David Nickles – Where have all the radicals gone?

November 28, 2018

Psychedelic drugs have quite a reputation for causing people to think funny thoughts…and a track record of inspiring funny thoughts that have significantly affected the course of human history. One of the major factors underlying psychedelic prohibition was a government desire to criminalise and silence political dissidents who utilised these compounds to facilitate and spread funny thoughts that challenged some of the foundational components of ‘Western Industrial Democracies’ (capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and ecocide, to name a few).

Following criminalisation, the psychedelic counterculture movement, which burst from the shadows onto the international stage from the late ’60s into the ’70s, was largely forced underground. The prohibitionist war on [some people who used certain] drugs in combination with state-sponsored infiltration, harassment, and murder of political dissidents and activist groups effectively destroyed the psychedelically-fueled left (or at least any public indications of its existence). However, as the Merry Pranksters’ antics and the Weather Underground’s bombs faded into historical echoes, the psychedelic underground persevered; a genie that had no interest in returning to its bottle.

The advent of the internet and renewed sanctioned research into psychedelic compounds has brought about a psychedelic resurgence. Yet, despite this resurgence, the radical political critiques that once seemed common among subsets of psychedelic users seem largely absent from public and institutional psychedelic discourse. The role of psychedelics within global society appears to be up for grabs. Tech executives, entrepreneurs, and investors are exploring psychedelics as tools for increasing productivity and profits while the military industrial complex appears poised to deploy psychedelic therapies as they see fit.

Considering the crises we’re currently facing from capitalism and industrial civilisation, the catalysing potential of psychedelic experiences seems too important to allow these compounds to become recuperated by consumerist and imperialist actors. This talk will examine some of the tensions currently at play within the global ‘Psychedelic Community’ in an effort to contextualise the sociocultural significance of the psychedelic resurgence.