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Tunneling Out: An Interview with Tao Lin photo

I really liked Trip. I read it very fast. It is a book about DMT, psychedelics in general, Terrence McKenna and also Kathleen Harrison, who runs Botanical Dimensions, a botanical preserve in Hawaii designed to protect and educate others on medicinal plants, their history and lore, and how they are significant to cultural and spiritual development. It is a book about nature, and about the nature of the world we live in, specifically the United States. I haven’t done psychedelics in almost a decade but was still very interested in the synthesis of DMT and the connection Tao Lin made with glyphosate, that essentially, glyphosate is a known disrupter in the making of two specific amino acids in the human body, and that there are ways it is making people sick. I have a strange, almost too-deep love for plants, and personally, I am super concerned with glyphosate in foods and the environment, and have been against Monsanto (who makes it) in some form or another since college, about 2006. In college I used to be part of a radical environmental action collective where we raised awareness about the ways Monsanto was exploiting farmers in the global south and in India. It has long been known that young men working fields in India had been dying of a very specific kidney disease which in 2014 was linked to the use of glyphosate, so to see these discussions raising concern about glyphosate was very exciting.

It was also nice to see information and research on how glyphosate is damaging presented in the way Lin presented it, and to see someone talking about Silent Spring, which I’d read in college. It was a groundbreaking book on the dangers of DDT, one of the first synthetic pesticides, published in 1962 by Rachel Carson. Since then, I have seen some people justify Monsanto’s existence by making the argument that science says genetically modified foods are safe, and I have been criticized for being against Monsanto. What they are missing though is that it’s not necessarily about the GMO food. Sure, that could have some effect we aren’t aware of. The terminator seed controversy, and the patenting of genes, that is concerning. The lobbying power that Monsanto has in the US government is and always will be concerning, as well. But that is not the overarching issue. The overarching issue is how damaging glyphosate has been to poor farmers in developing countries, and how damaging it is to us as consumers of food. How ubiquitous it is. 

Lately, this mantra that life is resilient has been echoing through my head a lot. I think of a George Carlin skit from a 1998 stand-up special, where he critiques environmentalists. He said, “maybe the earth just made humans because it really needed a lot of plastic.” I think about that line a lot, and laugh, and wonder what George Carlin would have thought of the giant plastic barge now floating in the ocean. The one that is now the size of some countries. That, perhaps he is right. And perhaps we are changing our environment— and our minds and bodies— in some way that will one day benefit this planet that we cannot see. However, with more studies emerging on the dangers of glyphosate, I am not sure. Trip looks at the development of humans and the life of earth over a very long period of time— tens of thousands, to millions and billions of years. He discusses the partnership-dominator model, and posits that this dominator model is one that has existed for a very short period of time on the very long, abstract timeline of Homo sapiens existence. He discusses McKenna’s discussions with ‘the mushroom’— some wisdom from our imaginations or from some other source, perhaps, that we cannot understand or synthesize in this current state. Despite the choking fear and anxiety I have over what the presence of pesticides and other toxins we’ve produced as a species may be doing to our bodies, perhaps there is some long term story playing out that we cannot yet understand. Maybe this model, as Lin posits, could end soon, or would not be very long, and perhaps Homo sapiens could one day return to the partnership model with nature. What that may mean, however, is left up to the mushroom. 

After reading Trip, I had some questions for Lin, and interviewed him by email.

I really enjoyed reading about your experiences with Kathleen Harrison and I also loved seeing her side of the story because I’ve known / heard so much about Terence McKenna before. It was refreshing to hear her say some things that would have otherwise stayed hidden, like McKenna’s two month stint with not smoking weed, and how it made him irritable and hard to be around (even though, as reported in your book, he said he hadn’t felt affected). In your chapter on “Why is LSD illegal?” you introduce the reader to the dominator/partnership model of existence as well, this idea that, prior to 7,000 years ago, Homo sapiens lived, culturally, in mostly matriarchal societies, and theorize goddess worship was very common (as presented by the Venus of Hohle Fels, and the discussion that Paleolithic peoples may not have even had a concept of having a father). At what point in writing Trip, and then talking to Harrison, did you realize that, in a microcosmic way, her own work may have been overshadowed by McKenna’s, and what made you want to highlight this synthesis of plant study/ the preservation of nature from McKenna’s work evolving into the work Harrison continues to do today? 

I'm glad you noticed the turn toward Kathleen. After I wrote Tao of Terence—12-week column for Vice on Terence McKenna and psychedelics—in 2014 I regretted not interviewing Kathleen Harrison for it. So when I made my outline for Trip, which I discussed with my editor in February 2016, I planned in it to visit Kathleen in Occidental and to write about it in Trip's epilogue, in part because I'd learned she was teaching a plant-drawing class—through the nonprofit, Botanical Dimensions, she started with Terence in 1985—on my 33rd birthday. My editor was excited about the idea. That ended up happening, and while writing Trip my editor and I decided to shift its focus, through the book, from Terence to Kathleen, to go from masculine to feminine, dead to alive. This came naturally, because while writing Tao of Terence, I learned from Terence about the ancient Goddess religion and ended up reading six or seven books on it by Merlin Stone, Marija Gimbutas, and James Mellaart. The first draft of Trip had an entire, ~8k-word chapter on the Goddess religion; that was deleted and absorbed into the "Why Are Psychedelics Illegal?" chapter as a ~2300-word passage. Turning from Terence to Kathleen also felt natural because both of them often promoted balance, with Kathleen discussing it more, and it encouraged me to balance the book, so it is about both Terence and Kathleen. 

Do you ever worry that lessening your own intake of cannabis might lead to a similar situation, in which you feel irritable/hard to be around? 

I do. In Taiwan, when I've visited my parents, as I've done for 2-3 months the past four years, I haven't had cannabis for weeks at a time, and it has made me irritable and grumpy and hard to be around, with no sense of humor or ability to be playful or fun. It's less of a worry, though, than just an observation, because without cannabis or LSD or other drugs, I am usually irritable and grumpy. Also, I can reduce my usage gradually and I use other drugs also, like kratom and tobacco and caffeine, so actually I don't worry about it. I'm more happy and excited that I can be unirritable and ungrumpy, and have a sense of humor and the capability to feel wonder and smile and laugh, daily via cannabis.

In one part of the book you talk about your insecurity in eating turmeric after being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondilitis. It seems to me that people who are drawn most to a low-inflammatory lifestyle do probably have some chronic condition in which they are seeking relief from (I have an endocrine disorder, where a low-starch diet really helps prevent a lot of problems). I was also curious about this in the sense that I also love eating turmeric as part of my diet but I usually juice it first and put it in a fermented drink. However, I was reading that the anti-inflammatory chemical in turmeric, curcumin, is only about 3 percent of the root itself. Why not, then, take curcumin as a supplement, which would be more efficient and have higher bioavailability? 

I do use turmeric fresh—by just eating it usually, sometimes with a meal—and also as powder. I like putting the powder in a glass jar with cayenne, clove, and cinnamon, then adding hot mineral water, honey, and ghee. Besides curcumin, turmeric also has vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and ar-turmerone, which increases neural stem cell growth, so that could be one reason to use whole turmeric or turmeric powder instead of only curcumin. By the way, I've noticed that Wikipedia, getting its information from the government and mainstream culture, is often frustratingly biased against nature. Turmeric's Wikipedia page says "Although long used in Ayurvedic medicine, there is no high-quality clinical evidence for use of turmeric or its main constituent, curcumin, as a therapy." Here is some clinical evidence.

I was most impressed by your chapter on the CIA’s involvement in the criminalization of LSD as a schedule I drug, despite the evidence to the contrary that the adverse effects, physically, are nil, and your discussion of sitting on a grand jury during deliberations of drug charges. What was the process of research like for this part of the book? 

I'm glad you enjoyed that chapter, thank you. The process was constantly evolving. I took daily notes on my jury duty experience, but I do on everything I do, so that part was normal. I printed the notes, which was maybe ~15k words, and ended up including maybe ~1500 words of it, in "Why Are Psychedelics Illegal?" which ended up, after five drafts, alternating jury duty sections and sections where I discuss the history of cannabis legality, the CIA's use of LSD in MKUltra, the Army's use of LSD in interrogation, partnership and dominator cultures, the Goddess religion, Catal Huyuk (the most advanced culture of the Neolithic, where people lived egalitarianly—neither matriarchal nor patriarchal, but partnership—and worshipped a female deity for at least 1900 years), and the Eleusianian Mysteries, where for 1900 years people had the option to go and drink kykeon, a psychedelic beverage. I'd begun reading about these things in 2014, and I just kept reading, following my interests, going a few books deep into various directions. Then I put what had interested and surprised me the most into Trip, taking out and putting back in things over six or seven drafts, with input from editor.

I’m also curious if there were things you discovered about the CIA and the war on drugs that you perhaps didn’t mention in the book. 

There are. The scariest book I've ever read, I think, is Surviving Evil (2014) by Karen Wetmore. It's about how she was experimented on by the CIA in the 1970s and 1980s and possibly 1990s. She was put in near-continuous solitary confinement, naked with her hands tied behind her back, or in a straightjacket, for eight months. She was most likely sexually assaulted by one or two doctors, and received many vaginal suppositories and experimental drugs disguised as placebos. She didn't learn any of this until reading her hospital records in 1997, when her therapist suggested she try to write a narrative of her life. She eventually became obsessed with researching her past, filing Freedom of Information Act requests over years to multiple government organizations, and discovered that a thousand or more deeply marginalized people (in hospitals) may have died from terminal experiments. I had ~5000 words on this in Trip, but it was edited out. The Rutland Herald covered her story in 2008, but her book has received no mainstream attention, only five or six reviews from obscure websites that the mainstream would view as illegitimate sources of information. 

It all seems related, that there is an inherent fear of counter-culture or ‘revolutionary’ thinking in this particular institution, and that these institutions are used to keep people oppressed that the state deems ‘dangerous’ or otherwise ‘not useful’ to its society. Recently, Popular Mechanics magazine reported that a journalist who made a FOIA request received, presumably on accident, records of the effects of electromagnetic, remote mind control from the US Government. When I read a document like this, a part of my mind feels vilified that, indeed, the government is doing all kinds of things to us, the ill effects of which we aren’t aware of— such as allowing Monsanto and other private companies to use glyphosate and other pesticides while its damaging effects are suppressed— and also that, for example, the United States government was experimenting on humans (The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is one such example, as well as the LSD ones mentioned in your book)— at least— until the late 1970s. However, there is another part of me that fears being too gullible, and I am always trying to find the cleanest, most objective source possible for information. It makes me wonder just how deep the rabbit hole goes. How, in your process of research, did you parse through so much information and decide which was best, or the most correct, to use and present in Trip

At some point, I stopped conceptualizing these topics as going down rabbitholes. It feels more like I'm tunneling out of a small, recently-made, human-made hole deep underground. I'm tunneling out into a much larger world, and as I do this I get surprisingly less confused and more hopeful. The world still seems terrible to me, but learning all these reasons why it feels terrible—and learning that these things are startlingly recent in human history, in that synthetic pesticides like glyphosate have been used for only around 50 years, whereas Homo sapiens has existed for at least 280,000 years—gives me opportunities to make it feel less terrible for myself and others. 

There was, in 2015 and 2016, a part of me that feared being too gullible sometimes. But that has changed. Now, when I'm not sure if something is true or not, I can research it from multiple angles—seeing what the mainstream thinks, what the NYTimes thinks, what I think from my own research, and what people think who disagree with the mainstream—and I can feel confident on what is true or not, what is inaccurate and why, why there is disagreement between sources, etc. For health- and biology-related things, it has been helpful to me to learn how different compounds physically affect the body, so that no one can lie to me about it. When a person can picture something in their mind, can conceptualize glyphosate going into the body and killing microbes and binding to aluminum and bringing it to the pineal gland and being inserted into proteins by accident in place of glycine, they don't need the FDA or EPA or NYTimes or other sources anymore to inform them on glyphosate. Those sources haven't gotten into the literal molecular action of glyphosate, they just tell people it's safe, or that so-and-so said it's safe.

In my process of research, I learned that accurate information exists in nonfiction books, ranging from obscure (Surviving Evil, The C.I.A. Doctors) to perennial (Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Silent Spring) to bestselling (A Mind of Your Own, Nourishing Traditions), and from nonprofit organizations, like the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Detox Project and Moms Across America. Accurate information also exists in the mainstream media, but it seems rare. Mostly only paying attention to the NYTimes, NPR, Vice, newspapers, and magazines (as I felt I was taught to do in college at NYU studying journalism) has confused me and filled me with despair. In Trip, I decided to include the things I'd learned that most excited me and gave me hope, and that I didn't learn in college or other sources in the first ~30 years of my life, to remind myself and give myself hope and meaning, and to share so I can discuss with people in the future. 

Trip looks at human existence on a very, very long timeline. Did you ever feel overwhelmed by the vast majority of information you parsed through? How did you handle that? 

Most of the time I didn't feel overwhelmed, maybe because of how interested I was, and because I had 30+ files in Google Drive for Trip where I organized everything. I also kept a file of metadata, tracking all the edits from draft to draft and saving my deletions, which I sometimes read through, seeing if something could go back in. I had almost no other obligations while writing Trip, and spent most of my time alone, reading and writing, which also helped with not being overwhelmed. 

One thing I was surprised to see was no mention of Daniel Pinchbeck, who has written a lot on McKenna and DMT. He wrote 2012, The Return of Quetzlcoatl, which I had read when it came out in 2006. Although definitely not without its problems, this book was my first introduction to McKenna, and jumpstarted my interest in this idea McKenna called “the end of novelty.” 

I enjoyed Pinchbeck's Breaking Open the Head. I read it in January 2016, and want to reread it to think more about Iboga, which my book only mentions. I would have mentioned Pinchbeck's book, but I didn't mention a lot of things, like Surviving Evil, in part to, with help from my editor, purify the book. We were always working on editing down. The things that I didn't mention I'm glad I didn't mention because I want to write about them in my next book, which I'm working on now. 

For years I had thought of this— the end of novelty— in abstract terms of ideas, such as those present in mainstream media consumption— like the fact that every  blockbuster movie these days is a remake of a remake, or part of a series (like Insidious or Saw), or from comic books, which doesn’t feel compelling, as they are all the same ideas recycled over and over again. But then I read in Trip that McKenna actually defines novelty more like complexity, with this idea that as the universe ages, it also becomes more complex, and that there is more novelty. However, he also theorized that at some point, we would hit peak complexity. I’m curious what you make of his initial ideas of “novelty theory/timewave zero”—that novelty ended roughly in 2012, that we have perhaps hit peak complexity as a universe. 

There seem to be a lot of views on what McKenna thought about 2012. In my view, he did sometimes propose setting December 2012 as the end date for his fractal model of time, in which time has an end, but he also said that it was impossible to know the end date, only to guess it, and that he felt it was decades to, at most, centuries away. I think he proposed that date so people could better graph and contemplate his fractal theory of time. I want to try to explain what excited me a lot when I first heard it from McKenna—that he viewed the universe as a novelty-conserving engine. It achieves greater complexity from previous achieved levels of complexity. Atoms become amino acids. Amino acids become proteins. Unicellular organisms become multicellular, become fish, become humans. This increasing, and acceleratingly increasing novelty/complexity, will lead, within centuries or decades, McKenna proposed, to what he called "the end of history." History conventionally is defined as beginning when writing was invented ~5-6000 years ago in Sumer/Egypt (Marija Gimbutas, I want to add, has pointed out, though, that it actually was invented before ~7000 years ago throughout Anatolia and Europe), but McKenna's use of "history" refers to when humans ended hundreds of thousands of years of nomadism and started farming ~12,000 years ago (though Graham Hancock and others have compellingly argued it began before then, and that the mainstream theory on the origin of agriculture is actually a rebeginning of agriculture). By "the end of history," McKenna means that it seems that humans will somehow leave time and enter the imagination—through technology, some unanticipated emergent property like just being sucked up into a higher dimension once humans reach a certain level and density of interconnectedness, or possibly through cosmic intervention from other lifeforms in the universe, as written about by Arthur C. Clarke in his novel Childhood's End

This end of history idea seems to fall in line a bit with Ray Kurzweil's singularity theory, which seems crazy. Have you heard of that? What do you think of this idea that the end of history and entering into imagination could be the omega point / singularity for humankind? 

Yes, I have heard of Kurzweil's theory, I read some of his book The Singularity Is Near around ten years ago. I think he focuses on technological singularity, on exponential technological advance changing humankind in a major way, but I'm not sure where he thinks we're going. With McKenna's worldview, we're going into the imagination—a place explored by aboriginals via psychedelics for probably tens or hundreds of millennia, and a place we go in dreams—and it could happen via technology, an emergent property (like billions of cells combining to form an animal), intervention from other lifeforms in the galaxy or universe or other worlds, or other ways. I'm excited about this idea, that the imagination is a place, realer and larger than the universe, where humankind is going, where every human goes when they die, and from where humans have increasingly downloaded ideas into the universe.

Do you think this aligns with your discussion of hope in seeing how the “dominator” model of society, the one that favors one gender over the other, which Riane Eisler posits has only been around for roughly 7,000 years, as opposed to the 200,000 some-odd years that Homo sapiens have existed prior to that, in a partnership model with nature, and that perhaps this dominator model of existence might one day no longer exist? 

I think the dominator model will always exist in each person, just like each person has partnership qualities. After learning more about history, it does seem to me now that humans are in a process, however inconsistent and drawn-out, of recovering from extreme sexism—which reached absurd levels when people started promoting Yahweh ~3500 years ago, culminating maybe with Christianity around the first century—over millennia. There is still a lot of recovering left to happen, and humans could fail. It could be that, on Earth, with humans, the dominator model will continue to be in power, leading to us destroying ourselves before we can reach the end of time. Or it could be that the partnership model will succeed in regaining the widespread popularity it once enjoyed before 7000 years ago. It could go either way, and there is limited time. McKenna called what we needed to do a "forward escape." We can't go back to before history, but we can escape in the other direction, ahead, out of the universe and into the imagination—the ignored place that is possibly "realer" and "larger" than the universe. This is hopeful to me, because the message I had before, and that I see from many mainstream sources, was basically "We're fucked, and it's always been this way."

My last question is, do you think in the current environment we can ever be glyphosate-free, or at least severely reduce our exposure to it, and if so, how? 

Glyphosate and other pesticides aren't allowed to be used in organic food, so I recommend buying organic food, which also has more vitamins and minerals than non-organic food. The more organic food you buy, the less glyphosate will be made, the less workers and animals and bees and soil microbes and waterways and unsuspecting people living near toxic fields, will be exposed to it, and the more money that people who sell organic food will have, making them—a larger percentage of whom, compared to non-organic food producers, work independently instead of in a corporation—grow more organic food. Glyphosate will probably be banned globally within 5-10 years, after killing probably hundreds of millions or even billions of people. DDT took around 30 years to be banned. Glyphosate, which Monsanto began selling in 1974, will take around 50 years maybe. In the European Union, Monsanto wanted a 15-year extension, but they only got a 5-year extension, recently, and Germany and other countries are set to ban glyphosate. WHO labeled it a probable carcinogenic in 2015. California's EPA labeled it the same in 2017. I posted a lot of links on how to protect yourself from glyphosate here. Stephanie Seneff and Anthony Samsel have published six papers on glyphosate which I recommend. Carey Gillam published a book, Whiteout, on glyphosate recently that I also recommend. Thank you for reading Trip and interviewing me, I enjoyed this.