The Psychedelic Community Needs More Diversity. Let’s Talk About That.
A Psymposia Editorial
By Brian Normand
In the current sociopolitical landscape, conversations that simultaneously call for diversity and push the collective bubbles of our social media echo-chambers are more important than ever. The reverse of diversity is monoculture, and monocultures in media lead to monocultures in progress. Or as Michael Pollan points out in The Botany of Desire, “Monocultures on the plate lead to monocultures on the land.”
Any system without diversity is subject to collapse and failure. In ecology, the more diversity, the more resilience. Resilience is the capacity for a system to recover quickly from difficulties. More diverse people means more ideas, more experiences, more opinions, more resilience. As any farmer knows, if you have only one species of plant in your farm or garden, you’re also creating a feast for pests, weeds, and pathogens. The system is not resilient, and therefore requires pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to keep it up and running.
Psymposia is focused on emerging social issues relating to psychedelic science and drug policy reform, and we’re committed to highlighting diverse perspectives. In any culture, it’s common to see discourse dominated by certain groups. The psychedelic and drug policy reform communities are no exception. At times we are susceptible to becoming our own monoculture, and we need to look in the mirror. If we truly value diverse perspectives, then what we say must be consistent with what we do.
So we’re addressing the issue of diversity head on, in the best way we know how: through conversation.
Last spring Psymposia launched our first conversation, Coming Out of the Psychedelic Closet. The series examined the role that identity politics play for people who use psychedelics, and the potential benefits and risks of coming out.
We explored various viewpoints with a goal not to push any single conclusion, but instead to highlight differing points of view within the community. We want you to think for yourself, form your own ideas, challenge your own assumptions, and keep an open mind.
Some of the questions we explored and debated included: Should we compare coming out as a psychedelic user to coming out as LGBTQ? What role does identifying as a psychedelic user play in forming one’s identity? What are the actual risks for people who use psychedelics compared to the LGBTQ community?
In Psychedelics and Identity Politics Neşe Devenot spoke of intersectionality -- that “various kinds of oppression and prejudice are interconnected and cannot be addressed in isolation.” We then asked people with different backgrounds to give their reactions.
On June 9th, as the third piece in the series, we ran The Asymmetric Risk of ‘Coming Out’ in Queer and Psychedelic Communities by Emma Kaywin. Her stance was that the risk of coming out as queer is grossly unequal to the risk of disclosing as a psychedelic user. A healthy debate ensued.
Yes, you can very much be arrested for possessing, growing, and using psychedelics, and locked in a cage for many years. You may lose your job if your boss finds out. Are you likely to be mentally or physically assaulted, beaten, harassed to the point of suicide, excommunicated from your family, or shot for using psychedelics? Overall, probably not.
However as Neşe points out “one form of inequality should not be treated as [superior] and used to silence other struggles for self-determination and equality.”
Seemingly opposing perspectives can simultaneously be true, from different points of view. Through a conversation format, we give ourselves a chance to dig deeper.
Three days after we published The Asymmetric Risk, the events of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando happened, and demonstrated what it means to be part of the LGBTQ community in America, 2016.
Any smart vegetarian knows that you will never, ever, convince someone to become a vegetarian. In fact, if you keep evangelizing, you’ll probably increase their meat consumption.
Instead, you may decide to lead by example by becoming a healthier person, a more educated person, who knows what an amino acid is, and that being a vegetarian requires actually eating vegetables, not cookies. They may or may not ever come around, and if they do, it’s because they came to that conclusion on their own. If not, at least you didn’t become an evangelical vegetarian in the process.
In Latin there are two definitions of the word education: educare, and educere. Of course, like the word love, in the English language there is only one word and we argue endlessly about what getting a proper education means. Educare means “to train,” and educere means “to lead out.” In other words, there’s an equal balance; a good teacher shines light on deep truths and encourages the student to be critical and think for his or her self. Education does not mean “to hammer the student over the head with facts into submission until they agree with you.”
So what’s this have to do with diversity?
As with the Coming Out series, we hope to tackle the complex issue of diversity through conversation.
Opinions on diversity reach far and wide. That’s what The Psychedelic Diversity Conversation is all about. It’s not about casting blame and pointing fingers. It’s about becoming more resilient.
True diversity means multiplicity; a mixture of age, color, race, sex, gender, religion, profession, stories, life experience, and people who disagree. So what do we, as a people and community with privilege, need to think about and act upon to make our communities more diverse and more resilient?
Some of the pieces may make you uncomfortable. But getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing.
Being conscious of our own privilege and the critical need for conversations, diversity, real drug education, and differing opinions within the psychedelic and drug policy reform communities, Psymposia is poking a finger at the universe that hopefully gets us closer to the mark, so we can come out a little better on the other side.