Tripping on Utopia

[Please note: The word “Featured” on the left side above was NOT inserted by this blogger, but apparently was inserted by WordPress, and it cannot be removed. NO post in this blog is sponsored.]

The Book of the Week is “Tripping on Utopia, Margaret Mead, the Cold War, and the Troubled Birth of Psychedelic Science” by Benjamin Breen, published in 2024. This book documented the circumstances that led several “scientists” in America to experiment with psychedelic drugs from the 1940’s through the 1970’s.

In 1920’s Munich in Germany, psychotherapists tested mescaline on schizophrenic patients. Ditto in 1930’s London, England. In 1933, funded by government or university grants, the thirty-one year old Margaret Mead, along with her male or female lover of the moment (She had a series of them through her life), practiced “salvage anthropology.” She tried to salvage information about exotic cultures that were dying due to colonialism and war.

In the 1930’s, Mead did fieldwork with the Native-American Omaha tribe in the Great Plains. They, and her research subjects in Bali used peyote, a psychedelic drug, for ritual purposes. She theorized about sexual identity and wrote best-selling books.

Mead and her scientific colleagues discussed how Hitler used hypnotism to control the subconscious thoughts of his fellow Germans. He didn’t need psychedelics! Starting in 1939, she and her then-husband studied human nature to help propagandize for the war effort. In 1941, “The members of the Committee for National Morale saw themselves as a shield protecting freedom, democracy and diversity from the weaponized manipulative forms of applied science emanating from Nazi Germany.”

The American federal agency, Office of Strategic Services (OSS) began to study truth serum and hypnosis for the purpose of getting prisoners-of-war to talk, improving the health of traumatized soldiers, and analyzing enemy psychology.

In 1944, since Mead and her husband, Gregory Bateson, had insiders’ knowledge and experience of tribes’ cultures in Asia, they were allowed to play adolescent-boy spy games, thinking they could make the Japanese surrender. In late 1944, Bateson volunteered to go to Burma on perilous missions. In reality, as evinced by kamikazes, and their guerrilla warfare all over the South Pacific theater, the Japanese would never, ever surrender. They would actually fight to the last man. Mead, Bateson, and other spies were fooling themselves. Their big egos led them to risk their lives for nothing.

After the war, the CIA began a series of research projects called MKULTRA. Most of those conducting the LSD, mescaline and psilocybin Cold-War Era studies didn’t know the CIA was providing funding. The Macy Foundation and the Department of Defense were the CIA’s fronts. The operation was a desecration and perversion of legitimate scientific research, as it scrapped the scientific method. In one experiment, a spy posing as a “scientist” slipped LSD into the alcoholic drinks of his unknowing friends and acquaintances at social gatherings.

Further, many of the research described in the book sounded unscientific— lacking rigor (amateur, James-Bond wannabes were conducting them), lacking a statistically significant amount of data, and lacking a regard for chemical interactions of the psychedelics with alcohol!

In the 1950’s– about two decades prior to the outlawing of psychedelics– the “scientific” community (comprised of psychiatrists, pop psychologists and spies, not to mention profiteers) around Stanford University especially, had the arrogant notion that perhaps LSD could accelerate the rate by which global culture could not only become one big, peaceful, happy family with no starvation– but also become more tolerant of otherness, different lifestyles, sexual orientations and gender identity.

It appears that in trying to solve the world’s problems, politicians nowadays are a little less naive than they were in the mid-twentieth century. However, reducing social ills requires multi-pronged approaches– legislation and social programs. Ironically, instead of eliminating social ills, introducing psychedelics to society caused social ills to multiply exponentially.

Anyway, read the book to learn about the evolution of research on psychedelics, including various shameful episodes in which people, dolphins and Siamese fighting fish were harmed or died; one of which involved a prestigious institution (whose main character was, by 1960, described thusly: “Approaching forty, he had alienated most of his colleagues back in Berkeley, was nearly bankrupt, and had no income despite his extravagant multimonth family vacation [in Spain and Florence, Italy].”).