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Bruce Pavitt has a Terence McKenna Freak-out

VISIONARY PHILOSOPHER AND PSYCHEDELIC ADVOCATE Terence McKenna has lectured throughout the world and authored several books, including Food of the Gods and The Archaic Revival. At a time of tremendous political and cultural conservatism, McKenna seems perfectly comfortable challenging our dated way of looking at education, social convention, and the mind itself. In other words, the dude flat-out rocks and is more punk than the whole city of Seattle. Sub-Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt catches up with McKenna via a quick e-mail chat.

BRUCE PAVITT: Where do you feel most at home these days, hyperspace or cyberspace?

TERENCE McKENNA: Well, I guess if what you are asking is, "Am I now more often stoned or online?" the answer would have to be online. My connection is up 24-7, and so cyberspace has become simply an extension of my ordinary reality. Meanwhile, my infrequent psychedelic voyages remain epiphanies, like well-earned and necessary vacations from the cultural illusion that is such an occluding and all-pervasive presence.

Our society tends to celebrate technology. Do you see psychedelics as a technology?

Yes, absolutely. I operate under the notion that technologies are simply extensions of the human mind and body. Psychedelics, since they alter, impact upon, and enhance ordinary consciousness, certainly seem to fit that definition.

Do you believe that other dimensions exist, containing non-human intelligence?

Certainly there is no question that other dimensions exist. Mathematicians have been discussing higher dimensional space since the middle of the 19th century. As for inhabitants, that is a matter to be explored. The evidence from shamanism, dreams, and human mythology seem to suggest that the dimensions at the edge of our vision and our expectations are home to many virtual or apparent entities and beings. But we need to have strong filters and powerful logical razors when we venture into this area, where so much territory has been claimed by cults and by those whose agendas may be very different from that of the scientific investigator.

You're hosting a conference on psychedelics and creativity this fall...

Yes. September 12-17, this fall, on the big island of Hawaii. Two partners and I will host a conference dedicated to exploring the relationship between psychedelics and creativity. We have invited a number of well-known and successful artists who are now willing to publicly discuss their own creativity and the ways that psychedelics have augmented and sustained that—people like writer Tom Robbins, painter Alex Grey, and performance artist Annie Sprinkle, and cyberspace luminaries like Mark Pesce and Bruce Damer. We will all meet with a group of a 100 people to tell stories and share insights. I feel that it is very important to the dialogue on drugs and drug policy to have the testimony that successful people in the arts can give on these questions.

What are your webcasting plans?

As I mentioned, I have a continuous connection to the Internet, a very fast wireless connection that gives better than T1 speed. We intend to use that technology to do webcasting of a program every couple of weeks that would be built around my several interests and the many very interesting people that pass through Hawaii and drop by for a visit. The webcasting would be supported by a large website with portals to a virtual world where we are building a meeting place. I would like to stop my physical travels and make the webcasting effort my main way of communicating with the public. More fun and more efficient.

As an educator, you seem more comfortable lecturing outside of traditional institutions. What do you think our culture can do to revive its educational systems?

We need to educate our children for the world that they will actually live in, give them some real survival skills. To me this means sex education; we have made a small start there, but against enormous opposition. And we need drug education—not the "Just Say No" malarkey, but real drug education that informs people of the real risks and benefits of these substances, and that also makes clear to people that the agenda of retail capitalism, the alcohol and tobacco cartels, may not be in one's personal interest. And finally, we must bring cyberspace into the classroom in a very big way. Sex, drugs, and computers are all society-shaping forces that are here to stay. If we do not inform our children of the dynamics of these things then we cannot say, in any serious way, that we have educated them.

What advice would you offer our government with regard to drug policy?

Should we keep building more prisons? Drugs have become an enormous racket, corrupting those who deal them at artificially inflated prices, corrupting the justice system that tries to prevent drug use by draconian measures, corrupting the medical establishment that must attempt to defend these irrational policies on scientific grounds. The only way to end the dope economy and remove the police and the judiciary from the corrupting influence of the drug cartels is to make the drugs legal, encourage real-cost pricing, and hence remove the profit from the enterprise. The removal of the profit motive, in concert with real drug education in the schools, could go a long way toward addressing this problem.

What can you tell us about salvia divinorum?

A remarkable psychedelic plant—remarkable in that it evaded identification and characterization of its chemical constituents for so long. A plant that is a powerful legal psychedelic, easily prepared and used. One of many examples of the bounty of nature providing means to alter our consciousness regardless of the opinion and values of the culture at large. There is a great deal of specific information on salvia on the Internet, and people who are interested in this plant should certainly do their homework there.

What lessons can we learn from shamanism?

Shamanism, the worldwide system of folk curing using magical plants to access dimensions of healing, offers a direct challenge to the reigning paradigm of orthomolecular medicine practices in the West, especially in its effectiveness in treating psychological conditions. Shamanism is part of a whole set of cultural attitudes that have much to teach us about human psychology, the nature of disease, and how to maintain a more correct and gentle relationship with the earth and the local environment. It seems that most people who've tried psychedelics have only used them socially, in light amounts.

How would you describe a shamanic approach?

Social-context low-dose use of psychedelics is not the most useful way to allow these powerful tools to reveal their full power and potential. Shamans usually take psychedelics alone or in very small groups gathered for the serious purpose of curing or addressing a group problem. When I take psychedelics I tend to do it alone and in silent darkness, and at safe but dramatically effective doses.

Finally, what's your most optimistic vision of the future?

I believe that psychedelics may aid us in deprogramming ourselves from some of our more lethal habits, such as war, racism, and consumerism. And I believe that the Internet will eventually provide a path of upward mobility for ambitious third- and second-world people who are trying to better themselves. After all, the Internet is a kind of vast, self-organized university—at least that is one way it can be used. And lastly, I am optimistic because I feel that young people who have grown up with drugs and cyberspace can lead us to the sort of society that can integrate these powerful technologies and allow us to leave the narrow confines of 20th-century thinking and its obsessions behind us.

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