Monday, December 5, 2016

War On Consciousness

Consciousness is one of the great mysteries of science – perhaps the greatest mystery. We all know we have it, when we think, when we dream, when we savor tastes and aromas, when we hear a great symphony, when we fall in love, and it is surely the most intimate, the most personal part of ourselves. Yet, no one can really claim to have understood and explained it completely. There’s no doubt it’s associated with the brain in some way, but the nature of that association is far from clear. In particular, how do these three pounds of fatty stuff inside our skulls allow us to have experiences?

It’s at this point that the whole academic issue becomes intensely political and current, because modern technological society idealizes, and is monopolistically focused on, only one state of consciousness – the alert, problem-solving state of consciousness that makes us efficient producers and consumers of material goods and services. At the same time our society seeks to police and control a wide range of other ‘altered’ states of consciousness, on the basis of the unproven proposition that consciousness is generated by the brain.

That brings the so-called ‘war on drugs’ to the fore, which is really better understood as a war on consciousness and which maintains, supposedly in the interests of society, that we as adults do not have the right or maturity to make sovereign decisions about our own consciousness; and about the states of consciousness we wish to explore through entheogens (visionary plants). This extraordinary imposition on adult cognitive liberty is justified by the idea that, entheogens will adversely impact our behaviour towards others. Yet anyone who pauses to think seriously, for even a moment, must realize that we already have adequate laws that govern adverse behaviour towards others; and that the real purpose of the ‘war on drugs’ must therefore be to bear down on consciousness itself.

In the name of this ‘war on drugs’, governments continue to pour public money – our money – into large, armed, drug-enforcement bureaucracies which are entitled to break down our doors in the dead of night, invade our homes, ruin our reputations and put us behind bars. All of this, we have been persuaded, is in our own interests. Yet, if we as adults are not free to make sovereign decisions – right or wrong – about our own consciousness; that most intimate, that most personal part of ourselves, then in what useful sense can we be said to be free at all? And how are we to begin to take real and meaningful responsibility for all the other aspects of our lives when our governments seek to disenfranchise us from this most fundamental of all human rights?

It is interesting to note that governments have no objection to altering consciousness per se. On the contrary many consciousness-altering drugs, such as Prozac, Ritalin and alcohol, are either massively over-prescribed or freely available today; and make huge fortunes for their manufacturers, but remain entirely legal despite causing obvious harms. Could this be because such legal drugs do not alter consciousness in ways that threaten the monopolistic dominance of the alert problem-solving state of consciousness, while a good number of entheogens do?

There is a revolution in the making here, and what is at stake transcends the case for cognitive liberty as an essential and inalienable adult human right. This possibility is regarded as plain fact by shamans in hunter-gatherer societies, who for thousands of years have made use of visionary plants to enter and interact with what they construe as the ‘spirit world’. But, indigenous peoples today are still the most marginal and exploited members of society in all of the states in which they live.

States resist including indigenous peoples in decision-making processes that impact their lives, and almost never let indigenous values or practices govern those processes. The South African government's proposed Traditional and Khoi San Leadership Bill, for example, provides only recognition of leadership structures and communities; without any promise of cultural preservation or land rights. Nor does the Bill provide that Bushmen communities will be supported in attempts to practice their way of life. A way of life is built around communing with nature and passing on ancient wisdom traditions, based in the exploration of consciousness.

The Manila Declaration of the International Conference on Conflict Resolution, Peace Building, Sustainable Development and Indigenous Peoples concludes: “The dream and vision of indigenous peoples for a just and lasting peace, and for sustainable development to reign in their territories, can be realized. What is needed is for others to share this dream and work in partnership with indigenous peoples to make it a reality.” When the custodians of ancient wisdom traditions go, including the entheogens so integral to these traditions... then so goes a large part of our sovereignty over our own consciousness.

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