Avoiding the Power Trip
I was a member of the psychedelic counterculture in the 1980s when pretty much every mind-expanding substance was illegal. For us, that illegality was just an obstacle. Taking a psychedelic or growing a marijuana plant was not considered a stand against a draconian legal system and repressive government but simply a way of getting what we wanted in spite of a draconian legal system and repressive government.
Many of us who witnessed the very end of the Sixties and the eventual sell-out of the yuppies, gave up on politics and revolution. The hippies became Bill Clinton, who seemed to us just another version of Ronald Reagan. No, the object of the game for us was to be like the people in Richard Linklater’s movie Slacker. Earn enough money to pay for food and rent so you can spend your time reading philosophy, hanging out with friends, and doing trippy things. I remember Timothy Leary once telling us not to invite a particularly ardent leftist to a party at his house because “Marxists don’t know how to have fun.” He didn’t want his acid trip overly inflected by the oppression of the proletariat, because he believed that Marxism was inherently “anti-psychedelic.”
By the early Nineties, when LSD and its epic journey through the intellectual crucible was replaced by Ecstasy and its more delightfully open-ended love vibe, it became even easier to ignore the political implications of what we were doing. Unbeknownst to most of the revelers and promoters, rave parties were a reclamation of public space. These were mostly free, illegal parties, and an alternative to the expensive nightclub scene, professional entertainment, and status-centric culture.
Yet we didn’t really articulate that. No, most of the leaders of the scene were actively trying to make psychedelics apolitical. This was the period immediately after punk, and the ‘counter’ culture had become disenchanted with opposition. It seemed that everything the counterculture did was a reaction to whatever the overculture did. They were either creating culture to oppose Reagan, the Queen, consumerism, and corporations, or creating culture that could somehow avoid being co-opted by MTV and the mall. It seemed so hopelessly binary, polarizing, and oppositional.