Freaky Friday: Documents: Chester Anderson’s “Uncle Tim’$ Children”

Editor’s Note:  Recent ponderings on the place of drugs in the Occupy Wall Street encampments, plus our ongoing engagement with all matters psychedelic, has led Points to think about the counterculture.  As Dr. Dave Smith, founder of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, noted in a talk that we posted here a few months back, drug use and abuse was rampant in the high tide of the counterculture.  The steep human costs of that drug use are routinely omitted from that story–as is the fact that those costs were probably not distributed evenly, but fell disproportionately on the under-resourced and the young, on women and people of color.  Looking for some resistance to and critique of this destructive and predatory culture, we turned to Eric Noble’s online Digger Archives, an incredible resource for ’60s-era history.

For those not familiar with them, the Diggers (who appropriated their name from a 17th century British group of radical nonconformists) were a loosely organized anti-capitalist direct action organization active in the Haight between 1966-68.  Members of the Diggers served reclaimed food for free in Golden Gate Park, and were responsible for creating the Free Switchboard (which helped to locate resources for travelers passing through San Francisco), the Free Stores, and with Smith, the Free Clinic. 

Revolutionary Publishers (Digger Archives)

Less well-known is the Digger’s publishing project, the Communications Company (or ComCo), started by journalist Claude Hayward and novelist Chester Anderson.  An older (b. 1932) denizen of the Greenwich Village beat scene, Anderson was skeptical about many elements of the counterculture–commercialism and opportunism, predatory behavior, sex and gender politics–and he used the ComCo’s broadsides as vehicles for his criticisms.  Perhaps the most famous of these, a scathing commentary on the effects of the commercialized traffic in LSD on the social fabric of the Haight, is reprinted here.

ComCo Broadsheet, ca. May 1967

Pretty little 16-year-old middle class chick comes to the Haight to see what it’s all about & gets picked up by a 17-year-old street dealer who spends all day shooting her full of speed again & again, then feeds her 3000 mikes and raffles off her temporarily unemployed body for the biggest Haight Street gang bang since the night before last.

The politics & ethics of ecstasy.

Rape is as common as bullshit on Haight Street.

The Love Generation never sleeps.

The Oracle continues to recruit for this summer’s Human Shit-In, but the psychedelic plastic flower & god’s eye merchants, shocked by the discovery that increased population doesn’t necessarily guarantee increased profits at all, have invented the Council for a Summer of Love to keep us all from interfering with commerce. Continue reading

Conference Details: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Religion and Plants, 15-17 December, 2011

Editor’s Note: Points readers who have followed our coverage this fall of ayahuasca, mushrooms, and other psychoactive plants will be excited to learn the details of the first annual conference sponsored by the Working Group on Plants and Religion at the University of Florida, which will take place next week (15-17 Dec.).  As we noted in an earlier post, two eminent Latin American scholars will grace this conference.  The keynote address, “Legal Issues in the Ritual Use of Ayahuasca in Brazil,” by Professor Edward MacRae of the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil, will be at 4:30 on Thursday the 15th in 219 Anderson Hall.  Beatriz Caiuby Labate, currently of the University of Heidelberg, will be present to offer questions and comments at all the sessions, and will lead the plenary on the morning of Saturday the 17th.  The complete schedule of conference events is available here.

Conference Participants Include:

Benjamin Hebblethwaite   Assistant Professor of Haitian Creole, Haitian & Francophone Studies, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, University of Florida.

Bron Taylor   Professor of Religion, University of Florida.  Bron Taylor is the editor of Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture, and an active contributor to the Encyclopedia of Religion & Nature and The International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture.

Growing Stories (U. Press of Kentucky, 2009)

Whitney Sanford   Associate Professor of Religion, University of Florida.  Dr. Sanford teaches and researches two main areas: Religion and Nature, and Religions of Asia.  She focuses on environmental movements of the global South and religious attitudes towards agricultural sustainability.  She will discuss her recent book Growing Stories from India: Religion and the Fate of Agriculture.

Christopher A. Wright
Independent Scholar of religions and professional photographer.  Mr. Wright holds an M.A. in Religion from  Hartford Seminary and did his doctoral thesis research on Mesoamerican art of the sacred, at University of Montreal.  A survivor of a Mucopolysaccharidosis (also known as Morquio’s Disease), a rare genetic disorder that affects all weight-bearing joints, Dr. Wright has long been an advocate of the use of cannabis sativa for medicinal purposes. Continue reading

Johnnie Carson on “African (Drug) Issues”

Heeere's Johnnie!

In a recent talk on “African Issues” and US policy on those issues, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, chose to conclude by stressing the growing challenge of drug trafficking in Africa.  Having discussed democratization, having covered all of the regional hot spots and having emphasized hot-button topics such as HIV AIDS, malaria, and lagging agricultural production, Carson turned his attention to a topic that he reminded his audience would not have been included on his list of “African problems” a decade or even five years ago.  Addressing a large audience at the African Studies Association meeting in Washington in mid-November, Carson, who has had a long career at State and was formerly Ambassador to Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda, reminded fellow Africanists that a claimed 40% of illicit drugs interdicted in Europe had passed through West Africa.  What is a major issue for Europe and the USA must therefore become a major issue for Africa.

"Africa Confidential," UNODC

All of the focus on Guinea Bissau as the first African narcostate (a topic that I addressed in an earlier blog post) has tended to distract us—according to Carson—from a much broader and growing pattern of drug trafficking throughout Africa.  Although Guinea Bissau may provide a dramatic tale of high level politicians in the thrall of global drug lords gunning each other down in the ramshackle capital of a marginal state, the drug trade routes run through virtually every West African country and certainly through Sénégal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and especially Nigeria—which has been a nexus of trafficking and drug gangs that spread across five continents through networks that reach across the Indian Ocean as well as the Atlantic.  Unsurprisingly, Carson made the case for US official support for efforts in African countries to combat the trade.  Again unsurprisingly, he talked exclusively about the need to provide moral, material and training support to the USA’s African allies in a global war on drugs. Continue reading

Drugs and Discovery: An Early Modern Perspective, Part I

Editor’s Note: Historian of the early modern transatlantic world Matthew Crawford  discussed the concept of “disturbance pharmacopoeias” in a post for Points a few weeks ago.  Today, in the first of a two-part post, he makes an argument for a palimpsestic understanding of the drugs “discovered” in the contact period.

Are drugs discovered or invented? The question is not as simple as it seems. To say that drugs are discovered is to treat them as a part of a natural world where they were simply waiting for the right person – usually a scientist – to reveal their existence.  To say that drugs are invented is to treat them as an artifact made by humans.  In the case of plant-based or plant-derived drugs, they would appear to be both discovered and invented.  That is to say that a human agent uses scientific and technological artifice to

Chloroplasts--Discovered, then Manipulated

identify and isolate a small piece of the natural world — a root or a molecule– that produces a desired physiological or psychoactive effect.  But this is only the beginning. That tiny piece of the seemingly infinite diversity of the natural world then acquires meaning to human communities through social and cultural artifice, as noted by recent scholarship showing that drugs are not reducible solely to their chemical properties and physical effects.

Regarding plant-derived drugs, it may not seem appropriate, at first, to treat such drugs as inventions. After all, isn’t it much more “natural” to harvest, dry and smoke the parts of a plant – say Cannabis for example – than to create a purely “artificial” drug – like methamphetamine – through chemistry? I would argue that both kinds of drugs are inventions and artifacts. After all, it takes a lot of work to transform a plant part into a drug – or at least, humans tend to put a lot of work transforming plant parts into drugs. Continue reading

Welcome Home, Part II: Dr. Bob’s Home & “Addiction History Exceptionalism”

In a recent post, I described a trip to Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron, Ohio, with a group of graduate students in history from the University of Michigan.  The students have spent much of this fall semester writing the nomination for Dr. Bob’s Home to be designated a National Historic Landmark, a process I described in my previous post.  Here, I offer some further thoughts on how the visit has contributed to my thinking about how we conceptualize the relationship between past and present.  In teaching and research, I have been grappling with what I call, for lack of a better term, “addiction history exceptionalism”—that is, how is addiction history like and unlike other kinds of history, and how can it enrich our understanding of historical investigation more broadly?

In thinking about these issues, I found Ernie Kurtz’s post earlier this fall on types of AA history, and the comments that followed it, very helpful.  The existence of various

Historical Controversy? What Historical Controversy?

historical approaches, from academic to antiquarian and in between, surely is not unique to the addiction field or to the history of AA. (As a devoted fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the “Little House” books, I can attest to that.)  But there does seem to be an intensity in the realm of AA history that is not evident in many other areas, due at least in part, I believe, to the existence of a large constituency for whom AA history has tremendous personal and collective significance in the present.  To the extent that this particular intensity arises from personal association with the AA fellowship, it cannot be replicated precisely in other realms of historical inquiry.  But to the extent that it comes from a more general awareness and acknowledgment of the emotional dimensions of historical investigation, I think other fields have a lot to learn from how AA history is practiced.

Although we often shy away from such things in academic writing, research, and teaching (at least in how we present our own relationship with our material), emotion and a sense of intimacy can be fundamental to historical inquiry.  In comments on Ernie Kurtz’s post, Ron Roizen noted that there is something “irreducibly familial” in how AA history is often pursued, echoed by Joe Gabriel’s observation that the same can be said about medical history as practiced by physicians.  I agree that the family metaphor can be illuminating.

As I mentioned last time, thinking about the actual Smith family in their domestic space while walking through the house ourselves also enriched our understanding of early AA.  Hearing the origin story of AA repeated with remarkable consistency by everyone we met, I found myself thinking about the role of the individual in history.   Years of training have predisposed me against any kind of “great man” theory of historical causation, and yet there was something about being in that intimate setting that made me think afresh about how particular people—especially Dr. Bob and Anne Smith, as well as Bill Wilson—made something happen through their own actions, literally making history.  I am sure that being in that house brought those figures down to life size for me and, perhaps ironically, made me better able to appreciate their accomplishments.

Analysis or Interpretation?

The house itself embodied both past and present—simultaneously museum, shrine, and home for current spiritual practice.  I found myself very moved, especially in the dining room where, we were told, alcoholics wrote out their stories on yellow legal pads, to have them typed by Sue Smith Windows, daughter of Dr. Bob and Anne Smith.   This very table, this very typewriter—such is the power of the relic that we all stood there in silence.  This was one of those moments where I felt myself both historian and antiquarian, torn between wanting to analyze the interpretation offered in the room and preferring to simply appreciate the emotional intensity attached to these objects in this place.  Later, I could not help myself from wondering why the dining room in particular had affected me that way.  I think it was because of a fusion of place, artifact, and text, the result of knowing that at least some of those stories found their way into the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  The text can be known independently of the site, yet familiarity with the text, in turn, imparts more meaning to the site.

In the house, I was captivated with this merging of past and present, finding it both intellectually fascinating and emotionally rewarding.  As we moved to other sites in Akron, however, we realized that that blending can be unsettling, even disturbing.  I am grateful to the students in my class for their insights in our follow-up discussions of this experience.  One of our stops was the Mayflower Hotel, from where Bill Wilson made the call that led ultimately to his conversation with Dr. Bob.

The Mayflower Hotel Today

Today, the Mayflower Hotel is used for transitional housing, and some of the residents we encountered as we made our way to the lobby seemed vulnerable and struggling.  There, we literally had to cross the present to get to the past, and we could not control the extent to which the present inserted itself into what might otherwise be a romanticized version of the past.

Here is something else we can learn from AA history.  Narrative is appealing, especially narrative with a happy ending:  Bill met Dr. Bob, they both got sober, they created AA which has changed the lives of millions of people.  That is all true.  But seeing the current residents of the Mayflower Hotel reminded me that when Dr. Bob and Bill were going through this, it was undoubtedly messy, painful, even terrifying—and they did not know how it was going to turn out.  Similarly, recovery narratives seem to mark a clear before and after, but the dividing line is not necessarily that sharp, particularly when one is living it.  Perhaps no one said it better than William Faulkner: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

Appropriate for So Many Reasons

In the Ether: Rick Doblin on Psychedelics and Addiction

As Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), Rick Doblin, mentioned in the second installment of his three-part interview with Points (Part I is here), the organization — part psychedelic research lab, part advocacy group, and part pharmaceutical company — has begun a slew of interesting and productive studies on the uses of psychedelic drugs like ayahuasca and ibogaine for the treatment of all manner of addictions. In this, the final piece of his talk with Points, Doblin discusses that work. He also expounds upon his and MAPS’ particular understanding of addiction and situates it within a historical context that even includes AA co-founder Bill W. 

Points: I know you’re doing some really interesting work on addiction and addiction treatment. That’s an area on which Points frequently focuses, and I think our readers would be particularly interested in hearing about it.

Aldous Huxley gave Bill W. LSD-25 in the 1950s

Doblin: Well, if we go all the way back to Carl Jung and the early part of the previous century, he had the sense that there would be a spiritual component to the treatment to addiction. And Bill W. who started AA, tried LSD when he was sober in the 1950s, and he thought that it had tremendous potential for the treatment of addiction. And it’s actually written about in the book Pass it On, which was published by AA about Bill Wilson’s life. [Ed. Note: Speaking of Jung and Bill W., the AA founder's letter to the philosopher can be read here. Jung's reply is here.] So the sense is that there is a lot of denial going on in addiction. There are a lot of things that people are not seeing. In a supportive context, psychedelics affect the membrane that separates the conscious from the unconscious. And particularly with the more classic psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin, there is a flood of material that people have tried to suppress or tried to deny, the whole denial process. People make a fuller accounting of their lives and what they’re doing. And then there’s also the potential for a spiritual connection that people have under psychedelics that they can then draw strength from. And based on that connection they can move forward in their lives and feel connected. A lot of drug abusers don’t feel connected to themselves, to others. They are separated from love and they seek support in the drugs. And with a deep spiritual experience that can come from psychedelics, people can draw strength from it. Continue reading

Big Questions, Free Will, and Addiction

Galaxy Spinning in Space

Broadly speaking, it lasts from ages 10 to 20, with a greater salience between, say, 12 and 15 years old.

This is the period of life (at least in my life) when the Big Questions got the most attention. These questions concern such matters as:  What is the meaning of life (if any)?  Is there a god?  What sort of a god?  Do we somehow outlive our corporeal existence?  Why is there so much suffering?  Why does anything exist?  And do humans have free will or are we mere automatons shoved around by a radically deterministic universe?  I well remember anguishing over these kinds of questions.

In my junior year as a Berkeley undergrad, for instance, I remember the free will and determinism question being associated with a long patch of depression — whether as the depression’s partial cause or partial effect I cannot say.  Continue reading