SpiritBright Dish Soap

SpiritBright Dish Soap is hand-made in small batches in Santa Cruz, CA using only the finest all-natural ingredients available. We honor the Earth by choosing products that are chemical-free. 100% of proceeds go towards I Am We: a consciously evolving group working to bridge the Creative and Performing Arts, Holistic Health, Sustainability, and Integrated Spirituality.

Quick Tips:

  • Breathe deeply while washing the dishes, giving gratitude for the life-giving food they held. My dear friend Will Raff always aimed to wash his dishes with the same tenderness as he would a newborn babe. I encourage a “It’s the journey, not the destination” type of mentality for the brightest spirit.
  • Use your bare hands (or your bear hands) to wash the dishes, rather than a sponge or towel. Not only is it a more intimate way to connect with the act of washing the dishes, but sponges harbor all sorts of gross bacteria (see this article for more information on what I’m talking about).  Your fingers are highly skilled at feeling for remaining food-particles.
  • A little bit goes a long way. Water can ease dispersion and lengthen soap’s life. Being conscious of how much product you’re using (and how much water you’re using) is a wonderful way to practice sustainability and help heal our Earth, one dish at a time!
  • Keep a toothpick on hand in case the cap clogs.
  • Have some baking soda and distilled white vinegar nearby to tackle the toughest dishes. Baking soda works best for oily messes. White vinegar combines with baking soda for a 1-2 punch.
  • Please consider taking this short survey to help us be the best we can be!

 

Read on to get the most out of your dish-washing experience! Continue reading

State of the News Media

Considering the plethora of recent innovations to journalism in the age of the internet- including web-based news content, collaborative publishing, the emergence of micro-blogging, crowdsourcing, open-source reporting, etc. (see Mark Brigg’s JournalismNext)- it seems modern journalism exists almost wholly separate from journalism of the twentieth century. But let me suggest something: twitter and the like are just technicalities, and when it comes down to it, not a whole lot has changed in the way that Americans receive and interpret their news.

In Chapter 9 of Christopher Daly’s Covering America, we learned of Roosevelt’s censorship regime during WWII. Much like the WWI censorship regime, restrictions arose concerning what was appropriate to publish. Journalists were restricted on the home front and abroad. News coming from the war reported inaccurately positive results, “sugarcoating” stories of mild-success, or ignoring stories of failure (p. 270).

Though it’s difficult to track, I argue that today’s press is just as censored. One visible example is Washington’s outrage against the film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (though I don’t want to go in to details surrounding the investigation here– the point is, the government had major issues with the way the film depicted the U.S. military appear). Typing ‘press censorship’ into Google results in numerous stories about censorship in China, in Israel, in Syria, in Mexico, in North Korea, but finding stories about press censorship in the U.S. is not quite as easy. You might think that’s a good thing, as if there’s nothing to report on, but unfortunately I think it’s more of a sign that stories that might ‘rock the boat’ get covered up. But alas, hidden among the Google results was a story reporting on U.S. press censorship. Apparently, news organizations have been duping the American public since the beginning of the ‘war on terror’ on topics such as drone-assassination programs, secret prisons and the use of torture, and warrantless snooping (to say the least). Of course, occasional stories have burst forth, like the reports of torture at Abu Ghraib, but public outrage was discouraged and short lived. In fact, military judge Col. James Pohl issued a protective order in Dec. essentially prohibiting people to speak on the government’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” used throughout the ‘war on terror.’ The ACLU has challenged his protective order, and his decision is due out March 6. So stories on modern press censorship do exist, but they are not frequently talked about, known about, or worried about. The U.S. censorship regime is doing its job well, in other words.

Moving on. In Chapter 10, Daly outlines the creation of ‘Big Media.’ This is the moment in the history of American journalism where almost all the major institutions of news “were in the hands of middle-aged white men, and almost all of them were part of a broad conservative-centrist consensus” (p.320). Thankfully, the internet does allow other voices to occasionally seep in. But let’s be real, most people still get their news from the big news companies like CBS, NBC, ABC, TBS, FOX, or one of the many companies they own. As the market falls for newspapers, many of them are selling to companies who are snatching up newspaper companies by the dozen, resulting in consolidated ownership. Look up the CEO’s of the top companies and tell me much has changed from the 60’s (good luck).

Lastly, in Chapter 11, Daly describes how journalists worked to rock the establishment by more honest and creative reporting. He goes on to detail the New Journalism movement, where journalists covered more topics (including drugs, war, the American Dream, etc.) from their own subjective point of view. Here’s where I see an important connection to the future of news. Social media platforms encourage creativity and pro-AM reporting. They reduce allegiances to a “boss” or the “owner” of the publishing company. The internet may help to facilitate another push towards a “New Journalism” type of reporting, where the audience not only receives news on a given topic, but feels the emotion associated with it, potentially resulting in ‘armchair activists.’

In conclusion, though much seems bewilderingly new for news, I argue, it’s just another side of the same (albeit shinier) coin.

In his article, The newsonomics of zero and The New York Times, Ken Doctor presents the hard fiscal realities for all print media companies: the numbers are down, and they’re most likely down for the count. In fact, the numbers are so low, zero is considered high!

Print media, such as the newspaper, is down for two primary reasons: firstly, as more readers get their news online, they forego printed editions and circulation revenue falls; secondly, as online sites reach a wider viewer audience than their printed counterparts, advertising companies shift their focus to the online-reader, causing advertising revenue to also fall. When both circulation and advertising revenues are down, all a company can do is try to cut costs of its own, for example through technological improvements or staff lay-offs. Or, it can raise the cost of the paper (as many have done), but as Doctor points out, this practice is unsustainable, because you cannot expect to keep charging an increasingly smaller group of people an increasingly larger subscription fee. So, ultimately, it seems the company is forced to start self-destructing, to start ‘hacking’ off the very limbs that made it successful in the first place: its employees.

Something about this process seems unjust. It’s certainly ironic. As my Future of News class has been learning, journalism has a LOT to owe to advertising companies, historically speaking. Advertisement revenues provided the initial momentum for news publishing companies to break away from partisan ties, allowing the “watchdog” function of the press to come to fulfillment. The relationship between the two has worked pretty seamlessly up until this point. It could be argued that news as we know it would have never existed had advertisements not come to its aid. Yet now, the tables have turned, and it seems  advertising companies have the upper hand on the news agencies.

If advertising companies control the news companies, there is an increased risk of corruption within that print media. News editors may serve the interests of their advertisees before the interests of the public.

This analogy may seem off-handed, but work with me. Remember when the agricultural revolution happened, and a single tractor replaced ten farmers? Agriculture became absorbed into capitalism and its various processes reduced to the bottom-line: i.e. using GM seed to maximize crop-productivity, fertilizers to maximize yield, etc. In this process, major effects went overlooked or unchecked, such as potential damage to the groundwater, ultimate result of GM products on the human, extinction of the small family-operated farm, etc. Major ethical dilemmas resulted. Broadly speaking, power became centralized as fewer people could survive as farmers.

Is the same thing happening now with the news media? Is the move to online-media capitalistic? In a sense, it’s more populist. More people can reach the news now, technically speaking, and more people can even contribute to the news. Yet, generally, I see this as a similar situation to the agricultural revolution. With the news-media-revolution, more and more journalists are finding that they are unable to survive financially. Companies across the board are making huge cuts on the number of staff members. As journalists find themselves out of work, many started micro-blogging, like displaced farmers growing window-box gardens out of their cramped urban apartments.

The thing that worries me most is that a ‘Monsanto-Parallel’ will arise, where one news company will monopolize the news, demand extraordinary prices, and fail or neglect to validate the soundness of their stories. As companies lean towards cooperation in order to cut costs (i.e. sharing news stories) the effects of an un-sound news story could be catastrophic; imagine the repercussions of expanded readership mixed with decreased accountability, as is the case with online-media, especially with social-media news sites like Twitter.

So my questions for you: do you see the parallels between the agricultural revolution and the news-media-revolution? do you worry about a news-organization Monsanto-parallel? Comments encouraged! Until next time- peace.

Alright, so before I begin this entry, let me reveal the following aspects of my being: I am not a fan of American football, especially beyond-high school football; I do not agree with the celebritization of sports stars, or more broadly the celebritization of celebrities; and lastly, I think most people have weird priorities. Now, the Te’o story has been developing for about 10 days, and the major news networks have been following it the whole way through. As have local stations. I was almost interviewed for my opinion on the story Tuesday (luckily they caught the chap ahead of me- I certainly want nothing to do with it). It’s been discussed at length in two of my five classes, and mentioned at least briefly in all of them. It appears in conversation throughout the halls of DeBartolo and the booths of Brothers. The whole city, nay the nation, is buzzing about it. In short, it’s been made into a huge ordeal, and most ND students/staff/alum/affiliates are anxious to voice their opinions and converse with others about it. I’m not one of those. When people put me on the spot, I either dismiss them with a, “I don’t care about football” response, or if I feel patient I might explain how I think it’s a bit silly that this story occupies so much time on the air and time in people’s heads and for Christ’s sake aren’t there bigger things to talk or worry about? Thankfully, Beyonce lip-sung (past tense of lip-sing, anyone?) the inauguration, so at least there’s that to distract the Heads that Talk. Honestly, my feelings towards the media’s response to the Te’o scandal is much like my feelings towards most of what they cover these days: “Who cares! Move on! There’s plenty of worthwhile stories out there that may actually serve a purpose other than sparking gossip– go find them and meet the responsibilities of a journalist. Quit playing the role of Gossip Girl, quit trying to sensationalize every minute of your programming, and quit brainwashing the American citizenry into caring about things of no consequence, consequentially masking issues of huge importance!” End rant.

 

 

If you’re lucky enough to have an iPad, you better know how to tap into its full potentials. After all, what’s sillier than owning a state-of-the-art smartphone simply to make calls and text? If you’re going to invest in the product, you might as well get your monies’ worth by acquainting yourself with the tools that can expand your device’s opportunities. And truly, the opportunities are endless.

Whether you’re a journalist, an academic, a cook, a photographer, a mess-who-needs-to-put-her-life-in-order, or whatever kind of person you are, there’s an app designed specifically to suit your needs. The following blog entry reviews some of the apps Mark Briggs recommends for journalists, as well as a few other apps that I’ve stumbled upon that have managed to keep my attention amidst what is becoming the cirque-du-soleil of apps: my homescreen.

Twitter: As great as Twitter is for serving as a public forum board, it can be hard to follow conversations between people. Hootsuite makes that easier. It allows you to organize Tweets by hashtag, mentions, and usernames, which makes following certain trends easier than before. It also allows you to navigate through multiple accounts with the swipe of a finger. It’s free, user-friendly, and a good addition to any twitter-user’s iPad.

Ustream: This app is designed to broadcast and tune-in to live video streams. In theory, awesome! One downside is that you essentially need to be planning on watching something over u-stream, otherwise the “featured stories” will most likely be random and totally inapplicable to your life and/or interests. A second downside is that it seems there’s more non-English videos than there are English. Maybe you can filter that somehow that I’m unaware of.

Storify: This app has SO much potential, but there’s a few kinks that need worked out yet. On my MacBook Pro I had no problems using it, but on the iPad there were a number of troubleshooting issues. I’ll spare you the boring details, but know that if you ever need to make a multi-media presentation/report of some sort, Storify is your app! With it, you can add Tweets, Facebook posts, news articles, etc… virtually anything that’s been put on the web is up for grabs (so long as it’s public domain). Check out my storify on the Teo’ Hoax. Storify is cool and just the sort of thing that should exist, but for the average user it may be a bit more than what’s needed.

Dropbox: A must for users who have multiple devices, dropbox lets you store and sync your photos, docs, and videos across devices. It’s great for file transfers and easy on-the-go access to whatever files you need.

Evernote: Similar to dropbox, evernote lets you share files between devices. One thing it has over dropbox, however, is the ability to draft notes directly in evernote that you can then access and edit from other devices. Both are free, but if you want to de-clutter your homescreen, I would stick with evernote over dropbox.

Feedly: This. App. Rules! Totally customizable to your interests, feedly gathers the newest news-stories or blog-updates from whatever topics/people/sites you’re interested in. The user-face is interactive and attractive, full of color and visuals. It’s especially nice because the featured stories include a few lines from the body of the text, allowing you to glance at the story before committing to reading it.

Readability: This app allows you to “bookmark” articles that interest you but you don’t have time to read at the moment. With the simple click of an icon, you can re-visit them later when time permits. If you’re the sort of person that jumps around from site to site, readability is a great app for keeping tabs on interesting articles and saving them for later while you explore the day’s headlines.

All in all, if I had to push for you to get just one of the apps I discussed, I would say FEEDLY. You won’t regret it!

Prison Industrial Complex

Here are three of the papers I wrote for my class on the American prison system, which should be abolished.

 

Reconsidering Freedom and Bravery: Prison Culture and America

            America: the land of the free, the home of the brave. The country where each individual person has control over his or her destiny. The country where brave ones sacrifice luxuries afforded to the rest of “us” as they endure hardships to fight against “those” who threaten the American way of life. In this paper, I argue that these hegemonic notions are (perhaps surprisingly) not challenged by the fact that the penal state has come to dominate U.S. institutions and society, but rather, when interpreted through a critically engaged perspective, actually expose the tensions inherent in the modern socioeconomic environment vis-à-vis the prison. This paper draws on the class’s field-trip to Jackson State Correctional Facility and Armory Arts Village in addition to modern scholarship to argue that “prison culture” most successfully undergirds the neoliberal state through its apparent embrace of freedom, its emphasis on the individual, and its assurances of security.

Prison culture refers to more than the inner-happenings of the prison. More broadly, it includes the institutions and communities that relate to the penitentiary in one way or another—which due to the expansiveness of the carceral state encompasses virtually all of America, and increasingly the world[i]—leading to “a society committed to the construction of prisons and the warehousing of mass numbers of people with little regard for the complexities of their lives, the lives of those hired to confine them, and the communities that surrounded them.”[ii] Though people often feel disconnected from the prison unless they have a direct connection to it, thinking about the U.S. as a prison culture forces one to consider the affects of the prison outside the space of the actual prison. It encourages one to draw connections between prisons and society, and between prisoners and ordinary citizens; because after all, one could not exist without the other.

The fact that the very notion of freedom cannot exit without the potentiality of captivity emphasizes the distinct relationship between free American citizens and imprisoned criminals. In this relationship, convicted criminals become the property of the state, subjected to its punishments and categorizations, all the while the rest of the free citizenry stands by and speculates on the characteristics and conditions that might lead one to prison. Yet despite being closely tied to one another in a sort of binary-bind where alternatives to imprisonment cannot even be conceived, their relationship is most significantly characterized by a vast distance.

This distance can turn feet into miles, as it remains even when subjects stand in direct sight of spectators, such as during prison tours or nightly news programming. As Michelle Brown warns, “In contexts where individuals only know incarceration at a distance, the dynamics of penal participation are slippery and can quickly devolve into complex, often voyeuristic frameworks which privilege various kinds of punitive, individualistic judgment.”[iii] Conclusions made from a distance, in other words, risk being formed from biased information, most likely transmitted by a propagator of neoliberal thinking who hungrily seeks to unite privileged classes by their shared fear of social and economic insecurity.

The neoliberal paradigm places all non-prisoners, typically White and (sub)affluent, opposed to those unfortunate enough to have a run-in with the law, typically Black and poor.[iv] Though scholars contend that approximately 90% of Americans have broken some sort of law that could have landed them in prison, penal spectators nevertheless assume that inmates uniquely and completely deserve their punishments.[v] Part of this hegemonic narrative on the American penal system derives from national television. In his study of ABC, CBS, and NBC, Bill Yousman found the central themes in the news’s coverage of incarceration to be fearmongering and to be misleading—for example, by focusing on out-of-the-ordinary upbeat rehabilitation programs, riots, and escapes. Yousman concludes, “Prisoners are portrayed as dangerous, violent, parasites, while the prison system itself is depicted as providing these unworthies with decent living conditions and plenty of opportunities for success.”[vi]

Essentially lacking from the mainstream news media’s account of incarceration are stories that might humanize the inmates, depict the inmates as victims of injustices like false convictions, or expose the structural inequalities that still plague America and that contribute to racialized state violence. The media’s tendency to ignore the racialization of incarceration leads Angela Davis to attest that society’s commitment to individualism “imputes responsibility to the individuals who are its casualties, thus reproducing the very conditions that produce racist patterns in incarceration and its seemingly infinite capacity to expand.”[vii] Davis presents a sympathetic view of prisoners that escapes the body of understanding possessed by a majority of penal spectators who exist distanced and consciously separate from the “criminal class.” Yet as Davis and other critically engaged scholars understand, the “criminal class” emerged concurrently with neoliberalism’s restructuring of the state, and can be seen as victims of extended structures of traditional racism.

Neoliberalism’s replacement of the welfare state with the carceral state represents the increasingly punitive (and consistently racist) treatment of the poor.[viii]  Noah De Lissovoy describes how the neoliberal state operates under the principle of violation, the material and symbolic domination of racial groups, to justify this carceral turn towards poverty. Through violation, racism becomes permissible, as Davis suggested, by reshuffling responsibility onto the victims themselves. With its emphasis on individual freedom, neoliberal discourse casts all crime as a personal choice and all inmates as threats to society. This neoliberal insistence on the individual as the primary controller of social pathologies masks the traces of racism and white privilege as they affect American communities materially, politically, and symbolically, providing “the cover for processes of class war from the top.”[ix] With its emphasis on the “free market” and its insistence that the individual consumer be “free” to choose, neoliberal discourse attempts to align itself with patriotic notions of freedom in order to pursue the neoliberal agenda—the solidification of class power. [x]

It was with these tensions in mind that the class arrived at Jackson State Correctional Facility and Armory Arts Village. Armory Arts Village, located in the historic nineteenth century Jackson State Prison, has been renovated into apartments for artists in an attempt to revitalize the city and to provide a use for an otherwise vacant and decrepit building. Armory Arts Village retains its ties to the prison of its past while simultaneously assigning it a new identity. To preserve the site’s history, tours are lead by residents of the Village. The site also offers haunted tours and has rentable space available for social gatherings.

Jim and Judy, eager to introduce their new tour group to the horrors and history of the prison they have come to call home, began by emphasizing the prison’s role in the community’s economy. The business generated by the prison—which included various forms of farms and factories, such as produce and clothing—established Jackson as one of the three leading industrial cities in the United States. The prisoners responsible for the city’s economic success spent their days in inhuman conditions and under corrupt leadership—facts that Jim and Judy revealed with great sympathy. They took the time to emphasize the mundane aspects of these prisoners lives: honey buckets for plumbing, intense heat in the summer, frigid temperatures in the winter, the rampant disease with poor health care, and the harsh punishments inflicted against them for violating the code of silence.

Jim and Judy also partook in offering the group spectacular descriptions of inmates sentenced to solitary confinement and stories of prison escapes. It was with heightened drama that Jim described the “subhuman” convicts that emerged from the solitary confinement cells after the inspectors finally demanded to check on them. These moments reminded the class that the “politics of the penal gaze here are inevitably embedded in spectacle and thrill seeking.”[xi] Despite the fact that we were a University-level class, Jim and Judy still treated us to the full monty of the prison tour, including voyeuristic stories of inmates tying cigars to cockroaches to pass their rare bits of pleasure around.

This part of the tour emphasized how much of a prison culture America is, and how a prison influences its surrounding community in unexpected ways and to surprising extents. Life in Jackson was more or less organized around the prison. For example, in addition to the prison comprising the majority of Jackson’s economic sector, Jim and Judy discussed how the prison’s front lawn became a park where community members would gather and spend their afternoons playing games and socializing. In addition to hosting an annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, the prison even hosted an annual watermelon festival, and the inmates formed a prison band that entertained the community at such events.

Of course, it was definitely not all fun and games for the inmates. Jim and Judy’s description of the prison as a complete and austere institute reminded the class of Foucault’s docile bodies, simultaneously made to be useful through prison labor. When discussing the old prison, Jim and Judy emphasized its corruption and inhumane conditions, but never addressed trends in the racialization of criminalization. They talked about overcrowding and the large proportion of nonviolent offenders, but they never once mentioned race’s role in the prison system. Nevertheless, they remained fairly objective in presenting the history of the old prison, taking care to present the story from the point of view of the inmates themselves.

The objective gaze that allowed Jim to sympathize with the inmates of the past seemed to partially vanish when we arrived at the modern penitentiary. Jim took care to ensure the class of the safe distance between the inmates and us, reinforcing the notion that the prisoners are a potentially violent threat. This notion was also reinforced when Jim instructed us to think highly of Correctional Officers, and to thank them for putting their lives on the line for our safety. He seemed to be quite proud of modern ingenuity when he described how the yellow poles informed guards of exactly where to shoot. At one point, after he let the phrase “innocent inmates” slip, Jim immediately laughed at his mistake, as if to confirm that no inmates were innocent, of course, considering the fact that they are criminals, after all.

Yet several times, Judy encouraged us to critically consider modern notions of criminality. By telling the class the story of the grandma who ended up in prison through an unfortunate string of events, she asked us to be conscious of the people sent to prison that might not deserve to be there. She also suggested that people end up in prison, not because of their deviancy, but because of ulterior conditions, such as low self-esteem. Though this ultimately places the responsibility back on to the individual actor (rather than accounting for the structural conditions and inequalities that might lead to one’s incarceration), it can also be seen as an attempt to humanize the inmates. In the end, Jim and Judy offered a soft critique of the modern carceral state.

Visiting the modern prison made a profound impact in my ability to imagine imprisonment. By experiencing the claustrophobia and constant surveillance of the cells, the distance between me as a penal spectator and the subjects which Jim encouraged us to gaze upon became or felt at least slightly narrowed. Yet as Michelle Brown argues, being so distanced from both the prisoners and the experience of prison, I will never be able to understand the tremendous, tortuous monotony of prison life. But the experience of visiting the prison, and the exposure of this class’s material more broadly, has taught me to think critically about my normalized notions of criminality. It has helped me understand the difference between the mythical view of the prison verses the useful study of the prison. Similarly, it has helped me relate my findings to American culture more broadly, to consider what normalized aspects of American national identity deserve closer scrutiny.

Like the base of a building may be built deep underground to preserve both its structural quality and aesthetic appeal, the foundation of American prison culture remains hidden from the public’s scrutinizing gaze. Exposing the foundation necessarily makes the entire structure less appealing, as it both reveals designs the architect never intended to be made public, and also unveils embedded cracks or flaws that threaten the structure’s integrity and stability. To further elaborate on this metaphor, the hidden aspects of America’s prison culture, hidden for their grossness, are integral parts of the carceral system. Without them, the system would not be the same system, nor would the system be able to fulfill its function. We are told America is free and brave, but as ex-convicts emerge from prison dispossessed of virtually all rights and property, the land of the free becomes the land for the free, and the home of the brave more accurately refers to the prisons and prisoners themselves—they who repeatedly endure pain, unpleasant and dangerous conditions.


[i] Loïc Wacquant, “The Advent of the Penal State Is Not a Destiny,” in Social Justice 28.3. (Fall 2011). pp. 81-87.

[ii] Michelle Brown, The Culture of Punishment: Prison, Society, and Spectacle. (New York: New York University Press 2009), p. 2.

[iii] Ibid., p. 5.

[iv] Angela Davis, “Locked up: racism in the era of neoliberalism,” in The Drum. (Mar 2008).

[v] Bill Yousman. Prime Time Prisons on U.S. TV. (New York: Peter Land 2009), p. 85.

[vi] Ibid., p. 105.

[vii] Davis, op. cit.

[viii] Loïc Wacquant, “The punitive regulation of poverty in the neoliberal age,” in openDemocracy (Aug 2011).

[ix] Noah De Lissovoy, “Conceptualizing the Carcerael Turn: Neoliberalism, Racism, and Violation,” in Critical Sociology (Jul 2012), p. 2.

[x] David Harvey. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. (New York: Oxford University Press 2005), p. 39-41.

[xi] Brown, op. cit., p. 91.

 

Bibliography

Brown, Michelle. The Culture of Punishment: Prison, Society, and Spectacle. (New York: New York University Press 2009).

Davis, Angela. “Locked up: racism in the era of neoliberalism,” in The Drum. (Mar 2008).

De Lissovoy, Noah. “Conceptualizing the Carcerael Turn: Neoliberalism, Racism, and Violation,” in Critical Sociology (Jul 2012), pp. 1-17.

Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. (New York: Oxford University Press 2005), pp. 1-63.

Parenti, Christian. Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis. (New York: Verso 1999), pp. 3-28.

Sinden, Jeff. “The Problem of Prison Privatization: The US Experience,” from Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization & Human Rights, (Charlottesville, VA: Clarity Press 2003). pp. 39-47.

Yousman, Bill. Prime Time Prisons on U.S. TV. (New York: Peter Land 2009), pp. 77-140.

Wacquant, Loïc. “The Advent of the Penal State Is Not a Destiny,” in Social Justice 28.3. (Fall 2011). pp. 81-87.

 

 

Power of The Prison

Most U.S. citizens lack even a modest understanding of the American prison system, neither how it functions as an institution in American society (and increasingly in the world at large) nor what happens inside the carceral state, off the books, behind the bars, or inside the minds of the convicted criminals themselves. Prison topics and implications remain outside the realm of typically grasped and understood knowledge for numerous reasons (to be discussed later), and in some cases have even become taboo. Prisons are gaped at and feared, but are also venerated for the protective services they provide society. Though most people’s engagement with the prison stops at such visceral responses, prisons shape American society in profound yet overlooked ways. Like elusive mice scampering away from capture and into safe hiding between the walls where they remain established and threatening, no matter how much prisons try to discretely settle into their environments, they nevertheless exert a tangible effect on community members’ lives and imaginations. The power of the prison over American understandings of race, gender and sexuality dictates how we, the American public, categorize and rank people according to their relationship to the fundamental pillar of the carceral state—the penitentiary. The very nature of the penitentiary system allows this power to translate into notions of worth, of deservedness, and of value. In other words, the carceral state dictates who is and who is not allowed to be a full and free citizen. The crisis of the current carceral state can perhaps best be studied through a multidimensional American Studies’ approach that examines the history, economics, cultural manifestations, and ethnic divisions currently characterizing the American penitentiary system.

The elusion of prison topics from the public dialogue is shocking when one considers the magnitude and strength of the carceral state. Indeed, Loïc Wacquant asserts America has earned the title of “the first genuine prison society of history (original emphasis)” (121, 2001). Though prisons have existed for thousands of years, Wacquant and others believe that the modern prison system is such that, for the first time ever, it actually defines the U.S. state as a carceral entity.

As Achille Mbembe (2003) obliquely argues, the formation of the carceral state can be understood similarly to other modern terror regimes as a function of necropower. He outlines necropower as beginning with territorial fragmentation, a process that prepares society for separation, seclusion, surveillance, and control. After society is determined to be sufficiently cordoned off, infrastructure warfare sees to it that the enemy be disabled, disarmed, and disenfranchised. Ultimately, a state of siege arises where daily life is militarized and the empowered party withholds virtually all forms of capital (human, cultural, financial and political) from their disempowered subordinates. In its most visible forms, necropower emerged during the French Revolution, on the plantation, in Nazi Germany and apartheid Africa, and in the colonial occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Placing the U.S. carceral state alongside Nazism may seem exaggerated and unwarranted, but an objective examination reveals the justifying factors. In his example of late-modern colonial occupation, Mbembe identifies a characteristic of necropower that links it to the carceral state and also partially explains why such abuses remain hidden from public scrutiny:

Here, the colonial state derives its fundamental claim of sovereignty and legitimacy from the authority of its own particular narrative of history and identity. This narrative is itself underpinned by the idea that the state has a divine right to exist; the narrative competes with another for the same sacred space. Because the two narratives are incompatible and the two populations are inextricably intertwined, any demarcation of the territory on the basis of pure identity is quasi-impossible. Violence and sovereignty, in this case, claim a divine foundation: peoplehood itself is forged by the worship of one deity, and national identity is imagined as an identity against the Other, other deities. History, geography, cartography, and archaeology are supposed to back these claims, thereby closely binding identity and topography. As a consequence, colonial violence and occupation are profoundly underwritten by the sacred terror of truth and exclusivity. (27, 2003)

 

Though Mbembe speaks of colonialism, he could just as accurately be referring to the current U.S. carceral state. His reference to the “divine foundation” of the sovereign, where the sovereign’s claims to authority lie inherent in its very identity, can be likened to the social contract theory, where citizens must automatically comply with the disciplinary power lest they set themselves opposed to state doctrine and in queue for punishment.[i] Considering the deadly implications of being a part of the “other”—the group set opposed to the soverign’s identity or historical narrative—most people complacently align themselves with the identity suggested by the sovereign.

In this manner, whole populations become “regularized” or “normalized” as part of what Michel Foucault terms biopolitics. This process of normalization establishes a binary that can be used to punish the “non-normal” group while re-assuring the “normal” group of their strength and security—so long as they remain normal, that is. Yet in terms of the current carceral state, scholars argue one need not even do anything to align themselves with the “other,” but can be made to be “other” by virtue of their milieu. Foucault speaks to the links between biopower and race as that, “racism justifies the death-function in the economy of biopower by appealing to the principle that the death of others makes one biologically stronger insofar as one is a member of a race or a population, insofar as one is an element in a unitary living plurality” (258, 2004). As the formation of plurality necessarily implies exclusivity in biopoltics, maintaining a national image of America as united and free likewise requires excluding unfavorable aspects from the projected American identity, such as the taint of slavery on the historical narrative, the dominant role of the prison in the “Land of the Free,” or the humiliating presence of poverty in an otherwise affluent nation.

Today, racism is neither tolerated by the majority nor, in most cases, obvious. Unlike during slavery or Jim Crow, blacks today are technically allowed access to the same spaces and are told they are equal to their white counterparts. Yet as Wacquant argues and many agree, the admittedly horrible institutions of  slavery and segregation have simply evolved over time from slavery, to the Jim Crow South, to the ghetto and now into the “carceral-assistential complex” of the modern penitentiary system plus hyper-ghetto. In this new peculiar institution, the combined roles of the prison and the welfare state invisibilize and reactivate racism under the new disguises of crime, ‘welfare dependency’, and the ‘underclass’.[ii] Julia Sudbury advances, “While overt Jim Crow racism had waning public acceptance in this post-Civil Rights era of Martin Luther Kingesque integrationist policies, criminalization provided a new camouflaged racist language in which code words such as ‘criminal’, ‘drug dealer’ and ‘welfare queen’ could be used obliquely to the racialized ‘enemy within’” (61, 2002).

Racist policies have not been defeated, they have simply been disguised. As Angela Davis (1998) investigates in her appraisal of Frederick Douglass’s treatment towards the convict lease system, the Thirteenth Amendment—initially enacted to legally abolish the slave economy—contains a gap that allows for legalized slavery “as a punishment for crime.”[iii] Thus  began the transfer from the prison of slavery to the slavery of prison. “Through this transference, ideological and institutional carryovers from slavery began to fortify the equation of blackness and criminality in US society.”[iv] Davis argues Douglass did not adequately address the convict lease system because it was both perfectly legal and directed at people considered “criminal.” Yet specific crimes—Mississippi Black Codes, for example—became racialized and aimed to label black people as criminals solely to send them to prison in order to extract labor from them.

Similarly, the War on Drugs allows for the legal targeting and mass imprisonment of African Americans. Enacted in 1986 by President Reagan, the Act transformed drug use from a medical issue to a criminal issue, at the same time removing discretion and imposing mandatory minimum sentences.[v] In this way, the government set the stage to quarantine the “polluting group” from the urban body. Consider that nonviolent black males comprise a majority of inmates imprisoned for drug offenses,  yet whites use drugs in equal proportions to blacks, and the public expects inmates are imprisoned because of the threat of their violence to soceity.[vi]

By repackaging racism, the prison effectively contributes to what Wacquant refers to as “the ongoing reconstruction of the ‘imagined community’ of Americans.” He argues that the criminal justice system both materially and symbolically divides Americans between implicitly white ‘working families’ and despicable dark-skinned criminals:

The former are exalted as the living incarnation of genuine American values, self-control, deferred gratification, subservience of life to labor; the latter is vituperated as the loathsome embodiment of their abject desecration, the ‘dark side’ of the ‘American dream’ of affluence and opportunity for all believed to flow from morality anchored in conjugality and work.[vii]

 

In other words, Wacquant believes that prisons “make race” in their alignment of criminality with blackness, as evidenced by the “bias in arrest, prosecution, and sentencing” that leads to the shockingly unequal racial composition of the prison despite even ethnic patterns of criminal activity.[viii] Sudbury expands, “As public funds are poured  into the high-tech policing of black suspects, ,a self-fulfilling cycle is generated whereby increased arrests in the black community reinforce the public fear of African Caribbean drug dealers and traffickers, legitimate the continuation of racially discrepant policing practices and generate additional resources for the police” (66, 2002). These ties between blackness and criminality extend beyond the prison bars and into the American imagination, caused in large part by the cyclical nature of disenfranchisement and criminality.

Many prisoners suffer a “civic death” post-incarceration: they are denied access to Pell Grants, veterans benefits, foods stamps, welfare payments, Medicaid, public housing, and other related forms of assistance.[ix] Furthermore, “criminal disenfranchisement” strips one black man in seven nationwide of his right to vote.[x] Such meshing of the ghetto and the prison “enforces and perpetuates the socioeconomic marginality and symbolic taint of the urban black subproletariat,” exposing what has been noted as an increase in the carceral state combined with a decrease in the welfare state.[xi] The system feeds off itself, imprisoning disenfranchising people, setting them up for repeat offenses, and setting their families up for economic instability.

In addition to being a “race-making” institution, the prison forms notions and understandings of sexuality. As Regina Kunzel argues in her book Criminal Intimacy, the prison makes same-sex sex acts more visible—the emerging complexity of which threatens to destabilize the hetero-normativity of the hetero-sexual matrix. Prison sex challenges notions of how one’s sexual acts relate to his or her identity. While gay inmates were criminalized and “perverted,” they were also frequently cast as only temporarily gay. Homosexuality’s controversial debut in the prison marked it as an “abnormal” condition and made it “ineradicably affiliated with criminality and the prison.”[xii]

At one point, homosexuality was considered, like blackness, to be a metaphorical contagion that threatened society’s moral stability. The prison world was incorrectly imagined as a place outside normal society where, “the lives of prisoners had nothing to do with the lives of those outside prison walls.”[xiii] This denial or misperception had serious consequences on the advancement of prisoner’s rights. As gay activists began to influence societal perceptions on homosexuality and  advocated for sexual liberation, prison sexuality became only about rape and violence. When certain relationships within the prison became unrecognizable, prisoners became further dehumanized, and their ultimate “civil deaths” became more acceptable.

Prisons have tremendous amounts of power—not just because of the most obvious reason that they can take away the most cherished principle of our democracy, freedom—but also because they subtly influence the ways in which we understand both race and sexuality. Prisons dictate who is and who is not allowed to partake in the nation’s politics and economy. The fact that so powerful an institution remains so poorly understood by a majority of society leaves a huge potential for abuse.


[i] Replacing the notion of “divine legitimacy” with the social contract theory is not to ignore nineteenth century claims of Manifest Destiny, nor the belief that the U.S. power structure “has God on its side”—such proclamations have existed since the birth of the nation and arguably still exist.

[ii] Consider how the list of illegalities changed alongside capitalism to punish property-related crimes committed by the poor against the rich with stricter incarceration.

[iii] Angela Y. Davis. “From the Prison of Slavery to the Slavery of Prison: Frederick Douglass and the Convict Lease System,” in The Angela Y. Davis Reader edited by Joy James (Malden, MS: Blackwell Publishers 1998) p. 75.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Julia Sudbury. “Celling Black Bodies: Black Women in The Global Prison Industrial Complex,” in Feministi Review 70.1 (2002) p. 54-74.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Loïc Wacquant. “Deadly Symbiosis: When Ghetto and Prison Meet and Mesh,” in Punishment & Society 3.95 (2001) p. 95-133.

[viii] Ibid. p. 96.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid. p. 120.

[xi] Ibid. p. 97.

[xii] Regina Kunzel. Criminal Intimacy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2008) p. 47.

[xiii] Ibid. p. 14.

Bibliography

Davis, Angela Y. “From the Prison of Slavery to the Slavery of Prison: Frederick Douglass and the Convict Lease System,” in The Angela Y. Davis Reader edited by Joy James (Malden, MS: Blackwell Publishers 1998).

Foucault, Michel. “17 March 1976,” in Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at The College de France, 1975-76 (New York: Penguin 2004).

Kunzel, Regina. Criminal Intimacy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2008).

Mbembe, Achille. “Necropolitics,” in Public Culture 15.1 (Duke University Press 2003) pp.11-40.

Sudbury, Julia. “Celling Black Bodies: Black Women in The Global Prison Industrial Complex,” in Feministi Review 70.1 (2002) pp. 54-74.

Wacquant, Loïc. “Deadly Symbiosis: When Ghetto and Prison Meet and Mesh,” in Punishment & Society 3.95 (2001) p. 95-133.

 

“Laws are made to be broken.”

             The title of this paper—a phrase commonly used by adolescents to justify misdemeanors, or to coerce their friends to join them in breaking the rules—suggests something that at first seems illogical. A typical responder might retort, “No, laws are made to protect us. Law breakers are criminals who belong in prison, and if you don’t be careful you’ll end up in there with them.” Such a response points to a fundamental fact of American society that most either remain ignorant to or choose to ignore: that the scale of mass incarceration in the United States is seemingly unrivaled in history.[i] Prison as punishment has taken such a hold on the American imagination that, as Foucault asserts, an alternative can hardly be imagined. Yet as the guillotine reminds us, prisons have not always been the primary form of punishment. This paper presents a study of the most recent evolution in punishment by examining the correlation between government types and specific manifestations of power, especially as pertains to the subjects governed and the effects of punishment on the minds, bodies, and spirits of both the individual and the group. The study concludes that the current carceral state maintains its efficacy by linking austerity and prosperity while simultaneously and quietly forging its way into the institutions that shape the American psyche, resulting in a strengthened power elite and a weakened public body.

Prior to the modern economy of power, the sovereign magistrate operated primarily through a “policy of terror” grounded in public spectacles of violence and the threat of torture.[ii] In the system of the monarchy, ritualized public executions revealed the invisible force of the sovereign and reminded onlookers of their allegiance to the king. Rather than re-establishing justice, the public execution reactivated power through retribution.

Its aim is not so much to re-establish a balance as to bring into play, as its extreme point, the dissymmetry between the subject who has dared to violate the law and the all-powerful sovereign who displays his strength…the punishment is carried out in such a way as to give a spectacle not of measure, but of imbalance and excess.[iii]

 

Corporal punishment—the revenge of the sovereign— simultaneously manifested and annulled the crime while instilling within the public a fear of the king’s power.

Not all, however, received the memo. Because the ritual of the public execution was dependent on the obedient participation of the crowd, it was only successful if the crowd complied. The nature of the public spectacle allowed those present the opportunity to side with the condemned and interfere with the process, as they did on a number of occasions.[iv] In addition to occasionally backfiring and turning the condemned into heroes, public executions bred lawlessness. Caleb Smith writes, “Execution day became a carnival, a holiday for drunks and pickpockets—the very authority that aimed to impress itself upon the people seemed instead to be suspended.”[v] The ritual of the public execution seemed to create more problems than it solved and ultimately gave way to less grisly —and less visible —forms of punishment.

The ruthlessness of the spectacle of the scaffold came under condemnation during the Enlightenment when reformers first took steps towards regulating the sovereign’s power. In their attempts to proportionate the punishment with the crime, reformers called for the respect of man’s “humanity.” Their aims were not entirely altruistic, however, for as Foucault explains, “The true objective of the reform movement… was not so much to establish a new right to punish based on more equitable principles, as to set up a new ‘economy’ of the power to punish… so that it should be distributed in homogenous circuits capable of operating everywhere, in a continuous way, down to the finest grain of the social body.”[vi] Authorities sought to reform the penal system to make it more efficient, more necessary, and more deeply engrained into the public at large. Reformers’ lackluster effort at improving the condition of the condemned is dually noted: as Smith writes, “The violent dehumanization of convicts on the scaffold and in the crowded, filthy dungeons of unenlightened regimes was the crisis that reformers sought to address; but the reformers’ solution, the modern institution built for the reclamation of lost souls, would incorporate its own, redefined practice of mortification.”[vii]

Nevertheless, mass incarceration was packaged as a humane alternative to the scaffold. As the public spectacle transformed during the eighteenth century into penal imprisonment, it seemed punishment was suddenly less severe, more clearly codified, democratically sound, and generally accepted. Reformers emphasized the rehabilitative potential of the prison, imagining the walls as becoming “mirrored surfaces of reflection” that would lead convicts “to reckon with themselves and their crimes.”[viii] In theory, the prison would mend the broken soul of the citizen and prepare him or her for re-entry into the civil body.[ix]

A number of different prison models began to take shape, though they all ultimately reinforced the same three principles: solitude, regulation, and categorization.[x] By partitioning the inmates’ lives into cell, church, and workshop, the prison aimed to control virtually every second of the inmates’ days. Inmates were examined, judged, and placed along a hierarchical spectrum. The entirety of the prison apparatus, from its architecture to its time-tables, reinforced surveillance, productivity, and submission. The composition of controlling forces resulted in disciplined and docile bodies, which could then be forced to obey virtually any decree, much like cogs in a machine, or like slaves on a plantation. Indeed, from its advent, the penitentiary subjected inmates to a “civil death” that “justified a virtually unlimited exploitation and discretionary violence against the living entombed,” while it “divested (them) of rights and reduced (them) to a kind of animal or undead life,” much like the dehumanizing practices used on black Americans.[xi]

It may appear that a wholly new and more just power came along with the advent of the penitentiary, yet in reality, sovereign power has merely shifted to a democratized disciplinary power that operates under a new series of stratagem. A whole new taxonomy of crime develops based off the idea of the social contract—the theory that each member of society agrees to abandon part of his or her sovereignty in order to gain benefits from the community in which he or she belongs. “The citizen is presumed to have accepted once and for all, with the laws of society, the very law by which he may be punished.”[xii] It becomes the judicial duty of the state to categorize and define the criminal’s offence and to align it with an appropriate punishment, that, in theory, is enacted by all of society, for “The least crime attacks the whole of society; and the whole of society —including the criminal—is present in the least punishment.”[xiii] No longer does the criminal violate his or her loyalty to a single sovereign; the criminal betrays all members of society. The power to punish the criminal no longer comes from the vengeance of the sovereign, but from the defense of society. While the judicial connection made between crime and punishment can be visually manifested in books of the law (and therefore can be used to justify punishment), the actual source of power—invested within the social body—remains  less visible, hidden within social institutions (hospitals, schools, work places, etc.) that covertly echo the surveillance, measurement, and judgment of the penitentiary.[xiv]

This new disciplinary force exerts itself just as tangibly on the body, though under completely different forms. Referred to by Foucault as the “new political anatomy,” the body transforms from being a subject that can manifest the king’s authority to being a subject that can be regulated, studied, classified, and utilized.[xv] The new political anatomy objectifies bodies through examinations where “a normalizing gaze, a surveillance… makes it possible to qualify, to classify and to punish… In (the examination) are combined the ceremony of power and the form of the experiment, the deployment of force and the establishment of truth.”[xvi] Through the examination by medical professionals, academic professionals, or virtually any other sort of “professional” (i.e. business recruiters), bodies are ever more visible, ever more objectified into individual “cases,” and infinitely classified as effect and object of both knowledge and power.

Prisons exists in the American consciousness, as Smith iterates, as, “not only a material structure or a matter of the law, narrowly defined, but also a set of images and narrative patterns; it is a language that enables expression and, at the same time, ensnares the subject in its designs.”[xvii] The new disciplinary force intersects with the new political anatomy on an ideological plane, as it aims to infiltrate the minds of the social bodies: firstly, by forming a natural link of resemblance, analogy, and proximity between the crime and the punishment to serve as signs for the political body; secondly, by representing the disadvantages of the penalty as more lively than the pleasures of the crime; thirdly, by using the duration of punishment to deter criminal activity; fourthly, by targeting all as “potentially guilty” and convincing all to consider themselves benefiters of punishment; fifthly, by infusing the new list of “illegalities” with moral undertones; and lastly, by depicting the criminal as the common enemy. [xviii] As Gottschalk explains, “Political elites in the United States have a long history of raising law-and-order concerns in an attempt to further their own political fortunes. And Americans have a long history of periodic intense anxiety about crime and disorder.”[xix] The above ideological formula produces and maintains a system of social control on the minds and on the imaginations of the American public.

The disciplinary force of the penitentiary appeals to the American imagination because it is based off notions of freedom and equality. It follows logically that the deprivation of liberty for punishment best suits a nation such as the United States that prizes freedom above all else. As Foucault says, “The prison is the clearest, simplest, most equitable of penalties.”[xx] Unlike money, time is distributed evenly among all citizens (while five hundred dollars means two very different things to a rich person verses a poor person, five years means essentially the same thing to the both of them), and can still be used as an effective measure of exchange between the guilty criminal and the vengeful public body (hence the phrase, “paying his time”). As Adam Gopnik recounts, “It isn’t the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prisons unendurable for their inmates.”[xxi] In addition to be judicially and economically sound, incarceration also appeals as punishment because of its promise to rehabilitate the delinquent. Prison protects society by keeping “dangerous beings” locked up while simultaneously honing to their humanity with the promise to transform their souls. The double functioning nature of the prison embeds it with a “self-evident” character.[xxii] In short, the power of the disciplinary force succeeds by combining lawfulness and patriotism, and by embedding itself so deeply into the American psyche that no imaginable alternative remains.

Despite its apparent “equalizing” nature, modern disciplinary power remains structured by class, gender, and race. As Smith points out, “the unique voices of the incarcerated provide access to otherwise buried truths of violence and mortification.”[xxiii] When we listen to such voices, we hear horrors of racism, rape, and violence against women.[xxiv] Foucault connects the rise of the penitentiary with the rise of capitalism, and asserts that, “the shift from a criminality of blood to a criminality of fraud forms part of a whole complex mechanism, embracing the development of production, the increase of wealth, a higher juridical and moral value placed on property relations, stricter methods of surveillance, a tighter partitioning of the population.”[xxv] In such a system, the same character born into a poor or wealthy condition becomes convict or congressman, respectively.

As Gopnik laments, “For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones.”[xxvi]The system structured along class lines is necessarily structured along racial lines as well, as pointed out by James: “In racialized societies such as the united States, the plague of criminality, deviancy, immorality, and corruption is embodied in the black because both sexual and social pathology are branded by skin color (as well as by gender and sexual orientation).”[xxvii] Black bodies are not nor have historically ever been treated the same as white bodies, which is why the spectacle of the public execution ended for white criminals long before lynching ended for black victims.[xxviii] It is also why blacks are sentenced to death row shockingly more frequently than whites: “Between 1977 and 1986 90 percent of prisoners executed had been convicted of killing whites, although the number of black victims was approximately equal to that of white victims.”[xxix] In many people’s eyes, the rise of the carceral state is yet another chapter in the history of black subordination.

In addition to disenfranchising a whole caste of people (including not just blacks but all those who exit the prison system)[xxx], the power-elite has strong economic motives to imprisoning mass amounts of people and holding them there for as long as possible. Gopnik, in examining a document released by Corrections Corporation of America (the biggest of the private prison firms), identifies the company for what it is: “a capitalist enterprise that feeds on the misery of man trying as hard as it can to be sure that nothing is done to decrease that misery.”[xxxi] He expands, “It’s hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible.”[xxxii]

The notion of profitable punitive policies raises the question with which this paper began: are laws actually made to be broken? If mass incarceration is considered as a system of social control—or as racial, gender, or class control—then the system does exactly what it was designed to do; it maintains the position of the power elite while weakening the public body by manipulating notions of knowledge and power. Framing these questions along the historical evolution from sovereign power to disciplinary power reveals the seemingly calculated entrance of the prison system into the American psyche. By creating a partitioned society convinced of the connection between lawfulness and patriotism, between deviancy and immorality, and between punitive punishments and rehabilitation, and by reinforcing this mindset with the normalization of criminalized public institutions such as the school, hospital, and work place, prison advocates claim a stronghold on the American imagination of penal policy, all the while financially and socially benefitting from punitive polices. Adolescents rejoice, “Laws are indeed made to be broken!”


[i] Adam Gopnik, “The Caging of America,” in The New Yorker (Jan 30, 2012) ; and Marie Gottschalk, “Hiding in Plain Sight: American Politics and the Carceral State,” in Annual Review of Political Science (Jan 8, 2008).

[ii] Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish. Second Vintage Books Edition, Vintage Books: New York (1977). p. 49.

[iii] Foucault, ibid. pp. 48-49.

[iv] Foucault, ibid. ; and Caleb Smith, The Prison and the American Imagination. Yale University Press: New Haven (2009).

[v] Smith, ibid. p. 8.

[vi] Foucault, op. cit. p. 80.

[vii] Smith, op. cit. pp. 49-50.

[viii] Smith, ibid. p. 2.

[ix] Smith, ibid.

[x] Foucault, op. cit.

[xi] Smith, op. cit. pp. 40, 41.

[xii] Foucault, op. cit. pp. 89-90.

[xiii] Foucault, ibid. p. 90.

[xiv] On page 247, Gottschalk does an excellent job of providing examples of the criminalization of every day life. For example, take the criminalization of education policy, which incorporates school-based police officers, drug sweeps, uniforms, metal detectors, zero-tolerance rules, and the growing use of sanctions such as detention and expulsion. Furthermore, consider the increase of gated communities, or increased surveillance at the work place.

[xv] Foucault, op. cit. p. 103.

[xvi] Foucault, ibid. p. 184.

[xvii] Smith, op. cit. p. 23.

[xviii] Foucault, op. cit. pp. 104-114.

[xix] Gottschalk, op. cit. p. 242.

[xx] Foucault, op. cit. p. 232.

[xxi] Gopnik, op. cit. p. 1.

[xxii] Foucault, op. cit. p. 233.

[xxiii] Smith, op. cit. p. 20.

[xxiv] Gottschalk, op. cit.

[xxv] Foucault, op. cit. p. 77.

[xxvi] Gopnik, op. cit. p. 2.

[xxvii] Joy James, “Erasing the Spectacle of Racialized State Violence,” in Resisting State Violence: Radicalism, Gender, and Race in U.S. Culture. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis-St. Paul (1996), p. 26.

[xxviii] James, ibid.

[xxix] James, ibid. p. 36.

[xxx] Gottschalk explains at length how, by denying convicts voting rights and other civil liberties, inmates leave the prison system as secondary citizens.

[xxxi] Gopnik, op. cit. p. 6.

[xxxii] Gopnik, ibid. p. 6.

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish. Second Vintage Books Edition, Vintage Books: New York (1977).

Gopnik, Adam. “The Caging of America,” in The New Yorker (Jan 30, 2012).

Gottschalk, Marie. “Hiding in Plain Sight: American Politics and the Carceral State,” in Annual Review of Political Science (Jan 8, 2008).

James, Joy. “Erasing the Spectacle of Racialized State Violence,” in Resisting State Violence: Radicalism, Gender, and Race in U.S. Culture. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis-St. Paul (1996)

Smith, Caleb. The Prison and the American Imagination. Yale University Press: New Haven (2009).

Immigration Industrial Complex

The Pretense of Protectorship

The greatest threat to the American public is not terrorism, drugs, or “illegal” immigration, but rather their own dubious government’s disguised attacks on democracy under the pretense of protectorship. Politicians use rhetoric of fear and a discourse of other-ization to create a ‘moral panic’ among the populace, who are then coaxed into supporting punitive measures that—in addition to being costly—frequently lead to an increase in and a perpetuation of the initial problem.[i] Motivated by desires for increased financial and political capital, conniving bureaucrats create and sustain structural inequalities that lead to the marginalization of the poor, the non-white, and the non-citizen.[ii] The projected illusions of orderliness and control mask both the bureaucrats’ devious intentions as well as the hidden consequences of the defective policies.[iii] The combined efforts of the government’s war on drugs, war on terrorism, and war on immigration lead to a strengthened international Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), where private contractors benefit from increased incarceration rates, and the detainees endure unwarranted consequences long after their release. Under U.S. directed neoliberal policy, the PIC has transcended national borders, as peripheral and semi-peripheral countries have been pressured by the U.S.—with the threat of economic sanctions—to adopt the U.S.’s penal system.[iv] As it stands, the modern political economy threatens to destroy the welfare of American democracy and global peace.

The impetus for the government’s scheme derives from a discourse of fear. In addition to informing the public on local and national events, discourse reflects and reproduces viewpoints, and, as such, can serve as a powerful tool to construct socio-geographical boundaries and their associated identities.[v] In order to convince the pubic of the necessity for fast punitive action, a threat narrative must first be established. Nativists and restrictionists advocate that a ‘foreign other’ threatens to disrupt the fabric of America’s culture, economy, and public safety.[vi] This creates what scholars refer to as a ‘moral panic’—a conceived crisis of national vulnerability that allows politicians to play on public fears in order to garner support for policies that restrict civil liberties and would otherwise seem draconian.[vii]

The threat does not usually exist. Michalowski (2007) deduces that a crime-intensive mass media contributes to the creation of a fear of criminal enemies (frequently racialized) disproportional to the actual potential for harm.[viii] The threat of danger, though rarely actualized, traps communities in a state of fear, enshrouds the public with arrogance, and forges a wall of misunderstanding between the public and the victimized ‘enemy.’ A moral panic leads to serious consequences for those who are frightened, but results in even greater consequences for those targeted as the enemy. Scapegoating a large segment of the population does not solve issues, but masks the real problems and diverts attention away from the actual perpetrator.

Most recently, Mexican immigrants have been criminalized in the public imagination by being titled “illegal” or “alien,” and casted as predatory villains, drug dealers, and terrorists.[ix] At the same time, increased funding for border militarization efforts has been intended to maintain and assert national territorial sovereignty.[x] Although U.S. immigration policy leads to thousands of migrant deaths each year by channeling their routes through the most difficult parts of the desert, the current boundary-enforcement regime is strikingly uncontroversial.[xi] Payan (2006) accounts for the public’s trepidation, and explains how the 2002 reorganization of the Homeland Security Department conflated three very different wars—the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, and the war on illegal immigration—into one, and placed them all at the U.S. Mexico border: “These three issues are in fact quite separate from each other. They have different origins, they have different processes, and they require different strategies, etc.… Yet since September 11, the United States government has bundled them into a single ‘mother of all battles’ that has turned the border into a front line of national security.”[xii] The threat narrative powerfully blinds potential critiques.

The public remains engulfed in a moral panic, unable to discern the various forms of state violence that threaten the immigrant.[xiii] Michalowski (2007) outlines the social injuries inflicted on immigrants by the state in three broad categories: “(1) bodily harms such as death, injury, and illness, (2) exploitation by human smugglers, drug organizations, and sometimes law enforcement personnel, and (3) dehumanization in the form of hyper-criminalization, vigilantism, and abuses to human dignity.”[xiv] He and Andreas (1998) agree that U.S. immigration policy is largely due to a legitimacy crisis created by neoliberal capitalism, and that it allows the government to pin the problem on someone else while still garnering support through threat narratives and promises to restore state sovereignty.[xv]  While the motivation to hide the effects of neoliberalism may certainly exist, other forces also contribute to harsh immigration policies.

The U.S. has a history of inciting fear among the nation in order to militarize against a created enemy and justify massive government expenditures on failed policies.[xvi] The rise of the Military Industrial Complex, Prison Industrial Complex, and, most recently, the Immigration Industrial Complex fervently motivates statesmen to criminalize certain groups in order to profit off their incarceration. Golash-Boza (2009) explains,

With the military-build-up during the Cold War, the ‘others’ were communists. With the prison expansion of the 1990s, the ‘others’ were criminals (often racialized and gendered as black men). With the expansion of the immigration industrial complex, the ‘others’ are ‘illegals’ (racialized as Mexicans). In each case, the creation of an undesirable other creates popular support for government spending to safeguard the nation.[xvii]

Though who exactly the ‘other’ is changes over time, the state’s motivation for producing a threat narrative remains consistent; a host of actors benefit from moral panics and the subsequent increase in incarceration rates. The lucrative market for prison building promises private investors a positive return, so long as they can fill bed space and maximize the time that their prisoners remain detained.[xviii] Others with a vested interest in prison expansion include: “architects, builders, representatives of prison unions, politicians who use citizens’ fear of crime to garner voters, job-starved communities whose leaders lobby to have prisons built in their communities, and all the industries that provide food, clothing, toiletries, health care, electronics, and telephones to inmates.”[xix]  Profitable prisons pose a serious threat to democracy, as they increase the likelihood for harsh laws that unjustly imprison victimized members of society.

Profit making off prisons entices policymakers to pass harsher-sentencing laws (such as mandatory minimum sentencing) in the interests of their lobbyists, and to the detriment of their local communities.[xx] Aside from profit-making motives, politicians benefit by using fear to gain votes through promises that they will beat the enemy and will be ‘tough on crime’ or ‘tough on immigration’.[xxi] Similarly, external threats to the nation cause citizens to feel a sense of unity and increase a president’s public support.[xxii] Thus, by increasing the perception of threat, politicians scare the public into supporting them and their failed ‘prevention through deterrence’ strategies.

In addition to being rooted in a threat narrative directed at racialized ‘others,’ ‘prevention through deterrence’ policies exemplify what Michalowski (2007) calls, “a deeply rooted cultural attachment to ideas of regenerative violence.”[xxiii] ‘Prevention through deterrence’ strategies assume that if the risks of an action exceed the benefits, a person will be deterred from completing that action.[xxiv] To increase the risk behind certain behaviors, policymakers first criminalize the action by labeling it “illegal,” and then exert some amount of militarized effort at enforcing any infractions.[xxv] Such strategies show a “conviction that proactive force not only solves problems, but also brings into being a new a better world.”[xxvi] Regenerative violence manifests in the rhetoric that surrounds policymakers’ approaches to social problems, such as using the language of war to signify the state’s stance on social issues (i.e. the ‘war on crime’ or the ‘war on drugs’).[xxvii]  More stringent laws and larger expenditures typically accompany such ‘wars,’ leading to what appears to be a proactive effort at improvement.[xxviii]

Yet the efficacy of a stratagem based off ‘prevention through deterrence’ appears to be minimal at best. Welch (2003) points out that aggressive attempts at social control tend to escalate the very behaviors it aims to deter.[xxix] He provides the war on drugs as an example, and asserts that law enforcement efforts frequently perpetuate rather than resolve the problem. Winslow (2000) reaches the same conclusion about the state’s war on crime; he explains how billions of dollars are wasted in supporting a Prison Industrial Complex that not only causes more ills in the community than it solves, but also masks the larger corporate crimes and police-brutality crimes.[xxx]

To help make sense of how and why policymakers could and would enact policies that they knew would fail, Welch (2003) applies Marx’s three basic components for the ironies of social control—escalation, nonenforcement, and covert facilitation—in regards to the government’s campaign against illegal immigrants: firstly, the government escalates the problem by creating new definitions of rule breaking and expanding the pool of potential violators (for example, expanding the list of deportable crimes to include minor offenses); secondly, the government strategically decides to make no real efforts at enforcing immigration policy during economically prosperous times, thus encouraging both the immigrants and the employers to break the law; and thirdly, in covert facilitation, the government loses the trust of illegal immigrants by using deceptive enforcement actions in apprehending them as part of sting operations, which harshly punish the immigrant workers while leaving the businesses unscathed.[xxxi] These three elements of the ironies of social control reveal the contradictions purposefully imbedded within the policies, and reflect “how self-defeating laws and policies perpetuate injustices against unpopular people who have few resources to defend themselves against ambitious enforcement campaigns, particularly those fueled by moral panic, bigotry, and racism.”[xxxii] Furthermore, this framework also reveals the close relationship between immigration policy and the economy.

Just as changes in the economy can affect immigration policy, changes in economic policy can affect immigration. In 1994, the U.S. and Mexico entered into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in order to integrate the two markets and allow for easier trade. Golash-Boza (2009) explains how NAFTA intensified the scale of illegal immigration into the U.S. for three major reasons: firstly, heavily subsidized U.S. corn and other agricultural products forced around two million peasants out of the agricultural trade and into the city, where from they may migrate to the U.S.; secondly, NAFTA encouraged large transnational retail corporations like Wal-Mart to open shop in Mexico, which forced many smaller businesses to close and added their former owners and workers to the list of potential migrants; thirdly, NAFTA resulted in the reduction of wages along the Mexican border, leading to the increased need for families to send workers to the U.S. in order to survive.[xxxiii]  According to Gomberg-Muñoz (2011), NAFTA also “generated an expanding service economy in the United States that has a seemingly insatiable demand for immigrant labor.”[xxxiv] Yet the fact that the border is open for trade and finance but closed for labor creates an out-of-balance system that, because of U.S. policy, leads to structured inequality by assigning illegal status to a segment of the global labor force.[xxxv] In this way, NAFTA lead to an increase in the problem of illegal immigration. Ironically, NAFTA also lead to a strengthened drug trade between Mexico and the U.S..[xxxvi] However, it does not seem ironic that these increases in ‘illegal’ activity were met with an increase in the Prison Industrial and Immigration Industrial Complexes.

The U.S.’s embrace of neoliberal policies like NAFTA should be examined in contexts other than financial, specifically in the context of political and penal policies. Reynolds (2008) presents an evaluation of U.S. directed globalization, and tracks the effects of U.S. involvement. She concludes that the U.S. uses its financial power to promote its own failed policies—especially the war on drugs and mass incarceration practices—on the rest of the world, largely to the benefit of the U.S. capitalists of the Prison Industrial Complex. Her appraisal of U.S. neoliberal policy reflects quite poorly on the intentions of the U.S.:

The result [of U.S. neoliberal policy] has been the downsizing of governments, unequal partnerships in trade and finance, economic marginalization, cost-cutting by transnational corporations, curtailment of social and legal entitlements, the withering of social service programs, antiunion practices, diminished national sovereignty, increased inequality within and between countries, and the dependency of the south on the North.[xxxvii]

Reynolds claims that U.S. policies benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. Accordingly, Mexico’s involvement in NAFTA—though it was supposed to allow the economy to modernize and prosper—sent the economy spiraling downward and led to its dependence on U.S. aid and to the access of U.S. markets.[xxxviii] Though the initial gains of neoliberalism may benefit the U.S., the later vengeance of embittered compliers threatens the U.S.’s future stability.

Under the control of neoliberal policy, dominant and subordinate patriarchies, and neocolonial racialized ideologies, the current global environment longs for relief. A perverse policy framework rooted in the belief of ‘prevention-through-deterrence’ strategies threatens to exploit America’s most vulnerable part of the population, as it feeds the poor, the non-white, and the non-citizen into the ravenous Prison Industrial Complex. The greatest danger to the American public is not any of the threat narratives projected into discourse—such as the threat of invading druggie terrorists—but rather their own culpable government’s disguised attacks on democracy under the pretense of protectorship.


[i] Michael Welch, “Ironies of Social Control and the Criminalization of Immigrants,” Crime, Law & Social Change 39 (2003), pp. 319-337.

[ii] Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, “Why Is There Undocumented Migration?” Labor and Legality: An Ethnography of a Mexican Immigration Network, New York: Oxford University Press (2011), pp. 22-40.

[iii] Joseph Nevins, “A Beating Worse than Death: Imagining and Contesting Violence in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” AmeriQuests 2.1 (2006), pp. 1-25.

[iv] Marylee Reynolds, “The War on Drugs, Prison Building, and Globalization: Catalysts for the Global Incarceration of Women,” NWSA Journal 20.2 (2008), pp. 72-95.

[v] Hugh Mehan, “The Discourse of the Illegal Immigration Debate: A Case Study in the Politics of Representation,” Discourse and Society 8.2 (1997), p. 250; and Nevins, op. cit.

[vi] Michael Welch, “Immigration Lockdown before and after 9/11,” Race, Gender, and Punishment: from Colonialism to the War on Terror, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press (2007).

[vii] Tanya Golash-Boza, “The Immigration Industrial Complex; Why We Enforce Immigration Policies Destined to Fail,” Sociology Compass 3.2 (2009), pp. 295-309.

[viii] Raymond Michalowski, “Border Militarization and Migrant Suffering: A Case of Transnational Social Injury,” Social Justice 34.2 (2007).

[ix] Welch (2007), op. cit.; and Leo Ralph Chavez, “The Minuteman Project’s Spectacle of Surveillance on the Arizona-Mexico Border,” The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation, Stanford University Press (2008), pp. 132-151.

[x] Nevins, op. cit.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Tony Payan, The Three U.S.-Mexico Border Wars: Drugs, Immigration, and Homeland Security, Westport, CT: Praeger Security International (2006), p. xiv.

[xiii] Nevins, op. cit.

[xiv] Michalowski, op. cit.

[xv] Michalowski, op. cit.; and Peter Andreas, “The U.S. Immigration Control Offensive: Constructing an Image of Order on the Southwest Border,” Crossings: Mexican Immigration in Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Edited by Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (1998), pp. 343-356.

[xvi] Audrey Singer and Douglas S. Massy, “The Social Process of Undocumented Border Crossing among Mexican Migrants,” International Migration Review 32.3 (1998), pp. 561-592.

[xvii] Golash-Boza, op. cit., p. 306.

[xviii] Reynolds, op. cit.

[xix] Ibid., p. 84.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Earl Smith and Angela J. Hattery, “African American Men and the Prison Industrial Complex,” The Western Journal of Black Studies 34.4 (2010), pp. 387-398.

[xxii] Ryan Jerome Lecount and Philo C. Wasburn, “Fear Factor(s): Terrorist Threat Warnings and Television Network News Coverage of the President,” Journal of Political and Military Sociology 37.1 (2009), pp. 27-46.

[xxiii] Michalowski, op. cit., p. 72.

[xxiv] Wayne A. Cornelius, “Death at the Border: Efficacy and Unintended Consequences of US Immigration Control Policy,” Population and Development Review 27.4 (2001), pp. 661-685.

[xxv] Welch (2007), op. cit.

[xxvi] Michalowski, op. cit., p. 72.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] George Winslow, “Capital Crimes: The Political Economy of Crime in America,” Monthly Review (2000), pp. 38-53.

[xxix] Welch (2003), op. cit.

[xxx] G. T. Marx, “Ironies of Social Control: Authorities as Contributors to Deviance through Escalation, Nonenforcement, and Covert Facilitation,” Social Problems 28 (1981), pp. 221-246.; and Winslow, op. cit.

[xxxi] Welch (2003), op. cit.

[xxxii] Welch (2003), op. cit., p. 331.

[xxxiii] Golash-Boza, op. cit.

[xxxiv] Gomberg-Muñoz, op. cit., p. 34.

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Lynn Stephen, “Expanding the Borderlands: Recent Studies on the U.S.-Mexico Border,” Latin American Research Review 44.1 (2009).

[xxxvii] Reynolds, op. cit., p. 90.

[xxxviii] Gomberg-Muñoz, op. cit.

Works Cited

Andreas, Peter. (1998). “The U.S. Immigration Control Offensive: Constructing an Image of Order on the Southwest Border,” Crossings: Mexican Immigration in Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Edited by Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Chapter 11 (pp. 346-356).

Chavez, Leo Ralph. (2008). “The Minuteman Project’s Spectacle of Surveillance on the Arizona-Mexico Border,” The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press., pp. 132-151.

Cornelius, Wayne A. (2001). “Death at the Border: Efficacy and Unintended Consequences of U.S. Immigration Control Policy,” Population and Development Review 27.4., pp. 661-685.

Durand, Jorge, and Douglas Massey. (2003). “The Costs of Contradiction: U.S. Border Policy 1986-2000,” Latino Studies 1., pp. 233-252.

Golash-Boza, Tanya. (2009). “The Immigration Industrial Complex: Why We Enforce Immigration Policies Destined to Fail,” Sociological Compass. 3.2., pp. 295-309.

Gomberg-Muñoz, Ruth. (2011). Labor and Legality: An Ethnography of a Mexican Immigrant Network. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kohli, Aarti and Peter L. Markowitz and Lisa Chavez. (2011). “Secure Communities by the Numbers: An Analysis of Demographics and Due Process,” The Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy. Berkely, CA: University of California, Berkely Law School.

Lecount, Ryan Jerome and Philo C. Wasburn. (2009). “Fear Facror(s): Terrorist Threat Warnings and Television Network News Coverage of the President,” Journal of Political and Military Sociology 37.1., pp. 27-46.

Marx, G.T. (1981). “Ironies of Social Control: Authorities as Contributors to Deviance through Escalation, Nonenforcement, and Covert Facilitation,” Social Problems 28., pp. 221-246.

Mehan, Hugh. (1997). “The Discourse of the Illegal Immigration Debate: A Case Study in the Politics of Representation,” Discourse and Society 8.2.

Michalowski, Raymond. (2007). “Border Militarization and Migrant Suffering: A Case of Transnational Social Injury,” Social Justice 34.2., pp. 62-76.

Nevins, Joseph. (2005). “A Beating Worse Than Death: Imagining and Contesting Violence in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands,” AmeriQuests 2.1., pp. 1-25.

Payan, Tony. (2006). The Three U.S.-Mexico Border Wars: Drugs, Immigration, and Homeland Security, Westport, CT: Praeger Security International.

Reynolds, Marylee. (2008). “The War on Drugs, Prison Building, and Globalization: Catalysts for the Global Incarceration of Women,” NWSA Journal 20.2. Indiana University Press.

Romero, Mary. (2006). “Racial Profiling and Immigration Law Enforcement: Rounding Up of Usual Suspects in the Latino Community,” Critical Sociology 32: 2-3., pp. 447-473.

Singer, Audrey, and Douglas S. Massey. (1998). “The Social Process of Undocumented Border Crossing among Mexican Migrants,” International Migration Review. 32.3., pp. 561-592.

Smith, Earl and Angela J. Hattery. (2010). “African American Men and the Prison Industrial Complex,” The Western Journal of Black Studies 34.3., pp. 387-398.

Stephen, Lynn. (2009). “Expanding the Borderlands: Recent Studies on the U.S.-Mexico Border,” Latin American Research Review 44.1., pp. 266-308.

Welch, Michael. (2003). “Ironies of Social Control and the Criminalization of Immigrants,” Crime, Law & Social Change 39., pp. 319-337.

Welch, Michael. (2007). “Immigration Lockdown Before and After 9/11: Ethnic Constructions and Their Consequences.” Race, Gender, and Punishment: From Colonialism to the War on Terror. Edited by Mary Bosworth and Jeanne Flavin. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Winslow, George. (2000). “Capital Crimes: The Political Economy of Crime in America,” Monthly Review Press., pp. 38-53.

 

Food Policy

Let Them Eat Cake

Of the many causes of the Great Depression, perhaps none became so engraved in the American memory as the agricultural collapse. Images from the “Dirty Thirties” of poor, migrant-farm-workers wearing tattered clothes and raking dry, barren land haunt the American imagination like specters trapped by unfulfilled promises of prosperity. Likewise, some of the most memorable policies to result from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) New Deal programs included agricultural subsidies and market controls. Today, because of policies enacted during the Great Depression, agriculture remains one of the few markets to be left standing amidst the dismal economic climate. While agricultural stability might appear as a triumphant sign of successful government policy, it in fact illustrates corrosive bureaucratic tendencies that threaten to kill the health of American democracy as well as the health of the American people.

During the Great Depression, food insecurity was a major problem. With high levels of unemployment (up to one-fourth of the work force unemployed), many people—even working people—could not afford to purchase enough food to meet dietary minimums, and were on the brink of starvation.[i] Though economic conditions were unfavorable across the entire country, pockets were particularly bad—especially in the South. At the heart of the issue was the sharecropping system, which exploited families by extracting maximum labor out of them while depriving them of access to adequate education, health services, and food.[ii] A voice from the Thirties notes: “The South has been taking a beating for a long time, and the pain and indignity of it is beginning to tell. It can be seen any day now in the lean and hungry faces of men. It means unrest.”[iii] As this person alluded to, the problem was not simply that people were unemployed—people may have been perfectly happy not working. The real problem was that basic human needs were not being met. Unemployment implied inadequate funds to purchase food.

Under pressures to intervene, the United States government established a series of federally sponsored public works projects aimed at stimulating the economy and providing employment. New Deal Policies, such as the Wagner Act, attempted to curb trends in “underconsumption,” by realigning the balance of power in the workplace.[iv] An underlying goal of federal intervention was to enable people to earn enough to eat. As Robert McElvaine explains, “As much as most people might dislike direct relief , there was no immediate alternative if mass misery and even starvation were to be averted.”[v] No historical precedent shed light on the issue or gave people the courage to move forward, resulting in delayed government action. President Hoover’s feeble attempts at intervention were half-hearted at best.

Hoover was a stubborn moralist when it came to the relief of hunger and unemployment. Refusing to commit federal funds to supply basic needs, Hoover argued that local entities should provide relief. Federal involvement, he believed, would strike at ‘the roots of government’ and destroy the ‘character’ of its recipients. Such thinking led him to endorse a $45 million appropriation to feed the livestock of Arkansas farmers during a 1930 drought but to reject a congressional grant of $25 million to provide food for the farmer’s families. Hogs and bankers, it seemed, were in one category, farmers and the unemployed in another. [vi]

In a similarly reductive attitude, Hoover’s Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929 made $500 million available for loans to marketing cooperatives—in theory, to foster efficiency, limit surpluses, and raise prices—but without limits on production, farm prices continued to fall.[vii] Because of Hoover’s lack of an adequate or efficient response, farm incomes plummeted between 1929 and 1932, causing hundreds of thousands of families to lose their farms.[viii]

Once the federal government finally decided to intervene, so much damage had been done to the economy that recovery took exponentially longer. Many remember the New Deal policies as resounding successes. Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson cite the reforms as “the paradigmatic example of the politics of renewal,” pointing out that: “Banks were regulated and consumer deposits insured. The securities industry was placed under tight new restrictions. Taxes were levied on the rich and raised over time to fund public programs in support of the unemployed and destitute.”[ix] Undoubtedly, these progressive policy initiatives improved the lives of millions of Americans. In today’s age where ‘No Deal’ has replaced ‘New Deal’ it is easy to recollect FDR’s response to the Great Depression with positive feelings.

Yet the agricultural subsidies that began during the Great Depression, that continue to this day, might be the leading cause of obesity in America. Since the Great Depression, U.S. food policy has been the silent culprit of poor health in America. Many Americans fail to realize the crucial role that the government plays in the food system. Because food is a part of everyday life, perhaps most people consider eating to be mere routine. On the surface, food appears to be a relatively un-controversial subject: people acknowledge that food sustains life and most agree that all people should be fed. For many, the discussion stops there. After all, food seems to be a non-issue, considering that an estimated 85.1 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2011—meaning that they had access at all times to enough food to support an active, healthy lifestyle for all household members.[x] Until the media highlights food-born illnesses, most people remain quite content mindlessly purchasing the foods they enjoy eating that they can afford.

But the government plays a huge role in determining what food is available, what it costs, and how it is produced. According to Drake University Agricultural Law Center, food policy includes “any legislative or administrative decision made by a government agency, business, or organization which effects how food is produced, processed, distributed, and purchased, designed to influence the operation of the food and agricultural system. This includes the types of foods consumers have access to, information available pertaining to place of origin, and the rules and regulations which influence many aspects of farming.”[xi] Examples of food policy include: the sorts of food offered in public schools; eligibility standards for food assistance programs; safety requirements for food-based business; food ingredient labeling; and Dietary Guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In Congress, food policy most notably takes the form of large, recurring legislative packages commonly known as the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill re-appears at five-year intervals, and contains a long list of provisions or “titles” addressing various areas of food and farm policy. Apart from nutrition assistance programs (such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP—more on this later) the biggest titles in the Farm Bill are crop insurance, protecting farmers against the vagaries of weather, and commodity subsidy programs, designed to keep food prices stable and affordable.

Regardless of the government’s actual intention in subsidizing commodity crops such as corn and soybeans, current laws encourage unhealthy eating in several ways.[xii] Subsidies for commodity crops de-incentivize the production of actual food by making insurance essentially unaffordable for smaller non-commodity-crop farmers.[xiii] The inability to afford insurance leaves many vegetable and fruit farmers in a credit squeeze. Most significantly, subsidized corn and soybeans are the major ingredients in junk food, if they’re not first used as cow fodder (side note: Americans’ consumption of meat is ruining their health and the health of the environment)[xiv]. Since 1995, the government has spent $18.2 billion in subsidies to junk food, equating to 21 Twinkies© for every single American throughout that period; contrasted with only $637 million in subsidies going to apples since 1995, or the equivalent of half of one apple per taxpayer.[xv]

At a time when one-in-three kids is overweight or obese, subsidies for high-fructose corn syrup is an offense. Some quick facts on obesity: high-fructose diets impair learning and memory; for each additional can of soda drunk daily, the odds of a child becoming obese increase by about 60%; childhood obesity has quadrupled in the last 40 years; drinking one or two sugary drinks per day increases the risk for type 2 diabetes by 25%; and once an adult problem, diabetes associated with obesity is increasing among children.[xvi] Subsidies not only wreck the health of Americans, but add to the national debt; since 1995, $18 billion has been given away in subsidies to Big Agribusinesses.[xvii]

The government could end costly subsidies on junk food and reallocate the funds to more honest endeavors, such as SNAP. The SNAP program was a part of the 2008 Farm Bill and replaced Food Stamps as the primary means of assisting low- and no-income Americans. In Washington, D.C., and Mississippi, more than one-fifth of residents receive SNAP benefits.[xviii] It operates using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), which eliminated the costly use of paper coupons, reduced the stigma for program participants, and lowered the rate of trafficking. Yet aside from these improvements, SNAP money essentially feeds corporate lobbyists. SNAP benefits can only be used to purchase food at authorized retailers to be consumed at home, and can never be withdrawn as cash. The law prohibits SNAP benefits from being used in restaurants, though allows states to make exceptions in the case of homelessness or disability (only four have chosen to do so). As a result, 82 percent of benefits were redeemed in supermarkets in 2012.[xix] Food purchased must be prepackaged; SNAP funds cannot be used to purchase hot foods (such as those found in a supermarket deli). As of January 2013, 47.8 million Americans were receiving an average of $132 per month in food assistance, with 23 million households receiving $277 per month.[xx]

In terms of aid given in 1932 to the average family living in New York—roughly $141 adjusted for inflation— recipients today earn slightly more than their early-Depression ancestors.[xxi] SNAP continues to grow each year, offering less money per person as its pool grows.[xxii] Thus, while the program undoubtedly helps in feeding people, it largely benefits corporate supermarkets such as Wal-Mart and large food corporations such as Kraft, and falls drastically short of providing people with enough nutritious food.[xxiii] And if the $74.6 billion spent in food assistance in 2012 sounds like a lot, compare it to the $526.6 billion spent by the Department of Defense.[xxiv]

The USDA reports that all Americans, regardless of income level, could benefit from a diet that focuses more on fruits and vegetables.[xxv] Indeed, unlike during the Great Depression, the rich can suffer from food insecurity right alongside the poor unless they carefully monitor their diet. Yet studies show BMI and wages to be inversely related—meaning those with low wages had an increased BMI and an increased chance of being obese.[xxvi] Other studies document that low-income neighborhoods lack access to healthy, affordable food and have fewer opportunities for physical activity; that low-income people have higher levels of stress, and go through cycles of food deprivation followed by overeating; and that low-income youth and adults have greater exposure to the marketing of obesity-promoting products.[xxvii] While obesity may be more prevalent in lower income groups, the rate of increase in obesity over two decades was faster for higher income groups; for instance, between 1992 and 2008, obesity prevalence increased by 42.3 percent for the lower income group compared to 88.5 percent for the higher income group.[xxviii] This helps explain the recent surge of diet-targeted-advertisements.

Opposite to today’s standards, being skinny during the Great Depression was an unattractive indicator of poverty. The ideal woman had enough money to have some meat on her bones. For example, in a 1930’s advertisement promoting sex appeal (Figure 1), the marketer suggests gaining twenty to thirty pounds. Dozens of products existed claiming to be an easy way to gain bulk, circumventing any work on behalf of the woman, including exercise, overeating, or the wearing of uncomfortable figure-filling-pads.[xxix] Then, the majority of women, being poor and skinny, were made to feel insecure about their body image, and were encouraged to consume figure-altering pills in order to “better” themselves. Food insecurity—more specifically, the lack of food—resulted in skinny people; then as now, the prescription was pills.

Just as in the Great Depression, food insecurity has helped to shape modern body insecurities. However, the problem has essentially been flipped on its head. The problem today is not that people cannot afford food, but rather that the food that is affordable is high in calories and low in nutrients. Yet just because people can afford to eat does not mean their food contains the nutrients needed for optimal health. Loaded with preservatives and packed with fillers, food has been incorporated into a system of mass production, produced as cheaply as possible, and made for the worker who is too busy working multiple jobs to have time to cook food from fresh produce. As workers have been made to work increasing amounts of hours in order to pay the bills, their diets have suffered, resulting in record numbers of obesity—a modern indicator of poverty.

Despite the fact that Mrs. Obama launched the Let’s Move! Campaign in an effort to tackle childhood obesity, amending food policy in the United States proves incredibly challenging. As Occupy Wall Street lamented, the government has been bought by the rich, who seek to benefit their lots at the expense of the American public.[xxx] In 2008, big agribusinesses spent $200 million on lobbying and campaign contributions.[xxxi] Monsanto spent $8.8 million that year alone in lobbying expenditures.[xxxii] Considering the fact that most Americans, despite working hard, do not have enough money to buy their own lobbyist, money’s influence on politics threatens to corrode democracy:

When markets operate in damaging ways, the natural temptation is to turn to politics to correct the imbalance. And yet market participants have strong incentives to resist government regulation and democratic intervention. What’s more, they usually have considerable resources to do so. Without strong protections of political equality, without firewalls between the market and democracy, those who have the most power in the market may also have the most power in politics, undermining the basic ideal on which democracy rests.[xxxiii]

Representatives no longer work for the American public, but for those who can afford to fund their next campaign. Current legislations protect the profits of large industries at the expense of public health. Most people recognize the pharmaceutical industry’s power in government, but many people argue that the agriculture lobby holds the most power in D.C.[xxxiv]  If agribusiness CEOs, their lobbyists, and the politicians in their pockets would disappear, healthy food could easily be more affordable for everyone. Unfortunately, there is no sign of that happening any time soon, meaning that people will most likely go on eating subsidized junk foods, getting sick, racking up medical bills, and either dying or going into debt, or both.

Modern food insecurity, ironically, manifests as obesity. As people continue to work longer hours for less pay, they must resort to low-priced food in order to survive. The food they can afford has, most likely, been made from subsidized commodity crops, and will eventually kill them. Even though they may be twice the size of a healthy person, their bodies lack vital nutrients needed for survival. They are starving to death with full bellies, unlike their Great Depression counterparts who starved with empty bellies. Meanwhile, politicians receive huge paychecks from agribusiness lobbyists, essential paying them to wreck the health of their citizenry, and in doing so, violating the fundamental pillars of democracy: that all people should have equal access to government. Politicians need to stop promoting unhealthy diets, switching “Let them eat cake!” to “Let them eat vegetables!”.


[i] Robert S. McElvaine, The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1984), p. 338.

[ii] Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-White, You Have Seen Their Faces. (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1937), p. 6.

[iii] Caldwell & Bourke-White, op. cit., p. 1-2.

[iv] Roy Rosenzweig, Nelson Lichtenstein, Joshua Brown, and David Jaffee. Who Build America? Working People and the Nation’s History. Third Edition. (Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008), p. 446.

[v] McElvaine, op. cit., p. 153.

[vi] Rosenzweig, et. al., op. cit., p. 406.

[vii] Ibid., p. 406.

[viii] Ibid., p. 402.

[ix] Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2010), p. 88.

[x] Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2011,” Economic Research Report No, (ERR-141). Sep 2012.

[xi] “Questions Most Frequently Asked About Food Policy Councils,” Drake University. Web accessed May 6, 2013 : http://www.statefoodpolicy.org/?pageID=qanda#WhatIsAFoodPolicy .

[xii] Some might argue the government’s true intention is to service agri-corporations like Monsanto in order to receive campaign financing during their next election.

[xiii] “Ensuring the Harvest: Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Food Future,” Union of Concerned Scientists. (2012), web accessed May 7, 2013 : http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/expand-healthy-food-access/ensuring-the-harvest.html .

[xiv] For an example of research proving this, see: Polly Walker, and Robert S. Lawrence, “American Meat: A Threat to Your Health and to the Environment,” Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics: Vol. 4: Iss. 1, Article 12. (2004), web accessed May 7, 2013 : digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjhple/vol4/iss1/12

[xv] “Apples to Twinkies 2012: Comparing Taxpayer Subsidies for Fresh Produce and Junk Food,” U.S. PIRG Education Fund. (July 25, 2012), web accessed May 7, 2013 : http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usp/apples-twinkies-2012 .

[xvi] www.uspirg.org/issues/usp/stop-subsidizing-obesity

[xvii] according to the U.S. Fund for the Public Interest : http://www.uspirg.org/issues/usp/stop-subsidizing-obesity

[xviii] www.fns.usda.gov/ora/SNAPCharacteristics/DC/DC.pdf ; http://www.fns.usda.gov/ora/SNAPCharacteristics/Mississippi/Mississippi.pdf .

[xix] “The Facts about SNAP Benefits and Where They are Used,” Food and Nutrition Service: United States Department of Agriculture (Jan. 2013), web accessed May 6, 2013 : http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/rules/Memo/pdfs/Fact%20Sheet_011613.pdf .

[xxi] Data taken from Rosenzweig, et. al., op. cit., p. 408.

[xxii] In October 2010, 43.2 million Americans received an average of $133.75 per month.

[xxiii] In 2012, the USDA allocated an additional $4 million towards establishing more connections with Farmers Markets. The result of this initiative has yet to be seen, because funds did not become available until 2013. For more on this, see : http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/rules/Memo/2012/FM_051112.pdf .

[xxiv] www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2014/assets/defense.pdf .

[xxv] “Diet Quality of Low-Income and Higher Income Americans in 2033-04 as Measured by the Healthy Eating Index-2005,” United States Department of Agriculture: Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. (Dec. 2008), web accessed May 7, 2013 : (www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/NutritionInsights/Insight42.pdf

[xxvi] D. Kim and J.P. Leigh, “Estimating the effects of wages on obesity,” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52(5), (2010), pp. 495-500.

[xxvii] Claims taken from a variety of research articles chronicled by : “Why Low-Income and Food Insecure People are Vulnerable to Overweight and Obesity,” Food Research & Action Center, web accessed May 7, 2013 : frac.org/initiatives/hunger-and-obesity/why-are-low-income-and-food-insecure-people-vulnerable-to-obesity/ .

[xxviii] G.K. Singh, M. Siahpush, R.A. Hiatt, and L.R. Timsina. “Dramatic increases in obesity and overweight prevalence and body mass index among ethnic-immigrant and social class groups in the United States, 1976-2008,” Journal of Community Health, 36(1), (2011), pp. 94-110.

[xxix] For more examples of advertisements from this era telling women how to avoid looking skinny, see the following website: http://www.marieclairvoyant.com/beauty/body-politics-bloggers/1930s-1950s-ads-tell-women-how-to-avoid-looking-skinny .

[xxx] Voices From the 99 Percent: An Oral History of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, edited by Lenny Flank. (St. Petersburg, Florida: Red and Black Publishers, 2011).

[xxxi] www.uspirg.org/issues/usp/stop-subsidizing-obesity

[xxxii] “Lobbying and Advertising: 8 Ways Monsanto Fails at Sustainable Agriculture—#6,” Union of Concerned Scientists. (Jan, 2013), web accessed May 7, 2013 : http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/lobbying-and-advertising.html .

[xxxiii] Hacker and Pierson, op. cit., p. 75.

[xxxiv] “The 9 Foods the U.S. Government is Paying you to Eat,” mercola.com (Aug, 2011), web accessed May 7, 2013 : articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/08/03/the-9-foods-the-us-government-is-paying-you-to-eat.aspx .

Works Cited

“Apples to Twinkies 2012: Comparing Taxpayer Subsidies for Fresh Produce and Junk Food,” U.S. PIRG Education Fund. (July 25, 2012), web accessed.

Caldwell, Erskine and Margaret Bourke-White, You Have Seen Their Faces. (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1937).

Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2011,” Economic Research Report No, (ERR-141). Sep 2012.

“Diet Quality of Low-Income and Higher Income Americans in 2033-04 as Measured by the Healthy Eating Index-2005,” United States Department of Agriculture: Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. (Dec. 2008), web accessed.

“Ensuring the Harvest: Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Food Future,” Union of Concerned Scientists. (2012), web accessed.

“The Facts about SNAP Benefits and Where They are Used,” Food and Nutrition Service: United States Department of Agriculture (Jan. 2013), web accessed.

Hacker, Jacob S. and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2010).

Kim, D., and J.P. Leigh, “Estimating the effects of wages on obesity,” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52(5), (2010), pp. 495-500.

“Lobbying and Advertising: 8 Ways Monsanto Fails at Sustainable Agriculture—#6,” Union of Concerned Scientists. (Jan, 2013).

McElvaine, Robert S. The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1984).

“Questions Most Frequently Asked About Food Policy Councils,” Drake University. Web accessed.

Rosenzweig, Roy, Nelson Lichtenstein, Joshua Brown, and David Jaffee. Who Build America? Working People and the Nation’s History. Third Edition. (Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008).

Singh, G.K.,M. Siahpush, R.A. Hiatt, and L.R. Timsina. “Dramatic increases in obesity and overweight prevalence and body mass index among ethnic-immigrant and social class groups in the United States, 1976-2008,” Journal of Community Health, 36(1), (2011), pp. 94-110.

Voices From the 99 Percent: An Oral History of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, edited by Lenny Flank. (St. Petersburg, Florida: Red and Black Publishers, 2011).

Walker, Polly, and Robert S. Lawrence, “American Meat: A Threat to Your Health and to the Environment,” Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics: 4.1.12. (2004).

“Why Low-Income and Food Insecure People are Vulnerable to Overweight and Obesity,” Food Research & Action Center. Web accessed.

DMT (Death Made Tangible) & Psychedelic Odyssey

“Reality is truly made of language and of linguistic structures that you carry, unbeknownst to yourself, in your mind, and which, under the influence of [DMT] begin to dissolve and allow you to see beyond the speakable. The contours of the unspeakable begin to emerge into your perception, and though you can’t say much about the unspeakable, it has the power to color everything you do. You live with it, it is the invoking of the other. The Other can become the Self, and many forms of estrangement can be healed. That is why the term alien has these many connotations.”—Terence McKenna, Conversation Over Saucer

For the past several decades, scholars have accused America of being a “death-denying” culture—one that uses medicine to evade death, funeral homes to establish distance from the dead, and memorials to extend the potential meanings of death.[i] As Americans became increasingly distanced from all death-related processes, the psychological challenges of coping with the finality of death compounded. Abstract memorials of monumental proportions came to symbolize America’s increasing inability to make sense of death.[ii] How have Americans attempted to close the growing disconnect between their understandings of life and death?

With the alleged scientific revelations of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), death lost its foothold in the realm of topical suppressions.[iii] This paper argues: firstly, that unlike other hallucinogens, part of DMT’s appeal comes from its simulation of death, its ability to allow users to experience what death is like if even momentarily or partially, to touch death and to come back to the world with some greater understanding of what death actually means for mankind; secondly, that the willingness to try DMT is sparked by an American distrust of traditional sources of authority, a disavowal of the rhetoric of fear that plagues American society, and a uniquely American exploratory attitude, therefore making DMT an all-American drug;[iv] and lastly, that DMT has become a new technology used to simultaneously mend the disconnect between scientific and religious understandings of death and to heal society through the projection of a new vision of the human condition.

Because it is considered a taboo Schedule I drug, clinical research on DMT has been limited, and academic source material on DMT similarly lacks. This paper employs the findings of Dr. Rick Strassman’s research during the 1990’s at the University of New Mexico, which included approximately 400 doses administered to 60 participants —the first of its kind in over 20 years, and still the most recent.[v] His priceless study lends legitimacy to the accounts in this paper provided by non-accredited DMT pioneers. Yet, since this paper focuses on DMT’s cultural significance rather than its medical properties, lay people’s expositions and reflections hold legitimacy as primary source material. Indeed, many of those who report on DMT are highly reflective and articulate.

The intelligibility of DMT users can be at least party be attributed to their generally privileged demographics. As Kim Kristensen explains, most of those who experiment with or frequently use DMT are white, well-educated, middle-class, middle-age people, who seek spiritual growth through self-exploration.[vi] He suggests that others—notably, populations who are Colored, less educated, poorer, and/or younger—are too busy working for equality or increased economic status and do not have the luxury to be able to invest the time or money on a DMT experience. Indeed, it is not cheap: A twelve day trip to the Amazon to experience ayahuasca (a medicinal tea usually prepared from the plants Banisteriopsis and Chacruna whose active ingredient is DMT) in an authentic shamanic ritual setting costs between two and three thousand dollars, not including the cost of transportation.[vii]

Like other Schedule I drugs, people continued (and continue) experimenting with DMT despite its illegality, and report on their experiences using traditional sources of information like the published article or book, or more modern sources of information like the blog or the website. Since a DMT experience leads one mentally to the doormat of death but allows for the physical survival of the body—in other words, the mind perceives sensations that carry no physical weight or manifestation, no outwardly visible proof of existence—it can be said such experiences are hallucinatory.[viii] Like other hallucinatory substances, such as LSD, mushrooms, and peyote, DMT works by transforming consciousness to produce a heightened state of being.

Yet, it differs from other psychedelics in several fundamental ways. Firstly, it is the only endogenous psychedelic known to occur naturally in the human body: In 1972, the Nobel laureate Julius Axelrod of the National Institutes of Health discovered DMT in human brain tissue, and it has since been discovered elsewhere in the body. Strassman speculates the pineal gland produces DMT and releases it during birth, REM cycles, deep meditations, and death.[ix] Secondly, being more intense than LSD, it transfers the user into an environment unlike any other prior experienced, as it projects the expanded, visionary consciousness beyond the known worldly domain into the wholly unfamiliar realm of death.[x] Thirdly, when used in a shamanic or sacred context—typically in the form of ayahuasca—DMT can be considered an entheogen, a substance used for matters pertaining to spirituality. As such, the U.S. government has condoned its use solely for religious purposes by members of churches such as Santo Daime and União do Vegetal, thereby recognizing its spiritual potential.[xi]

Using DMT in the right manner ensures a positive experience. Strassman and numerous others have concluded that the set and setting in which one consumes DMT is of paramount importance, and essentially determines the way in which one’s mind interacts with the substance.[xii] After his clinical study of DMT produced different effects than most ethnographic studies relate, he concluded: “DMT itself was inherently neither harmful nor beneficial, and the intent of giving and receiving DMT was equally as important.”[xiii] In other words, people experiment with DMT for a number of different reasons and in numerous types of venues, the particular contextual circumstances of which help to mold and define the experience.

Some Westerners journey on pilgrimages into the Amazon to experience DMT in an authentic shamanic ritual setting, where through the consumption of ayahuasca they seek healing and/or enlightenment. Others stay domestic and experience it in settings like Burning Man, essentially a modern-day Dionysian arts festival with over 48,000 attendees held annually in the Nevada desert.[xiv] Still others discover DMT while attending musical gatherings of one sort or another. At street value, one dose of DMT might cost around $20-$40, depending on the quality and location, making the domestic use much more affordable (albeit typically much less spiritual).[xv]

Especially when taken in a shamanic setting, DMT produces profoundly religious, ethos-altering effects. With the combinatory aid of ayahuasca and a shaman, or healer, the Western pilgrim’s mind opens into another dimension that reveals reality’s hidden nature and can be use as form of psychotherapy.[xvi] Terence McKenna describes that, while on DMT, “One has the impression of entering into an ecology of souls that lies beyond the portals of what we naively call death.”[xvii] DMT shatters prior convictions of the separation between life and death and between one organism to another, as its projects saturated images of welded, inter-related currents weaving in and out of both the familiar and the unfamiliar. Image 1 represents the interconnectedness of all things, as relayed through Jason WA Tucker’s DMT experience.

In his drawing, what appear to be individual figures are connected by a single line; a single line twists and turns to produce distinct figures that could not exist without each other. The organic shape of the line connotes natural beings in a transformative process. He speaks of his work, “Early on I yearned to express what it was that I felt and not necessarily what I thought. Now I carry with me a strong feeling that I’ve experienced art as a living being—like a human being—both complicated and ever evolving. I have come to see things beings as anthropomorphic entities, made of language, each one performing an act of transformation—a visible linguistic dance expressing infinite possibilities.”[xviii] For Tucker, his ability to create DMT inspired art became the task of transcribing the unspeakable, of translating complex thoughts given to him in an alien language. The solution, as he suggests, was to deliver the message in relatable, though new, terms by creating anthropoid figures who resemble the human form but who are clearly not quite human. Tucker uses simple lines to create emotion and energy, and despite DMT’s production of reputedly colorful visuals, keeps his drawings monochromatic, perhaps in order to make them more digestible. Lastly, Tucker’s drawing resembles archaic cave drawings, makes a connection between his modern experience and that of the ancient experience, and relates the sense of timelessness produced by DMT. Through placing an emphasis on transformation, interconnectedness, and the stability of eternity despite its constant revolution, Tucker translates a shamanic DMT experience’s effect on the individual worldview.

The shaman’s presence notably influences the experience, as he remains present throughout the duration of the ceremonial session, monitoring the subjects’ condition, leading chants or dances, and using his knowledge and metaphysical powers to guide the subjects’ journey through the new dimensions they discover.[xix] The significance of the shaman cannot be overstated. Through alliances with the spiritual forces that he dedicated his life establishing, the shaman imparts the healing wisdom of indigenous spirituality to

introspective Westerners. According to the shamanic worldview:

There is an underlying spiritual aspect to everything that exists, an intimate relationship and even dependency between the seen and unseen, between the world of nature and human creation on one side, and normally invisible and intelligent forces. The preservation of the individual and the community, and therefore human action, depends on finding the proper balance in this complex reality. Sacred plants, such as ayahuasca, facilitate the perception of such complexity.[xx]

The shamanic ethos pervade the Western pilgrims’ ritual journey both during the ceremony and in post-ceremony reflections. Typically with the aid of a translator, the shaman helps the subject make sense of the complex sights, sounds, and feelings he or she experienced during the ayahuasca ritual. The shaman takes on an authoritative, elderly (read: leadership) role, as he putatively has the capability of steering the mind’s exploration by metaphysically interfering with the interactions between the subject and the other-worldly beings he or she encounters; during the ceremony, a shaman might “throw arrows” at specific areas of the subject’s body or mind, targeting certain spots that contain kinks and require special attention.[xxi] Additionally, the shaman assists the Western pilgrim in distilling his or her experiences into discernible lessons that can be applied to future days.

Unfortunately, not all who experiment with DMT can afford or are able to have a shaman guide their journeys. As noted earlier, set and setting can determine the sort of trip one encounters. One who uses DMT recreationally at a rock show will have a very different experience than one who journeys into the Amazon for an ayahuasca ceremony. But even D.M. Turner who used DMT more recreationally than spiritually says the main difference between DMT and LSD is the level of transcendental interaction:

With LSD, Katamine, or any other synthetic psychedelic, I typically feel that I am interacting with my mind, and a universal process of consciousness change where the self-identity is dissolved and then reformulated. These same processes occur with DMT and mushrooms. However, with these substances I often get the sense that I am also interacting with an intelligent entity who is vastly superior to me in knowledge and breadth of consciousness. This entity seems to be quite aware of what’s transpiring in my mind, and is able to instruct and to tailor the experience so that it’s personally suited to me.[xxii]

Turner emphasizes an omnipotent other—a presence commonly felt during DMT induced states. Many interpret such a presence as God, though not necessarily as the Christian God or any other God in particular. Oftentimes, the omnipotent figure takes on a feminine persona, challenging centuries of patriarchal religion, and generating constructive self-identities for women.[xxiii] Regardless of the God-like figure’s gender, the resulting feeling of transparency partially accounts for the sense of being in a different dimension.

Many who experiment with DMT characterize the new dimension they were transported to as a post-death state. Though only implicitly mentioned by Turner, accounts of DMT induced post-worldly or death-related visions abound, revealing death as an integral aspect of the DMT experience. Jan Kounen, filmmaker and co-author of The Psychotropic Mind: The World according to Ayahuasca, Iboga, and Shamanism, relates:

It forces you to encounter the feeling of death; even if it is virtual, your mind is still going to perceive it. It is going to perceive the mortal organic mechanism, which is going to be unplugged one day, scaring you even more. Learning to cross through these stages in order to live more intensely appears to be one of the shaman’s, the healer’s, modes of operation.[xxiv]

As she expresses, one takes DMT not only to experience death, but also to then use any insights gained to direct future actions in life. Experience death during DMT might be scary initially, but most often results in positive, self-affirming revelations.

User testimonies from both clinical and field settings consistently mention the presence of death. In his clinical study, Strassman distinguished two primary states of death people enter into while under the influence of DMT: states of near-death and states of death-rebirth. One person relates the feeling of being reborn: “It changed me. My self-concept seemed small, stupid and insignificant after what I saw and felt. It’s made me admit that I can take more responsibility; I can do more in areas I never thought I could. It’s so unnatural and bizarre you have to find your own source of strength to navigate in it.”[xxv] Users often have vivid recollections on how horrible the death part was, but in the end, the negative aspects become overshadowed by the resulting growth.

Scholars speculate that the release of endogenous DMT might be responsible for near-death experiences.[xxvi] In Strassman’s clinical study on DMT, reported near-death experiences mirrored that reported by Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who contracted a rare bacteria that completely shut down his cortex (the part of his brain responsible for thoughts and emotions). He recounted his near-death-experience to Newsweek as a precursor to the release of his book about it. According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is no way he could have experienced even a dim or limited consciousness.  But as he sat under minute medical observation during the seven days of his coma, he underwent what he describes as a “hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey,” that completely altered his perception of reality:

Today many believe that the living spiritual truths of religion have lost their power, and that science, not faith, is the road to truth. Before my experience I strongly suspected that this was the case myself.

But now I understand that such a view is far too simple. The plain fact is that the materialist picture of the body and brain as the producers, rather than the vehicles, of human consciousness is doomed. In its place a new view of mind and body will emerge, and in fact is emerging already. This view is scientific and spiritual in equal measure and will value what the greatest scientists of history themselves always valued above all: truth.[xxvii]

Alexander’s experience, like a DMT experience, breaks two of the strongest binaries in America: the binary of life and death, and the binary of science and religion. He no longer views death as opposed to life, but rather as a transformative state that leads to additional revelations and adventures. His experience convinced him that science and religion were not mutually exclusive like he had been taught to believe. Also as with DMT, Alexander challenges the dominant paradigm of Western science by embracing metaphysical spirituality and radically claiming scientific legitimacy nonetheless. In doing so, both Alexander and psychonauts assert their own authority in opposition to society’s establishments of science, education, and –for the psychonaut—government.

By interacting with illegal substances, psychonauts ignore the government’s fear-mongering mandate to stay away from drugs. By investigating DMT in genuinely academic mindsets and by breaking the D.A.R.E promise forced upon them as elementary school children, psychonauts abandon hegemonic notions of what constitutes material worth knowing as they abandon their allegiance to hegemonic academia.[xxviii] Lastly, by fearlessly pioneering the scientific exploration of the metaphysical, psychonauts separate themselves from the rigidity of modern science. Psychonauts’ dismissal of traditional sources of authority and their willingness to explore unchartered dimensions resembles that of Revolutionary American, where colonists rebelled against the British and risked their lives by expanding Westward (except psychonauts typically have the best intentions when dealing with indigenous groups—have no desire to kill them, take their land, or colonize them—and, unlike most early American pioneers, seek to learn from the tribes rather than teach them something). Indeed, psychonauts could be considered pioneers into the final frontier of the psyche.

Like the pioneers experienced hardships (example: Donner party), a DMT trip is not always completely fun and games. One website for an ayahuasca pilgrimage tries to prepare guests for the dual-nature of the experience:

Ayahuasca sessions vary immensely from shaman to shaman, but generally speaking one can say that they all have two major characteristics: they teach about life and about death.

An Ayahuasca session teaches about death in that it purifies us of all the things we hold inside our bodies and that we have come to believe are essential to our being, when in reality they are foreign and harmful. Thus, in letting go of them, a person faces the unknown and sometimes feels like s/he is literally dying. Also, it feels like dying because one has to let go of the control which, specially for us in the West, holds us prisoners to our fears.

This death process in the ceremony usually leads-up to, and is sometimes resolved through vomiting and/or shitting; literally our body is being cleansed of physical and spiritual impurities.

On the other hand, Ayahuasca teaches us about life, and it can sometimes offer the participant the most amazing embodied visions where most precious knowledge is imparted, and most miraculous healings happen. This doesn’t happen every-time, as one often needs to undergo many stages of purification before such a blessing is forthcoming.[xxix]

The shamanic use of DMT results in the healing of the user, who can then help to heal society by translating his revelations to others using various forms of communication (face to face, blogs, full websites, documentaries, books, etc.). It is worth noting the tremendous amount of information that exists online on the subject of DMT. The Internet serves as the forum for public discussion on an otherwise forbidden topic, as it allows those who are interested to anonymously and safely contribute their knowledge or pose their questions. Christie Davies notes that whereas the television worked to alienate and isolate individuals within the community, the Internet “goes beyond television, and also circumvents television,” as it provides “a free and decentralized electronic medium in an otherwise controlled and restricted electronic age.”[xxx] She wasn’t speaking in reference to discussions over psychedelics, but her point holds true nonetheless. Whereas society has failed to include drugs in public dialogue except for campaigns like “Just Say No,” the Internet has facilitated recent interest in DMT, has provided the means for Western pilgrims to schedule journeys into the Amazon, and has assuredly helped educate countless numbers of curios ‘psychonauts’ on how to safely approach DMT and other drugs.[xxxi]

In this way, alternative visions of the human conditions slowly spread throughout America. But the use of DMT exists outside of shamanic rituals, most especially at specific types of rock concerts, which become a venue for the spread of the ethos that characterize the DMT subculture. Though typically considered mere forms of entertainment, DMT rock shows take on a therapeutic value and provide the opportunity for the embracive DMT worldview to heal greater percentages of the population.

DMT is most likely not the only drug present at such concerts; other drugs might include alcohol, marijuana, LSD, salvia, mushrooms, MDMT (ecstasy/molly), or various amphetamines, all of which undoubtedly contribute to the atmosphere. Debating which drugs deserve the most credit for allowing the healing process to take place is futile, however, because what matters is the general effect produced by their presence. In fact, one need not necessarily consume any drugs in order to be healed; by merely being present at the show, immersed in the culture, and surrounded by the energy flowing freely back and forth from performer to audience and from attendee to attendee, one can partially experience the liberating release of DMT. With the aid of some combination of dancing, drugs, community unity, and pure musical bliss, attendees are able to break away from the stress they carried into the show and fully enter into the moment, allowing the atmosphere itself to work its magic.

Not likely to be used at a Nickleback show, DMT use tends to follow rock bands such as the Grateful Dead or the Flaming Lips: bands that attract cult-like followers who repeatedly and frequently attend shows, who establish a genuine sense of community, and most significantly, who frankly and fearlessly explore the dimensions of death to deeper depths than their mainstream counterparts.[xxxii] It may be noted that, generally speaking, mainstream music tends to reflect mainstream attitudes, while countercultural music reflects countercultural attitudes. Mainstream music may be considered as music played on public radio stations—USA Singles Top 40 type of music—where an artist might attract fans to a concert because he or she has several good, well-known songs, or because he or she develops a celebrity-like aura that attracts fans like bugs to a light. Mainstream music followers typically discover their favorite songs on FM radio, cycle through their favorite artists as societal trends evolve, and have one or two songs from many different artists in their iTunes library (perhaps the occasional complete album). But no real bond exists between the fans themselves; for them, attending a concert is, if anything more than a fun way to let loose on Friday night, an attempt to bond with the performer (and maybe with the friends they went to the show with), rather than with the crowd of strangers that, annoyingly, only get in the way of a more intimate connection between the performer and the individual fan.

For fans of bands like the Grateful Dead or the Flaming Lips, on the other hand, attending a show has the potential to become a sacred ritual, complete with a ceremony and sacraments.[xxxiii] In such shows, the multitudes of people positively (read: buoyantly) amplify the ecstatic nature of attending the performance and being part of the ritual gathering. Attending the show means so much more than being in a certain space at a certain time; it becomes a transformative experience, capable of healing the soul by releasing it from the shackles of baggage that it entered with. This process of reconnecting with inner realms by being made aware of others’ existence and rejoicing in it, Aldous Huxley argues, leads to enlightenment:

Systematic reasoning is something we could not, as a species or as individuals, possibly do without. But neither, if we are to remain sane, can we possibly do without direct perception, the more unsystematic the better, of the inner and outer worlds into which we have been born. This given reality is an infinite which passes all understanding and yet admits of being directly and in some sort totally apprehended. It is a transcendence belonging to another order than the human, and yet it may be present to us as a felt immanence, an experienced participation. To be enlightened is to be aware, always, of total reality in its immanent otherness—to be aware of it and yet to remain in a condition to survive as an animal, to think and feel as a human being, to resort whenever expedient to systematic reasoning. Our goal is to discover that we have always been where we ought to be. Unhappily we make the task exceedingly difficult for ourselves. Meanwhile, however, there are gratuitous graces in the form of partial and fleeing realizations.[xxxiv]

Huxley notes the delicate balance between rationality and sensitivity, and emphasizes how important one’s mindset is in determining happiness. He encourages the embrace of cognizance; himself rationally concluding that without it, the human species probably would not last very long. Yet he acknowledges that unless the mind participates in some sort of transformative process where it recognizes itself as a member of something much larger and more powerful, and furthermore that through its membership in this incomprehensible realm that it is an active participant in the universe, its potential remains untapped. The opportunity for such a transformative process arguably exists invariably, but especially at places like DMT rock shows where mind-altering drugs, music, and dancing help to knock down the barriers erected by the rational mind.

By making connections with people previously considered ‘other,’ one begins the transformative process of death and rebirth experienced during a shamanic DMT ritual. In this context, new understandings of death arise. Death no longer equates with the negative result of something good ending, but rather becomes the positive result of something bad ending. Scholars refer to this moment as the “death of the ego.”[xxxv] After the dismantling of the ego, ones inhibitions melt; there remains no idolized self’s reputation to protect, no possible way for synthetic materials or attitudes to elevate one’s economic or social position, no need to tirelessly prove one’s worth. Lata Mani prescribes the death of the ego for all of society: “From a spiritual purview, the root of suffering, whether of individuals or collectives, lies in this tendency of the ego to see itself as separate from the larger, mutually interdependent collectivity of which each of us is an equal, and equally sacred, part. The spiritual quest, then, is about emancipating oneself from the stranglehold of egoic thinking and action.”[xxxvi] Ironically, the death of the ego results in a sublime awareness of one’s significance.

The ethereality experienced by attendees during a performance by a band like the Grateful Dead or the Flaming Lips oftentimes leaves a lasting impression. Whether or not the attendee uses DMT, another drug, or no drugs at all to heighten their senses, the experience provides the crowd with an alternative view of the human condition—a condition based off an inclusive and collective identity, instead of the exclusive and individual identity offered by mainstream America. This allows for the attendees to separate their identities from aspects of their lives that might typically define them—such as what style of clothes they wear, where they consider their home, what they chose to study in college, what job they hold, etc. (all of which are defined by their opposite, for example where they don’t shop, how they don’t talk, which drugs they don’t use, etc.)—and instead focus on one thing that they have in common with each other (and with every one else, too, for that matter): the simple fact that they are human.

Humans can always be separated into different groups depending on their individual characteristics, and all too often are. Mani warns, “This affliction of separateness, this inability to recognise the radical equality, divine essence and oneness of all that is, manifests as pride, greed, selfishness, and gives rise to discontent.”[xxxvii] We are trained to think in terms of opposites (Black vs. White, rich vs. poor, men vs. women, young vs. old, Republican vs. Democrat, religion vs. science, etc.), and indeed, doing so can be productive, as it often helps reveal inequalities that plague our society, that once identified can be addressed and hopefully corrected.  But if we continually focus on the ways in which things are different, we risk forming over-simplifications, untrue binaries, and incomplete conclusions; we risk ignoring fundamental similarities that can be helpful in forming definitions, making connections, and understanding how things truly relate to each other.

Using shared humanity as a starting point, DMT rock shows not only lead to a death of the ego, but they also change the meaning and significance of the death of the physical body. Speaking in reference to the Grateful Dead, Luanne K. Roth writes, “the subculture subverts conventional meanings of ‘death’ and ‘dead’—transforming them into life-affirming terms.”[xxxviii] Figure 2 shows how the Flaming Lips, like the Grateful Dead, uses skeletal images to introduce death, but adds a twist to it, such as DMT, to insinuate changing understandings of death.[xxxix] One Flaming Lips song in particular, “Do You Realize?” portrays alternative views to death:

Do You Realize—that you have the most beautiful face

Do You Realize—we’re floating in space

Do You Realize—that happiness makes you cry

Do You Realize—that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes—let them know

You realize that life goes fast

It’s hard to make the good things last

You realize the sun doesn’t go down

It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.[xl]

Notably, “Do You Realize?” is widely considered to be one of the groups most popular and assessable songs (others tend to get pretty abstract). In line with the DMT worldview, the Flaming Lips sing about cosmic ironies and how death isn’t so serious after all.

Western interest in DMT challenges the assured claim that “We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between we do what we can to forget.”[xli] Not only does experiencing DMT leave one with confidence in the metaphysical properties of life—suggesting that we are much more than biology, much more than modern science currently allows us to understand—but it also endows the user with a lasting reminder of his or her own mortality. DMT induces the perceived experience of death, but even after the psychotropic effects have worn off, the user’s attitude towards death remains irrevocably altered. DMT offers an inclusive, comforting world-view, where death is but the beginning.


[i] For an example from the 1970’s, see: Philippe Ariés, “The Reversal of Death: Changing Attitudes Toward Death in Western Societies,” American Quarterly 26.5, Special Issue: Death in America (Dec. 1974), pp. 536-560.

For a modern example, see: Peter N. Stearns, “American Death,” in American Behavioral History, Peter N. Stearns, ed. (New York: New York University Press, 2005), pp. 143-154.

[ii] Erika Doss, Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

[iii] DMT is an endogenous, or naturally produced, compound, found to exist in humans, some mammals, and some plants, including the Amazonian psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca, huasca, or yagé, which has been used in ritual practices for centuries. For a history of DMT, see Strassman (2001).

[iv] As noted in Manuel A Vásquez, and Marie Friedmann Marquardt, Globalizing the Sacred: Religion across the Americas. (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press 2003). Notwithstanding any negative effects of neoliberal economic policy, it is because of globalization that traditional religious expressions, once self-contained and territorially rooted, have expanded to non-natal lands.

[v] Rick Strassman, DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences. (Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 2001).

[vi] Kim Kristensen, “The Ayahuasca Phenomenon: Jungle Pilgrims: North Americans Participating in Amazon Ayahuasca Ceremonies,” Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. (1998). Retrieved 12-11-12. http://www.maps.com.

[vii] The following are just five of the dozens of websites for Amazonian ayahuasca retreats, with costs as listed on the website (not including transportation, lodging, taxes, insurance, visas, or personal expenses): $1,818 for 12 days in Iquitos, Peru with templeofthewayoflight.org ; $1,500 for 12 days in Iquitos, Peru with ayahuascaretreats.org ; $1,050 for 9 days in Pucallpa, Peru with tierravidahealing.com ; $2,250 for 7 days in Pampachica, Peru with know-thyself.org

[viii] Oliver Sacks, Hallucinations. (New York: Alfred A Knopf—Random House, Inc., 2012), p. ix.

[ix] Strassman, op. cit.

[x] Alexander T. Shulgin, “Profiles of Psychedelic Drugs—DMT,” Journal of Psychedelic Drugs 8.2 (June 1976), pp. 167-168.

[xi] Oregon. District Court. Church of The Holy Light Of the Queen, et al., v. Michael B. Mukasey, et al. Case 1:08-cv-03095-PA (3/18/2009). Web.

[xii] D.M. Turner, Essential Psychedelic Guide. (San Francisco: Panther Press, 1994).

[xiii] Dr. Rick Strassman, “Chapter Summaries: Part 5: So what?,” DMT: The Spirit Molecule. Retrieved on 12-12-12 from rickstrassman.com

[xiv] www.burningman.com

[xv] Figures gathered from half a dozen personal testimonies collected by the author.

[xvi] Marlene Dobkin de Rios, “Curing with Ayahuasca in an Urban Slum,” Hallucinogens and Shamanism. Edited by Michael J. Harner. (New York: Oxford University Press 1973), pp. 67-85.

[xvii] Terence McKenna, Food of The Gods: The Search for The Original Tree of Knowledge (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), p. 258.

[xviii] Jason WA Tucker, “Actual Contact,” The Guild. Retrieved 12-12-12 from psychedelicsandlanguage.com

[xix] Edward MacRae, “Shamanism in the Western Amazon,” from Guided by the moon- shamanism and the ritual use of ayahuasca in the Stano Daime religion in Brazil. (São Paulo, Brazil: Editora Brasiliense, 1992)., pp. 16-33.

[xx] Luis Eduardo Luna, “Indigenous and mestizo use of ayahuasca. An overview,” The Ethnopharmacology of Ayahuasca. Edited by Rafael Guimarães dos Santos. (Kerala, India: Transworld Research Network, 2011), p. 8.

[xxi] Kristensen, op. cit.

[xxii] Turner, op. cit., p. 52.

[xxiii] Gordon Lynch, The New Spirituality: An introduction to progressive belief in the twenty-first century. (New York: I.B. Tauris 2007), p. 51.

[xxiv] Jan Kounen, in an interview from Jeremy Narby, et. al., The Psychotropic Mind: The World according to Ayahuasca, Iboga, and Shamanism. (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions/Bear & Company, 2009), retrieved from the web on 12-10-12 at http://www.realitysandwich.com/ayahuasca_experience

[xxv] Dr. Rick J. Strassman, et. al. “Dose-Response Study of N,N-Dimethyltryptamine in Humans: II. Subjective Effects and Preliminary Results of a New Rating Scale,” Archives of General Psychiatry 51.2. (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico, 1994), p. 7.

[xxvi] Strassman, op. cit.

[xxvii] Dr. Eben Alexander, “My Proof of Heaven,” Newsweek (Oct 15, 2012), pp. 28-32. Excerpted from the forthcoming Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012).

[xxviii] Graduate level and above psychonauts even have a closed group on google spaces, where you must submit an application to be allowed entry. It is intended as an international forum and support network for research and publication.

[xxix] http://www.sacharuna.com/pas.html

[xxx] Christie Davies, “Jokes That Follow Mass-Mediated Disasters in a Global Electronic Age,” in Peter Narvaez, Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2003), pp. 15-34, 311-12.

[xxxi] Though the origins of this term are not certain, it is used throughout Turner (1994) to connote ‘one who studies the psychedelics.’ Interestingly enough, Turner’s whole book was nearly lost upon his unexpected death, though someone took the effort to digitize it. It is now available online for free—just one example out of the hoards of information available on the internet.

[xxxii] Luanne K. Roth, “Dancing Skeletons: The Subversion of Death Among Deadheads,” in Peter Narvaez, Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2003), pp. 265-93, 330-32.

[xxxiii] Roth, op. cit.

[xxxiv] Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954) pp. 23-24.

[xxxv] See, for example, Walter Houston Clark, Chemical Ecstasy: Psychedelic Drugs and Religion. (New York: Sheed and Ward 1969), p. 156.

[xxxvi] Lata Mani, Sacred Secular: Contemplative Cultural Critique. (New York: Routledge 2009), p. 145.

[xxxvii] Mani, op. cit.

[xxxviii] Roth, op. cit.

[xxxix] image from flaminglips.com

[xl] Lyrics from “Do You Realize,” by the Flaming Lips from their 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Written by Wayne Coyne.

[xli] Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), p. 84.