Can ayahuasca heal the crisis of capitalism?

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Ayahuasca is going global“, said a prominent psychedelic researcher recently, and it is also going mainstream as part of journeying across the planet. In the Californian TV series “Weeds” the leading act, Marie-Louise Parker’s character, Nancy Botwin, drinks ayahuasca under rather suspect circumstances with the leader of a drug-, guns- and human- trafficking Mexican mafia, who is also the mayor of Tijuana for added comic value. The ceremony is led by a young shaman who is told by the spirit of the medicinal brew not to give it to Nancy; she is not ready for it, so to speak, but he uses the words “I should not give it to her” and the gangster boss says “that’s alright, I’ll give it to her then”. Not off to a good start, but then again what do those shamans know about what a mobster’s girlfriend needs?

Watch the ayahuasca sequence here:

There are various issues at play here. Firstly, the most obvious one of the slightly forced drinking where the strong male insists that the little girl drinks despite warnings by the learned practitioner. That, however, is not so bad, – perhaps he knew better..

Much more interesting is that Nancy’s headache for which she is to be treated is a headache that finds its pain in the creeping notion that she is involved in something that is rather unethical, namely the trafficking of humans (from Mexico to the U.S.; presumably as bonded labour, maybe even in the sex industry, we do not know (yet)).

In other words, she is going to drink ayahuasca in order to heal the scars that an unethical job cuts in her soul. Mr. Forceful uses it whenever he has “issues” and “to learn”, which in the case of the latter could mean developing business practices of trafficking in humans, in the worst case scenario.

Some people say that ayahuasca is inherently a good thing and that in the end those who drink will see the light and come to the force of good, but I don’t think that plants have ethics or moral values, let alone principles. It is true that ayahuasca is a strong hallucinogenic substance that can open many doors, but so are LSD, cannabis and many other good chemicals and plants that have been used to further self-interest by a whole generation of hippies and other conventional people who accumulated primitive social relations in the margin and commodified them with great success in the central market place. There is nothing inherently counter cultural about getting stoned or drinking ayahuasca – all kinds of people do it and always have.

Another way to look at it is in terms of something sometimes called black magic – it refers to those who choose or cannot escape the lure of the dark side; black magic has a long and complicated history, but a good indication of what happens when shamanism and the market places come into play with one another is that, as is often the case in the Amazon and the Andes, shamans are invited with cash offers to cast a spell on a market competitor for some up and coming business man. To bring bad luck for his business or to even kill him. Amongst the indigenous and mestizo populations in Peru and Ecuador and beyond the power of ayahuasca can come in the form of a service by a shaman to further one’s self-interest.

Something of the somewhat same order is beginning to take shape as ayahuasca goes global: use to further self-interest. Nancy Botwin, is she imitating life or is life imitating her? How often does an organised criminal have to drink ayahuasca in order to maintain an equilibrium in their soul?

Drawing up business plans during ayahuasca ceremonies – does that really go on? It probably does and what is worse, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Drink with good intentions, say some shamans, and that is a good idea. Think in terms of autonomous self-help groups that heal each other collectively – sort themselves out and (prophylactically) protect themselves from bad social energies and dis-ease in general.

It wouldn’t take long to ethnographically establish, however, that the growing ayahuasca industry is not predominantly a people’s revolution, but rather a high class act. It is not to say that there is no altruistic drinking of spirit juice going down, – there sure is; but there is a mainstream culture of ayahuasca in the making that is for people with loads of cash – ayahuasca has become a cash crop. Isn’t that a shame? An ayahuasca super star is coming to Europe and a few days of ceremonies will set you back close to £500 pounds! Going around Peru for a few weeks, only a few thousand dollars (food not included), it’s a gas!

Going global is a good thing, I suppose, – the healing powers of the drink are clearly beneficial in a wide range of ways, the stability to life that it can provide and the group healing, community building potential that it so clearly exhibits are promising. Business as usual, however, it is the rich and beautiful who get to skim the cream. Where is the movement of autonomous ayahuasca self-help groups? Ayahuasca spiritual, anarchist fight clubs?

It is all too well known that the liberal / capitalist / christian / patriarchal apparatus of white male dominance over the world is faltering – since the the beginning of the World War (did it ever stop, is there more than one World War?) there have been various crises. Much more WAR in the 1940s, but it carried on in many countries around the world, from Korea to Guatemala, then there was May ’68, an oil crisis and then things began to heat up in the Middle East as the oil is running out and profits not growing as much as they used to. In recent years, Seattle, Gothenburg, Genova etc. etc. Repression is growing – but the crisis was always there, even from within the French Revolution can the State of Exception be traced. Currently airlines, tour operators and financial institutions are crashing like a fish on a bike. People who live in such chaotic systems as the socalled free market obviously need a medicine for the soul in order to carry on carrying out orders, authored as we are by advertising texts, – we need Huxley’s Soma .. and enter ayahuasca: the very crowning healing substance. The new acid, man! Only it’s much better and way more powerful, the Holy Grail of drugs, dude. My head is breaking open for business!


10 thoughts on “Can ayahuasca heal the crisis of capitalism?

    Ege said:
    Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 18:10 (798)

    This critique reminded me of Zizek’s criticism of new age philosophies in capitalistic society. I’ll never say that ayahuasca is inherently good but other that being fast growing high class show-off commodity doesn’t it have any use for us?

    People might use ayahuasca for bad purposes, we see that in Amazons as well like black-magic. But if further explored ayahuasca, lsd and similiar mind-exploring substances also offer a chance to refind what is missing in capitalism; an inner experience. And still this might be black or white we should blame the person who uses it not ayahuasca itself.


    shamanbear said:
    Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 20:24 (891)

    ayahuasca can be an amazing revealer and healer. it depends on your own psyche and intention,
    as to what she offers. money is secondary to the path of self realization and collective offering
    of knowledge. in no way is she lighthearted or a party treat. saying that, she offers love, healing,
    wisdom and guidance. in all honesty, if you are coming from a pure intention, she will respect your
    needs and wishes.

    colono responded:
    Monday, September 15, 2008 at 07:34 (357)

    Thanks for your comments.

    @ Ege:
    I am convinced that ayahuasca has a use for “us” – whoever that may be. Im tha article i was merely concerned with the growing upper middle-class to neo-aristocratic fashioning of the medicine – and I am precisely concerned because I know that it is a very powerful medicine that can heal many wounds with time, – and in these times the capitalist, self-interested, rational agent market place is in a severe crisis and I would hate to see that system of destruction healing itself in order to carry on destroying the human habitats and those of many other animals and plants with the aid of ayahuasca.

    With regards to “an inner experience” and capitalism I think you are missing the very point of capitalism – an inner experience is exactly what capitalism gives people: the magic of capitalism is the miracle of the socialisation of the means of production, which gives you double-glazed windows, air-conditioned cars and little day dreams provided by the spells of ingenious advertising agendas. Turn on your TV or drink ayahuasca – both activities will give you little dreams – one set of dreams will be about healing and taking care, the other set of dreams will play on the same sort of feelings and emotions, but will be about buying things to make you, your wife (or husband) or children happy and thereby generate profits for the advertising shamans’ patrons. In other words, capitalism offers strong inner experiences, but they are misguiding dreams, – the black magic of capitalism, and will send you shopping.

    @ shamanbear:
    I think, well I believe, even, that ayahuasca can give you what you want even if your intentions are dirty and exploitative – there are most likely very undesirable side effects from dabbling in black magic, but I think it is very possible to use ayahuasca by night and be a monster like Bill Gates or Dick Cheney by day – for instance the former is under the magic spell of capitalism when he perceives his own work as good for the world (including paying loads of cash for Africans to have access to medicine, – medicine which is to expensive due to the completely distorted system of intellectual property rights that Microsoft with Bill Gates at the helm have helped create). He also puts us under the spell in doing so – makes people believe that it is OK to amass excessive amounts of wealth, since it allows you to be a good person when giving it away again. But why take it in the first place? If in doubt, if your conscience if troubling you – and that’s that Nancy Botwin did – then have another sip of ayahuasca and you will be feeling fine at the end of the pay day.

    Whether money is secondary to path of self-realisation, well, what can I say: it is irrelevant if you have it, but if you don’t it is a prerequisite: who can pay £500 pounds to hang out with a shaman for a few days? Can you? I cannot, so it is not secondary, but primary.

    Of course ayahuasca can offer love and light, but it also offers access to a very dark side – notwithstanding your psyche – the dark side is real and it is a realm of terror and fear and what is worse, at the door step of the dead. Not a vert nice place to be, yet it can be very illuminating in ways that are beyond words.

    Once again, thanks for your comments.

    AwakeningLife said:
    Monday, September 15, 2008 at 13:40 (611)

    I know that it is a very powerful medicine that can heal many wounds with time, – and in these times the capitalist, self-interested, rational agent market place is in a severe crisis and I would hate to see that system of destruction healing itself in order to carry on destroying the human habitats and those of many other animals and plants with the aid of ayahuasca.

    I have no doubt that Ayahuasca can be, and is, used/abused for things that some of us consider immoral, but I draw the line at believing she would assist someone to destroy the Earth! That’s surely the very thing she is trying to prevent!

    The message I’ve been getting very clearly from Aya is that healing the destruction wrought by human greed is very much part of her agenda. But it’s not a head-on fight. It starts with healing each individual, so they don’t need to buy stuff anymore to make themselves feel better.

    Maybe you could argue that I’m getting that message because that’s my *own* agenda, although only the latter part has only become revealed to me during Aya experiences. But still, maybe there is no plant spirit, maybe Aya is just another personal enhancement device, and the “enhancement” offered is whatever the drinker thinks “enhancement” means? I don’t know, I’m still a young apprentice.

    But it’s interesting you ask “Where is the movement of autonomous ayahuasca self-help groups?” Well, perhaps they exist, perhaps they’re starting to pop up all over the place as Aya spreads through the world. But perhaps, like the fight clubs you compared them to, the first rule is we don’t talk about them (except to people who are candidates to join). Perhaps there’s more going on than you realise?

    Also… wasn’t Huxley’s soma an anaesthetic/sedative, something that made people feel better without really healing them? Are you really comparing this to ayahuasca? Perhaps you meant the original Soma from the Rig Veda that Huxley only borrowed the name of?

    colono responded:
    Monday, September 15, 2008 at 13:54 (621)

    I mean Soma in the sense of a drug that can keep the circus going – of course it is not sedative that numbs you into submission, but it could be a substance that keeps you going through the show – that was the whole point of the Weeds commentary: it is used by a gangster to live and learn; whenever he has problems, of whatever kind a gangster may have such, he drinks ayahuasca.

    It would be great if there were ayahuasca “fight clubs” – and I wholeheartedly agree that it might be a very good practice not to talk about (for legal and magical reasons) – and the comment was meant as a kind of critique of the building of churches with hierarchies that seem to be springing up everywhere – whether Christian or Pagan or whatever denomination. Which can bring us back to the absence of ethics in the realm of plants: if there was such a good hearted she spirit with morals, ethics or principles inherent in the ayahuasca brew would she really allow herself to be used as an agent to create hierarchies and essentially replicate the Christian structures that has condemned her for hundreds of years?

    In any case, and I am just probing here, provoking even, there are many questions and challenges involved in translating ayahuaca practices from their native environment and so far there are good reasons to fear the worst in the hands of the privateers.

    montuno said:
    Wednesday, September 17, 2008 at 08:53 (411)

    cool … God bless

    colono responded:
    Wednesday, September 17, 2008 at 09:06 (421)

    @ AwakaningLife – in response to:

    “I have no doubt that Ayahuasca can be, and is, used/abused for things that some of us consider immoral, but I draw the line at believing she would assist someone to destroy the Earth! That’s surely the very thing she is trying to prevent!”

    I think that “she” has little intent or capacity beyond what is invested in her. Black magic has been used for many many generations and – surely – destroying specific humans is not very different from destroying natural places, trees or the habitats of other animals. Over the last two years in a the Ecuadorian Amazon, according to the president of the Shamans’ Association in that region, approximately 20 shamans were killed by other shamans as a consequence of psychic warfare – and this has been common place for (at least) hundreds of years.

    It is an illusion to think that ayahuasca cannot be used to do outight destructive things – take note of the fact that ayahuasca (and other shamanic trance states) are traditionally also used to determine whether to go war against the next tribe – sometimes to annihilate them and take their women for procreation and genetic cleansing (just as described in the Bible!).

    She is not inherently good. Don’t deny the dark side or it will come get you when you least expect it. Embrace the dark side and live with it in order to keep it at bay, I say.

    dwenaus said:
    Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 18:11 (799)

    Good warning signs here. I once met a ‘dark’ shaman in my journeys in the amazon. We were waiting by the river downriver from chazutah, he was selling ayahuasca to anyone, and really wanted me to give him my sunglasses and camera. He also happened to carry around a human skull. Ayahuasca has power and that power can be used for selfish aims. But in my experience, like buddhism or other psychedelics, usually the person is transformed in a positive way, and only the rare person is so crooked that they choose the dark path.

    colono responded:
    Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 20:22 (890)

    Yes, there are hopefully not too many Darth Vaders in the world 🙂

    Sartre was interesting on speed, Hitler was a bit scary, but not much worse than other politicians, I suppose, especially those other world leaders who admired him (and those who still do).

    Not being bad, but only being a pawn i the game during the week and ayahuasca weekend warrior, however, you know, wearing a suit in the celebrity-industrial complex during the week and feathers in ceremony weekends is not exactly greatly promising for social change.

    Perhaps I am simply impatient – but global climate change and financial crisis – disaster is looming and we better get going for real. No more time to pretend, really.

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