Banter M Issue 13

In this issue of Banter M:

Better Living Through Ecstasy – Chez Pazienza writes about his transformative experiences with Ecstasy, its therapeutic potential, and its inherent dangers

The Obvious Racism of the Trump Immigration Plan, and Why the GOP Loves It – Bob blasts Donald Trump’s astonishingly racist immigration plan, and explains why it is so popular with the GOP.

The Politics of Oppression – Ben Cohen delves into the delicate politics of oppression in America, and argues that important movements are in real danger of cannibalizing themselves.


Better Living Through Ecstasy

by Chez Pazienza

By the middle of the third straight night we were hallucinating cats. They looked like shadows zipping around the floor and over the furniture within the candlelit room and, I have to say, their presence wasn’t unnerving as much as fascinating. All of us saw them, which is odd when you consider that it should technically be impossible for a group of people to have the exact same hallucination, and at least a couple of us had taken to trying to chase them around in an effort to see whether they’d disappear upon closer inspection. They never did, but then again they also couldn’t be caught. They weren’t real, after all. The shadow cats were nothing more than creations in our brains — brains that had been both wide awake and under the influence of copious amounts of drugs for almost three full days and nights. We began on Friday afternoon. The cats arrived just after midnight on Monday. Each of us was supposed to be at work at 9AM Monday morning. It just wasn’t going to happen.

During the early phase of my ecstasy use, at the tail end of ’94 when turning every weekend into a nonstop MDMA party still felt like a victimless crime, my friends and I used to have a maxim we lived by: There’s a difference between drug use and drugabuse. As far as we were concerned, what we were doing was using ecstasy — a powerful agent that broke down barriers, put us more in touch with each other and the world, and benefitted those of us with depression in immeasurable ways — rather than abusing it. Sure, every one of us dropped at least seven to eight rolls per weekend — sometimes many more — but what we got back for it was life-altering in the best possible way. It was an experience that was nearly impossible to describe to the uninitiated, something magical that happened when our group came together, shut the doors of my apartment for the weekend, lit candles and put on the Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds, Jane’s Addiction’s Three Days and Underworld’s Mmm Skyscraper and just disappeared into another reality.

This past spring, the DEA approved the very first clinical trial that will use pure MDMA — the primary drug found in ecstasy, molly, what-have-you — to treat anxiety in patients with life-threatening illnesses. I wrote about the announcement when it was first made, touching briefly on my own past MDMA use and admitting that despite the eventual drama and tragedy that accompanied it I couldn’t say that the drug use itself was a terrible or evil thing. While pure MDMA is safer than the street drugs it’s associated with, even the latter can be part of a relatively safe experience provided the user puts a high priority on caution and respects the chemicals he or she is dealing with and what their impact might be. When you think of molly or ecstasy, you usually think of a bunch of sweaty kids losing their minds in the presence of some millionaire button-pusher who calls himself a DJ, but the truth is that there’s another way — and that’s how my friends and I did it almost every weekend for nearly two full years in the mid-90s.

A little background: I had smoked weed maybe once when I switched up to LSD and ecstasy. I used to joke that when it came to drugs my motto was apparently “go big or go home,” but the truth is that I knew the kind of experience I was looking for when I made the decision to try them. I wanted my eyes opened and my reality expanded and I wanted to feel something I had never felt before. LSD took care of the first half of that equation, taking me on a journey that I never could’ve imagined and changing my perspective on the world. But ecstasy brought a tactile sensation into it, overwhelming me and suddenly making the whole world seem bright and unthreatening. For someone suffering from depression, it was like someone had shined a light into my life that pushed all the darkness away even during the times I wasn’t on the drug. When that experience broadened out and a growing group of friends began joining in and becoming willing psychonauts, that changed everything even further, creating a tribe of true believers to the cause of better living through ecstasy.

Our weekends came to define our lives, which for a while was good. But the problem with ecstasy is that it is, in fact, a drug, and while it isn’t physically addictive it certainly can be psychologically addictive. This makes perfect sense when you consider that it makes you feel amazing; of course you’re gonna want to do it all the time. In time the issue our little group discovered when it came to MDMA was that it blurred the lines that kept everyone at bay and which divided appropriate behavior from inappropriate. When you’re rolling hard, putting your hands all over somebody seems completely normal, but eventually that kind of thing translates into very real sexual relationships carried over into the real world. It creates longing, lust, jealousy, even violence — basically all the best parts of Shakespeare. When you stop being able to tell where the magical reality of the drug ends and the often painful reality of the physical world begins, that’s when you have problems. That’s when we had problems.

But in a controlled atmosphere, it’s hard to imagine negative repercussions overwhelming the positive impact, particularly for people who are facing life-threatening situations. If you truly believe you’re going to die or that your life has devolved to the point of worthlessness, what have you got to lose? Why not experiment with someone that can genuinely make you feel — better? This new trial is sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, and it will allow 18 patients to undergo MDMA-assisted psychotherapy under the supervision of a physician and principle investigator. There’s a strong possibility the trials have already started without any fanfare and who knows whether we’ll ever be allowed to see the results of them. But it would be nice to think that, as I wrote once before, this test is the latest step in what might be a strong reevaluation of MDMA by the government, at least insofar as it being designated worthless beyond recreational abuse and therefore illegal across the board.

MDMA was once used legally for what it’s going to be used for in the coming months: psychotherapy. Doctors and researchers discovered what my friends and I did — that it’s a powerful aid in breaking down the psychological and emotional walls those who are suffering often construct around them. Granted, not all of us were “suffering,” per se, but more than one of us struggled with depression and anxiety and throwing open the door that led to the world opened up by ecstasy changed our outlooks for the most part. No, it’s not an absolute miracle — do too much of it and it can have exactly the opposite effect because the crashes in between usage can drop your serotonin and dopamine levels into a pit. And with that pit comes an even worse kind of despair than you were trying to escape in the first place. But again, it all comes down to use versus abuse and if the MDMA in question is being administered by a trained professional it’s hard to imagine a lot of negative consequences.

Whenever people ask me what ecstasy feels like — and it’s a testament to the mythos surrounding the drug that I get that quite a bit — I tend to just kind of close my eyes and smile. It’s a difficult sensation to put into words so for a long time I’ve felt like maybe the best way to convey it is to simply appear to drift away on the memories of my weekends long ago. There isn’t a chance in hell I’d ever do any kind of MDMA again, mostly because at my age it would probably make my heart explode. (The last time I did it was a one-off several years ago and I got almost nothing out of it other than an overwhelming rush, probably because I’d spent so much of my earlier life doing the stuff.) But I still have moments when I wonder whether a small dose in a controlled environment would help or harm me when I’m in the deepest throes of depression. Would it make things better or simply worse? Would the crash be devastating? I realize that I’m no longer invincible, as I felt I was in my 20s, so would the feeling that used to be so powerfully positive now scare the hell out of me? I was always playing with fire. Would I now finally get burned?

I miss that feeling, though. I admit that. For a time I didn’t worry about anything and it hardly mattered whether that feeling was artificial. It had benefits. Here’s hoping it has benefits for those taking part in this landmark trial, because there’s little doubt they need them far more than I ever did. My only advice to them: don’t chase the cats.


The Obvious Racism of the Trump Immigration Plan, and Why the GOP Loves It – by Bob Cesca

by Bob Cesca

Accuse them of racism and they’ll continue to deny it. But the fact remains that with Donald Trump’s escalation of the Republican assault on undocumented workers, the far-right is lining up to prove just how unapologetically racist they’ve become.

Trump’s entire plan, first and foremost, involves sidestepping or entirely repealing the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment. That’s horrible enough before realizing that the 14th Amendment was the second of the post-Civil War, post-emancipation amendments addressing the citizenship of former slaves. So, in addition to previously undermining the Voting Rights Act, the GOP is now actively targeting a constitutional amendment that secured freedom for men and women previously held in bondage. In other words, they’re successfully shitting all over both African-American history as well as current undocumented immigrants whose American citizen children — of any age — would be unjustly deported.

Incidentally, there are now two right-wing talkers who literally endorsed the idea of forcing both undocumented workers and their American-citizen children into slave labor.

Iowa radio talk show host, Jan Mickelson, who’s gained some notoriety during this year’s election by interviewing some of the most visible GOP presidential candidatessaid on this show this week that immigrants who don’t leave Iowa should become “property of the state” and sentenced to “compelled labor.”

Anyone who is in the state of Iowa that who is not here legally and who cannot demonstrate their legal status to the satisfaction of the local and state authorities here in the State of Iowa, become property of the State of Iowa.’ So if you are here without our permission, and we have given you two months to leave, and you’re still here, and we find that you’re still here after we we’ve given you the deadline to leave, then you become property of the State of Iowa. And we have a job for you. And we start using compelled labor, the people who are here illegally would therefore be owned by the state and become an asset of the state rather than a liability and we start inventing jobs for them to do.

Okay, so maybe Mickelson is small potatoes. But Fox News Channel’s Jesse Watters kind of isn’t. As you might’ve read at the Banter this week, Watters said that undocumented immigrants should be marched out of the country like the “Trail of Tears” — the horrendously racist expulsion of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw tribes out of Georgia by Andrew Jackson in defiance of the Supreme Court. The Trail of Tears was one of the darkest chapters in the history of the United States, bested, perhaps, only by slavery on our national list of unforgivable crimes against humanity.

But almost lost in the shadow of Watters’ Trail of Tears suggestion was, again, the idea that deported immigrants be compelled as slaves to build the 2,000 mile border wall, and only when it’s completely would we consider granting them amnesty. Of course, this opinion isn’t at all surprising coming from an insufferable douchebag like Watters whose previous televised efforts including verbally kicking hobos in New York — shaming and scolding them for living like, you know, homeless people.

Tell me again how these people aren’t racist.

Indeed, since Trump rolled out his immigration plan, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal,Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz have each stepped forward in support of eliminating birthright citizenship. Actually, a few of those guys already supported the idea before Trump borrowed it for his plan.

Rush Limbaugh perfectly summarized the conservative reaction:

[Trump] would end the practice of granting U.S. citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants. Bye bye anchor babies. And I’m telling you, that one has people standing up and cheering. He wants to make changes in the 14th amendment so that that cannot happen.

Yes, people are standing and cheering for an idea devised by a crackpot reality-show host — an idea that Bill O’Reilly, who believes we should have a literal Berlin Wall style border fence, thinks is phenomenally awful. Bill O’Reilly thinks Trump’s plan is terrible, and told Trump as much on his show the other night. An hour or so later, Sarah Palin gave Trump’s plan a big “you betcha” on the Greta Van Susteren show. So, yeah, Trump’s plan is too dumb for O’Reilly, but just right for that screechy, jutty-jawed knucklehead in Wasilla. That’s really all you need to know.

As if “papers please” wasn’t bad enough in years past, it’s now open season on brown people. Politically, however, the Republicans have further marginalized themselves with the fastest growing demographic in the U.S., and so in that regard they can feel free to keep going, just as long as they’re prevented from acting upon this harrowing plot to — really — win more elections on the backs of deported Latinos. Because, ultimately, this is about grasping desperately to whatever electoral advantage they can as the browning of America slowly shuffles them to the sidelines of power. Therefore, anything goes, including the Constitution and any remaining patina of decency or rationality.


The Politics of Oppression

by Ben Cohen

If you were to compare and contrast all of the oppressed people throughout human history, you’d have an incredibly difficult time trying to figure out which ethnic/cultural/religious/gender group has had it the worst. The indigenous populations in the Americas have been decimated for almost five centuries, Muslims were slaughtered by Christians for 200 years, Africans were bought or stolen and forced into slavery for over 300 years, Jews have been persecuted since Roman times, and women have been oppressed since the beginning of agriculture.

It isn’t even clear who has had it the worst in the past century – gays, Jews, blacks, women, Russians, Vietnamese, Iraqis, Rwandans, North Koreans, Palestinians and Armenians all can claim their unique plight deserves to be considered above all others. And the more you know about all of them, the harder it gets to disagree. Humans have found extraordinary ways in which to oppress other humans who look, think or believe differently than them. From the ovens of Auschwitz to the machetes of the Hutus, human cruelty seemingly knows no bounds.

Despite the enormous brutality of the past and our innate appetite for violence, there does appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel. As we become more connected with each other through radio, television and now the internet, war is becoming harder to wage. The images broadcasted from Vietnam revulsed an American society forced to see the consequences of foreign militarism, and the brutal war was finally ended after mass demonstrations made its continuation impossible. The Iraq war was the first in human history to have created mass, global protest before the war had even started – a testament to growing human consciousness and a desire to avoid violence. While there is still conflict and bloodshed around the world, there is ample evidence that we are becoming less violent as a species. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has shown that statistics prove there have been huge reductions in war deaths, family violence, racism, rape, and murder over time. In his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” he writes: “The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species.” Interviewed about his book, Pinker declared: “As we get smarter, we try to think up better ways of getting everyone to turn their swords into plowshares at the same time. Human life has become more precious than it used to be.” Here are some of the statistics he cites:

* The number of people killed in battle – calculated per 100,000 population – has dropped by 1,000-fold over the centuries as civilizations evolved. Before there were organized countries, battles killed on average more than 500 out of every 100,000 people. In 19th century France, it was 70. In the 20th century with two world wars and a few genocides, it was 60. Now battlefield deaths are down to three-tenths of a person per 100,000.
* The rate of genocide deaths per world population was 1,400 times higher in 1942 than in 2008.
* There were fewer than 20 democracies in 1946. Now there are close to 100. Meanwhile, the number of authoritarian countries has dropped from a high of almost 90 in 1976 to about 25 now.

While it may often seem that the world is becoming more violent, a better explanation might be that we are simply becoming more aware of our own violence. The explosion of cell phone video technology, youtube, facebook and twitter etc has simply given humans the ability to see more of it – and perhaps as a consequence, be more revulsed by it.

The politics of human oppression is particularly prominent in America – a land built on genocide, slavery and the exploitation of many ethnic groups. While America’s history is ugly, it is an incredibly diverse country filled with innovative people who all aspire to make their lives better. The awareness of oppression has been a major currency in American politics, with virtually every minority group organizing around their collective experience to protest and make their plight known to the majority. This is undoubtedly a good thing. The lives of millions of people have been improved through the brave acts of individuals who stood up and made their voices heard, and the collective movements created around them. Slavery was ended and civil rights were gained for African Americans, women fought for the right to vote, unions were formed to protect workers, gays beat back homophobic legislation and won the right to marry, and so on. The premise is always the same – we are just like you, so stop killing us and stop discriminating against us.

While the organization and protest around oppression is a vital part of a civil society, America is unfortunately in danger of consuming itself in a culture of perpetual outrage that could well defeat many important causes that are vital to millions of minorities. The politics of oppression is being used to shut down debate, denigrate other people’s suffering and turn real political movements into PR spectacles with no real strategic value. Take for example, the Black Lives Matter movement – an incredibly important cause that aims to stop the wanton murder of African Americans by an institutionally racist police force. The movement is now facing an existential crisis due to infighting and a battle over its leadership. Deadspin’s Greg Howard has afascinating breakdown of the current battle raging between activists, self appointed leaders, and fringe elements of the movement. The piece focuses on DeRay Mckesson, a 29-year-old black civil rights activist who has, as Howard writes, become “The de facto face of the movement to end police brutality against African-Americans.”

Mckesson is facing opposition from other activists who claim he is not even a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, and is a privileged rich kid taking money to protest and a “shameless self-promoter”. Writes Howard:

The infighting that followed is the same humdrum dick-measuring that takes place during every large-scale political endeavor, and especially one that involves the ever-fractious left. It’s instructive in that it provides a realtime case study of how grassroots movements are born and evolve from ideas into organizations into revolutions led by civilian activists who sometimes become public figures and develop their own interests. Mckesson, of course, isn’t a perfect vessel for the cause; no one in this solely for the Twitter fame would brave pepper spray, vengeful police officers in riot gear, and rubber and real bullets for very long, but there’s a legitimate question about the value of attending protests in the role of celebrity documentarian, and his touch hasn’t been completely smooth.

There has also been some back and forth between white progressives and the Black Lives Matter movement – particularly in regards to Bernie Sanders and his supporters, with some fairly toxic interactions that have descended into nasty name calling. While both sides have legitimate concerns about the other, the reality is that directing rage at people who broadly support the same cause can never be helpful in the long run.

Achieving success in any political movement is an incredibly delicate balancing act, as all great leaders will attest to. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela navigated extreme political infighting while incurring massive violence from their oppressors. Quelling extremist factions, negotiating with oppressors and swaying public opinion is an incredibly complicated endeavor, and the only thing that works over time is a strategy of forceful consistency, compromise and moral integrity.

While single mindedness is often a major factor in achieving success of a particular cause, there must always be an awareness that no one owns outrage, and no one owns oppression. The Jews are not unique in their oppression, and neither are gays, blacks or women. As Nelson Mandela said: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world.”

There is enough oppression to go around for everyone, and the sooner we begin to see that oppression isn’t directed at one specific subset of humans, but humans in general, we may finally be able to move on from the mindset that creates it in the first place.