The Points Interview: David Black

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with David Black, the author of Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD (independently published, 2020). Black lives in London and is an independent journalist and author. His previous books include The Philosophical Roots of Anti-Capitalism: Essays on History, Culture, and Dialectical Thought and 1839: The Chartist Insurrection.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Psychedelic Tricksters: A True Secret History of LSD tells the story of various people who made that, beginning with the discovery of LSD’s hallucinogenic properties in 1943 by Albert Hoffman. In the late-1940s psychiatrists started using it as “psychosis-inducing drug” for schizophrenics. CIA officers investigated LSD’s potential as a weapon of mind-control and became enthusiastic trippers themselves. But the CIA and the medical establishment wanted to keep LSD out of the hands of “undesirables.” The “undesirables” included those in the new youth counterculture who challenged the official line on LSD and explored its potential for creativity and spirituality. So, in the 1960s, as LSD “escaped” into the counter-culture, the producers and distributors were forced underground.

I’ve titled the book Psychedelic Tricksters because in mythology the trickster is someone who “unwisely” defies the powers-on-high, as when Prometheus steals fire from Zeus for the benefit of humankind. The trickster’s rebellion always fails and yet is seen as necessary for the origin of civilizations, or perhaps, as in the case of psychedelics, a new beginning for a society that had lost way in war, racism and sexual oppression.

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The Points Interview: Ronny Spaans

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Ronny Spaans, Associate Professor in Nordic Literature at Nord University in Nordland, Norway. He also teaches Dutch at the University of Oslo. Here he discusses his new book, Dangerous Drugs: The Self-Presentation of the Merchant-Poet Joannes Six van Chandelier (1620-1695) (Amsterdam University Press, 2020).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The bartender may already know that aquavit, gin and other spirits flavoured with spices and herbs, were seen as medicines in the Renaissance. But what he probably does not know, and probably will find interesting, is that there was a debate already in the 17th century about whether these “medicines” were dangerous to health. In addition, it probably would come as a surprise that in this debate, terms were used that we today attribute to drug abuse: addiction, hallucinations and moral dangers. And what makes it extra exciting, is that this debate was related to exotic substances. The debate about drugs in the 17th century has much in common with discussions we associate with the history of the spice trade, that is, spices as moral temptations. Exotic drugs could create hot desires in the body, fill you with madness, or make you think you were a king or deity, or they could give you divine insight into forbidden knowledge.

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The Points Interview: Danielle Giffort

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Danielle M. Giffort, assistant professor of sociology in the Department of Liberal Arts at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. She’s the author of the new book Acid Revival: The Psychedelic Renaissance and the Quest for Medical Legitimacy (University of Minnesota Press, 2020).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand. 

Acid Revival is about how a group of mental health professionals is trying to bring psychedelic-assisted therapy back into mainstream medicine and how they struggle with the past history of psychedelic drugs in medicine as they do this. My book looks at how these researchers grapple with this past by telling stories about what went wrong during the “first wave” of psychedelic therapy—a period stretching from the late 1940s to mid-1970s. And their stories all point the blame at one person: Timothy Leary, the infamous psychedelic researcher-cum-countercultural guru. 

For today’s researchers studying psychedelic therapy, Leary symbolizes what I call an “impure scientist”—a bad expert who does not respect and intentionally defies the boundaries of science. And in defying these boundaries, his presence supposedly had a polluting effect on the legitimacy of psychedelic therapy. So, researchers would tell me how Leary “contaminated” and “poisoned” psychedelic science. To contain that threat and offer an antidote to that poison, they perform as the Anti-Leary—a phrase I heard from several researchers. Another term bounced around was that they are “sober scientists.” So, essentially, the book tells a story about how, in the minds of contemporary psychedelic researchers, the misbehavior of an individual had contaminating effects on their whole scientific field—it boils down to a “one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel” story. 

But these boundaries between impure and sober scientists are porous. That’s the thing about boundaries—they aren’t given; they are constructed. The ways in which we draw lines in the sand between this or that is the result of struggle and those lines are subject to change across time and place. And the way that we see this happening in psychedelic science is this: these researchers push away from the pollution of the impure scientist by enacting the sober scientist persona, but at the same time, they still draw on the practices of the impure scientist. For example, among other things, they criticize Leary for failing to follow conventional scientific methods in his psychedelic research, so they actively work to follow the kind of hypothesis-testing methods that grant scientific credibility. But at the same time, they actively incorporate Leary’s insights about the psychedelic experience into their therapeutic models. Leary is so central to their stories and to the revival because he is the site of the continuities and divergences between the first and current waves of research. And from this discussion, I hope readers learn more about not just the history of psychedelic science but about how the ways in which people construct reality has real effects on their actions.  

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The Points Interview: Holly M. Karibo and George T. Díaz

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Holly M. Karibo and George T. Díaz, editors of the new book Border Policing: A History of Enforcement and Evasion in North America (University of Texas Press, 2020). Karibo is an assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University. She is the author of Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland (University of North Carolina Press, 2015). Díaz is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He is the author of Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling across the Rio Grande (University of Texas Press, 2015).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

(Holly M. Karibo, left, and George T. Díaz, right)

The book is a series of essays on how efforts to police the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico border have often failed. We’d tell our bartender that all this talk in the news about securing the border is both misleading and misinformed. Neither the U.S.-Canada or U.S.-Mexican border have ever been effectively secured.  The essays in the book show that border people have always found ways to subvert laws they didn’t like and the government’s best efforts often end up hurting innocent people.   Women used to smuggle liquor up their skirts in order to get around border agents and today it is something else.  The book shows the long history of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico trying numerous ways to police the border, and accomplishing some, but nowhere near all, the governments’ wanted.  

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The Points Interview: Lina Britto

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Lina Britto. Britto is a Colombian journalist and historian who teaches Latin American and Caribbean History at Northwestern University. She received a PhD in History from New York University, and was a postdoctoral and faculty fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University. Her work was been published in the Hispanic American Historical Review, the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, NACLA, and El Espectador (Colombia), among others. Her book Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia’s First Drug Paradise came out in spring 2020 with University of California Press. She’s currently working on her second book project on the role of medicine, science and technology in the violent transition that her hometown Medellin, Colombia, underwent during the second half of the twentieth century, when it became one of the murder capitals of the world.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Screenshot 2020-06-29 at 2.14.58 PM
Dr. Lina Britto

Having worked as a waitress in NYC before I went to graduate school, I know how incredibly hard is to get the full attention of your bartender. I think my best chance would be to mention the most recognized pop culture icons of global drug history, namely Pablo Escobar and Scarface. I’d say my book tells the story of the Colombian smugglers and American hippies who flooded the United States with marijuana a decade before suppliers like Escobar in Medellín and wholesalers like Scarface in Florida did the same with cocaine. It’s a forgotten story of how small-scale smugglers, during the golden years of the counterculture, paved the way for a more entrepreneurial and violent approach to the international commerce of drugs, and why such a transition wreaked havoc in the Americas.

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Points Interview: “Sacred Places, Sacred Plants, and Sacred People: Carving Out an Indigenous Right amid the Drug Wars,” with Alexander Dawson

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Alexander Dawson. Dawson holds a PhD in Latin American History from SUNY Stony Brook, and is an Associate Professor of History …

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Points Interview: “Serrano Communities and Subaltern Negotiation Strategies: The Local Politics of Opium Production in Mexico, 1940–2020,” with Nathaniel Morris

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Nathaniel Morris, whose article you can see here. Dr. Morris is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow attached to the History department at the University College London. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article, or any other article from SHAD’s history.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

Screenshot 2020-06-01 at 7.34.59 PMI’m a historian, and sometimes I pretend to be an anthropologist, I suppose. I’m from London, England – or Great Britain, or whatever else this strange old island is calling itself at the moment. I’ve been interested in Latin American history, politics, cultures and all the rest of it since I was an undergraduate – which I now realise is way longer ago than I would like! – and I’ve always been drawn to Mexico in particular. I’m halfway through a 3-year postdoc at University College London, researching the history of indigenous militia groups in Mexico and trying to work out the links between armed community guard units that emerged during the Revolution in the 1920s and 30s, and the contemporary ‘autodefensa’ militias that are playing a key role in the ‘Drug War’ ongoing in many parts of the country. This research has followed on from an earlier project on indigenous relations with the Revolutionary state in a particularly rugged, diverse and beautiful bit of western Mexico, which – completely shameless plug alert – is coming out as a book with Arizona University Press this autumn. It’s called ‘Soldiers, Saints and Shamans: Indigenous Communities and the Revolutionary State in Mexico’s Gran Nayar,’ and you can pre-order a copy here.

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The Points Interview: Nancy Campbell

Editor’s Note: Today we’re thrilled to feature SHAD co-editor Nancy Campbell discussing her new book, OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose (The MIT Press, 2020). Campbell is Professor and Department Head of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer in Troy, New York. Her other books are: Gendering Addiction: The Politics of Drug Treatment in a Neurochemical World (co-authored with Elizabeth Ettorre; Palgrave, 2011); Discovering Addiction: The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research (University of Michigan Press, 2007); The Narcotic Farm: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Prison for Drug Addicts (co-authored with JP Olsen and Luke Walden; Abrams, 2008); and Using Women: Gender, Drug Policy, and Social Justice (Routledge, 2000). Although she has a PhD in the History of Consciousness from the University of California at Santa Cruz, she has been granted a green card as a historian.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Screenshot 2020-05-18 21.01.53Some of my favorite bartenders include grad students and PhD alums. They’ve had rough days “pivoting” to incorporate COVID-19 into their dissertations. I’d introduce my book as dense, dark, and handsome, like the cover. OD is spelled out in old-school Franklin Gothic Condensed type—headline type. But scribed through the letters is a 45-degree angle, signifying the US opioid overdose death rate from 2000-2017.

OD: Naloxone and the Politics of Overdose is a lively book about death. Preventable deaths haunt its pages. The protagonists of OD all have a touch of mordant wit tinging their heartfelt dedication to harm reduction. Their badassery has been quite effective—these compassionate cynics were galvanized to remodel their social worlds over the past 30 years. Many were touched by profound losses. Many knew people who died because naloxone and the knowledge to use was not ready to hand. Their stories intertwine with those of policy and public health, wars on drugs and drug users.

Every bartender knows that people grieve their losses differently. Some drown their sorrows. Others turn them into art, poetry, protest, or testimony. Some turn them into science, research, evidence. I included as much of the cultural production that has occurred in response to overdose as I could muster. There are 40 illustrations, some 20 of which came from Santa Cruz Needle Exchange’s ‘zine Junkphood. These keep the book’s pulse strong. You can learn a lot from people who believe, as Lee Hertel of Lee’s Rig Hub in Minneapolis, that “nobody deserves to die because of how they choose to navigate life.”

That’s something every bartender needs to hear and pass along.

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