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On the Moral Problem of Psychedelics and the Mental Health Problem of Morality

On the Moral Problem of Psychedelics and the Mental Health Problem of Morality

This article was originally written by Claudio Naranjo for Chacruna.net

A passage in Lao Tze’s Tao Te Ching states that when original harmony was lost, laws were created. I am sure that this is congruent with our contemporary knowledge of prehistory: We were equalitarian at the time when we were nomadic hunter-gatherers, while our modern political institutions of legislation and justice fail to give us justice or well being. Thus, it would seem that we should interest ourselves very much in that “original harmony” that our laws seek in vain to restore.

One way of moving in this direction, I have proposed,1 is by drawing a distinction between “normative ethics,” in which good and evil are defined by the obligations and prohibitions formulated by an authority, and “an ethics of virtue,” in which good actions are the natural expression of an inner goodness that has not been obstructed or contaminated by psychosocial aberration.

While the way to foster an ethics of virtue is therapeutic, since it is enough to remove the hatefulness or egocentricity that get in the way of natural wisdom and empathy for healing to take place, the way to foster a normative ethics is to intensify the threats and punishments that underlie the effectiveness of authority and its commands.

The now-long history of this attempt to make us good through rewards and punishment may be interpreted as a long experiment that has not yielded good results: paradoxically, the more we punish delinquency, the more delinquency we have. The more severe and punitive our penal system, the more our prisons are filled. And, as Jung observed, the more we are concerned with morality, the more immoral our society becomes. Yet, we continue to act as if this were not already obvious enough, and, surely, no politician would consider applying to society the Christian teaching of “not resisting evil,” and not responding to aggression with aggression, but with kindness and understanding.

It is instructive to consider in this context George Lakoff’s notion of an “ideology of the severe father.”  We may formulate such an ideology, precisely, as a belief that nothing can solve problems better than threats and punishment. If a child behaves badly, then, the mother may threaten him by telling him that she will tell Dad when he comes home, so that he will give him a corrective; or schools may threaten those who don’t perform well enough with expulsion and potential poverty, and criminals will be threatened with not only longer sentences, but death.

But, do we truly know that the way of severity, threats, and punishment works better than the way of understanding and support? Or is it rather the case that our society has been operating on a patriarchal bias?

In the realm of ethics, we may say that the patriarchal ideology of severity, already embodied in normative morality, is further intensified when morality becomes moralism.

The distinction between both is, more or less, the distinction between the original meaning of “puritan” and the more common contemporary and critical sense in which somebody may be criticized for being prudish. Yet, also in this case, historical perspective allows us to see that he Puritans were also puritanical in the sense of moralistic, and we are now aware of the dissonance between their sense of virtue and their ownership of slaves, their injustice toward the indigenous peoples, or their male chauvinism.

Nietzsche was the first to question seriously our universally accepted morality of good and evil; but today, psychology and clinical experience have allowed us to understand how conventional morality is moralistic and not an expression of health, but an example of what Freud called “reaction formation”: the covering up of repressed impulses with a semblance of correctness or perfection. In the Gospel we find the expression “whitened sepulchers” in connection with this hypocrisy that many people exhibit, seemingly without any awareness of it; the same metaphor might be applied to cultures, in which a collective sense of honor serves as a screen to hide a collective criminality—such as that of our economic system.

After this theoretical introduction, however, let me tackle the subject of the relation between psychedelics and morality, which I propose to launch with a set of complementary statements:

  1. Psychedelics are, by definition, immoral, since they have been forbidden and criminalized.
  2. Conventional morality, a complex of accusation-guilt-fear-duty and moralism, is normative ethics turned into custom, and only mimics virtue, but, in reality, militates against it, and constitutes a form of pathology that, because of its “normality,” passes for “healthy.”
  3. Psychedelics can heal conventional moral conditioning. This probably contributes to the opposition to psychedelics on the part of those who want to uphold conservative culture.

Now, I will develop my argument, seeking to demonstrate the various things I have stated.

  1. That psychedelics are regarded immoral we may take as a fact not needing further demonstration.
  2. Concerning the statement that “morality is un-virtuous,” let me say that, aside from Nietzsche and others who, since his time, have looked with suspicion upon the matter of good and evil, the earliest statement to this effect we have is the one we find in the myth of the Fall in the Book of Genesis, where “original sin” is characterized as the eating of the forbidden fruit of “the knowledge of good and evil.”

If we take the fall from paradise as a deterioration of consciousness—for which our contemporary concepts are sickness and neurosis—nothing strikes the author of Genesis as more characteristic of such fall or sickness than “the knowledge of good and evil”—that we can also call a concern with morality.

Before going any further, I should respond to the many that may feel that “original sin” is an ancient superstition with little relevance to our real problems today. On the contrary, a concern about being good and about avoiding evil may be seriously considered to have been the most destructive force in human life and human history precisely, because—paradoxical as this may be and as I have already stated—the more we criminalize those we regard evil, and the more severe we become in our prohibitions, the more destructive we become. If we are prone to think of the idea of “original sin” as an irrelevant dogma, it is because the theologians of the past thought of it as a divine punishment that operated genetically. Many today know that the plague of a Universal Neurosis is transmitted from one generation to the next through a psycho-cultural process that operates through child rearing, socialization and education.

But why fuss about words, rather than just agreeing to the fact that a sort of plague (call it original sin or universal neurosis) passes from one generation to the next and seems to be inextricably linked to the issue of morality? It is not, then, that we have fallen from the paradisiac realm of morality, but, rather, fallen into morality—which is to say, into a life of prohibitions and obligations—which, in turn, presupposes an authority that demands and forbids, and, most especially, entails the will to inspire obedience, to subjugate, as well as presupposing punishment and the threat of punishment, which is the best tool for the domestication of the young.

In view of this, and also in view of the possible anachronism of speaking about “original sin” in the twenty-first century, or even of speaking of a Universal Neurosis to a population of “normotics”—who may be better described as zombies, for they have become too unconscious to recognize their unconsciousness, or even their destructiveness—I prefer to say that the gist of both original sin and universal neurosis, and thus the “heart of darkness” at the core of human suffering, is patriarchy: the invention of male dominance, along with the devaluation of motherhood and care, and the criminalization of pleasure and instinct, which has constituted the implicit counterpart to the domestication of children through effective, but sometimes invisible, violence.

Though I would need more time and space to fully develop my view of patriarchy as the root condition of individual and social pathologies, let me turn to my contention that psychedelics can heal the unacknowledged problem of morality. I emphatically re-state that nothing compares with the effectiveness of psychedelics when it comes to the cure of human “fallenness”; call it “original sin,”  “universal neurosis,” or “the patriarchal mind.”

To explain this, I firstly need to explain briefly that I use the expression “patriarchal mind” in reference to the intra-psychic aspect of patriarchy, through which the social phenomenon of patriarchy—a complex of authoritarian violence, instinctual repression, and the undervaluation of motherly care—is transmitted across the generations. While it is doubtful, I think, that we may be able to heal patriarchy, which is a social event of gigantic proportions, we may hope to heal the individual carriers of the patriarchal mind, and to this end, it is desirable that we also have some conception of its structure and dynamics.

While patriarchy is a social phenomenon, the root manifestation of which may be seen in the nuclear family and, more specifically, in what Roman law described as the institution of the paterfamilias, which establishes the ownership of the woman and the children by the father, we my say that the individual’s patriarchal mind is one in which an intra-psychic father-principle (superego) criminalizes the instinctual inner child (or id), and also has the effect of eclipsing our mother-like or compassionate potential through its warrior-like or conquering spirit. In other words: We may say that we are, as MacLean,2 proposed three-brained beings endowed of a reptilian on instinctive old brain, an affective mid-brain that we have inherited from the other mammals, and an intellectual forebrain that most exemplifies us as humans, but that, through the development of civilized life, we have come to identify excessively with our astute and clever rational mind to the detriment of our compassion and our inner freedom.

In light of such a model, then, we can say that psychedelics undermine the forebrain dominance that sustains the (moral) indictment of our natural or animal impulses and also our (immoral or predatory) preference for technology over compassion. It is as if psychedelics could anesthetize our “ego,” or controlling-repressive sub-self, and allow the expression of our natural empathy and our archetypal inner-animal; which is, of course, what empathogens and oneirofrenics do so specifically.

When we turn to the “classic hallucinogens”—mescaline, LSD-25, and psilocybin—it is not so much the liberation of the pleasure principle or our empathic potential that strikes us most, but the experience of transcendence or, to say it in modern terms, the “transpersonal realm”;  something that goes beyond our intellectual, affective, and instinctual sub-selves, and which spiritual traditions have variously called a deeper self, a deeper mind, a deeper reality, or truth, being, not-being, spirit, emptiness, Tao or God. This ineffable or empty realm of holiness or supreme value has always been regarded as something obscured by our imperfections, and is something that may be revealed to one who transcends the root of sickness that is the patriarchal mind.

What is the relation between the triune wholeness of our mind and transcendence—which may be more appropriately described as “mind-blowing” or “annihilation”? I would gladly consider this question next, but I am afraid that by now, I have come to the limit of the space offered me by the editors of Chacruna.

  1. Psychedelics in Light of Morality and Under the Shadow of Virtue. 
  2. MacLean, Paul (1990). The Triune Brain Evolution. New York: Plenum Press. 
Read the original article here. Find out more about Chacruna.net.

The Revolution We Expected book cover

Claudio Naranjo’s Last Written Work: The Revolution We Expected: Cultivating a New Politics of Consciousness

Celebrated psychotherapist Claudio Naranjo‘s last work as an author makes a final call to humanity to awaken to our collective potential and work to transcend our patriarchal past and present in order to build a new world. This book argues not only for a collective individual awakening, but a concerted effort to transform our institutions so that they are in service to a better world. Naranjo targets our traditional education and global economic systems that increasingly neglect human development and must transform to meet the needs of future social evolution. Ultimately, he says, we need to embark on a collective process of rehumanizing our systems and establishing self-awareness as individuals to create the necessary global consciousness to realize a new path forward; stressing the need for education to teach wisdom over knowledge, and utilizing meditation and contemplative practices to form new ways to educate, and be educated.

 

Learn more

Lessons from Claudio Naranjo’s Last Work as an Author

Lessons from Claudio Naranjo’s Last Work as an Author

Naranjo’s Last Work as an Author: The Revolution We Expected

Ours is a time of immense upheaval, transformation, and crisis characterized by the unraveling of social, psychological, and spiritual paradigms of authority. As we look around our world, we find the rapacious destruction of our environment, the troubles that come from the void of meaninglessness, and a society that displays brutal and hostile tendencies toward itself and its surroundings. However, in the dismantling of our troubled world lies the keys to a renewed vision, one that carries the tenets for life after the revolution we are living through.

The Revolution We Expected, soon to be released by Synergetic Press is Claudio Naranjo’s last work as an author, and was completed at the end of his long and pioneering life. Rich with the insight, wisdom and clarity characteristic of his work, the book is an expression of his unrelenting love for humanity as well as his deep understanding of our condition, but more than that, it is also a socio-political statement created to assist in the ongoing transformation and reconfiguration of our holistic existence. Naranjo goes well beyond his incisive diagnosis of humanity’s current crises and offers a path forward grounded on the understanding that, as he says, “only in waking from our blind somnambulism can we evolve.”

Our Sinking Ship: Patriarchal Civilization in Decline

Naranjo describes the foremost problem we face as an acute lack of awareness for ourselves, others, and our environment; a problem linked to the patriarchal domination of our collective consciousness. Our world is in fact not even aware of the blindness from which we so helplessly suffer. The catastrophes, the toils, and the evils in our world are a manifestation of our ignorance, and the increasing severity of this problem is evident in our inability to respond and offer solutions. In the 21st century, this ignorance is prevalent regardless of the contemporary obsession with information and the abundance of data available to us. Beyond these vast resources (touted as impressive harbingers for a future filled with progress), we are beset by the utter scarcity of real wisdom.

Many of the great spiritual traditions from around the world have referred to our collective condition as a kind of unawareness which Naranjo identifies in his wide-ranging survey as the root of our most critical failings. He describes the origins of our crisis as stemming from what he calls “a degradation of awareness and a process of dehumanization that has accompanied our civilization process.” Furthermore, he associates our patterns of violence, insensitivity, and greed  with the neglect of “maternal empathy and bodily, animal wisdom.” By imposing a tyrannical authority over the maternal (love) and the filial (instinct) aspects of our world, the paternal figure has prevented the integration of our consciousness which in turn has produced hostile and vindictive behavior.

Re-humanization through Self-Awareness

The processes of education are an important thread running through the content of Naranjo’s work. But education for Naranjo is more than a critical component in the causes of our society’s ills, it is also a way for us to reformulate our consciousness.

In a powerful passage, Naranjo describes how “nothing strikes (him) as more important in the pursuit of rehumanizing society than rehumanizing education.” He goes on to explain lucidly how although there have been recent trends that speak gratuitously of the importance of “emotional education”, a true examination of the patriarchal principles which dominate our conception of education has not yet taken place within today’s educational institutions.

The reluctance of these institutions to accept the role of the psychological and emotional components in a human’s development have been even more detrimental due to the absence of concepts like empathy, care, and love in their discourse. Naranjo believes that there is a fundamental conflict within our society because it establishes a hegemony based on the patriarchal mind which prevents us from being more loving. In order to develop this characteristic “…we must first learn to love ourselves and to do so, in turn, we must understand the extent to which we reject, disdain, push, and mistreat ourselves, without knowing it.”

Toward a Global Consciousness

Despite the circumstances of utmost difficulty which we find ourselves in, we are undergoing what Naranjo characterizes as a “revolution of consciousness”; a renewal of awareness. Although the world of politics, economics, and media is filled with examples of humanity’s challenges, there is movement beneath the surface of our society. The expanding interest in modalities through which we might reclaim our responsibility for ourselves and our world can lead to a society “richer in love”, aware of the need for individual human development. Naranjo’s book – as well as his generous catalog of work – is filled with an energy that invites us to awaken our own zeal for a better world, one that heals the blatant dysfunction and illness that permeates our present.

 


The Revolution We Expected book cover

More About the Book: The Revolution We Expected: Cultivating a New Politics of Consciousness

Celebrated psychotherapist Claudio Naranjo‘s last work as an author makes a final call to humanity to awaken to our collective potential and work to transcend our patriarchal past and present in order to build a new world. This book argues not only for a collective individual awakening, but a concerted effort to transform our institutions so that they are in service to a better world. Naranjo targets our traditional education and global economic systems that increasingly neglect human development and must transform to meet the needs of future social evolution. Ultimately, he says, we need to embark on a collective process of rehumanizing our systems and establishing self-awareness as individuals to create the necessary global consciousness to realize a new path forward; stressing the need for education to teach wisdom over knowledge, and utilizing meditation and contemplative practices to form new ways to educate, and be educated.

Learn more

 

 

Photo Credit: Marco

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