In this issue of Banter M:
It's Time for America To Become a Benevolent Dictatorship - With almost weekly shootings in America, the increasing insanity on both sides of the political aisle, Chez Pazienza argues that it is now time for a benevolent dictatorship to take over the country.
Confessions of a Teenage Would-Be Pro Life Pop Star - Tommy Christopher describes the intense emotions he felt after his partner had an abortion, and the angsty 80's sound track he wrote to deal with it.
The War On Drugs is a War On Human Consciousness - Ben Cohen explains why the war on drugs isn't about keeping kids safe, but a deliberate war on our relationship with hugely beneficial plant compounds that serve to regulate how we interact with nature.
It's Time for America To Become a Benevolent Dictatorship
by Chez Pazienza
I was in my early 20s when I first heard of the notion of a "benevolent dictatorship." For the unfamiliar, a benevolent dictatorship is exactly what it sounds like: it's a theoretical form of government where a single person, or persons, has absolute authority of a state but uses that authority for the good of its general population. This isn't to say that a benevolent dictator won't allow his or her people to have some say in the proceedings, because in order to be benevolent the authority would need to know what those people need and desire; it's simply that a benevolent dictator's role is to keep the peace, keep the state running smoothly and, maybe most importantly, keep the people from destroying themselves. It's the perfect form of government for a society that's proven it's far from capable of being left to its own devices because its attempts to govern itself have been a disaster. In other words, it's the perfect form of government for the United States of America, circa 2015.
Take a look at where we are right now. It's looking like this week's horrific attack in San Bernardino was less a random shooting and more a full-on act of radical Islamic terror -- albeit a homegrown one -- but where the hell do you think the two people behind this murder spree got their arsenal of guns and ammo? According to the FBI, they bought it all legally -- because buying tools of mass murder in the U.S. is a shockingly simple procedure, the right to which was codified long ago by men who couldn't have imagined the centuries of bloodshed they'd be unleashing. There have now been 355 mass shootings this year, more killings than there are days in the year. And we don't seem to be any more poised to do something about it now than we were in the aftermath of the almost incomprehensible murder of 20 schoolchildren almost two years ago exactly. We make excuses and we have it out on Twitter and Facebook but in the end we do nothing -- we send the ludicrously worthless "thoughts and prayers" for the dead and to their families -- and then we do nothing because our gun culture is an original sin drafted into our very founding document.
Beyond that fact of life in America at the moment, the reality that you can be killed anytime anywhere by someone legally armed to the teeth, there's the political situation that threatens to turn us into a banana republic and has -- as with our obsession with guns -- made us a global embarrassment. More than at any point in our history, thanks to the power social media has given each and every raving idiot in this country to blast his or her insanity and hatred around the world, we feel like a nation on the verge of descending into some abyss. Donald Trump is a frontrunner for the Republican nomination, meaning that unless the GOP establishment figures out some way to trip him up -- or he finally loses steam, which seems unlikely given that his blatant racism and xenophobia echoes that of the base -- he may very well wind up a single vote away from the White House. This is an almost sociopathic liar who refuses to behave decently, a thin-skinned douchebag who won't ever apologize for the horrifically bigoted things that regularly tumble out of the puckered asshole at the center of his unnaturally orange face, the living embodiment of the conservative id and a catastrophe in the making should he get anywhere near the Oval Office. He needs to be stopped. Immediately.
But that's the thing: he won't be. There's nothing any of us can do to put a shameless monster like Donald Trump in his place, since he has no business running for the most powerful office in the world and his continued presence in the race for that position is actually inciting violence and unrest. He shouldn't be able to give voice to the hatred and ignorance of the fringe right because the fringe right doesn't deserve an outsized voice. Theoretically, we're all allowed to voice our opinions but as it now stands the will of these people and those who cynically pander to them intrudes on the civil rights of those outside their sphere, and to put it mildly civil rights should never be up to the whim of the public anyway. Fox News, the most watched cable news outlet in the country is a fountain of outright anti-intellectual misinformation and it regularly supports the demonization of anyone who isn't a conservative white person. It's allowed to exist, even though it's a scourge. Right-wing talk radio is allowed to exist and spew its hatred, venom and, again, lies. Like Fox, it helps to create a bubble of ignorance in which the heavily armed yokel demographic can safely live. Alex Jones and his ilk have a booming voice in our culture -- one that just yesterday was legitimized by Trump, again the frontrunner for the Republican nomination -- and all of this works in the service of the lowest and dumbest common denominator.
In our colleges, delicate snowflakes and are being allowed to run professors and administrators off-campus on a rail if the adults don't cave to their ridiculous demands and ensure that nothing offensive or challenging ever confronts the kids. Political correctness has become a weapon wielded by children in an attempt to further the on-demand world in which they were raised, one where their feelings were never hurt and they got a medal just for being themselves. They're the polar opposite of the fringe right and yet they're somehow just as awful. It often feels like reasonable Americans now live in thrall to the whims of those on either end of the spectrum -- and those ends have now curved around and met, with every kind of crazy intermingling and all of them being immune to pleas for sanity and decency. This is where we are now -- and it sucks.
So when the system we designed to ensure that our country would function properly doesn't work for a substantial percentage of the population anymore, what's left to do? When our experiment in Jeffersonian democracy has failed as spectacularly as it seems like it has, what's the alternative? There are a people now who hold astonishing sway over both our culture and our policy who can't be reasoned with because they operate from a place of extreme narcissism or a total detachment from reality. They put our very lives -- to say nothing of the well-being of our nation as a whole -- at risk. So with that in mind I've spent a good amount of time lately wondering whether the introduction of a benevolent dictator is our only hope. I'm not sure we can fix ourselves anymore; in fact, I honestly believe that things are going to get worse and worse, as they have over the past several years. I don't think there's any coming back from this. So, again, as this country has proven itself ungovernable and unworthy to be in a position of authority as a world power -- if anything, we're actually dangerous to our fellow countries given that the state of our nation impacts others -- all that's left is for somebody to come in and do what's best for us. We damn well don't seem to be able to do it for ourselves.
Maybe we deserve to be taken over and "liberated" from our own stupidity, for our own sake.
Confessions of a Teenage Would-Be Pro Life Pop Star
by Tommy Christopher
The following is a true story, although some names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of others.
Abortion is a deeply personal, complicated issue that becomes much simpler when something like last week's mass shooting at Planned Parenthood occurs. If there are sides to be drawn, there is no question that a woman's right to safely access legal heath care is the only side to be on. I've had that sort of clarity about the issue of women's choice since at least the 1990's, when Eric Rudolph set off a bomb in a place that I'd been meeting my brother at a week earlier. You can't sit on a fence with people like that.
It wasn't always that way for me, though. I've never been in favor of banning abortion, but my views were once a lot more conflicted and intense. When I first became sexually active, before the AIDS crisis, the biggest problem you had to worry about from premarital sex was unintended pregnancy, and there wasn't the easy access to contraception that there is now, at least not for young teenagers. That worry was usually obscured by the rip-current of adolescent urges, right up until the third post-coital pant.
Then would come the awkward conversation, sometimes, about what we'd do if she got pregnant. The basic plan was usually just to cross our fingers and hope it didn't come to that, but beyond that, I guess I was willing to become a middle-school bridegroom if that's what it took. Mainly, it was making a face and crossing our fingers.
I knew about abortion, and at that young age, I assumed that decision would rest mainly with the girl, and more likely, the beliefs of her parents. It was out of my hands. Still, it was a sad possibility that I really hoped would never come up, but not strongly enough to stop having sex or always have a rubber handy.
It wasn't until around tenth grade that the subject of abortion became real for me, when I met Mickey. She and I became acquainted through our older siblings, but only collaterally. While they were hanging out, we snuck off for a walk in the park. She was my age, and shared my weird sense of humor. She had a great cheeky smile, beautiful soft porcelain skin, and a more womanly body than I'd ever had my hands on. I figured we were just killing time, because she was prettier than I thought I had a shot at, but when we got to the park, Mickey backed me up against a picnic table and started kissing me.
This had never happened to me before, and it kind of blew my mind, and before I knew it, we were having sex on that picnic table at dusk. Because of our psychotic elders, we decided to keep our thing a secret, but also to set out on a quest to have sex in every free space we could find. Mickey was especially fond of doing it in various locations around our high school, whereas I was just happy to be doing it. The sex was enthusiastic and clumsy, and usually resulted in an elbow to a face, but we laughed through it all.
Once, we were just flagrantly going at it in the storage room where the marching band kept its instruments, and someone opened the door and turned on the light. Naturally, we immediately covered our faces (only), and the intruder graciously turned the light off and left. We got dressed and snuck out, and by the time I got to my next class, the person at the next desk was asking me if I'd heard about the kids who got caught banging in the band room. It killed me not to take credit. We tried to use a condom once, but it broke spectacularly.
Our thing ended for unrelated reasons, and I don't think I ever told another living soul about Mickey, and I hadn't even thought about her for decades until this week. We never formed icky "romantic" feelings, but we had a blast, and I really liked her. As I thought about Mickey this week, I wondered why we never fought to keep such a great time going, and I remembered a crystal-clear moment from our first encounter.
We were walking back to her house from the park, my head still spinning in the afterglow, and we were talking about keeping our secret to avoid our insane parents and siblings, and I asked her what would we do if she got pregnant. Just as I was thinking, "Man, I could marry this girl," she turned and gave me that sweet smile, and said, "Oh, don't worry, I'll just have the critter snipped."
I played it off, but it shocked me, and it stayed with me. It didn't change my feelings for her, but it did set up an instant emotional boundary that told me we weren't going to be that kind of thing. It was also my introduction to the idea of unapologetic choice. Shocked though I was at the time, it was oddly comforting to know that I wouldn't have to worry about our lives being ruined, or that Mickey would ever have to be sad about it.
Several partners later, I was dating a girl with whom things were more serious, like, waiting-six-months-to-have-sex serious. Once we got started, though, it was like we were in fuck training camp doing two-a-days, and through inconsistent condom use, she wound up pregnant. Since we were in such hopelessly corny teenage love, we had already talked about having kids (this was during the glut of 80s baby movies), but she was younger than me, convinced her life would be ruined, and that her parents would murder her.
We never really considered keeping it, but since we had already imagined having kids together, there was a profound sense of loss that accompanied the decision to terminate, at least for me. Looking back now, I think she acted more upset than she was to humor me, but the grief I felt was intense.
The way I dealt with that grief was to write a song about it. Yes, like lots of angsty teenagers, I wrote songs from time to time, but I was also "blessed" to have a best friend who was a musical genius with a state-of-the-art studio in his basement. He had a record contract and a manager and everything. Every now and then, Bill would help me out and turn one of my songs into something recognizable as music. Here, for example, is one of the surviving recordings of my attempts at popcraft. I wrote the words and the tune, Bill arranged it and played all the instruments, and he and my other friend Paris sang backup.
Don't judge me, it was the fucking 80s.
I never took music very seriously, but I could carry a tune even with my terrible chainsmoking habit (which was much worse then), and if you didn't know what a weirdo I was, I kinda had it going on a little at that age. So, in my throes of grief, I wrote some lyrics about the potential child I was never going to have, and it was very cathartic. Bill was always helping me work through pretty much everything in my life, and this was no exception, but he also liked the lyrics I had written. He took them and composed a tune, and recorded it with his vocals.
It turned out really well, mostly thanks to Bill. He resisted the song's maudlin gravitational pull, instead setting it to ghostly synth-strings that had almost a Twilight Zone quality, and imbued his vocals with an icy edge of alienation. It was really good. We played it for some folks, and it really seemed like with Bill's music connects, we really might be able to sell the thing. Visions of an easy pop life danced in my head.
But there was one person I played it for who didn't like it, and for the life of me, I can't remember who it was. I want to say it was my drama teacher, but it was definitely a grown woman whom I respected, and who really let me have it about how little my feelings meant compared to what a woman goes through in that situation, and how my song would only make her feel worse, and how if I did manage to sell it, it would become an anthem for abortion clinic protesters.
None of those things had occurred to me because I was a dude, and a teenage narcissist (redundant, I know), and too ignorant of the political context of my angst. It was the latter prospect she raised that sealed the deal for me, because all I wanted to do was create some catharsis for my very personal grief, not become a tool of anti-choice hate.
I saw Bill not long ago, and I joked that if the recording of that song ever turned up, I'd be ruined as a liberal figure, but there is something useful to be learned from it. I'm staunchly pro-choice now, but I can relate to the feelings that anti-choicers feel about fetuses. Melissa Harris Perry once did a wise segment on abortion in which she talked about how the degree to which we regard a fetus as "life" is malleable, depending on our own circumstances. If you give it a name, life can begin before conception. Conversely, you might feel no connection to an actual fetus that you weren't planning on hosting, or maybe you do, but not enough to let it kill you. You might feel bad about it, you might not, you might feel a million different things.
But how you feel about it only matters if your body is where it's happening. Otherwise, the only thing that matters is the law that says what's happening in someone else's body is none of your fucking business.
The War On Drugs is a War On Human Consciousness
by Ben Cohen
For anyone who has followed my writing over the past few years, you will have noticed an obvious change in the direction of my understanding of spirituality and human consciousness. After traveling to the Amazon to take the most powerful hallucinogenic substance known to man -- "Ayahuasca" otherwise known as the "Vine of the Souls" -- I experienced a fundamental shift in the way I understand myself and my relationship to the environment. You can read about my insane escapades here in the updated version of the original series posted in the magazine (and be prepared, it truly was completely insane).
A couple of years ago, I would have regarded hallucinogens as dangerous drugs that could cause serious damage to someone's mental health. Having watched a very close friend of mine lose his mind to schizophrenia over a decade ago, I steadfastly maintained that I would never, ever take drugs for as long as I lived. My friend smoked a lot of marijuana as a teenager, and I'm fairly certain it aggravated his already fragile psyche, and helped send him into a horrendous psychic black hole from which he has never really escaped.
Growing up in Britain, we were told that marijuana, mushrooms, cocaine, LSD and other drugs were incredibly dangerous and could destroy your life and even kill you. Before witnessing my friend develop paranoid schizophrenia, I had seen several friends struggle with depression after heavily using marijuana. There was a huge government campaign against the use of LSD -- a wildly popular drug in the 90's UK dance scene -- after 18 year old student Leah Betts apparently died after taking one ecstasy pill while celebrating her birthday (this later turned out to be entirely false -- she died from ingesting too much water). Along with my direct exposure to friends' drug use, the fear tactics used by the government were pretty effective, and I wanted nothing to do with any illicit substances. Drugs were for people who wanted to escape reality, and frankly I couldn't see the point of them given that I was quite happy.
For these reasons, I always took an ambivalent attitude towards the legalization of drugs. I understood the arguments for and against, and had no real problem with the status quo. The UK's almost zero-tolerance policies towards psychoactive substances had no effect on me, and I had little sympathy for those who used and got caught. After moving to California as a young adult, I relaxed my views a little after finding out a bit more about the use of marijuana in dealing with chronic pain. As a full-time Martial Arts instructor and fairly serious practitioner, I'd often come home with pretty nasty swelling in my hands, legs and head. One incredibly painful night, an ex-girlfriend suggested I try some marijuana to deal with crippling pain in my legs. Reluctantly, I tried it, and it helped considerably more than the painkillers I'd been swallowing (although that may have been because it sent me to sleep). I also accidentally ate a considerable amount of marijuana baked into Chex mix at a friend's place a couple of years later, and after a fairly harrowing experience where I genuinely believed I would never recover my normal sanity, I didn't pay drugs much more attention until a few years later when I listened to a series of fascinating lectures by the late psychedelic philosopher Terence McKenna. I stumbled across McKenna's mind blowing theories while listening to a discussion between Joe Rogan and the writer Graham Hancock on Rogan's popular podcast; they held him in great reverence and I decided I needed to hear more about him.
Amongst the many, many theories McKenna -- who was an ardent advocate for the use of psychedelics -- put forward was the notion that the spiritual use of psychoactive compounds throughout human history was not just an interesting anthropological phenomenon, but in fact the very key to what it means to be human in the first place. McKenna argued that the use of psychoactive compounds was the genesis of human consciousness itself -- a gift bestowed upon our ape ancestors who came across psychoactive mushrooms (or other plants) in the plains of Africa while foraging for food. This consciousness was dependent on a symbiotic relationship between human and plant, and without it, humans not only could not understand what consciousness actually is, they could not survive as a biological species.
This theory seemed completely insane to me at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more I couldn't get it out of my head. Having read a great deal about our ecological crisis and the devastating impact Western societies have had on our natural environment, at least a part of what McKenna was suggesting made sense. Psychoactive compounds are explicitly forbidden in virtually all of the major industrialized countries, and although it could be argued that it is circumstantial evidence, the correlation is rather obvious.
"Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third story window," said McKenna. "Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behavior and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong."
For anyone who has experimented with psychedelics, this isn't a theory -- it is a fact. The experience allows you to to see reality without the interference of the human ego and the complex web of constructs it builds to maintain a sense of identity. Once this evaporates, a new reality emerges and your relationship with the world around you is stripped bare. Rather than the confusing, dangerous and isolating place most people in western societies experience, one becomes aware of how deeply interconnected we are with all living things. This can be a shock to those raised in a culture built on the premise of materialism, rationality, and the notion of "other" -- and it can serve to recalibrate the human mind back into a state of natural equilibrium -- where there is no fear of "other" and a deep sense of reverence for our living environment. Again, this isn't just a theory, as the latest scientific studies on psilocybin mushrooms definitively show.
Once this state of awareness has been experienced, the paradigm shift is almost irreversible. Rather than viewing the psychedelic experience as a dangerous state of mind to be feared, the brain intuitively understands that it is our society that is dangerous and fearful, and psychoactive compounds a tool by which we can normalize ourselves. Said McKenna:
The last sane moment we ever knew was on the plains of Africa 15,000 years ago rocked in the cradle of the Great Horned Mushroom Goddess before history, before standing armies, before slavery and property, before warfare and phonetic alphabets and monotheism, before, before, before. And this is where the future is taking us because the secret faith of the twentieth century is not modernism, the secret faith of the twentieth century is nostalgia for the archaic, nostalgia for the paleolithic, and that gives us body piercing, abstract expressionism, surrealism, jazz, rock-n-roll and catastrophe theory.
McKenna believed that the responsible use of psychedelics was the only way to save our society from ecological collapse -- a radically transformative tool that could set individuals on the right path in quite literally, a matter of hours. He predicted an "Archaic Revival" as modern society desperately searches through its database for workable models to harmonize with our environment and comes to the conclusion that Shamanic cultures had it right all along:
The 20th century mind is nostalgic for the paradise that once existed on the mushroom dotted plains of Africa where the plant-human symbiosis occurred that pulled us out of the animal body and into the tool-using, culture-making, imagination-exploring creature that we are. And why does this matter? It matters because it shows that the way out is back and that the future is a forward escape into the past.
Of course, McKenna's theories can never be scientifically proven given that the emergence of human consciousness is still a complete mystery to evolutionary biologists, who themselves offer very little in the way of convincing arguments or compelling evidence. But if you have used substances like psilocybin or Ayahuasca, it appears entirely self-evident that the extraordinary effects of certain plant compounds hold the key to understanding what we are and where we came from.
These radical theories put forward by Terence McKenna and many other serious psychedelic advocates is not so radical to those living in Shamanic cultures, who have long understood how dangerously out of sync much of humanity is with nature.
In this light, the outlawing of psychoactive compounds isn't just a travesty -- it is perhaps the gravest crime ever committed against humanity. The self-induced severance from the very bio-systems that nurture our psychological welfare and sensitivity to nature is a form of madness, and will ultimately lead to our own suicide.
So yes, smoke weed, do mushrooms, and head down to the jungle for an Ayahuasca ceremony. It isn't escapism, it is the real reality.