|Taken from the Kerista Commune website|
Sex, Drugs & Magick: Chapter One: Overview The Brews of Aphrodite
Wilson starts us off with a comprehensive overview of the subject matter of the book using a familiar cast of backing sources. Much of the information is outdated or wasn't accurate at the time; but the gist of his argument remains strong. Indeed, we can see the seeds of the philosophy behind today's (often misrepresented and unfairly maligned) harm-reduction policies in this chapter in his arguments that people aren't going to stop using drugs and therefore accurate information and safety measures should be put in place. On the other hand, as utterly charming as the Burroughs version of Hassan-i-Sabbah and the Hashashin might be, we know that it is fantastical, to say the least. Given the benefits of hindsight, modern readers can clearly see Leary's showman shift while talking about sex and acid to Playboy magazine...we are in waters that are still muddled by decades of red tape and corpses piled up from the ever-raging Culture War.
Nevertheless, we are in good hands as Wilson's specialty is navigating the muddle and he takes an appropriately skeptical position while relating the arguments. He builds up to this at the end when he sets up the idea that he can only present the information he has been given. Wilson cannily uses a mixture of research, sourced-ideas and personal anecdotes throughout the book, providing the audience with something more than a single research paper, prepared with amateurish enthusiasm. (I do not use the term amateur as a slight or as a belittling word choice, but rather in the true sense of the word.)
During his foundational chapter, Wilson also begins his tour of odd peoples and ideas which proliferated in the latter half of twentieth century America. The Kerista cult is a suitably fascinating group that he passes over and has led me to research the group multiple times when reading this book. This time around I found that there is now a documentary on the group which I'll have to watch titled Far Out West. (Interestingly Kerista's free love commune introduced the word "compersion" into the lexicon. Compersion is the supposed feeling of fear/pleasure that comes with sharing your intimate partner's affections.) Kerry Thornley was a member of the San Francisco Kerista commune and it is likely much of what Wilson knew about the group came from him, along with "Tree," as it were. Kerista was heavily inspired by Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange land and interestingly, one of the "acid-cults" that Wilson chooses not to name for their privacy clearly seems to be the Church of All Worlds, which Margot Adler would later write about in Drawing Down the Moon.
If one pays enough attention we can see that the article in Time magazine that Wilson cites as saying that Gnosticism is the most important idea in the modern world must be discussing the work of Voegelin's which introduces the phrase "immanentize the eschaton," made famous in Illuminatus!. It appears that the article might have been penned by that King of the Squares, William F. Buckley Jr.. The article appears in the larger context of Wilson's argument that the War on Drugs can be seen as an extension of the religious wars that have plagued mankind since Rome. It is a frustrating argument because it is convincing. Wilson also relates some sober history lessons about our country's founders views on religion that more Americans need to read today. Desperately.
Next Up is the Story of Leonard, which I have already mentioned slightly horrified me every reread. I'll see if I can come up with something useful to say. As a editorial note: we are back to our regular broadcast schedule this week as I am finally free for the summer. It was a sprint to the finish line the last few months and it is a relief to be able to focus on my personal projects now.