Concept Exchange Society


Wednesday, June 11, 1997 6:30 pm

At Glenn Johnston's House.

Presentation: Rachel Hansen

On The Book "Food of the Gods" by Terrence Mc Kenna

Pre-Meeting Notice:

Says Rachel:
Did hallucinogens bring about modern day human consciousness?
I think it will be interesting, and suprisingly non-controversial


We were nine in our little gathering: Roger, Glenn, Roberto, Kevin (first time), Don, Meredyth, Jeff and me plus Rachel, who gave the presentation.

A Master's Degree in Mathematics was conferred on Roger, just this day, from San Francisco State University. We all took pride in his accomplishment and awarded him an accolade of congratulations.

Rachel, in her usual jubilant and enthusiastic way, began her report on the book , "Food Of The Gods" by Terrence McKenna. It is a revised version (1993) of an earlier book written around 1965 and advertised as "a radical history of plants, drugs and human evolution."

Rachel explained the thesis.
We know that mankind evolved from ape-like creatures. The critical difference separating them is consciousness. (Defined by McKenna to mean 'awareness of awareness'.)
Consciousness arose in the branch of these creatures that ate psychedelic mushrooms. These mushrooms were more abundant then than now. Hallucinations produced awareness and eventually consciousness - awareness of awareness.
That is the thesis.

His arguments for it include these items:
1. Hallucinogens in low doses increase visual acuity, stamina and endurance. It made of our ancestors superior hunters.
2. At higher doses psychedelics break down inhibitions and lead to sexual arousal. That made our ancestors superior breeders.
3. Hallucinogens stimulate the brain in its sound and speech areas. That caused our ancestors to babble and this eventually turned into speech.

So with better hunting, more sex and with babble - all because of psychedelic mushrooms - some apes got on a faster track of evolution. They outstripped their non-mushroom-eating compatriots to evolve into homo sapiens.

McKenna believes that ancient myth records this chain of events. That Eve achieves awareness by eating an apple is an example. Here apple = mushroom.

One might ask, "Why an apple? Why not a pear or a banana? Why does the myth not say she ate a mushroom?" If the Adam and Eve story came down to us as Eve eating a mushroom, McKenna would have a stronger case.
Perhaps primeval apples were hallucinogenic!

Rachel told us that McKenna divides cultures into 'partnership' societies and 'dominator' ones. Primitive nomads have a communal partnership society. Psylicybin grows in cow dung so these people were supplied with mushrooms via the animals they herded. They were therefore 'laid back'.
Societies that stopped taking hallucinogens degenerated into the dominator one we know today. It is based on exploiting and controlling the environment - via commercial agriculture, mining and building permanent structures.

Is this an imaginative yarn spun from a hallucinogenic euphoria - a fiction?
Is it a credible piece of scholarship regarding the origins of human kind?

It is the former. It is a fairy tale catering to the prejudices of political correctness:
that modern society is too rigid and mechanical,
that primitive societies were more wholesome and idyllic,
that there are mystical messages of great profundity in scriptural texts,
that we are oppressed by conspiracies of big corporations and of government who control how people behave.
People with these views see McKenna's book as further evidence of conspiracy: that of the academic world in rejecting McKenna's ideas.

Are these tenets of political correctness true? Like most generalizations there are scattered grains of truth. But the allegations distort reality.

Some nomadic societies might have been idyllic. But there exists today, in the rain forest of South America, aboriginal nomadic societies who thrive on war, on beheading and eating their victims and raping and enslaving their opponents' women. Needless to say, the neighboring tribes have the same code of behavior. They arm their children with sticks and encourage them to practice fighting. They have ceremonies of pain to generate a warrior spirit. These people are primitive nomads. They are not "laid back."
"Laid backness" is not universal among nomads.
Nor are primitive societies necessarily more idyllic than ours

Are there conspiracies? I'm sure there are.
But, in fact, we live in a remarkably free and permissive society.

We live where most oppression
is merely the triumph
of our neighbors views over our own.

There exists a drug war - not because the CIA wants it - but because our neighbors and compatriots want it. Politicians read polls and react to them. They give speeches and take positions that cater to their constituents. The ones who promote the drug war get elected.

Everyone at our meeting agreed that the War on Drugs does far more evil than it does good. And that a more rationale drug policy is needed.
But that we live in a place where drugs are illegal does not mean we are victims of a conspiracy. We are merely outvoted - for the moment.

That McKenna is not taken seriously among anthropologists is not a conspiracy. It is simply that they are far more knowledgeable than we are on the subject. They recognize ill informed writing. They work by a much higher standard than McKenna.

One hundred years ago being a barber was sufficient authority to pull teeth.
But now, when we go to a certified dentist we are gaurenteed that barbers are excluded. They are refused entry by the dentists into their society. We demand it! We trust that certified dentists will keep incompetents out. We want communities of people with demonstrated expertise to police their ranks. Else we could never be sure, when we consult them, that we are getting a sound consensus from people who study the subject.

It is recorded that the Emperor Caligula insisted upon having one of his horses, Incitatus by name, elevated in the Roman Senate to the rank of Consul. Needless to say, the senators would not have spontaneously decided to make a horse one of their members. They recognized that a horse is not competent on affairs of state and ought to be excluded from their community.

The anthropologists are a senate of experts. That they don't want a horse among them is not a matter of 'conspiracy'. Nor should we want to emulate Caligula and demand that they accept a horse.

For those who want a more reasoned perspective on the pros and cons of U.S. drug policy I recommend the publications of the Drug Policy Foundation. Their URL is:

June 1997
Marvin Chester

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© m chester 1997 Occidental CA