The following Critical Conversation took place on February 17, 2022 with Roger Green, author of A Transatlantic Political Theology of Psychedelic Aesthetics: Enchanted Citizens.
Carl Raschke: Welcome to critical conversations, again. Tonight, or this afternoon, or this morning, depending on what time zone you’re in, we have Roger Green presenting. Roger is an old and dear friend of mine. He’s got two PhDs from the University of Denver including one from the Religious Studies Department, and until last year he was the general editor of The New Polis, which is sponsoring these Critical Conversations. He’s currently a senior lecturer in the Department of English at Metropolitan State University of Denver and he’s the author of a book which we will be focusing on today called A Transatlantic Political Theology of Psychedelic Aesthetics; usually subtitles are longer than the title, but this is reverse and the subtitle is simply Enchanted Citizens.
His recent dissertation, which he did with me, is titled Ayahuasca’s Religious Diaspora in the Wake of the Doctrine of Discovery. It talks about indigeneity, entheogens, and to a certain extent the use and abuse of indigenous sovereignty in the global transmission of mind-expanding substances. He has collaborated musically with Anne Waldman on an album called Untethered I. he has also a contribute to an edited collection by Miguel De La Torre, which a conversation about has been published on The New Polis, called The Colonial Compromise: The Threat of the Gospel to the Indigenous Worldview, that celebrates Tink Tinker’s career in teaching. And he’s currently co-authoring a book with Tink Tinker on the eurochristian worldview.
Today he’s going to be talking about psychedelic aesthetics and the questions of how modern contemporary subjectivity has been transformed, reconfigured, undergirded, and so forth. So, I’ll let him talk. I know he’s got a lot to say. It’s a fascinating book.
Roger Green: Thanks, everyone, for being here. There are a lot of people I know in in the audience. Like we said earlier a former teacher of mine, Rob Metcalf, who is important to mention because he’s the first person who opened me up to a lot of the philosophers that I talk about in the book. The book is not meant to be a comprehensive definition. I say in the book that I use psychedelic aesthetics metonymically. So, it’s an open form that changes and is fluctuating all of the time.
I’ll talk for about 20 minutes and then we can break into other conversation. Like carl said, I deal a lot with music, I deal with indigenous issues more recently in my work and we can talk about issues of the book being unwieldy because that’s definitely something critics have said and I agree with them. It’s an astute observation but I think the book is intentionally unwieldy, as well, and I tend to like philosophy books that are that way. That’s why I really like Walter Benjamin. His Origin of German Tragic Drama is an unwieldy book, if you’ve ever tried to read it. So, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be unwieldy.
Okay so, I’m just going to jump in. I thought that there might be a broad audience here, so we can get deeper into the weeds with Herbert Marcuse or philosophers that come up but I would just want to start as if this is going on to the web for lots and lots of people with different backgrounds. So, I talk about a liberal crisis, so what crisis am I talking about? Or what’s going on in general and why psychedelic aesthetics? I think that we’re going through a time where our faith—I’m particularly talking to US citizens here but we could extend that out—in democracy and democratic processes are being challenged. We feel angry and divided, anxious, suspicious, exhausted, and sometimes powerless. Our electoral processes are being directly challenged in the US.
This is a question of people’s sovereignty. That term, sovereignty, is a very loaded word or concept that’s steeped in centuries of eurochristian political theological history. You’ll notice that I lowercase and one-word eurochristian. That’s a more recent part of my work. It does show up in the book I’m talking about today, but it’s still capitalized and hyphenated there. So, we’re talking about a social movement not a religion when I talk about eurochristian.
So, due to what I and other scholars call a liberal or secularist enlightenment narrative or myth we often downplay the eurochristian theological ideas that have, over the centuries, amalgamated into how we think power naturally works. In the US, the idea of the people or, that the people are sovereign was, at one time, an extremely radical idea. But of course we know that when we look back at the revolution, for example, that even in the beginning there was never this kind of one-person direct electoral democracy—one vote one person—nor did all the people who were living in the territory get a right to vote. It was privileged by a certain group
So, what we mean by the demos in democracy, the people, is always in flux and in relationship to the myths that we tell ourselves about how governance works. Now this word myth that I’m using is not myth in the sense of a lie, but the stories that we believe in and that shape our reality, or the narratives that we say about reality, the stories that convey a broader sense of meaning to groups of people. So, it’s not the individual story that I tell myself and you know my family background or something like that. It’s something broader and operating at the quasi-cultural level—although I might have some issues with the word culture.
They are structuring stories. They are the stories that we tell each other to make sense of things. So, in my book I argue that attention to this thing called psychedelic aesthetics is going to help us address some of our current political myths. And the crisis that we face with democracy right now, I would say, is that our myths about democracy are changing. At the same time the two most well-known political parties in the United States in our two-party system, the Democrats and the Republicans, both have different mythological readings of the 1960s. so, that’s why I want to go back to the 60s, a little bit.
You’ll notice I use the word liberalism. When I use the term liberal-ism I am including both Republicans and Democrats. I’m talking about a political economy where individuals have rights. So, there’s something intrinsically valuable about the individual and the individual possesses something called rights. Both Republicans Democrats, or liberals and conservatives, all agree on that very broad definition of liberalism. But in common speak we often say traditional conservatives and liberals.
So, since the 60s traditional conservatives see a moral decline and traditional liberals have characterized the 1960s as a kind of golden age of civil rights that have more recently regressed. We could look at the Movement for Black Lives for like one example of the narratives of progress that we might have thought that we had achieved, in terms of civil rights issues
from the 60s, including the women’s movement, the American Indian movement or the broader civil rights movement. The idea that the progress on racial ideas, in particular, have not gone as far as we would like them to and so we see this kind of revanchism and a rise in overt white supremacy in the Trump years and the post-Trump years as well.
So, the narratives are shifting, I would say. These traditional narratives of liberal and conservative, about the 60s, and what they mean. So, for example, if we take January 6th of 2021, last year, the events were not hippies trying to levitate the pentagon, they were activist right-wingers. Right-wingers now speak out against activist judges while placing their own and funding generations of lawyers. And this is something that they have done, since the 60s, very well. The right wing, in our country, has funded multiple generations now of a legal establishment that is challenging things like Roe v. Wade and promoting what I would call traditional or evangelical Christian values within legal systems.
But, at the same time, I would say that we are a eurochristian national entity, as well, with a much broader history of entrenchment in Christian theology—and you can debate me
on that in the Q&A, for sure. But, on the other hand we see people like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris who, like many on the so-called liberal or the left side, embrace, more and more, a law and order type of politics. And that is a politics that Richard Nixon introduced just at the end of the 60s, as he imposed the drug war and the drug scheduling onto various substances including psychedelics.
So, liberals today want a return to normal and are upset at the ways that our legal establishment is being challenged. They’re defending the establishment. So, there’s this kind of crisscrossing of traditional narratives. So, when we look back to the 60s and the ways people have given political narratives of that, if it’s not causing, it’s at least evidencing some of the confusion that we have today and therefore might be a way of at least explaining some of the unrest that we see in our broader public culture.
So, in the book I call this the political-theological vortex. A vortex is that place where the left and the right are no longer distinguishable from each other, they’ve blended into one thing, and we don’t know what’s happening. This has been happening amid a 40-plus year shift, globally speaking, to the right—and there are various books on that that mark that shift increasingly towards the right. Neoliberal discourse does this, as well, with the Reagan and Thatcher era and this shifting over to the marketization of economy and there’s definitely an overlap in the way that I talk about psychedelics that extend the conversations of neoliberalism.
But I’m using this discourse of political theology. So, this is my method in the book to address psychedelic aesthetics. It is a radically interdisciplinary and post-secular approach. And we can talk more about what post-secularism means, as well. I have a particular take on it, but I don’t mean that you know liberalism and liberal democracy is completely dead and that we’re going back to the medieval era, in terms of church belief and Christianity, and things like that. That’s not what I mean by post-secular.
So, you might ask, we have this already convoluted discourse on neoliberalism, why should we talk about something like psychedelic aesthetics that are influx anyway and kind of hazy? And why take an aesthetic approach to discuss crises and liberalism? Wasn’t it Walter Benjamin who called fascism the aestheticization of politics to begin with? Shouldn’t that be behind us in our social thinking and politics? So, here’s the breakdown. This is generally for the person who doesn’t read a lot of philosophy or theory or isn’t an academic. From 9/11 to the attack on the capital in 2021, the 21st century has been marked by an increasing number of states of emergency and states of exception, and scholars like me look back—we’ve been doing this for a while since, 9/11 at least but probably before that—at these challenges to democracy and we look back to the failed democracy of the Weimar republic in Germany.
So, at the end of the first World War, liberal democracy was effectively imposed by the allied forces onto the defeated Germany, with the demand that Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicate his throne. The result was a brief Deutsche Republik or the Weimar Republic from 1918 to 1933. We all know what happens in 1933, that’s when Hitler comes into power and declares a state of emergency, or state of exception, in Germany that lasts until the end of World War II. So, a state of emergency should be signaling scary fascist takeover.
The republic’s first five years were in turmoil and during a time in which the social democrats—who have recently come back into power in Germany—contended with critics of liberalism on both the left and the right. So, during this period the illiberal right-wing catholic legal theorist Carl Schmidt wrote an influential book called Political Theology. He also wrote a book called Die Diktatur (translated as Dictatorship) as well, but for this discussion Political Theology is enough because he famously defined the sovereign as the one who makes the decision in the state of exception. So, Schmidt’s main critique of liberal democracies and representative governments, like the US, was that it has this tendency to toward endless bureaucracy and the inability to make any definitive decisions.
So, when we think about the 21st century in the US, how often do we hear people complain about the inability of unending partisan stagnation resulting in the lack of ability to get anything done in Washington? The need to have a decider go in and drain the swamp, because they can get anything done. That’s exactly what Schmidt is talking about in terms of his critique of liberal democracy. So, we’ve been habituated in the us to instantly vilify fascism, which was brand new as a political term, at least in the 1920s in Italy, and to blend that with totalitarianism. But they’re not necessarily the same thing. We are accustomed to unthinkingly just say fascism/totalitarianism: bad. And this is largely due to the results of the second World War.
Obviously, I’m not claiming that fascism or totalitarianism are good but I’m just talking about the way we’re habituated. So, the common places of language and values mean that few Americans take the time to really reflect on what these terms mean, just like they don’t always take time to think about what they mean by freedom when they advocate for freedom. So, we have come, more and more, in the US to treat presidents like pseudo-kings, longing for strong deciders who will clean up Washington or drain the swamp.
And whether it be George W Bush’s move towards an international zero-sum politics defined by an axis of evil and the implementation of the Patriot Act or Barack Obama’s cagey definitions of executive orders to use drone strikes without asking congress for permission to go to war because the drones aren’t actual soldiers—he says—or trump’s entirely whimsical political maneuvering as a corporate and nationalistic boss man, the people in the United States have overwhelmingly displayed a rightward shift since the at least the Reagan era—I would say the Nixon era—such that right wingers now depict Joe Biden, a very regressive democrat who models his foreign policy on the Kennedy Cold War era, as a kind of far left. And, I think Biden is really important for this conversation because he wasn’t, obviously, president when I wrote the book but that idea of Camelot still had some resonance for his election campaign and for his foreign policy. But he’s being characterized as far left.
So, even our so-called liberal newspapers like The New York Times and Biden’s constituency now constantly make the resounding Schmittian claim that Biden and his party are completely ineffective. Even with a majority of Democrats we can’t seem to get anything done in Washington. If you just look at the news media recently this is constantly in the front pages of the newspapers. So, my intention today isn’t really to talk about Joe Biden and the Democrats or whether or not they’re getting anything done, but rather just to draw our attention to the broader cultural shift to the right since the 1960s, where people believe now that electing someone like Biden gives a kind of relief or a return to normalcy amid the most pronounced state of exception yet, the Covid-19 crisis.
We could also talk about the environmental crisis as well because that’s a broad state of emergency that we will all have to face and it’s giving people a lot of reason to question whether or not democracy, with the time that it takes to get anything done, is going to get things done as we’re working against this kind of apocalyptic clock of climate change. So, the crisis in democracy that I want to refer to here is the crisis in the faith of democratic governance itself and the most highly in indicative evidence is our public longing for increasingly strong deciders. The desire for more autocratic forms of rule is expressed most noisily by those who claim that they are patriots while attacking the electoral process itself.
At the opening of my book I write that “‘political theology’ names not just the relationship between religion and the public sphere or spheres but the underlying faith that a democratic citizen or subject has in the political order and its laws” (2). As Wendy Brown has brilliantly argued with respect to the saturation of neoliberalism in all sectors of our society were facing a loss of democratic values and an undoing of the demos itself. Democracy and capitalism have always been in tension with one another and none of the early theorists of markets ever suggested that the inherent inequalities of markets ought to guide all aspects of social life but that’s what neoliberalism does. It says that markets should define everything.
So, the undoing of the demos is the undoing of the everyday citizens faith in democracy. Of course, constant gerrymandering, unstoppable filibuster, and unfounded challenges to the election results don’t help matters either. So, why, amid all of this, do I want to point us to this thing called psychedelic aesthetics? Isn’t it hard enough already just to wrestle with something like neoliberalism. Well, I want to take the terms separately here. By psychedelic I mean it’s literal definition, “mind manifesting,” as coined in a letter from Dr Humphrey Osmond to Aldous Huxley in the late 50s as part of a market sloganeering game that Huxley was famous for from his 1931 book Brave New World, where there’s a lot of this sloganeering language going on.
They were intentionally redesignating substances previously defined as psychotomimetic, or “mimicking psychosis,” because Huxley believed that in the democratization of mystical experiences. But, of course, Aldous Huxley never intended the full-blown attempt to turn everyone on that would emerge within a decade of his death, most famously with Timothy Leary. And we can think about “turn on, tune in, drop out.” In the book I claim that a European fantasy structure has manifested itself in the affluent society of the US of the 1960s that shaped the ways that we now today conceive of liberal democratic values. So, if we’re facing a crisis we should look back to that moment when, as the newly dominant world power, the US intelligentsia drew on the intellectual thought of those who had fled Europe during the Second World War, oftentimes left-wing, oftentimes Jewish intellectuals.
This concluded with a great expansion of access to the higher education in the US. So, although the affluent society conditioned this, it is not exactly accurate to say that there was a cultural sea change that happened only among the so-called liberal elite. One thing that I think that is easy to forget today is that there was a very big expansion of access to higher education and public education in the US in the 1950s and 60s, especially after the 60s and the creation of the NEA, the NEH, and the National Endowment for the Arts. There are a lot of political-theological reasons for that that we can discuss, but that is something that we forget is that the demos of people who had access to education did expand greatly during that time—now those of us in higher education know it’s shrinking, even among the latinx population which have been, in the past ten to twenty years, the most expanding demographic.
The youth of the affluent society, that had little tangible experience with war or what war means that their European teachers had faced, made it all very abstract to be a young college student in the 60s. Yet, at the same time, if you just imagine that you were back there as a college and you have this generation of people older who went through World War II and there’s this kind of hero-ism, they call them the great generation. So, there’s something to live up to, but it’s all very abstract. So, indeed, for many soul young soldiers, at least initially, going to Vietnam there was a sense of patriotic impulse driven by the World War II generation.
So, much of this patriotic imaginary became increasingly questioned in comparison to the broad-ranging liberation movements across the world. So, while that’s happening in the US, you have since the explosion of the inability of Europe to economically control the rest of the world during World War II, you have, in the 1950s the breakdown of colonial governments, starting with India in ‘48 and then continuing throughout Africa in the 50s. and we get the post-colonial theories that come out of that moment.
So, the social imaginary for Americans was largely virtual. There’s a lot of patriotism and then there’s also all of these things that are happening around the world, maybe not necessarily just in the United States. It is in that movement towards the virtual era that everything becomes aestheticized. So, that’s why I want to say that it’s an aesthetic focus that we need to have. We can’t just talk about politics not being aestheticized. So, this is not to claim that there were not very real effects of the political conditions, but that one cannot understand the global unrest of something like 1968 without this virtual, aestheticized component.
So, I’ve talked about psychedelic and I’ll talk about aesthetics here. So, by aesthetics, the word traditionally means “of the senses” and you get anesthetic when you go under for surgery, right. So, at least since the European enlightenment there was a particular emphasis on a particular kind of sensibility. We can think about Jane Austen books like Sense and Sensibility, the moral senses of the 19th century that indicated a kind of internal refinement. And that internal refinement mapped onto a kind of eurochristian civilizing process.
So, if you read James Stuart Mill, or other classic liberal thinkers, there is a kind of rationality and they put it on this scale that I call the European imaginary by which indigenous people are lesser people, people of color are lesser, and there’s a question about how quickly they can assimilate themselves to become civilized in this kind of vertical cultivated metaphor of what it takes to become a civilized Christian citizen.
And the way you showed that you were civilized was to have this kind of rationalized sensibility that comes out of enlightenment thought, especially. So, enlightenment thought for me, even though the normal narrative is that it’s a secularizing thing and it’s pushing away from church and the reformation, I still characterize the European Enlightenment as inherently eurochristian.
So, in the 1960s this sensibility became above all a moral sense acquired by reaching beyond the confines of the nation state. So, here I say psychedelic aesthetics first expresses an expanded sense of worldview, often combined with ego death or loss and then a re-entry into an established order with a kind of Gnosticism, a kind of knowledge that you’ve gotten from your tripping journey that has given the individual a moral authority over the nation state.
So, people who are into psychedelics and really excited about psychedelics often go through the first part like, oh, I had my mind blown or I went through ego loss, but we have tofocus on re-entry. And itgoes all the way back to the psychedelicexperience manual by Timothy Leary andRichard Albert. But, what I want to emphasize that is not discussed enough is what we mean byre-entry from a psychedelic experience. And what I’m saying is that the aesthetics portray a moral authority over the nation-states.
So, you trip, you come back, and you have this authority to say what the fuck is the US doing in Vietnam? So, psychedelic aesthetics are, at least initially, boundary dissolving and fluctuating at a liminal level. And you might think of a visual representation—and I purposely don’t deal with visual culture much in the book because Alex Gray paintings are all over the place and Grateful Dead culture—but you might think as one visual example here, the famous Fluxus piece from Yoko Ono, which was clouds on a tv set, because you have this mediatized tv showing up but it’s controlling nature and it’s literally putting boundaries on something that would be expansive and perhaps ineffable.
The movement of the aesthetics was to embrace the outside to go beyond the tv screen, here, and so to read this quote from Tom Wolf’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests, he’s referring to this sci-fi book called Childhoods End by Arthur C. Clark, which I deal with in the book. And he’s describing Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters here. So, Tom Wolf says,
the history of cinema gave the clue to their actions. First, sound, then color, then stereoscopy, then Cinerama, had made the old ‘moving pictures’ more and more like reality itself. Where was the end of the story? Surely, the final stage would be reached when the audience forgot that it was an audience, and became part of the action. To achieve this would involve stimulation of all of the senses, and perhaps hypnosis as well … When the goal was attained, there would be an … enrichment of human experience. A man could become—for a while, at least,—[and we might say, “a they could become—for a while, at least,—”] any other person, and could take part in any conceivable adventure, real or imaginary. (233-34)
I’m just talking about my process of writing the book and trying to be very transparent with my audience here today, but I have a lot of points about what psychedelic aesthetics are and what tripping means. But I’m going to pause there for questions or let Carl talk. Of course, Carl was there at Berkeley in the 60s. So when I have to talk to the older generation I’m always kind of humbled because, it’s like the joke about Vietnam. How many Vietnam veterans does it take to screw in a light bulb? You don’t know because you weren’t there, man!
Carl Raschke: Hey, Roger, before I interrupt, could you kind of explain what psychedelic aesthetics is? Because I think this would be very important.
Roger Green: Yeah. So, in preparing for this talk, I just walked through—I don’t give specific definitions in the book—and I’ll just read a few of the points here. So,
Psychedelic aesthetics extend versions of Romanticism and fuse it with the civil privileges of the liberal economies that triumphed after the Second World War. In the process, psychedelic aesthetics reimagine the boundaries of liberal subjectivity [not liberal democratic, but liberalism like rights bearing individuals] through consciousness expansion and then a return from that expansion, “enchanting” the individual with a gnostic transcendence of nation-state authority. This becomes widely known as “the trip.” I use the term “psychedelic aesthetics” as a singular collection of a variety of different senses. This is partly because the artistic works that evidence such aesthetics tend to have synesthetic qualities. Because of this, my intention is to point to a version of aesthetics that pushes the meaning beyond the concept “of the senses” in order to account for the philosophical turns the thinkers I discuss import to the United States. (11)
Now what that means is that most of the philosophers that are coming to the United States are reacting to this philosopher named Martin Heidegger who was a teacher for many of them, especially for Herbert Marcuse who I dealt with a lot in the book. We can think of like Martin
Heidegger as the kind of philosophical counterpart point to uh Carl Schmitt. They both became unapologetic Nazis.
People wanted to defend Heidegger for longer, although it is now clearly established, if you read Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, that he was an anti-Semite and a Nazi. So, a lot of the thinkers that I deal with, the Jewish thinkers that come to the US, Hannah Arendt being a lover of Martin Heidegger but also being Jewish, are wrestling with the most powerful philosopher of the moment and the way that his philosophy had this affinity with the fascist movement in Germany or with totalitarianism, with the speeding up of things, with feeling everything in a very emotional moment.
So, this is part of German fascism, in the late 20s and 1930s. It was very much a patriotic feeling of the volk, we might say. It is a sense that they’re getting their country back, which was demolished in World War I, and they’ve all been shamed so much and that they need to take back their pride. And in doing so they can embrace the Fuhrer who’s going to lead them in that particular direction. And so, that’s what Walter Benjamin, I think, meant by the aestheticization of politics, that kind of casting off of reason for the embrace of an emotional affective feeling.
I’ll read a couple more here and then we can we can move on. “Tripping during the War on Drugs became a kind of ritualized code for many Americans to assert their own agency against state law, yet it is quite clear that some groups have had more privilege to explore ‘spiritual transcendence,’ de-alienation, or other benefits espoused by psychedelic enthusiasts. The entrance of law and order rhetoric and the need to justify the deregulation of psychedelics for research meant that the psychedelic community diverged from the association with public activism and became more secretive” and I would say, just more so gnostic. “Associating psychedelics today with the 1960s, whether it is the familiar conservative narrative of decline or the ”progressive” moment of utopia, is not accurate without considering this important divergence of agendas in these political views” (18).
So, if you were young in the 60s, LSD doesn’t become illegal until 1966. The drug scheduling doesn’t happen until the 1970s. But that becomes something transgressive. Especially for people like me, growing up in 1990s, as a teenager people did pot or did drugs and it was something that you did that was supposed to be transgressive. It was kind of like a rite of passage. Whereas, I think for teenagers today who are growing up where marijuana is legal—in the psychedelic world we call marijuana “the lesser sacrament,” by the way—there is not that sense.
When my first year students are writing their papers, they’re like, yeah I kind of got into some marijuana in my bad years in high school but now I’m getting back on track in college. That’s not the same kind of ritual transgression to a broader civic mindedness that was going on earlier. And maybe I’m the end of Generation X. one more and then then I’ll pause.
In the critique manifested by psychedelic aesthetics, the returned subject becomes a psychedelically “enchanted” citizen. Psychedelic citizenship offers liberalism political advice in situations of crisis through an experiential process. Psychedelic aesthetics articulate this by performing a public sacrifice on the state as a transcendent entity and then disseminating social responsibility to the individuals. This sacrifice is similar to ancient practices of ritual sacrifice that involved the ingesting of the divine and because for many psychedelic enthusiasts a return to the pre-political [or] “state of nature” offered by an imaginary escape from alienation of modern subjectivity. (20)
So, there’s this kind of lore in psychedelics that if I take a psychedelic it will tap me into the archaic revival, like Terence Mckenna says or Mircea Eliade—who is a fascist himself—that it will bring about this kind of return to a burning man type of gift economy, or something like that, and it’s going to allow us to tap into primordial shamanism before religion. All of that stuff is part of the archaic revival, and it’s very, very right wing, politically speaking. And I think that that’s lost, especially on people who really excited about something like burning man.
So, there’s a public sacrifice of the nation state going on and “psychedelic aesthetics must unpack the desires of a deeply entrenched social imaginary wrapped up in the idea of sacrifice itself. In a way, one might say that psychedelic aesthetics perform a kind of ‘secular Eucharist’ for democratic liberalism, and the Christian framing of such a ceremony is part of the dominant political-theological tradition of the West” (20). So, I think so one of the differences, and Carl and I have talked about this before, between 2022 and 1968 is that in 1968 you can have a movement to levitate the pentagon (image 1, image 2, image 3) where people were surrounding and they were going to enchant and levitate the pentagon. That was the performance of the psychedelic aesthetics.
And then the rightward shift here you see images from last year in 2021 at the Capitol where Jesus and Trump are conflated with each other—Jesus 2020. There’s an overt revanchism of white supremacy and especially evangelical Christianity, amidst this thing, that I call the political theological vortex. It’s like, what the hell is that happening? I know many Christians who don’t believe that this is what Christianity ought to be, who don’t understand how you can be a Christian and be for Trump. Even midwestern Christians that I know. And yet, this is part of the discourse that we have today.
Carl Raschke: I want to throw open a very broad question, just to kind of pursue what you’re saying, which I think is fascinating in a number of ways. But I want to actually challenge you Roger go a little deeper than you’ve done here. First of all, just talking about the political-theological, I myself becoming very impatient with the way, and with the whole variety of manners in which we use the term right-wing and left-wing, which I think, as you yourself have pointed out, they be they become in some ways inconsequential markers to what we’re really talking about.
What we’re really talking about is the process of subjective identification. And subjective identification can be found—this is a deep political theological issue—historically in the evolution of the idea of the citizen. Which literally means a member of the civitas or it’s related to the Greek word politeia, which we’re talking about, a kind of political consciousness, political reality. And of course that’s what political theology is all about. That is to say what is the substance, what is the essence of this kind of unique political theology, the distinction that Aristotle made between the bios and zōē, bare life and human life. I guess you say political life which somebody like Agamben takes up and uses as a form of methodological leverage for dealing with a whole set of different issues.
And in his later work he also looks at the Christian iteration of this. And, of course, I’m very much influenced by the thinking of Étienne Balibar and his notion of the citizen subject, because the citizen is a particular kind of reconfigurating transformation, a kind of a renewed self-identification of the subject. The question of subjectivity, I think, is very closely allied with citizenship in many respects. Whatever we mean by it. I’m not just talking about it in the kind of hackneyed political way, but citizenship in its original kind of etymological connotations.
So, when you’re talking about an enchanted citizen, in some ways it’s a kind of redundancy because there is a kind of enchantment in the very notion of citizenship. There was in the ancient Greek world and if you look at the way a figure like Augustine redefines what it means to be a citizen, that is a member of the city of God. And, of course, Luther talks about two kingdoms and he talks about citizenship and that becomes the kind of inflection point for the emergence of the kind of protestant worldview that underlies and sort of sanctifies so much of what we call secular modernism
But the question is what is the structure of this sanctification that takes place? Let’s not talk about the ancient world, let’s talk about the 20th century, which is where there are huge shifts. When we start with the French revolution with the emergence of the kind of mystical notion of the citizen or citoyenne which becomes a kind of enlightenment idea that you can find particularly in the writings of Rousseau, like The Social Contract. But, essentially, citizen and bourgeois become sort of synonyms or at least homonyms throughout 19th century thought.
And, of course, Marx, in his criticism of Hegel, his critique of political economy, tries to say, no, there’s a whole excluded mass of people who deserve citizenship. That is, they need to be sanctified or subjects and that is the proletariat. Now, it’s kind of interesting today that the proletariat— the real proletariat, those who actually work for a living—is seen, by those who claim citizenship, almost as the wretched of the earth. I think you can see that in what’s going on in Canada with the truckers convoy and so forth. I mean, they’re called fascists. Fascist is a term now to describe anybody who is basically not a citizen. Just like how it used to be communist, depending on how you look at it.
But what happened in the 60s with psychedelics, and you mentioned education, the whole idea of the bourgeois citizen, that is one who lives in a city (that’s what bourgeois means or burger in German: one who lives in the city, one who is involved in commerce or business. They become a class who appear in the early middle ages, but by the 17th and 18th century they become, if not the dominant class, the most important class for their control of the financial economy, which monarchies were trying to harness but failed to do, and that’s why you have the French revolution, in many respects), is all of a sudden there is this realization that the burger, or the one who lives in the city, who is classically identified with the nation state is no longer identified with the nation state because the nation state is the locus of oppression.
It makes the laws, it tells me that I have to do this, I have to do that, I have to fight for my country. you know, of course, Vietnam was kind of the crucible of that because everybody in my generation realized that this was an unjust war. So, many of us started out with the cold war rhetoric buried in her heads. It’s kind of interesting that when I was 20 years old my father who was a veteran of World War II, who was actually a naval commander, was the one who was most opposed to the Vietnam War because he had seen what was really going on there from the inside. And it took me probably until I graduated from college to realize that the patriotic narrative was, in many ways, a sham that didn’t correspond.
So, we see the explosion of nationalism and the use of mind expansion, of mind manifestation—whatever term you want to use—to the identification with groups who had been considered outliers, like indigenous people. Remember the 60s is also the time when the process of trying to assimilate indigenous people came to an end and there was an attention to the idea that maybe we really screwed over these people have to start considering their claims. But there were many indigenous leaders of the times who wouldn’t even allow themselves to think that way because they thought their era was over.
I would say, speaking as a member of that generation, it was in some ways the effort to try to identify with something that is not only larger than, but is deeper than the bourgeois nation state that led to the kind of fascination with “Indians.” You look at the hippies. They’re always wearing beads and so forth. They were trying to, in a sense, create a kind of faux indigenous identity. And that was part of the expansion of the process.
So, what you have is this beginning of a new notion of citizenship which later—fifteen years, or so—comes to play with this nebulous idea of the global citizen, whatever that means. And that becomes, in many ways, the kind of grist for the neoliberal view, which is what I call the progressive neoliberal because I think we’ve got this tension. Neoliberalism means, basically, that you look at markets but the question is does your fetishism of markets lead you somehow to identify with the old bourgeoisie or to identify with what you consider to be the new global multitudes, like in Hardt and Negri.
The aestheticization of that also becomes the basis for the kind of corporatization of the world, the creation of global capitalism and cognitive capitalism and virtual capitalism, which, of course, in my book is what I really mean by neoliberalism. So, in many ways the question is what are we enchanted about? And that really determines our politics right now. What’s happening now is that particular enchantment, just like the enchantment of the bourgeoisie, is up against the fact that much of the world, which isn’t educated and can’t afford education is, increasingly being shut out, is becoming hostile to that enchantment.
Usually these are working people which at the end of the COVID realize, hey, we’ve got political power, just like we did in the 50s with labor unions and so forth. The great resignation it’s called. There is a very interesting article in The New York Times this morning, in fact, comparing this to what happened in the 15th century with the rise of the bourgeoisie because of the demolition of feudalism brought about by the black plague. I would urge everybody to read it, it’s worth studying.
Roger Green: let me just let me address these two notions of enchantment because I think that I can do it kind of economically. I do have to go back to the Greek. One of the reasons why we have to go back to that is because in the psychedelic movement, and people who are excited about psychedelics, they often refer back to the kykeon, on to the Eleusinian Mysteries, and things like this. And we can talk about that sort of stuff, but let me just like take a mythological example here.
Medea is an enchanted woman. She either falls in love or Aphrodite makes her fall in love with Jason the Argonaut. She is the eastern border the edge of the black sea and they overthrow her father and then they go on this trek throughout the Mediterranean and at the end Jason is supposed to marry Medea. Instead, what does he do? He says, no, I’m going to marry somebody else. So, he fucks over Medea (pardon of mylanguage). Medea, whose enchanting powers have saved the Argonauts time and time again, just gets cast aside and she, of course, murders her children as a kind of revenge.
The kind of enchantment that Medea has is the kind of enchantment that is not allowed in the polis. So, that is a different sort of thing and I think we can think about that all the way through Federici and Caliban and the Witch and women’s movements and my friend Anne Waldman, being a great articulator of this in her own psychedelic poetry. The other enchantment that you’re talking about is the enchantment of the polis. That is what Agamben is talking about when he talks about glory and glorification and the aesthetics of glory and how that keeps a state going and transfers over the death of the king—the king’s two bodies in Kantorowitz—the idea that the king is dead, long live the king.
That thing that keeps the nation state together, that Shakespeare is so obsessed with in his plays and tragedies, that we as a citizenry in the united states today are still obsessed with. Can it hold? Can it hold from the transfer of power? That is a different kind of enchantment. But I would say that the proletarian in Marx’s view is already enchanted by the state. So, what I mean by that, to take an indigenous example, is the Shining Path—a Marxist movement in Latin America.
The Shining Path like many Marxist movements tried to claim a kind of Indianismo and in some cases it works, in some cases it doesn’t. But the Shining Path was a leftist movement that was paramilitary and perfectly capable of wiping out indigenous peoples while claiming indigeneity. There was a sense for indigenous people that to become a citizen was at least a step up from being an Indian at that particular moment in history. The US in Nicaragua went in and used the indigenous people on the west side against the Sandinistas in the 1980s.
So, indigenous life, I would not qualify as enchanted in the sense of Medea—especially indigenous life on Turtle Island. And yet, I would say that there are these two kinds of enchantment, there’s the Medea kind of enchantment—you could say that she’s superimposed with la Llorona and in Chicano culture or some versions of Latinx culture but she is a special character. She is different in Latin America than she is in Mexico or in the borderlands. But some people might say that Medea is part of that sort of thing.
But the enchantment that I’m talking about in terms of the psychedelic aesthetics is definitely a kind of gnostic enchantment that comes from the Greek worldview, or, these days, I would call it eurochristian world view, which is that tendency towards abstraction. The proletarian is a citizen who’s already been alienated from a state of nature. What happens in Aristotle, in the Politics when he’s describing what a slave is or a barbarian or someone who has a slave mentality, they are the people who don’t fit into the polis, they are not enchanted in the sense of glory—Agamben’s glory. They’re not enchanted in the sense that they get a right to vote.
That becomes internalized in the 15th century as the Europeans are trying to figure out what to do with these new continents and all of these people that exist there. There are these debates about whether the Indians humans. This is partly why my current research is in the early modern era because there is this sense that the land has all of these resources to offer and is kind of enchanted, if we could just get rid of the Indians and take all of their enchanted land and then spiritualize the Indian in a particular sort of way, through the noble savage trope or something like that.
And that is exactly what the psychedelic folks in the 60s do, they deterritorialize, it’s already aesthetic, it’s already virtual. They deterritorialize a sense of the land and reclaim it. We could talk about music, it happens all over—Carol King’s “Goin’ Back,” The Birds, Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” “Get Back” by The Beatles. There is all of this nostalgia. Nostalgia is homesickness. That’s what it means. But it’s like a homesickness for what? You are generally a liberal, affluent, white culture who is nostalgic for some sort of sense of the land that they want to claim in a new way. So, it’s deterritorialized and then, in Deleuzian terms, re-territorialized.
Carl Raschke: I want to continue with this question of enchantment and the polis because, in some ways, the history of “Western civilization” I think is the history of this expanding of the terrain of enchantment. In other words, it’s a gradual deterioratorialization and re-territorialization, to use Deleuzian terminology, through the original Greek bios. If you look at the first attempt to do this, which is almost a kind of mystical idea that becomes a kind of paradox because the reality of Roman brutality and it’s maintenance of the imperium. And also its idealism that it is bringing civilization. I mean the first civilizing mission was the Roman Empire, there’s no doubt about that.
But this idea of the cosmopolitan, which literally means belonging to a universal or to a world cosmos, and the word cosmopolitanism has always been the tendency of education and political abstraction. It’s not just a modern phenomenon. You find it in the Enlightenment, you find it in the 16th century with the renaissance. Whenever there is a kind of upsurge of new thinking and an appreciation of the past there is always this idea that somehow we have a new kind of domain whereby we can incorporate people who were outside, but incorporate them on our terms. This is a point Walter Mignolo makes in his in his books, first on the renaissance, The Darker Side of the Renaissance and later The Darker Side of Western Modernity.
In other words, cosmopolitanism is always the way in which this enchantment of the subject, which starts out with the kind of an experience of otherness, now becomes bounded, becomes territorialized, becomes brought in and becomes ours. Boundaries are put about in terms of abstract notions and so forth. Even with colonialism, we’re not just raping and pillaging anymore, like conquerors in the past, we’re civilizing, we’re educating, we’re bringing these childlike people into our sphere so they be truly human. Which is an idea that goes all the way back to the Greeks.
So, I’m saying this enchanted citizenship we see with the 60s, I think is the first development of the transition from the national bourgeois citizen to the global citizen. I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m confirming you. But I think it’s not complicated. It was like we are citizens of something much larger. Even outer space, that’s when Star Trek becomes popular. You start getting the beginning of Trekkie culture and you get the kind of imaginary people Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. If we’re going to be a true empire, it’s going to be a democratic, galactic empire.
Adam Loch: I’m really enjoy this conversation. I would love to hear more from you Carl and Roger, bringing militant love and enchantment into the conversation. History is important, to be sure. I know Carl you’ve really driven this point home and I really appreciate that, because in my time at graduate school you have helped me realize that. But at the same time, I’m interested in each of your thoughts moving forward.
So, my question is kind of a series of questions. What structures of sanctification are emerging in post-secular United States hearkening to what you just said, carl? And, likewise, if at all, what role do we have as scholars of religion during this time of liberal crises? And, Carl, your point about what are we enchanted about, I think is very resonant and I can’t help but wonder if there is this threshold, in my own speculation, of the rational into non-rational. Can it be articulated without being reinscribed in people’s assumptions about what they’re hearing already?
Carl Raschke: Well, since this is Roger’s platform I wanted to kind of defer to Roger to let him answer the question.
Roger Green: I’m going to go with how I interpret this question. So, when I hear a term like militant love, I think of people like Alain Badiou or the Christian notion of agape which Herbert Marcuse deals with. In his essays and books from the period, particularly Eros and Civilization. The problem with Freud, according to Marcuse, was that Freud relegates the pleasure principle to the reality principle. Basically, the idea is that the child, growing up, has to have someone say no to them and that no becomes the repressive super ego—you can’t have candy for dinner—that becomes the kind of moral authority.
That’s the reality principle over the pleasure principle and Marcuse says that what the problem was that Freud relegates pleasure, and particularly aesthetic pleasure, the pleasure of the senses, to the child and says that the adult doesn’t necessarily have this. But what Marcuse says is that this is happening in the psyche, before the psyche comes to fruition as a particular personality
and that is what he means by eros and that we need to embrace an aesthetics that attaches itself to the unconscious. Now what happens with neoliberalism is what Marcuse calls tolerance or repressive desublimation.
So, what that means is that it basically, in kind of crass terms, neoliberalism tries to take the entire unconscious and make it conscious. All of our desires are on display through cameras, through our social media feeds, through the camera, the little green dot that I’m looking at right now. All of it is on display in an unending public virtuality. So, what is love in that particular era? Well, if you’re going with the ideologized love of Christianity, agape, this is the love that can consume anything. This is the Oprah love. It’s the idea that if you put a right winger and a left winger together they’ll hug it out, or something like that.
That kind of idea and I’m very sympathetic to my friend and Levinas scholar Sarah Pessin on this, and Levinas himself, we want to push back against that kind of idea of a militant love that would say something like, well you’re just Jewish but you’re really just like me. The idea that we’re all the same underneath. The kind of thing, which imposes a eurochristian dominant reality or worldview onto other people and makes of other people only subject identities that can be remixed within the matrix of the colonized worldview, or what Marcuse calls one-dimensionality.
So, what we’re dealing with now is whether or not, or to what extent there might be the possibility to not be in the eurochristian agape pac-man, to use Sarah Pessin’s term, reality, to think about any kind of notion of real difference. What I mean by real difference here is Deleuze when he talks about difference versus repetition, that difference in the unconscious type of level and an idea of the unconscious that is not the subconscious, right wing mythology of Carl Jung, and not necessarily the infantilized unconscious of Freud.
Robert Metcalf: Aristotle’s Politics has come up a few times. I was thinking of a passage, this is Book One, Chapter Two where Aristotle is arguing that what makes the human being more political than any other animal is the fact that we have logos, and logos is what sets forth or makes manifest the just and the unjust, the advantageous and the disadvantageous, and so on.
And, I was thinking of this passage and wondering about this initial problem that you raised, Roger, in terms of political myths and the problem that we have today with our various political myths, because the mythic and myth seems to lie on the border of discourse, of logos, but also something like what you’re calling enchantment. So, I was wondering about your thoughts about this, about the relationship between myth and discourse—more generally logos—and how this relates to what you are discussing in terms of psychedelic aesthetics.
Roger Green: Yeah, thank you for that. I’m a rhetorical theorist these days by training and there’s a long history of tension between rhetoric and philosophy in the western tradition. If we think about Aristotle and the political citizen, the bios, qualified life versus bare life, that logos is the thing that is some sort of almost quasi mystical communicability, the ability to communicate. The barbarian is quintessentially the one who you can’t communicate with. They are outside of the polis. I think that they are what we are dealing with—and it is crazy just to jump to the 21st century from this example—on the issue on indigeneity that carl brought up, is not just different sort of mythic structures—we could theorize what myth is.
But, if we take indigenous people from South America, for example, and it is crass to do this and I know he’s a eurochristian scholar, but Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, the anthropologist, has this idea of Amerindian perspectivism, or what my friend Tink Tinker and Barbara Mann, who’s a Seneca scholar, talk about as twin ship models that cross the continents which are really different. We have twins in the ancient Greek and Roman traditions. We have twinning going on, but there’s something going on with four directions and twinning that is deeper, it is a worldview that is beneath the individualized cultures of Cheyenne, Arapahoe, or Incan in south America, for example, or Mayan. And in that worldview there seems to be a different kind of logos, maybe.
Is logos worldview? That is a question we could ask. But one of the main differences that’s very, very clear is that logos, if we were to translate that term into an Amerindian worldview, is clearly an interspecies communication that is happening. And by interspecies we’re not just talking animals, we’re talking plants and rocks and the cosmos. I think that what is happening in Aristotle, and maybe you could give a more nuanced read on it, Rob, is that in the western tradition that has been entirely translated into a humanistic capacity—and I don’t mean humanism in the renaissance sense of humanism. But it does seem to be that it’s about the people who are fully people, who get to be the political citizens.
Robert Metcalf: I’m fascinated by the connections that you’re drawing here. I guess my question had more to do with talking about the relationship between enchantment, or the archaic revival that you were discussing, and discourse, because we are in the midst of a great confusion about what we even mean by freedom other things that are part of our political myth making. How does the transformation of political discourse and the unclarity about political myths relate to issues of enchantment and the archaic revival?
Roger Green: so, first of all, in my thinking anyway, there is the political theological vortex which is the collapse of right and left. and so, there’s a mishmash of those mythological narratives and, in that, some people, who are interested in psychedelics especially, have said that by ingesting this kind of substance, an entheogen, we can somehow tap into the archaic revival. We can return to a state of nature, to a pre-political sensibility and basically press a reset button and then start again from there. Liberal culture does this as well, it has a reset button impulse. I mean the French and American revolutions do this. The French revolution imposes a new calendar of time.
So, that impulse towards the perennial, I’m highly suspicious of, and I think that that is part of the problem in the political theological vortexes, a de-historicization, a saturation of feeling that some people might call love or affect but it is actually a really punishing kind of Dionysian—to use another Greek myth—exhausting thing that comes out of trying to feel all the time. Now, would I suggest that what we need is a kind of return to order? I’m not sure. I think that we probably need to question the ordering principles that we have inherited throughout multiple generations. And this is probably what leads us to jump from the ancient Greeks to contemporary society in 30 seconds.
Jonathan Fardy: Something that was striking to me, early on in your presentation, were the images, and maybe that’s because I dialed into those, interestingly, I think, in my life teaching art history to students with side by side images. but it also reminded me of—especially I’m thinking of the pentagon image, the levitation/protest and then January 6th and I was thinking about that pairing in what Benjamin might call a dialectical image, these two images. And then I was thinking about that in light of what you’re saying about myth, I guess to build on Robert’s point, I understood you to be using that term, as you said, as part of the stories we tell ourselves in order to order and make sense or make legible say the moment in which we live.
And, I guess, you are also saying that you are reading US political life today in light of, or trying to decipher, what are the myths about the 60s—more or less true, or what have you—the stories we tell about the 1960s in order then to try to make sense of this moment. So, you could go back to that like double image to ask, what relates these two images? what’s different about them? how to get from one point to the other? But, as I think you know, one of the dominant myths or stories that is told, I think both by people who might identify as democrats or republicans, is the coming of age. So, the stories around the generation that went to Woodstock went to the polls to vote for Reagan.
So, the question then is, what I’m kind of interested in is, how do you read those two images, those two moments? The other thing, I guess the contrast is just apparent, too, in terms of like one is enchanted and non-violent and one is concrete and aggressive, and so forth. But then, and this is what I’m fumbling towards, for me at least, watching January 6th unfold live, watching the news, initially what I kind of thought was how fantastical all this was. I mean that in both images there is this—you could argue—kind of a naive view that the pentagon and the capital are somehow like the real centers of power. It is, in that sense, a very archaic way of thinking.
But what’s also very different about it is that there is no political legitimation machine behind the attempt to levitate the pentagon, as there is now behind what happened on January 6th, where the republican party stated as an official platform that that was indeed legitimate political discourse. So, I just kind of want to hear from you about how you read that. Are you reading these images as opposed? Or, maybe more, I just want to hear how you understand this as part of this larger liberal matrix that you want to read as you work both of those images is in?
Roger Green: I think the crux point for me is when you said the legitimate political machine. I’m not sure. I think that there are ways to think of what happened in the 60s as rather organic, I suppose, in the sense that Benjamin talks about, people in the revolution shooting at clocks, that there’s this impulse that happens this insurrectionary impulse that nobody decided on beforehand but everybody sort of agrees on. Something has risen to the surface. My ex-wife’s father was in the French resistance, and we talked about this before he died, that there was no sort of central authority it was just sort of this thing that rose to power.
I have, I think, a broader sense of the political, or the machine as well. And that probably comes from critical theorists, again, like, this time Adorno and Horkheimer. They claim that Odysseus is the first bourgeois in Dialectic of Enlightenment. I think that people who rose up at the “insurrection”—I don’t mean to make fun of anyone when I’m say this, nor am I you know agreeing or disagreeing with them, so I’m not making a political statement, here, or not least not intending to, by using the quotes around insurrection. I’m not trying to belittle or say that there isn’t any anything very meaningful about what happened on January 6th last year. But the affective waves that transfer into the insurrectionary impulse, as the invisible committee says, I think that those are present for people on the right wing.
We could vilify them as fascists, we could vilify someone like Donald Trump and his the effect that he’s had on people, but I think that there is a deeper affective feeling that the people who are broadly cast as being on the right wing in this country have. There is anger, there is frustration and, I think that it’s economic for sure and I think that economics and politics are very mixed. I don’t have a really clear sense of distinctions between these separate spheres. To go back to Rob’s question on discourse. I look at things like discourse.
So, one of the differences between me and a philosopher, for example, is that a philosopher might be doing this thing called philosophy, but I read theory as discourse. I read this weird genre of theory in the same way that a 19th century American literature person reads 19th century American literature. This is a kind of genre around that makes me pop from psychology to sociology to philosophy to literature and I think that that’s useful. I think that it’s useful. In the book, at least, I move towards the literary. I feel like we have lost a sense of the literary and that it might just be that story and fiction is a better way at getting at these things.
But if we only read fiction or poetry for its philosophical uses like Simon Critchley does, like Alain Badiou does—they feel like they can wrap it all up by the modern moment or whatever they’re interested—I don’t agree with that. I have a more capacious sense of the literary that broadens discourse. So, when I read discourse, I read it and I write it with a kind of poetics in mind that has a very unstable sense of what language does. Or a very saturated sense of how language and linguistics works.
I might have strayed from your question there. But I think that, yes, there are differences between the levitation of the pentagon and 2021 but, at the same time, I think that what is similar about the eras is that vortex element. Because there are people who say, oh, it wasn’t us that broke into the capital it was the leftists who were trying to make us look bad, it was antifa or something. So, there are those kinds of narratives going on. What I think is more important to sort of try to take account of is the vortex moment. And this is a deep question, is the vortex politically created or is it dialectically created by some sort of temporal regenerative failure that must be rejuvenated within a body politic, as in an organic body politic?
Carl Raschke: Roger, could I zero in on that for a minute? The term insurrection—I’m not talking about January 6th, I’m talking about the use of the term and how it’s coded in terms of our current political framework or discourse—of course, the word is in the word resurrection. It comes from the Latin word from which we get surge. So, technically an insurrection is the kind of influx of something from the outside that changes everything.
And, if you look back at the 60s, the word insurrection was a good word. I think it up until January 6th it was a good word, in general. Now it’s a bad word and that and that’s not inconsequential. You go back to American history and talk about the myth of American history, it was founded on an insurrection. There was no organic, imaginary substance that somehow the nation of America was built around.
It was built around this kind of critical, theoretical challenge to ongoing structures. That’s why the writings of Jefferson were so important in the forging of the Bill of Rights, if not the Constitution—that insurrectionary moment, which back in the 60s everybody was studying. There’s a book that nobody reads anymore, but it had a tremendous influence on me then, as it does now, by Michael Walzer, one of the founders of Dissent Magazine. It was called The Revolution of the Saints, and his idea was it was the kind of transcendental, ecstatic, religious moment of the puritan revolution—you point to Oliver Cromwell in some ways, we look at him as a kind of despot, he saw himself as doing the will of god—that the revolutionary moment comes in.
And it were all sorts of alliances of Marxist theorists and critical theorists of religion, people like Vittorio Lanternari, [The Religions of the Oppressed]. In other words, the very order that we call the liberal order is meant to be constantly turned over, just like fields that lie fallow. I mean, Jefferson made that point in one of his famous sayings, that the tree of liberty is always refreshed with the blood of martyrs, and so forth. If you look at the same discourse that saw what I would call this new expanding sense of the polis in the 60s, and you know the 60s was very political, even the psychedelic movement was very political, it was a different kind of politics it.
It wasn’t apolitical it was just like, we want to include everyone in what we might call the cosmopolitanism of a universal collective conscious—that is, I think, the way you might describe it. There was a there was a tendency to kind of rationalize it, particularly by the new left, who were very much influenced by so-called Marxist humanism, as opposed to the old kind of orthodox Stalinism. But both were based on this idea that we’re tapping into some kind of deeper energy, this kind of insurgency.
Now, when we look what happened on January 6th, I’ll give you a contrast, that has become a kind of nodal point for our thinking about the recent era. But there was also an event in the early 70s when Nixon was president that became a nodal point for insurrectionary thinkers, and that’s when Nixon and essentially the mafia, who ran New York City at the time, called in the organized labor, the so-called hard hats, construction workers to basically beat up and beat down the younger Vietnam protesters.
So, the idea of the fascist regime of the hard hats, that is the working class now is seen to be allied with the old order, while it’s actually the working class, now, that is seen as the insurrection. It’s not just January 6th, but look what is happening in Canada, right now. What does that mean? To me it’s obvious that the new neoliberal, cosmopolitan order what, David Brooks 25 years ago called the bohemian bourgeoisie, is the new ruling class. And that’s what I wrote about in my book. So, the kind of myth of an enchanted outsider as the proletariat who are overtaking the bourgeoisie, the roles are kind of reversed, which you’re seeing in the reversal of party politics, too.
So, the issue of insurrection and enchantment and citizenship are not inseparable from each other. Insurrection always means that somehow there is a threat to what we consider the right, just order. I don’t know if anybody wants look at that. I mean we might take January 6th as a kind of trope for what has changed in the last 50 years.
Roger Green: I think—I’m sorry, I got assigned a Myth and Literature class this summer and so I am thinking about myth a lot right now—that the Dionysian moment is not a nice moment. It never is for anyone. It’s not for Pentheus the king, for sure, but it’s also not for the Bacchae, the people who’ve gone into these ecstatic states, into the vortex, into the psychedelic stratosphere. It’s not a fun thing, just like taking ayahuasca is not a fun experience. It’s not really a kind of party drug. There is information, I think, in that tripping type of experience and that’s probably why we have myths like Dionysus, and these figures like Dionysus, to help us think about that that that kind of thing.
But, for me and my thinking, here, and the way that my thinking has changed in the past few years, when we’re talking about someone like Jefferson, when we’re talking about someone like Marx, these are just eurochristian colonizers. Yes, Marxian thought is still eurochristian. I know the Jewish background, we could talk about that, but it is the imposition of a eurochristian worldview that aligns, and capitalism comes out of that so capitalism is eurochristian for me, and that continues to kind of dominate.
And what we need is the possibility to think that other worlds might be able to exist, anthropologists have this language of possible worlds, the Cthulhucene, Donna Haraway calls it. What are the deep ways of our myths and our culture coming back? And I’m very much thinking, these days, about worldview with my friend Tink Tinker—we’re writing a book and it’s about what is worldview. Not ideology, what is beneath ideology. Not religion, what is beneath that. So, this is not what Althusser meant by an ideological state apparatus, in which he uses the apparatus and says that religion is just a function of the apparatus.
I think that the theological aspects, the enchanted aspects hover even beneath the idea of what an apparatus is in much of the philosopher’s thought that we’re discussing today. And indigenous worldviews are a way to think, but that has to be a discussion of listening to indigenous critical theory. Which I have purposely not gone into today, because then we get into these kinds of problems where it’s like, oh, Roger are you speaking for indigenous people or what do you know about it? That kind of stuff.
And I would say I know some things but, yes, I’m not an indigenous person. But where critical theory is and ought to be today, in terms of discourse, ought to be looking at people like Leanne Betasamosake Simpson in books like As We Have Always Done. When we look at real indigenous thinkers, what they are describing, in terms of their communities and the ways that they have done things, is not enchanted. It is not enchantment like, I’ve returned to the forest and fairies and here’s the enchantments like in AMidsummer Night’s Dream, or something like that.
That is not indigenous, nor are the Amazons who are depicted in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The wife in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the conquered Amazon queen. No, no, no. I think that there are voices and people represented. It’s not a matter of simply including them in that kind of ideologized, American university speak. It is a recognition of a limit experience.
So, rather than the psychedelic expansion, it might be that what we need is a recognition of the limit in order to have a sense of—not to allow the other to speak in that a Christian agape way, that like now I can Pac-Man it—the fact that there are limitations to the ideas of the infinite that so thoroughly saturate eurochristian culture, including taking psychedelics and having this kind of ego expansion, ego death experience, so that you can come back and start your new business or whatever it is you’re going to do in the ways that uh psychedelics have become part of the biopolitical establishment of neoliberalism.
Carl Raschke: Yeah, Ben and Jerry’s. I think that’s a good point and I’d ask you this question. Is it really the whole Dionysian meme, eurochristian or Eurocentric? Obviously, it precedes what we call Christianity. A lot of people think Christianity just something that came on the scene and it actually didn’t. It came from the near east. But, isn’t that binary between what Nietzsche called the Apollonian the Dionysian a kind of internal neurosis of the west, in many respects? And the whole idea of citizenship and enchantment or an enchanted citizen, when you’re really talking about what is on the outside. Because the term Indigeneity is fluid, too. But what is on the outside of your ideology and we call that enchanted. That’s not what’s really going on, right?
Speaking of indigenous people, I had a very interesting conversation this morning with a friend of mine who is Native American, who’s also very much coming to terms now with the kind of balance in his own identity. And he was saying that, essentially, when you talk about the indigenous experience, you’re not talking about another ideology. You’re not talking about a different way of seeing the world. You’re talking about a kind of intimacy that you take for granted.
And somebody growing up Native American, who was always somehow being pushed or forced to accept this way of looking at things or this way of talking and finally assimilate and then in kind of a midlife crisis and realize this is not who I am, I want to go back and explore who I really am and is now coming to realize what we would call the indigenous core. He was saying that it is not something that you have to systematize as the indigenous worldview. It’s like this is the way I see things, in a sense the everything else outside it is ideology, it’s a system of thought that is imposed, and so forth. So, the question is, do we get outside our systems of thought? It is not where the real enchantment begins
Roger Green: Well, I like the way that you phrased that because in this discourse of theory these little memes or kernels show up. And one of the one of the ones show up all the time is Francis Fukuyama and the end of history which was claimed at the close of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and that capitalism had won and now all we have is this one-dimensional capitalism. And therefore because we can never see the outside of that matrix that we are now in—no matter what color of pill we take—there’s no use in doing ideology theory, there’s no use in studying critical theory because there’s no way to get at the outside itself.
So, I would say, discursively, that moment passed a long time ago and there were people that kept engaging with theory. And, particularly, they were people who were not included in that discourse to begin with. So, feminist thinkers, womanist thinkers, indigenous thinkers. Once the so-called others, the marginalized folks who weren’t part of the establishment, start gaining some traction in terms of doing real critical theory work, it’s amazing how much the establishment wants to say that we can’t do critical theory anymore, there is no use to do it, it is only only old white men do critical theory.
And that is a way so that we never have to read Fanon we never have to read the post-colonial thinkers. In fact, Gayatri Spivak, the problem with Gayatri Spivak is that she was just a privileged person who is posturing as an actual Indian person and she ignores her own class situation within Indian caste society, or something like that. All of these ways to write thinkers off, like we don’t need to listen to indigenous people because post-colonialism is old hat. Or that it is a bunch of bullshit because there is nothing colonial about indigenous life.
As if anybody has been living in the totality of capitalism more than the people who’ve been dealing with it and being annihilated by it for 500 years, and yet we find all sorts of ways not to be able to listen to them. And then, of course, there’s the identity problems of my first year students, now, who are like, I’m a quarter Cherokee. As my indigenous friends say, was that like your legs, like the calves? Because they’re still working on these kind of blood quantum, biopolitical metaphors of the state.
We’re always, at the end of these conversations, looking for places to go. And I’m always charged with like romanticizing indigenous life or something. Which is just another ideological excuse not to listen to, not to read any indigenous scholars. My girlfriend listened to a podcast with Leon Kass yesterday, who is a total right winger, anti-abortion, women-have-confused-themselves-by-entering-into-to-broader-society-and-now-they-have-lost-what-their-true-relationship-to-men-ought-to-be kind of person and we’re laughing because he talks articulately he was in The New York Times, it’s the same old conservative 60s trope of we’ve lost our values. What was so good about America was the Christian values that the puritans came with to this continent. And it’s just a justification for genocide.
That all that it is, ideology in the strictest sense and what we’re trying to get in these conversations, I think, is something deeper than ideology. It is something like worldview. But we can’t use worldview in an offhand kind of way or we can’t confuse worldview with culture or just call it Weltanschauung or Lebenswelt. Some of the people I’m interested in reading like, for example Mark Freeland, who’s an indigenous and Nishnawbe scholar, he’s got a book on worldview [Aazheyaadizi: Worldview, Language, and the Logics of Decolonization] where he’s gone through the western traditions, he’s gone through Kant, he’s gone through Hegel, he’s gone through all of this stuff, and yet, people don’t listen to him anymore. They’re like, oh, you’re an Indian, well maybe I’ll listen to you because you’re an Indian. But, yeah, he’s also an Indian who’s telling you why the western worldview is wrong.
Carl Raschke: In terms of my friend, who I was referencing this morning, he made it clear that it was the engagement with the critical theoretical critique from within of the kind of ideological worldview that he was forced to be in that led him to realize what he calls the intimacy of indigenous experience. Meaning that it is something natural that you can’t really make it into an ideology. And so, there is this de-ideological process of what critical theory is engaged in. In fact, critical theory is the critique of ideology, in many respects, if you want to trace it back to its Marxist sources.