the major drugs we mentioned above, it is probably no coincidence that the purity and price of cocaine and heroin has decreased by a factor of ten since the War on Drugs scaled up while the availability and purity of LSD and other psychedelics has plummeted. During the years when the Grateful Dead scene threatened to keep the spirit of the Psychedelic Revolution alive, the DEA even started an Operation Deadhead to make sure that there would be no resurgence of the “craziness” of the sixties.
Because of it was used by many more people than Huxley, Leary, or Hofmann ever could have imagined or approved of, LSD gained a public image as a “crazy-making” drug, an image that has been engraved so deeply and is reinforced by the media so frequently that it is almost impossible that it can be rehabilitated in the public mind anytime soon.
As the Berlin Wall fell (perhaps partially the result of the Psychedelic Movement and its effects upon tolerance among the younger generation), the drug user has replaced the Communist as the identified threat to our society and our youth. So we must hide away to use our sacraments, and read underground magazines, and fight the propaganda war fueled by government billions-with their prime time TV commercials and school DA
RE programs -with a few Web sites and small circulation newsletters like Island Views.
The government is waging a war on us. According to the I-Ching (hexagram 33) sometimes the best strategy for later victory is to retreat. It is my belief that we need to go elsewhere and establish a place where a culture can be formed that allows for the use of psychedelic compounds as part of its social contract. So this is a call to found a psychedelic sanctuary somewhere in the world-perhaps somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, far from U.S. politics-in which those of us in the Psychedelic Movement can feel at home and make a homeland.
Island Foundation and its previous incarnation, the Psychedelic Education Center (founded in 1977), was the earliest organization aimed at furthering the cause of the Psychedelic Revolution. So it is fitting that Island Foundation makes the founding of a psychedelic sanctuary our primary mission.
In the years since our founding, many other organizations have been formed; each with a specific set of agendas which, they believe, will help put the Psychedelic Movement back on track. These include MAPS and the Heftner Foundation which both hope to get psychedelic research going again (there were over 4000 studies with LSD before it was made illegal in 1966); the Albert Hofmann Foundation which hopes to build a psychedelic library; and the Council for Spiritual Practices which aims at making a legitimate religion of the use of LSD and other “entheogens” as they call psychedelic compounds.
None of these groups have been particularly effective in changing the extremely negative climate in which psychedelics continue to find themselves. Yet each of them would benefit enormously through the establishment of a psychedelic sanctuary somewhere in the world. Such a sanctuary could have research parks for both MAPS and the Heftner Foundation, permit the Council for Spiritual Practices to practice their religion, and allow for the creation of a library and museum in the name of the great Swiss biochemist Albert Hofmann.
Since we put on the “LSD-A Generation Later” Conference in 1977 and the Future of Consciousness Conference in 1980, there have been an increasing number of annual events in which members of the Psychedelic Revolution, many now in their forties and fifties, assemble to hear speakers talk about various aspects of psychedelics and entheogenic plants. These conferences also would find our new sanctuary outfitted with facilities enabling people such as Jonathan Ott and Rob Montgomery to hold meetings with a new degree of safety.
Looking at the larger picture, organizations aiming for the decriminalization of all drugs, including the powerful Drug Policy Alliance have attempted
to promote a harm-reduction strategy-popular in Europe and much of the rest of the civilized world-here in the U.S. They have had some limited success but with the recent victory of George W. Bush, I don’t think that we can look for drug decriminalization as a national strategy any time soon. There will be progress but unless something unforeseen occurs, these changes will progress at a glacial speed.
In the early days of the Psychedelic Movement, many of the leaders attempted to found sanctuaries in other places-including Mexico and the Caribbean. They had limited success, I believe, because they chose to stick so close to the United States with its powerful control mechanisms. Later, the group leased a large estate at Millbrook, New York, and so was born the first of the efforts to build a community around visions emanating from the Psychedelic Revolution. As the revolution expanded, these communes and co-operative experiments proliferated.
Two years after the founding of Millbrook, the residents found themselves under siege by G. Gordon Liddy. Later in that decade, most of the rest of the hundreds of efforts at building a representative psychedelic culture dissolved due either to their own internal problems or negative forces aimed at them from the larger community. Several books, including The Modern Utopian (edited by Richard Fairfield), describe many of these fascinating, diverse efforts at creating something new right here in the good old USA.
A few of these efforts remain, most noteworthy the Farm in Tennessee, but also a handful of others. There is also an organization dedicated to intentional communities that publishes an annual guide to literally hundreds of communal efforts. What is different, however, is that psychedelics are rarely a part of this new generation of experimental communities. Even the Farm-famous for its excellent weed-has an official rule against smoking marijuana. We will discuss more about the quest for a utopian community in part two of this essay.
The desire for new vistas for the “heads” of our time became in the 1970s even- shall we say-”further out.” At various times Tim Leary advocated building a starship to carry the hippie masses to a new star and even had the Jefferson Airplane-turned Jefferson Starship-singing the anthem. Later, after his release from jail, Leary decided that putting the heads in high orbiting space habitats might be a more immediate possibility. As we can see by the state of our current space efforts, he was perhaps forty or more year ahead of his time. The feeble attempts at a space station in the year 2000 hardly look like fit housing for psychedelic refugees.
Along with the strong bonds of group identity that the psychedelic community felt in the sixties, there was a strain of thought that perhaps the only way to live the way we want was to go somewhere else. In the sixties, Crosby Stills, and Nash made famous the song “Wooden Ships” which suggests we set sail and find a “distant” land. “We are leaving; you don’t need us” was their refrain. Indeed, we still aren’t wanted and that distant land still beckons. The mutant genes that carried our forefathers from England need new soil.
We who were the youth generation that comprised the Psychedelic Revolution are now middle-aged. We are an important segment of the huge Baby Boom generation- the population explosion that followed World War II. We went to Woodstock, we dropped in and had careers, and many raised families. Many have not forgotten their idealistic past, and our income supports many projects which we all hope in some way may improve the current situation.
I propose in this manifesto for a sanctuary, that Island Foundation set up a separate account to raise capital to purchase the land and build the facilities for a psychedelic sanctuary. Before the account is set up, there would be a committee formed to look into two important issues:
The legalities of such a sanctuary with regard to international law. The United Nations and its related World Health Organization attempt to enforce drug laws internationally. Considerations such as this must be taken into account as they relate to the feasibility of the project as well as to the decisions regarding the acquisition of the sanctuary.
. The availability of an island or island property with the proper requirements for the creation of the psychedelic sanctuary must be investigated. A German broker, Dr. Farhad Vladi, has sold over 700 islands over the past ten years and there are currently 3000 on the market.
Once these two items have been clearly understood, the committee would project a budget
, and a separate “lock-box” account administered by two Island members would be formed, in which all tax-free donations would be kept and not used for any purpose until a fixed amount of money was raised. The committee would determine the amount needed to fund the project used for any purpose and no money would be withdrawn until the committee determined there would be sufficient funds to purchase the land and build the facilities for the island. Of course, all contributions would be tax-deductible and could be placed in an interest-bearing account, which would leverage our contributions.
A study committee would be formed to decide the exact requirements for being allowed to go to the island, and also to define some of the parameters-economic, political, social, and ethical – by which the island’s psychedelic sanctuary should function. In fact, there might be two portions of the island, a welcoming area that would be the place where outsiders would first visit, and one or more experimental community areas where the actual Huxley experiment, detailed in his novel Island, would take place.
“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias. Oscar Wilde
In the preceding Manifesto portion of this article, I call on those of us who are part of the psychedelic/etheogenic/alternative culture community to get behind a real-world project of creating a sanctuary far from US shores “where we can laugh again”, as Crosby, Stills and Nash would have put it.
In my initial vision for the project, I see the project having multiple sub-projects and roles, including being a site for conferences, a research park, a 21st Century Esalan, a library and museum and several others.
However, one portion of the Island would be dedicated to what I call the Huxley project. That is — the creation of an experimental community — along the lines that Huxley envisioned in Island. Not necessarily Utopia but a good safe place to live and raise your children. So now, let’s turn to the question of what that kind of place might be like.
In an interview which I conducted with Laura Huxley in 1994 (Island Views No. 3 and also http://www.island.org/ive/3), we discussed briefly some of the ideas around the founding of a psychedelic community based on Aldous Huxley’s Island. I have liberally excerpted from the interview:
Laura Huxley (L.H.) Aldous spoke about this revolution sixty-two years ago, when he wrote Brave New World. He showed us the danger of a mechanized society without ethics and without vision. Many people thought then that Brave New World was incredible or grotesque; we know now that some of its prophecy (for instance overpopulation and over-organization) is true now much, much sooner than Aldous thought. In the last years of his life, he wrote Island, the description of a society whose citizens are given all the possibilities to develop their creative potentialities. Bruce Eisner (B.E.): There was an anthropologist that had studied some tribe on an island and they had discovered-I remember this from Aldous’s audio tapes- where they raised the children without inflicting any fear on them.
L.H.: Oh, that’s right. Education through fear is less effective than education through recognition of good behavior. Moreover, much of psychotherapy is the attempt to lessen the damaging and sometimes tragic and anti-social consequences of fear and punishment. In Island’s education there was recognition of the fact that there are many kinds of different energies within us-Aldous said that we are “multiple amphibians.” The children were made aware with theater games and dances that they could use and transfer their negative energy in a positive, even a creative, way.
B. E.: In your book, This Timeless Moment, you say that the book Island was misunderstood-that it was not a science fiction story, but a guide for living based on the way you lived . . .
L.H.: Well, I didn’t say exactly that. Yes, we used some of the principles. Like Brave New World was used to describe methods to induce unawareness and passive obedience, in Island methods and recipes were used by a population thinking and acting interdependently-with awareness, choice, and responsibility for their actions. Many of these recipes were not invented. They had already been tried in different times and by different cultures and were found effective and beneficial.
B. E.: We were talking before about how Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World back in the 1930s, and then, of course, thirty years later, wrote Island. Which of these two novels do you think this last three decades has validated more?
L.H.: Unfortunately it has validated Brave New World more than Island, but I understand-although I am not in contact with-I understand that there are some small communes that try to incorporate Island in their lives. I think that for one person that has read Island; probably there are a hundred that have read Brave New World. Brave New World is in the schools-you have to read it. .
B.E.: Right, and then there is Brave New World Revisited (a collection of essays published by Huxley as a follow up on the trends described in Brave New World), where he touched on all the different things that have come true.
L.H.: That’s right. Already, in ’58 or ’59-those years.
B. E.: What would you like to see from a group named after the novel Island? Would you imagine an Island Group would be a safe place where people could explore a wider range of relationships?
L.H.: Oh, absolutely, yes! An Island Group could adopt the methods described in Island. It can be done in a village. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, and it is true. In a small village, a child can go out alone and visit small and adult friends. A child alone in the streets of Los Angeles is in danger both from adults and other children. You know about children being killed in the streets by other children.
They have handguns and machine guns. When they are little they are given for Christmas these war toys-a lovely way to celebrate the birth of a savior. So very soon they want to have a real gun, and when they have it they use it. People make money by selling guns to children and very young people.
Then we are surprised that they use them. But in a village where a few families have read and agreed with the method of education described in Island, a child could go out and even leave his family for a few days. Do you remember the mutual adoption club? Each family has two or three adoptive families where the child can go and take a vacation from his own family, who might also need a vacation from him.
There is so much which can be done with a small group who wants to grow its children in a safe place. This group must really have something basic in common to start a village of this kind. And now with the technological advances, it might be possible to make a living without going into the city. In Island the children have not only a loving family but also a sane environment in which to grow.
A village, a small and open group, and a sane environment-these are some of the essential elements required for the gestation of an Island community. Huxley’s novel, published in 1961, was his attempt to describe a “utopian” society that allows for the integration of the principles and ideas he had discovered during his life’s studies including the use of psychedelic or “Moksha medicine” as he calls it in Island. <author ‘S>.
The communes of the sixties were not the first experiments in creating a different w
ay of living, just as Island is not the first attempt at creating a plan for a better society. Ever since the birth of human consciousness and culture, there have been those who have imagined and even planned better ways that we could live together on this planet from the beginnings of history. The pursuit of these dreams; speculations, proposals, fictions, texts, and ideas has sometimes been called “utopian” after the sixteenth-century novel by Sir Thomas Moore. Utopia is a composite of two Greek words: Eutopia (meaning “good place”) and Outopia (meaning “no place”) — which was meant to evoke the irony of the very concept that we very imperfect creatures inhabiting a planet in constant flux and change could ever aspire to live in a perfect world.
But utopian thinking or planned social change does not have to assume that what we are attempting to create is a perfect society. Certainly we would be satisfied to find ourselves in a society in which each of us can realize more of our complete potential and live a happier, more fulfilled life.
Indeed, the great documents that led to the founding of the United States-the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution-were politically-focused attempts at creating a better society, and most will agree on their better days that we have achieved some of these goals.
During the nineteenth century, the social thinkers reacting to the excesses of industrial capitalism that dominated that time conjectured about people living together communally. When the economic theories of socialism first found strong interest, there were attempts to form communes and collectives organized according to these precepts. None of the experiments have lasted but these attempts demonstrated that there are some individuals who are willing to take great risks, including changing their entire way of living, in the hopes that we can find a better way of living together.
While some social experiments just don’t make it and quietly fade away, others fail more with a bang than a whimper. The former Soviet Union was an example of an enormous experiment based on some of the same principles, which had motivated the smaller communal efforts of the previous century, but which instead of producing the Utopia conceived by Marx and later by Lenin produced an opposite-a dystopia on a massive scale. Although it used socialist principles, it relied on the top-down hierarchy, the totalitarian power which was inherited from Russia’s czarist tradition.
But it was also in the twentieth century that a new collective vision of the planet and its culture was born. Marilyn Ferguson gave this movement the name the Aquarian Conspiracy while Theodore Roszak wrote about The Making of the Counter Culture. And, noting the changes to our relationship to our planet, Charles A. Reich wrote The Greening of America.
Some of the ideas of Ferguson, Reich, and Roszak have been around for many centuries. Countercultures such the Bohemians and Beats have popped up throughout the last century and were preceded by smaller and more localized movements throughout recorded history. Similarly, attempts at developing movements based on whole systems thinking and organic models have been with us for a long time too, but found great impetus in the composite visions of several million individuals who used LSD from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. As we described above, the search for Utopia took the form of hundreds of community and communal efforts.
Visionary experiences like those which LSD provided have been with humans since our species first gained the ability to be conscious, and it was perhaps the psychedelic plants that led to human consciousness in the first place.
As we pointed out earlier, what was new about the Psychedelic Movement was that for the first time large numbers of people had access to experiences which previously had come either through gratuitous grace or chewing on bitter Peyote buttons.
It was Osmond and Huxley who encouraged Timothy Leary and his colleagues at Harvard University to conduct experiments with psychedelics there. Leary and his fellows began to believe that a wider use of LSD might help keep the world safe from the dangers posed by the Cold War with its nuclear arms race. Leary decided to go public with psychedelics and is said to have broken with Huxley on this point, although it is clear from many of his writings that Huxley, too, shared the belief that psychedelics might be necessary if humans would continue to advance as a species.
The diversity of ideas gave way to the enormous social forces of the Sixties which we have described above. From a small group of ivory tower psychedelic cognoscenti in 1962, their number increased to 1% of the American population by 1964 who had tried LSD and, of course, unleashed some of the powerful forces we have described above.
The fact that LSD was so powerful and that a huge number of doses could be manufactured from a single gram of the substance allowed for it to be spread much more widely than, say, mescaline, the active ingredient of peyote (which had been first manufactured in 1897 but which did not serve as the catalyst for any sort of large movement). The technology of chemistry had evolved to the point that it could mass manufacture the Philosopher’s Stone and modern media including television, music, and motion pictures allowed for the myths of this new revolution of the mind to be spread quickly around the globe. By the time these turned-on youth reached Woodstock, they were more than a half a million strong and they seemed like they would take over the world.
Storming Heaven by Jay Stevens, an excellent history of the Psychedelic Movement, ends in 1970. In fact, if the author were to do a revision, there would not be that much more to write. Thirty years have passed since those heady days. While the rave and trance youth movements have attempted carry on the spirit of the hippies, their temporary autonomous zones last only a night.
Aldous Huxley believed that LSD and the psychedelics allowed us to reach a transcendental state during our actual lives often ascribed by religions to an afterlife. So after completing his essays in Brave New World Revisited, warning of a totalitarian future, he spent the next few years thinking and writing about how people might live together “sensibly.” As Laura above points out, the novel Island that resulted from this literary thought experiment might serve as a good starting point for experiments that we would conduct on a portion of our psychedelic sanctuary.
In 1994 when I founded Island Web, I soon ran into a young computer science student named Mike Markowski. Mike had done a web site based on Island and I liked it so much I made it a major feature of the Island Web. You can find it by going to Island Web and clicking on Huxley’s Vision.
While Island is a work of fiction, it is the vehicle Huxley used to communicate his ideas about how people in a good society would interact with each other and their environment. These Web pages do not offer a literary critique of the novel, analyzing symbolism, or even summarizing the novel. The plot is a wonderful story in its own right, and it’s best to read the book, not a synopsis, to fully enjoy it. The goal here is to simply present Huxley’s underlying ideas and philosophies upon which the novel is built.
Just as many science-oriented movies start off with a child being taught something, or a news program or some educational device really for the benefit of the viewer, Huxley has his own “news reel” in Island so that the setting and
events in the story are understood in context. The people of Pala (which is the island the title refers to) live their lives based on ideas representing the best that Eastern and Western philosophies have to offer. Neither philosophy is quite enough on its own, or maybe is too much to live a full, balanced life. And it so happens that Pala’s philosophies result from the hard work and combined ideas of two founding fathers, one a Buddhist and the other an analytical medical doctor. Together they developed principles which the then-leader, (the Rajah) of Pala wrote down and entitled: “Notes on What’s What, and What It Might be Reasonable to do about What’s What.” This is the tool Huxley provides so that we, the readers, can be educated in the principles underlying society on Pala (Mike pulls the notes together into a formal text, which can be found in this section of the Web site).
A friend, Will Penna recently introduced me to a fascinating book, A Dictionary of Imaginary Places by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi. The authors describe a great number of fictional and mythological villages, cities, countries, lost continents, and such. In about two and a half pages of small double column type, the author gives a concise and lucid description of Huxley’s Pala. I will be asking the author for permission to publish it on our Web site but here are a few excerpts, pulled from a much longer text, which gives a flavor of the various aspects of Pala that can serve as a foundation and starting place for our psychedelic sanctuary’s traditions:
The Palanese are pacifists and have never had an army. There are no prisons on Pala. The island is traditionally a constitutional monarchy. Politically, Pala is a federation of decentralized self-governing units. There is no press monopoly. A panel of editors represents various groups and interests-each is given set space for arguments and comments-and the reader is left to draw his own conclusions. The economic system is a cooperative one based on mutual aid with a credit system modeled on nineteenth- century credit unions. As the population is relatively small, there is sufficient surplus. Enough gold is produced to back the currency and supplement exports. Expensive equipment is paid for in cash. There is silver, gold, and copper currency for internal use.
The Palanese religion is Buddhism, which arrived from Bengal and Tibet in the seventh century AD. It has Tantric elements and also has been influenced by Shivism. Palanese Buddhism does not lead to renunciation of the world or to a search for nirvana; it leads to an acceptance of the world. Everything seen, tasted, heard, or touched becomes an aid to the liberation of the self.
At the age of four or five all children undergo intensive physical and psychological testing. Potential criminals or problem children are identified and given appropriate treatment. According to Palanese medicine, criminality is the result of endocrine imbalance and is to be treated as such. Potential bullies for instance are encouraged to divert their wish for power into socially useful activities such as cutting wood, mining, or sailing.
Moksha, a powerful hallucinatory drug derived from mushrooms, lends its name to one of Pala’s most important ceremonies. The drug is known as the “reality revealer.” It produces a state similar to that reached by deep meditation, allowing a heightened perception of reality. Moksha also affects areas of the brain which are normally “inactive,” allowing immediate access to the subconscious and providing the equivalent of a mystical experience. The use of Moksha, the Palanese say, can take the user to heaven, hell, or beyond, allowing visions of what some forms of Buddhism term “the clear light of the void.” The Moksha ceremony is an initiation ceremony and takes place in the temple (described in great detail). During the service, young men and women offer a rock-climbing accomplishment to Shiva and then through the use of the drug, experience liberation from themselves.
The island has a very low rate of neurosis and cardiovascular troubles, thanks largely to the use of preventive medicine on all fronts from psychological help to controlled diet.
The family organization of Pala is unusual. Everyone belongs to a mutual adoption club consisting of fifteen to twenty five couples of all ages who adopt each other in the form of an extended family. When a child finds his natural family becoming restrictive or unpleasant, he or she migrates to another home within the extended family.
Education in Pala is based on helping children to understand the logic and structure of the subject before moving on to its general applications. Ecology is seen as important subject and is seen as the basis of ethics; man can only live on the earth if he treats it with compassion. Elementary ecology leads rapidly to elementary Buddhism. Children are introduced to the concepts of “suchness” and Buddhism in preparation for the Moksha initiation.
We are now at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In four decades, some two generations have been born and grown up since the days of hula-hoops, John F. Kennedy, screaming teens outside of Beatles concerts, and young Professor Leary at Harvard. Certainly the sixties had its phony parts, and its excesses are part of what destroyed its momentum.
But those of us who grew up back then and have been involved in the Psychedelic Movement know that underneath all of that “fluff” is a set of important truths, ethics, and principles. As the world’s population soars from the three billion people who inhabited the earth when I was born to the over six billion alive now to the projected twelve billion which will be here by 2040 according to the current predictions, it is possible that we may see civilization as we know it fade. It is possible that with so many people, technology will not be able to keep up with our overall growth and we may experience a new Dark Ages.
Large numbers of people will be subjected to more control and regimentation with the goal of making them better consumers rather than more enlightened people.
This essay and Island Foundation, like the novel Island it got its name from, are not just about taking psychedelics. Psychedelics happen to be a powerful tool which opens people up to new ideas and ancient wisdom. Island Foundation’s goal, like Huxley’s in writing Island, is to synthesize these ideas and form something new and better.
We must take steps now to keep our torch burning in the potential darkness and to re-ignite the spirit that brought so many changes four decades ago. So in this manifesto, I call on the members of Island Foundation, the psychedelic/entheogen community, and all of those of you who find some sense in these words to get involved.