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An Interview with Dan Russell
Richard Glen Boire, Esq.
Dan Russell is an independent scholar whose recent
book Shamanism and Drug Propaganda, traces the roots of the modern Drug War back to
their ancient unconscious origins. Beginning with the evolution of Paleolithic
proto-hominids, Russell presents one example after another in support of his thesis that
the Drug War is a psychological inheritance from ancient times, one which is now deeply
embedded in and, in some cases, the driving force of our culture of power and profits.
Russell draws extensively from archeological evidence, presenting object after object
engraved with archetypal symbols of shamanic travels, and he deconstructs countless
ancient stories and myths to show that many of them alluded to visionary states elicited
by the ingestion of psychoactive plants and potions. Russell, building upon the seemingly
impenetrable work of John Allegro, even presents evidence that the Bible is riddled with
cryptic stories and word-play bestowing the importance of shamanic inebriation.
Shamanism and Drug Propaganda is so detail
rich that a summary does it an injustice. In essence, however, Russell argues that over
time, the stories told by ancient people (culminating in the New Testament), have been
co-opted, corrupted, and manipulated by forces bent on producing a conformist culture.
Modern industrial culture, argues Russell, is dependent upon the active eradication of the
conscious knowledge of entheogens. As explained by Russell:
[T]he archetypal frame of reference has been
carefully manipulated, through succeeding historical stages, to destroy conscious,
cultural, knowledge of the ancient shamanism. When conscious memory (mnemosyne) is
destroyed, what is left is emotion, irrational attitudes dictated by
parentally inculcated compulsions: God-the-Father as Pavlov. Its not for
nothing that the great shaman Plato said that all learning is remembering. The great crime
of the nonconforming shaman is that he or she struggles to bring to consciousness that
which the authorities, and their compulsive sheep, want forgotten.1
finished his master narrative on the roots of the Drug War, Russell is now putting the
final touches on his massive 670-page book Drug War: Covert Money, Power & Policya penetrating examination of the host of forces currently supporting the
modern Drug War. The book is due out in early 2000, and is sure to become an essential
addition to the Drug War library. A preliminary, pre-publication, illustrated
chapter-by-chapter summary is available at www.drugwar.com, where you can also obtain more
information about the book Shamanism and Drug Propaganda. Russell can be reached by
mail to Kalyx, P.O. Box 417, Camden, NY 13316.
RGB: What was it that originally inspired your interest in
entheogens and drug war theory?
DR: I found myself, as a sophomore at the University of Buffalo,
at the Berkeley Poetry Conference of 1964. I was just a wide-eyed kid, not a poet, but I
was taking Sandoz acid and reading from the original edition of the Psychedelic
Experience with some very seminal thinkers, and the graduate students gathered around
them. My anthropological historiography was learned in the 60s, as was my ability, every
now and again, to call up my own automatic creativity using very ancient ecstatic
techniques. This interest was politicized by the fascists who have engineered the current
Inquisition, which I have chosen to deconstruct.
Shamanism and Drug Propaganda is
filled with many detailed descriptions of ancient cultures and archeological findings, how
long did it take to research and write the book?
I acquired the habit of intense study while in college, and have
always pursued what was, for me, an intuitive thesis. Attempting to trace the evolution of
the drug propaganda from its roots in Paleolithic shamanism to the current Inquisition, of
course, required a reasonable fluency with the flow of history. I found myself writing two
booksone, the ancient volume, Shamanism and the Drug Propaganda, is
essentially a Jungian analysis of the evolution of the political use of the archetypes of
the collective unconscious. Jung stressed that these archetypes can only be understood
within their politicized historical context, that they were not a special
question, but were intimately tied to the flow of history.
The second volume, Drug War: Covert Money,
Power & Policy, is a very heavily illustrated history of the modern American
Inquisition. It is a definitive general history650 pages, with 350 illustrations,
fully annotated and indexed. It is scheduled for release within the next few months.
Whatever else Ive done, Ive always pursued my studies, so the direct answer to
your question is that this research has been pursued, sometimes part-time, sometimes full,
In your opinion, what is the fundamental root of todays War
on (Some) Drugs? If humans were once able to incorporate shamanic experiences into
society, what was it that caused the fundamental shift that led to todays Just
Say No culture?
A very big
question Richard. The answer is the interface between tribal and industrial
culture. In most cases, this interface has meant the enslavement of the tribal
culture as beasts of burden by the industrial culture. This is an archetypal
processno different for the Khuzistan Neolithic farmers conquered by the
Mesopotamians, the Helots under the Spartans, the Africans under the Portuguese or the
mill slaves under the robber barons. Cultural genocide is an essential element of the
enslavement process, and the criminalization of the sacraments of the enslaved is an
essential part of the process of cultural destruction. We are being told, by industrial
fascists, to say no to our own automatic creativity, to the archaic techniques of ecstasy,
in favor of a Bismarkian exaltation of the assembly line as a spiritual goalcommerce
as holy spirit. Fascism is always maudlin, and ecocidal.
So, if it is industrial culture itself that eradicated entheogen
use in order to define its own identity and to institute a system bent on mechanized
production and rabid consumption, what hope is there of changing the legal status of
entheogens? Must industrial culture itself be entirely re-made in order to end entheogen
industrial culture is properly concerned with the structural health of the industrial
economy. I have an optimistic correspondent, Bushs former Assistant Secretary of HUD
under Jack Kemp, Catherine Austin Fitts, who asks the same question, but not from the
perspective of someone who cares about entheogens, rather from the perspective of a
professional macroeconomist desperately concerned that Prohibition is financing an
economically and politically suicidal descent into military fascism. Pot is worth
one-hundred times its natural value illegal, and money, of course, is the basis of
military power. The drug trade, solely by virtue of its illegality, is worth 1/10th of all
global commerce, about $500 billion a yearall untaxable. The question then becomes,
does the structural economy being built by the G7, the World Bank and the
EU, benefit from
having nazi heroin dealers in control of the Burma army, or nazi coke dealers in control
of Peru? Have the nazi dopers in Indonesia contributed to the positive or negative side of
the Indonesian ledger? The fundamentalist hick farmer may not give a damn about
entheogens, but he sure as hell cares about his farm subsidy.
Raymond Kendall, the head of Interpol for the
past 20 years, the worlds top cop, is a vociferous advocate of international drug
decriminalization, and he is joined by the likes of Milton Friedman, Paul
Volcker, George Soros, Javier Perez de Quellar and many other rightwing economic structuralists who are
not in the least amused by the inevitable financing of military fascism that is
Prohibition. The Drug War is about War, not Drugs. The natural strategic alliance between
the herbal sacramentalists and the real Prohibitionists is realwe have the same
enemy. Covert fascists, such as much of the Republican establishment, are more concerned
with the structural health of the fascist clients of our defense contractors, for whom
But the real Prohibitionists, the ones who
actually want to win the Drug War instead of using it as a boondoggle, such as John
McCain, attack the economic system that causes their colleagues to turn into
defense-contractor whores. They are painfully aware that, in the name of all the venial
virtues, we are arming and financing the nazi pigs who actually control the illegal trade
in refined alkaloids. Thats why the law enforcement field general Kendall advocates
decriminalizationit would collapse the price, bankrupting the enemy.
I have suggested, as a matter of practical policy
that can fly in the real world, that we draw the legal distinction between alkaloids and
other concentrates, and whole herbs, the former being medically licensed and restricted to
adults, the latter completely legal. This would completely destroy the street trade in
illegal alkaloids and replace it with a relatively harmless legal trade in whole
herbsas, essentially, America had a hundred years ago. This is also, obviously,
where the cultural distinction is. To pretend that whole herbs are drugs (a
medieval French inquisitorial epithet) is to criminalize the traditional herbal
sacramentalism of my ancestors, and yours. To pretend that alkaloids and other refined
concentrates have a cultural history, or are safe for amateurs to use, is equally
So, in your scheme all psychoactive plants, including the Opium
poppy, Cannabis, and E. coca, would be completely legal to grow and use by
anyone without restriction? And artificial substances such as MDMA and LSD
would be available, but only to adults who have some sort of prescription or license?
important distinction, the one that has a chance of flying in the real world, is the
distinction between whole herbs and synthetic concentrates. This would legalize all
traditional herbal inebriants, and render them inaccessible to bureaucratic medical
control. The problem with concentrate distribution is, arguably, medical. That is, many
adults can indeed use concentrates safely, but many cannot, and there is no general
category of concentratessome are quite safe, others highly toxic. LSD, for instance,
in the wrong dosage, can be very dangerous. For that matter, it can be very dangerous in
the right dosage, in the wrong setting.
I see no practical way to escape physician
oversight of concentrate usage. Amateurs who like to drink, for instance, might need
medical supervision to use heroin safely. Opium sap, on the other hand, would put them to
sleep before they could paralyze their system with CNS depressants. Would we want people
with severe emotional problems self-medicating with refined concentrates without physician
oversight? Most doctors correctly insist that training is needed to understand concentrate
usage and dosage. I would like to see a medical system wherein physicians who choose to
allow their adult patients to use entheogenic or inebriative concentrates would be allowed
to do so, but physicians are trained to look for the worst case scenario, and any system
of medical oversight is going to be highly politicized.
Legalization takes whole herbs out of that loop,
but I see no way to circumvent the prescription system for concentrates, most of which, of
course, are not entheogenic, and many of which are lethal if incorrectly used. I doubt
that any prescription system will ever be based on anything but some sort of legal
definition of medical necessity. I'd like to see that definition be as broad
Andrew Weil, in his book The Natural Mind, makes a similar
argument, distinguishing raw plant drugs from refined products, and noting that fewer
problems seem to be related to use of the former as opposed to the later. For
philosophical and practical reasons, I believe that plants and fungi ought to be beyond
the scope of a Government proscription. On what basis can a government of humans decree
that certain parts of nature are forbidden?
none. All the founding fathers, Abe Lincoln and every American libertarian from Walt
Whitman and Eugene Debs to Barry Goldwater agreed with you completely. The prohibition of
plant-foods is completely unconstitutional. As Eric Sterling, Counsel to the House
Judiciary Committee from 1979 to 89, put it, The powers not delegated to the United
States by the Constitution are reserved to the people. Where is the power in Article I,
Section 8 of the Constitution that allows Congress to say, We declare that your
brain is off limits to you. You cannot use those cells in your brain that opium can
affect, or that marijuana stimulates. Your brain is not really yours to control. The space
between your earsthats not really yours to control. Were the Congress.
Thats our space. You are prohibited from using your brain in unapproved ways.
Is this a power that Congress has? If so, where did it get it and when?
You mentioned LSD. As far as we know, LSD is incredibly safe
physically, even in huge doses. Of course, a large dose of LSD could certainly cause a
person to become disoriented, and if not properly supervised, an injury could occur. But,
natural Psilocybe mushrooms can produce just as intense a visionary experience.
Rather than draw the line between plants and
chemicals/concentrates, why not draw the line based on dangerous conduct? Shouldnt
people be free to control their own consciousness so long as they dont act out in a
manner that threatens to cause harm to another person or to themselves?
It is none
of the government's business if I, an adult, feel like engaging in conduct that is
potentially dangerous to me. In fact, high-risk alpine skiing is far more dangerous than
taking LSD, and I would be enraged if some bourgeois biddy tried to make it illegal. If I
feel like living on the edge, psychonautically or aeronautically, I will. I have every
right to risk my own safety if I feel like it.
Risking the safety of others, of course, is a
right no one has, and here's where the problem of legal definition comes in. Legalization
means amateur, and puerile, access. The problem is amateur use. I can see no substitute
for a prescription system that somehow manages the dispensation of refined concentrates.
There is no practical definition that can be evolved that would separate entheogenic
concentrates from all the others, many of which would be suicidally dangerous for amateurs
to self-prescribe. A lonely, emotionally unstable 18 year old has absolutely no business
taking LSD in a fit of depression, however safe it may be for you. Marijuana, on the other
hand, or opium sap, would be far less likely to produce a psychotic fit, and probably
would be therapeutic. It is disingenuous to analogize mushrooms with refined LSDit
takes an awful lot of revolting effort to consume mushrooms in which the alkaloid
concentration is relatively low, but none at all to take five or ten or twenty capsules
Whole herbs with a cultural history can be
empirically demonstrated to be safe, as a legal category. No subjective judgement is
required. It either is or is not a whole herb. The pharmacological, cultural and political
reality is that we can create a legal definition that separates whole herbs from refined
concentrates, but have no way, except the case-by-case physician judgement entailed in the
prescription system, of legally distinguishing refined concentrates from one another. Sure
any adult should be able to take LSD if he wants to, and the physician should be free to
prescribe or dispense it, but the physician is then left with a legal liability for its
use. The only alternative is legalization, no age or use controls.
Legalization of concentrates leads the law back
to subjectivity, to deciding which concentrates are safe enough to be
completely legal. Who makes the decision? Law is no place for subjectivity. Only
scientific method can provide a proper factual basis for law. I can demonstrate that a
whole herb has an ancient cultural history of extensive use - is, in fact, a traditionally
safe plant-food. I have no scientific way of categorically distinguishing one very potent
refined concentrate from another.
It is perfectly true that some people can drive
quite safely at 100 miles per hour. We make 65 the limit, however, so that traffic
violations, which can be lethally dangerous to others, are not left to the subjective
judgement of police officers or judges. I suggest that we define traditional
pharmacoshamanism as unlicensed safe driving available to all, and save the speeding for
pros, or accomplished amateurs, on the track. I would, of course, like to see the track
legalized, rendered accessible, quite like we do amateur weekend drag racing. A
controlled, but freely available, environment.
Do you see that happening?
No, not in
the foreseeable future. I think it will be a miracle if we can get whole herbs legalized.
Forcing the culture to acknowledge the legitimacy of traditional herbal sacramentalism
would mean a profound change of cultural orientation. I would be satisfied if this culture
confronted the violent, inquisitorial, industrial-strength Protestant antisacramentalism
at the heart of its Inquisition.
I guess that is what I was getting at earlier when I asked
whether any change in entheogen law was impossible without mass-culture, itself, first
undergoing some fairly radical changes in its implicit world view. Culture is so ossified
around the easy-to-understand (and market) commodity, that anything such as entheogens
which will plunge people through the surface veil of superficiality, down into the depths
of meaning, simply must be outlawed. Is there anything that can be done to get
mass-culture to confront this inquisitorial aspect of itself? What tactics can be employed
to make a space for entheogenic herbs?
question. The Drug War is about War, not Drugs. In other words, during WW II, right-wing
farm boys found themselves in the trenches with left-wing veterans of the Lincoln
Brigadesame enemy, even though they never would vote the same domestically. In order
to beat the nazi bastards dealing the refined concentrates on the street, it will be
strategically necessary to legalize the traditional herbal inebriants.
Confusing whole herbs with refined concentrates
is as strategically insane as confusing Vietnamese nationalism with Chinese imperialism.
The legal confusion of whole herbs with refined concentrates enables American military
intelligence to help its fascist clients turn Native peoples into drug-crop sharecroppers.
Legalize the traditional sacramental herbs, and coca leaf finds a market outside the
fascist hood systemit ceases to be a source of military funding for the Peruvian
army, loses 90% of its artificial value, and becomes taxable.
Legal access to whole coca leaf products, and
medicalized or licensed access to refined cocaine, collapses the street trade in
cocainewhich is the major source of military financing for the Peruvian and Bolivian
armies, believe it or not. The greatest law enforcement officers, like Raymond Kendall,
head of Interpol, advocate this tacticfrom a Prohibitionist perspective. The rift in
the law enforcement and Prohibitionist community over our financing of the nazi pigs
actually dealing the drugs is as bitter as the rift between Winston Churchill and Joe
Kennedy over the coming war. John McCain, a very serious Prohibitionist, actually attempts
to legally attack the defense contractor whores running his own party who have turned the
Drug War into an endless boondoggle for their clients, rather than a war to be won.
A strategic alliance exists between those who
would legalize traditional, entheogenic herbal sacramentalism and those who really want to
collapse the availability of refined alkaloids on the street. There is no way to pretend
that ancient agricultural commodities like marijuana, coca leaf and opium sap aren't basic
to the global economy. The boondoggle Prohibitionists are Stalinists, pretending that
police state tactics can manipulate economic physics. They cannot, as the economic
collapse of Stalinism in a chaotic Yakuza nightmare made perfectly clear. The
criminalization of a demanded commodity simply raises its price to the point where it can
overcome the legal hurdle through extra-legal means. Prohibition is a fascist protection
racket, as those real Prohibitionists, contemplating Barry McCaffrey's financing of the
nazi coke dealers in the Peruvian army, realize full well. McCaffrey, who ought to be
tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity, has worked all his life to centralize the
dope trade as a source of military financing for the clients of American military
intelligence. He is the perfect symbol for America's descent into military fascism behind
the Drug War.
The herbal sacramentalists have serious political
allies in the right-wing libertarians, who are far more concerned with the legal
infantilization of the adult citizen than with the private behavior of that citizen. Not
just Abe Lincoln, but Barry Goldwater, Milton Friedman, George Soros and Paul Volcker are
bitter enemies of Prohibition. The drug trade, illegal, is worth $500 billion a year,
one-tenth of all global commerce. Legal, or licensed, it is worth $50 billion. It is not
just economic, but political suicide to continue financing military fascism. There isn't a
Christian, or at least a Catholic, alive who doesn't understand herbal
point can be sold politically. Wine is not a drug, it is the Blood of Christ.
Coca leaf juice is not a drug, it is the milk of Mama Coca. The era of
cultural genocide must end. A defense of Native culture is a defense of the human psyche.
Its still not clear to me
how you think we can bring about a shift. What were talking about here is meme
warfare. How do you think those who believe in visionary plants, and are tired of being
hunted criminals, should proceed?
As I say, I
think they should align themselves with libertarian political allies regardless of their
attitude toward entheogens. There is a very powerful community of interest, which includes
the most powerful economic structuralists in this culture that want the Drug War to end.
Economic fascism is a mortal threat to us all, whether we smoke or not. Personal
behaviorand what I put in my pipe in the privacy of my own home is very
personalis not a proper subject for public policy. That is a libertarian principle
shared by many.
Do you care to predict the future?
Do you think 2010 will find us tending legal opium poppy gardens and growing Psilocybe
mushrooms, or will we be living in cinderblock prison cells, the victims of an
ever-increasing copitalist State?
failure of the fascists to control the Internet, and the libertarian nature of electronic
communications, I tend to think that we'll go in a libertarian direction, but slowly and
painfully. There is an awful lot of wariness among the conservatives about the growing
fascist state. The best of them are getting very nervous, and the center, say
Venturas Reform Party, true centrists, are calling for an end to the Inquisition. I
think the Gingrich fascists are transparent to a lot more than the shamanically inclined.
1 Dan Russell, Shamanism and the Drug Propaganda (Camdon,
NY: Kalyx, 1998), 200.