Why Are Psychedelics Illegal?

Dominator Partnership Eisler Mckenna

Terence McKenna viewed cannabis, psilocybin, DMT, LSD, and other psychedelics as “catalysts of intellectual dissent.” He wrote in The Archaic Revival (1991) that his assumption about psychedelics had always been that they were illegal “not because it troubles anyone that you have visions” but because “there is something about them that casts doubts on the validity of reality.” This makes it difficult, McKenna observed, for societies—even democratic and especially “dominator” societies—to accept them, and we happen to live in a global “dominator” society.

McKenna often used the words “partnership” and “dominator” to refer to types of societies and relationships. Riane Eisler, whose work McKenna often praised, coined these terms. In The Archaic Revival, McKenna wrote:

Recently Riane Eisler in her important revisioning of history, The Chalice and the Blade, has advanced the important notion of “partnership” models of society being in competition and oppressed by “dominator” forms of social organization. These latter are hierarchical, paternalistic, materialistic, and male dominated. Her position is that it is the tension between these two forms of social organization and the overexpression of the dominator model that is responsible for our alienation. I am in complete agreement with Eisler’s view.

To better understand why, in McKenna’s view, psychedelics are illegal, it may be helpful to examine why the world today operates on a dominator instead of a partnership model, and what exactly these terms mean. To do this, we’ll examine Eisler’s work, which (like much of McKenna’s work, I think) exposed egregiously overlooked and deliberately suppressed aspects of history and nature. In her book The Chalice and the Blade, Eisler argued that for the majority of at least the past ~32,000 years, humans lived in partnership societies, within a global partnership culture—a way of life that is almost unimaginable today.

Eisler introduced the terms partnership and dominator via her Cultural Transformation theory, which proposed that “underlying the great surface diversity of human culture are two basic models of society.” In (1) the dominator model, half of humanity is ranked over the other half. Because this bias involves “the most fundamental difference in our species, between male and female,” it then becomes the basis for all other relationships (and, I think, probably even experiences). In (2) the partnership model, diversity isn’t equated with inferiority or superiority; instead of “ranking,” there’s what Eisler called “linking.”

In Eisler’s view, the dominator/partnership dichotomy is neither ideology-specific (both capitalism and communism can, and have, operated with dominator values) nor gender-specific—both women and men can, and do, embody dominator attitudes. McKenna praised this aspect of Eisler’s work in particular. He said in The Evolutionary Mind (1998):

I don’t see it as a male disease. I think everybody in this room has a far stronger ego than they need. The great thing that Riane Eisler, in her book The Chalice and the Blade, did for this discussion was to de-genderize the terminology. Instead of talking about patriarchy and all this, what we should be talking about is dominator versus partnership society.

While it’s often assumed that men have historically been the dominant, oppressive sex—which would potentially debunk Eisler’s gender-neutral theory—that is incorrect. Eisler showed that the dominator model that now exists globally, and which is arguably led by the United States, a country with 44 consecutive male presidents and vice presidents, is a recent development. From ~35000 BC (the earliest that “so-called Venus figurines,” as Eisler called them, have been dated) to ~5000 BC, humans exemplified the partnership model. There was neither patriarchy nor matriarchy. As McKenna wrote in Food of the Gods (1992):

Eisler used the archaeological record to argue that over vast areas and for many centuries the partnership societies of the ancient Middle East were without warfare and upheaval. Warfare and patriarchy arrived with the appearance of dominator values.

Evidence of this partnership way of life was discovered, among other places, at a site called Catal Huyuk in Anatolia. Excavations uncovered a period of time from ~7500 BC (at the time Eisler’s book was published excavations had only uncovered back to ~6500 BC) to ~5700 BC. The archeologists found “no glaring social inequalities,” a matrilineal and matrilocal social organization, and that “the divine family of Catal Huyuk” was represented in this order of importance: mother, daughter, son, father ( via vice.com ).

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