The Points Interview — Thomas B. Roberts

Editor’s Note: Tom Roberts’  The Psychedelic Future of the Mind: How Entheogens are Enhancing Cognition, Boosting Intelligence, and Raising Values is due out this month from Inner Traditions-Bear & Co. in Rochester, Vermont.

roberts-cover-21.  Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

This book looks forward, not backward. Experiences beget ideas, and The Psychedelic Future of the Mind is an exploration of some ideas psychedelics engender.  Based upon a collection of pieces of scientific research, case studies, anecdotes, and other information about psychedelics, this book asks, “When all these pieces are assembled, what do they tell us about what it means to be a human, about our minds, and about the future?”

The first sentences of Psychedelic Mind’s introduction pretty well nail down the book’s perspective. Early books on the psychedelic experience reported on some fascinating events and curious people. Newer ones describe the burgeoning field of psychedelic psychotherapy or offer accounts of neurotransmitters and synapses. Meantime, the river of autobiographical trip reports flows constantly onward. When collected and organized, the nuggets of information hidden in these sources provide clues to the human mind and how it might be developed. They hint at our social future, including in relation to education and business. They prompt new scholarly fields of endeavor, offering new insights into such diverse territories of investigation as the study of cognition and intelligence, of values and religion, of immune system strength, and of our conception of death. They stimulate new perspectives on film criticism, history, and philosophy.

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The Points Interview — Michael E. Staub

Editor’s Note:  Michael E. Staub’s  Madness is Civilization: When the Diagnosis Was Social, 1948-1980 (University of Chicago Press, 2011) is bedecked with a number of favorable comments at its Amazon storewindow site.  Staub’s previously authored books include an oral history, titled Love My Rifle More than You, about a woman soldier who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.   The author suggested this work might also interest drug and alcohol historians. 

  1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

It would depend on how old this hypothetical bartender was. Is she old enough to remember the 1960s? Let’s assume that she is. Then I’d ask her to remember her reading of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Verge of Time or seeing Alan Bates in King of Hearts or listening to Arlo Guthrie’s riff in “Alice’s Restaurant,” where he discusses how he evaded the draft not because he yelled at the military psychiatrist that he wanted to “kill, kill, kill” but because he’d been arrested for littering. (Admittedly, this is a pretty cultured bartender I am concocting, but it’s my bartender and I’ll imagine who I want to.) So I’d tell the bartender how the 1960s are routinely remembered today for all kinds of things like hippies, Che Guervara, Tricky Dick, Neil Armstrong, Ho Chi Minh, Black Power, and SDS, among others. But what almost always gets left out of the history books is how much critical and popular attention in the 1960s and 1970s was lavished on issues relating to madness and the asylum. And I’d say that explorations into madness often became a means to address a host of other political and social concerns, ranging from the dysfunction of the nuclear family to the devastations of militarism to the problems of gender and race relations to the failures of the educational system. As one social psychologist put it in the early 1970s, and I am paraphrasing here, this was an era in US history when many Americans felt that the entire country had gone crazy, and the question for many was how to maintain their sanity in an increasingly insane society. That’s what my book is about.  

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Points Interview — Frank Priestley

Editor’s Note:  British beer brewer, Frank Priestley, in this engaging author’s interview, tells us a little about his new book, The Brewer’s Tale:  Memoirs of a Master Brewer (Merlin Unwin Books, 2010). 

1.  Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

After leaving school, I started work in a brewery almost by accident.  Of the three jobs available to me, the brewery seemed the least objectionable.  However, I very quickly realised how very lucky I was to be working there.  It was like joining an extended family.  There was a wonderful atmosphere of friendship and co-operation.  Of course, in those days, all the breweries that I worked in were ‘wet’.  That is, a beer allowance was available to the men who wanted it – a couple of pints a shift.  Some men managed to drink more and some drank less.  The work was hard but the job always got finished.  And then there were the characters – The Irishman on the loading bay who, however busy they were, would say, “When the good Lord made time, He made plenty of it.”  And Wee Jock in the cask shed, who was from Glasgow and no-one could understand his accent.  And Big Jock from The Isles whose cap rotated round his head, depending on how much he had had to drink.  There were many such characters, very many, and when I was made redundant after twenty years service, I missed them grievously.  I never found another job in a brewery but consoled myself by studying the history of the public house (which will be the subject of my next book).  I find the practical research very rewarding.  However, I still think back to those days in the breweries, “where, between those precious pints, there was conversation and songs, friendship and jokes, music and laughter and such magic that sober men could never dream of.” 

2.  What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

The history of the brewing industry forms a significant part of this book.

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The Points Interview — Ian Tyrrell

Editor’s Note:  Australian Americanist, Ian Tyrrell, the last president of the Alcohol & Temperance History Group and the first president of the newly renamed and reconstituted Alcohol & Drugs History Society, shares a few reflections on his recent book, Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire (Princeton University Press, 2010).

1. Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

My book is about late 19th century U.S. missionaries and moral reformers who wished to change the world not by turning everybody into Americans, but by Christianizing it and ridding it of drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and other “sins.” But in the process, these people were changed, and the movements they led were changed. The experience of trying to change the world influenced reformers and missionary supporters back in the United States, creating a strong sense of the need for moral reform at home, and for the idea of a Christian nation achieved through exertion of state power.

Ultimately, I am showing how the world was, more than a century ago, already a very connected place with a United States that was surprisingly affected by overseas influences and engaged in exerting moral influence abroad. My American story is of a nation newly linked as part of a worldwide web of communications.

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The Points interview — Don Lattin

Editor’s Note:  Where do philosophy, LSD, and AA-style recovery meet?  Journalist Don Lattin explores the nexus in his latest book, Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher, and a Hopeless Drunk (University of California Press, 2012).  His bestseller, The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America (HarperOne, 2010), garnered high critical praise.   The “redemptive power of storytelling and the strength of fellowship,” Lattin observes below, were two of the lessons learned from writing this new book.  Bill W.’s experimentation with LSD offers a suggestive historical interface between Wilson’s personal struggle with alcoholism and the drug culture of the Sixties.  Points warmly welcomes Lattin to its growing cache of book author interviewees.  BTW, “distilled spirits” — get it?

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The first thing my bartender would say to me is, “Dude! Where have you been?” You see, I’ve been clean and sober for 6+ years now  and the two people I’ve seen the least are my bartender and my coke dealer. But I’d tell Joe, the bartender at the Tempest, the newspaper bar in San Francisco, that I’ve been busy writing a memoir about my misadventures as a religion reporter who spent too much of his life worshipping at the altar of drugs and alcohol. No, I’d tell Joe Distilled Spirits is not just another recovery memoir.  I tried to do something different. I weave my own story into a group biography of  three visionaries whose life work and long friendship  helped transformed the landscape of Western spirituality. The subtitle of my book is a mouthful —  Getting High, Then Sober with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher and a Hopeless Drunk.  The famous writer is Aldous Huxley, who wrote a book called The Doors of Perception, which inspired me and countless others in my generation to search for the face of God in a tab of acid. The forgotten philosopher is Gerald Heard, who you never heard of but who is the secret Godfather of the New Age movement. The hopeless drunk is Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who did lots of LSD in the 1950s, twenty years after he got sober. That’s right, Joe, the guy who started AA was an acid head.

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The Points Interview — H. Paul Thompson, Jr.

Editor’s Note:  H. Paul Thompson’s book, A Most Stirring and Significant Episode: Religion and the Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Black Atlanta, 1865-1887 (Northern Illinois University Press, 2012),  is due out this month.  Thompson positions his study as part of a recent reawakening of scholarly interest in the importance of religion as a freestanding source of 19th c. temperance and prohibition ideas and initiatives.  “This neo-religious school,” Thompson suggests, “includes, among others, James Rohrer, Robert Abzug, Douglas Carlson, and Michael P. Young.  They argue that temperance reformers’ biblical and religious discourse, worldview, and organizations must be understood on their own terms, and not as a cover for sublimated class, status, or political anxieties, or as ruses for cynical attempts at cultural dominance.”  Points warmly welcomes Paul to our forum! 

1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

I’m not exactly sure what bartenders understand because I am one of the few (maybe the only?) historians of temperance who actually does not drink!  That said, my work places a lot of emphasis on the religious and ideological basis for the nineteenth-century temperance movement.  Ironically, much of that foundation had changed in key ways by the time national prohibition commenced.  Here’s my best effort.   In a nutshell, my bartender should be thankful for all of the central, eastern, and southern European immigrants who flooded this nation at the turn of the twentieth-century — and their descendants — because they permanently transformed the reigning paradigms of U.S. culture.  He owes every patron whose name ends with a “ski” a great big “Thank You!” for helping to overturn America’s nineteenth-century evangelical Protestant-dominated worldview and for facilitating a decline in the influence of evangelical organizations and their leaders. America’s move away from historic republican ideology and discourse furthered this departure from past ideas too.  (But I wouldn’t bring this up unless I knew the bartender were working his way through a graduate history program.)  The split between conservative and liberal Protestantism in the early twentieth century, caused by the rise of modernism, also went a long way toward undermining the institutional, theological, and ideological forces that had undergirded the anti-alcohol movement for a century.  Of course I suppose he could also thank Al Capone, FDR, and the groups that fought to overturn the 18th Amendment as well.

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The Points Interview — Howard Padwa

Editor’s Note:  “For an otherwise law abiding morphine addict struggling to overcome addiction in the late 1920s, Britain was a more welcoming place than France.”  So begins Howard Padwa’s Social Poison: The Culture and Politics of Opiate Control in Britain and France, 1821-1926 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).  A graduate of the University of Delaware, Padwa continued his studies at the London School of Economics and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris before securing a doctorate in history from UCLA.  In our interview, Padwa highlights the place of  differing conceptions of proper membership in a national community as a deep source of Britain’s and France’s differential responses to illicit drugs. 

1.  Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

I started with two simple questions: First, why did opiates become so tightly controlled in the early twentieth century? Second, were the reasons the same everywhere? While a lot of scholars have looked at these questions, most have focused on studying things either globally (why did drugs become tightly controlled everywhere), or nationally (why did drugs become tightly controlled in this country or that country). In Social Poison I blended these approaches, looking at things internationally, but with a detailed focus on two countries (Great Britain and France).

As for the first question—why did opiates become so tightly controlled? I approached this question by looking at what people were afraid would happen if they didn’t control opiates. What would society look like if everyone could use them as much as they liked whenever they liked? I found that two fears were particularly common in the nineteenth century. First, people feared that opiates would take a toll on physical and mental health, eventually making users unable to care for themselves or contribute to society. Second, they feared that people who used opiates would essentially “tune out” of society, neglecting their duties to their friends, families, and countrymen when they were under the influence. In both cases, what made opiate use problematic was not just that use was considered “immoral,” but also that it seemed to compromise users’ abilities to act as good citizens. Drug use was understood as more than just a medical or psychological disorder—it was also a threat to the normal functioning of social relationships.

This led to the second question—were the reasons drugs became tightly controlled the same everywhere? The kind of social problem opiate use could become depended, to a large degree, on how “society” was defined. In Britain, where the national community was imagined as individuals functioning in a free market, fears focused on the impact drug use could have on self-sufficiency and commerce. In France, on the other hand, the nation was understood in a more collectivistic way, and engagement of citizens with society was considered most important. So, in the French context, fears that drugs would make users disengaged or disloyal were much stronger. Each country developed its own specific brand of what I call “anti-narcotic nationalism”—reasons for opposing drug use that were particular both to opiates and to specific national concerns.

Anti-narcotic nationalism went beyond the ways that the British and French talked about opiate use in the nineteenth century; it also influenced the development of drug control in the early twentieth century. In Britain, concerns about the effect the drug trade could have on commerce facilitated the landmark piece of legislation that established opiate control on the British mainland during World War I. In France, concerns about drug use, treason, military discipline, and national security were the driving forces behind drug control initiatives that took effect in 1908 and 1916. Once drug control was established, anti-narcotic nationalism also influenced how British and French authorities treated their addicted citizens. In Britain, when it became clear that opiate use was not necessarily incompatible with self-sufficiency or productivity, the government sanctioned maintenance treatment for some addicts. In France, on the other hand, associations of drug control with national security remained in place, as did strict regulations limiting the provision of drugs to confirmed addicts.

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Freaky Friday: A Points Interview with Mark Christensen

Editor’s Note:  Those who follow the Points Interview series know that Joe Spillane has managed this aspect of the blog since our founding.  While in today’s iteration we mourn Joe’s departure, we are also delighted to announce that Contributing Editor Ron Roizen has agreed to take over as our official interview steward.  A member of the merry research staff at the Alcohol Research Group at “Berzerkeley” in the early 1970s, it’s fitting that his first Points Interview is a “Freaky Friday” confab with Mark Christensen, another denizen of the Wild West.  In addition to publishing several novels, Christensen has written for Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Oregon Magazine.  Here he graces Points with his replies to our series of probing interrogatives on Acid Christ: Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Politics of Ecstasy (Schaffner Press, 2010).

How did you come to write Acid Christ?  And what’s its focus?

I was contacted by a former editor working for my eventual publisher, Tim Schaffner.  Tim had an idea for a new kind of nonfiction book,  a “shepherd and his sheep” biography in which the writer would tell the story of  a major modern “culture changer” and the change the “shepherd” brought from the writer’s own  perspective. As one of the sheep.  That would be me.  A former upper middle-class “suburban-urchin,” I’d written about counterculture icons like David Crosby, Richard Pryor and Paul Krassner for Rolling Stone and High Times and, so to speak, the paradise that was “pre-AIDS ‘Freak Freely’ America.” So I guess I was a good get.

As for the shepherd, larger than life Ken Kesey was an easy choice.  By age 28 he had two critically acclaimed bestselling novels, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion, a feat never bested by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Saul Bellow or John Updike.

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