We Refuse to Endorse Daniel Pinchbeck as a Credible Voice in the Psychedelic Movement

The narrative about what happens to powerful men who are outed as habitual sex abusers in the post-#metoo world is currently contested. Louis C.K. is touring again, but has also faced appalled audience members unafraid to clap back. Harvey Weinstein still feels free to attend events for young actors, but found himself confronted with angry denunciations from the stage. It’s been less than a year since psychedelic author Daniel Pinchbeck (e.g. Breaking Open the Head, How Soon is Now?) tried to retake the public stage after admitting to repeatedly using drugs to overcome resistance to his sexual advances. His January, 2019 Brooklyn event at Future Space was canceled amid protest from the psychedelic community (full disclosure: one of the authors of this piece, Brian Pace, played a direct role in the effort to cancel it). Just 11 months later, Pinchbeck’s second attempt to claim the mic in public has been stymied. The abortive event in question was on The Alchemist’s Kitchen schedule for months as a book launch for the recently-published When Plants Dream by Pinchbeck and coauthor Sophia Rokhlin. Days before the event, it too was canceled without notice. 

The past year of Pinchbeck’s efforts to galvanize community support and reenter the spotlight are a microcosm of the debate around what to do with men who at first glance may seem to have something valuable to offer, but on closer scrutiny are revealed to be something much shabbier.  In an October, 2017 lengthy (and since deleted) Facebook post, Pinchbeck admitted to a pattern of calculated, coercive sexual behavior and workplace harassment of young subordinates and volunteers at organizations where he held authority (full disclosure: one of the authors of this piece was one such intern). In his post, he invited women who he had harmed to contact him for mediated conversation and blamed his behavior on his childhood relationships with the maternal and grandmaternal figures in his life. 

In the past, I have been sexually fixated, creepy, predatory. I acted in ways that were hurtful and upsetting to women … What I have done are many unaware and disrespectful behaviors, specifically: Pushing for sex without listening to why she was hesitant; seeking sexual contact with volunteers in an organization that I helped to start; the use of substances as tools of seduction; being incredibly insensitive and tone-deaf to women’s wants and needs; making unwanted advances; focusing on much younger women. I acted selfishly in many ways, over and over.”    

–Daniel Pinchbeck

At the time of his admission, members of the Burning Man community responded by revisiting rape accusations against him dating back years prior and reminding everyone that “…this is some Bill Cosby shit. Drugging them is not consent.” Yet Pinchbeck still held real sway, enough that he did not have to look far for swank party invitations, defenders, and continued support. Fast-forward to January of this year and Pinchbeck seemed poised for an apology tour beginning with a talk entitled Psychedelics, Crisis, and our Collective Right (sic) of Passage in Brooklyn, hosted by The Third Wave founder Paul Austin. After vigorous online debate with Austin over Pinchbeck being billed as an expert on “the appropriate use of psychedelics,” the event was canceled.

Undeterred, in April of 2019, Pinchbeck found a more accommodating platform. Fully aware that Pinchbeck devoted a dozen odd pages of his trim 175-page How Soon is Now? to unpacking his own rationalizations of sexual predation by high status-men (using himself as a presumably sympathetic example), Chacruna published a “compassionate” interview with Pinchbeck, bizarrely titled, Confronting Sexual Misconduct in the Psychedelic Community. From a PR perspective, the piece was an excellent press hit focused directly on Pinchbeck’s target market. (According to her bio, Pinchbeck’s most recent coauthor, Sophia Rokhlin, is currently an editor at Chacruna.) Nevertheless, the interview elicited another round of exasperated online criticism, including from former The Third Wave content manager Patrick Smith, who specifically resigned from his job over platforming Pinchbeck (along with the majority of The Third Wave’s employees at the time). Smith penned a rebuttal to the Chacruna interview along with coauthor, activist, and Psymposia contributor Oriana Mayorga.

Excerpts from How Soon is Now? are far from exculpatory. In How Soon is Now?, Pinchbeck admits that he used his talks and book launches to supply himself with women to exploit: 

“I…felt angry at women, particularly beautiful ones, the ones I desired with such ravenous hunger. These ethereal goddesses almost invariably seemed to choose men based on their trust funds and bank accounts, or men who got rich by dumbing down the public or accelerating the destruction of the planet, or who triumphed in some superficial glamour field like pop music or fashion photography…. Later on, when I made it as a writer in my thirties…I was suddenly desirable. Often, after I gave a talk or went on a book tour, women—lovely, intelligent, sweet—approached me. Sometimes they would make it clear they wanted to connect with me.”

According to his book and public Facebook posts from 2017, Pinchbeck believes that systemic change is necessary to transform patriarchal rape culture, centering on the empowerment of women through socioeconomic equality and sexual liberation. Crucially, Pinchbeck positions his voice is an essential catalyst for effecting this change:

“Reading about Harvey Weinstein today – after Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Andrew Wiener, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Bikram, Michael Roche, John Friend, etc, etc. Anyone else noting a pattern here? We live in a social system where many ‘Alpha Males’ seek power to ensure sexual access – and this becomes a compulsion / fixation in a culture with a hypocritical, still neo-Victorian, morality and conditioning around sexuality, based on the ideal of monogamy. Of course, we can keep censuring the powerful men who misbehave and misuse their position, sometimes egregiously (and criminally), but perhaps more important is to study the systemic design and underlying ideology that leads to this repetitive outcome.”

 

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Pinchbeck leans heavily on Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan’s excellent book on evolution and human sexuality, Sex at Dawn. To be clear, at no point in their meticulously researched, celebrated work do Jethá and Ryan excuse, condone, or provide cover for sexual coercion or the use of drugs to violate anyone’s affirmative, enthusiastic consent to sexual contact. An uncharitable reading of some of Pinchbeck’s interpretations of their work is reminiscent of toxic incel narratives which indignantly claim sexual entitlement and access to women’s bodies.   

It is worth recalling that #metoo is not only about survivors reclaiming their stories from their abusers but also shining a spotlight on the enablers and elevators of brazen, serial abusers in their industries. Over and over, the abuses of such individuals are described as “open secrets.” These are cultural problems where abusers create the conditions for their own impunity. A recent Twitter thread by Emmeline May describes how sexual predators build layers of protection by grooming everyone around them and then selecting for their targets those with less credibility, less power. When challenged, they have dozens of supporters ensnared in a web of favors and implied threats; unwilling to jeopardize their own positions over the well-being of an outsider of lesser status. Pinchbeck himself situated his admissions in the context of #metoo, as an early example of the less viral #itwasme, upon which his coauthor Rokhlin specifically commented. Rokhlin did not respond to an email request for comment.

We reached out to Lou Sagar at The Alchemist’s Kitchen for comment about hosting Pinchbeck:

“This past Friday during the Thanksgiving holiday break, we decided to cancel the event due to the low number of ticket sales for the book signing. We officially canceled the book signing on Monday…We received several messages from members of the community who raised issues about Daniel Pinchbeck and his prior behavior that has become of strong concern. However, we did not expect to have a protest…The Alchemist’s Kitchen is dedicated to educating its community to the power of plants for health and well being. It depends on hosting classes, workshops, and talks with experts in their field to raise awareness and inform our community and customers to options away from prescriptive medication to plant-based botanical remedies without making claims. We provide access to expertise to align intentions around personal health needs and how plant-based remedies can become a medicinal ally to health and healing. Consequently, we must be mindful and assertive to ensure that we do not enable teachers or hosts to raise or elevate their reputation at the consequence of individuals who may have been harmed by inappropriate behavior which undermines the collective interest we have as members of the psychedelic community and the greater community of people who are working hard each and every day to build and maintain trust.”

During a phone conversation, Sagar mentioned that he had known Pinchbeck for many years (The Alchemist’s Kitchen is under the umbrella of Evolver, which was co-founded by Pinchbeck), so it’s somewhat dubious that no one at The Alchemist’s Kitchen was aware of Pinchbeck’s admitted and self-publicized behavior. Indeed, a simple google search of “Daniel Pinchbeck” at the time of writing brings up the earlier described Chacruna interview on “Confronting Sexual Assault” with Pinchbeck as the 7th result. In any case, Sagar’s statement makes clear that they were indeed made aware of objections from the community about hosting Pinchbeck, and ticket sales apparently weren’t doing well, so it was canceled. But if more tickets had sold the event would have been held? On the other hand, Pinchbeck supporters have asserted that he is an important voice with powerful, prophetic ideas necessary for our time…but then his book signing in New York City is canceled due to low ticket sales.

When a person in authority has their abusive behaviour exposed and made known to their community, they will often seem eager to engage with restorative processes. But when these same processes are viewed as an obstacle course to be completed as quickly as possible with the goal being to restore the abuser to their original status and power, this is a clear red flag that making amends is viewed as a means to an end. 

We asked Patrick Smith to comment on Pinchbeck’s renewed efforts to reenter the psychedelic space:

“[Daniel] doesn’t appear to show remorse or a genuine desire to educate himself. He contacted me a few months ago expressing an interest in replicating an accountability process like the one that Reid Mihalko did in the sex positive community. It was all very visible, very well organised, took many months to complete and was run by some very respectable people…Unfortunately it became quickly apparent that Daniel was looking for a “quick fix” that would ingratiate him with the community as efficiently as possible. When it became apparent that an accountability process would take time, money, and effort, he lost interest and stopped replying to my emails…I think the overall message I would like people to hear is that we HAVE to stop giving this man our attention. People may have good intentions (such as his ghost writer Sophia, who I respect), but he should not be a part of this community in any way until he has answered for what he has done.” 

Pinchbeck has not publicly engaged in the difficult work of reorganizing his relationship to power, which is a precondition for learning to wield power and authority responsibly. Instead, he has shown that he is predominantly concerned with reestablishing his career and with recentering himself as an authority figure, which means engaging in the very same power dynamics that he exploited in the first place. By sexually harassing interns and other less-powerful figures, Pinchbeck influenced the career trajectories of untold numbers of women in the psychedelic community. He has not attempted to lift these women up by promoting their careers or deferring platforms in order to share power and redress these harms. 

Daniel has made it exhaustingly clear in his own words that as soon as he gained a modicum of power and status, he used it to exploit women. Why are some members of the psychedelic community so insistent that he get it back?

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