Are We On the Verge of the Next Psychedelic Explosion?

DMT the Spirit Molecule
The cover of DMT: The Spirit Molecule

I’m reading Grant Morrison’s Supergods right now, and I’ll probably have more to say on it in the future. But I’ve just passed a part in the book where he talks about the Sekhmet Hypothesis, and wanted to get some thoughts down right now.

The gist of the Sekhmet Hypothesis, as explained by Morrison, is that every 11 years culture shifts as sunspot activity waxes and wains. At one pole is “hippie” culture characterized by longer pop songs, longer hair baggy clothes, psychedelics and an emphasis on peace and love. At the other pole is punk culture, which is characterized by shorter pop songs, short hair, tight clothes, stimulants and an emphasis on anger and rebellion.

Update: Iain Spence, the originator of the Sekhmet Hypothesis and author of a book on the subject left a long comment that’s worth reading. It appears, first of all, that Morrison’s punk/hippie description of the hypothesis is much oversimplified (or perhaps I misunderstood his interpretation of it, this is like a game of telephone – if you want the real scoop on the hypothesis, go to the source). Second, Spence has updated the hypothesis having admitted that he was wrong about the solar cycle aspect of it, among other things.

So it would go:

  • 1966: LSD, psychedelic rock, hippies, happenings, peace and love.
  • 1977: Punk, new wave, shaved heads, cocaine, rock shows, nihilism.
  • 1988: Rave, long electronic dance tracks, shoegaze, Brit pop, MDMA, “Peace, Love, Unity, Respect.”
  • 1999: The Matrix, nu-metal, emo, screamo, cutting going mainstream, Red Bull, Starbucks, cocaine and meth making a come back, 9/11, Law & Order.
  • 2010: Avatar, Alice in Wonderland and the “dandyishness” of the vampires of Twilight and True Blood (not sure I swallow that last part).

I could add the surge of mind fuck movies in the 90s, and their come back in the 10s, but as some readers pointed out in my earlier post on the subject, those types of movies didn’t entirely die out in the 00s. Also:

  • The 60s were also marked by outrage and protest, some of quite violent. A lot of hippies and mods wore tight clothes.
  • The late 70s and early 80s also had disco (and later house), psychedelic post-punk, butt rock, epic metal etc.
  • The 90s had the Rodney King riots, gangsta rap, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, plenty of metal, the militia movement, hyperviolent video games and movies.
  • Rave didn’t completely die out in the 90s, instead it turned into teknival with a strong emphasis on the hippie-ish psytrance wing. Burning Man grew larger than ever. Not to mention Massively multiplayer online role playing games and Second Life. Tool put Alex Grey’s art on their album cover and his career exploded. Daniel Pinchbeck sold a bazillion books. And what about the popularity of bands like Radiohead, Coldplay and Muse? A bit more underground, but what to make of doom metal, dubstep and BPitchControl, or the hipster cred of Arthur Magazine?

It’s really hard for me to accept that “punk” is the opposite of “hippie.” The 60s counterculture wasn’t always peaceful and non-violent, and the punks, with their love of Jamaican music, antiwar songs and their vegan and vegetarianism were a lot more hippie-ish than many gave them credit for.

And yet…

It’s hard, given the number of exceptions to the formula, to swallow the idea that there’s a real, society-wide pull between punk and hippie every 11 years. Others have critiqued historicity before, and I don’t need to go there.

But there may be pattern of rising and falling tides of psychedelia, perhaps accompanied by a sense of optimism and energy that eventually dissipates. The 60s had acid, the 90s had ecstasy. And I’m hearing that DMT is becoming a common strong street drugs these days, and the new cool thing to listen to is apparently the sound of a modem slowed way down. We could be in for some weird times indeed.

26 Comments

  1. Seems like great evidence, but hasn’t this movement already started?

  2. Yeah. Maybe I should have said “explosion.” The movement started long ago…

  3. Comparing punk to hippie music is like comparing coke to pepsi: it is spectacle aimed to distract the people and transfer their wealth to the people who put on the spectacle. The spectacle compensates people for the lack of freedom they experience in their everyday lives, where the natural world is either regulated or mystified out of existence in exchange for a for-pay mediated world. These trends are irrelevant, and the changes are purely cosmetic. Each trend must appear new to generate another cycle of production and selling.

  4. Seems like there would be some way to test this hypothesis:
    e.g. http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/

  5. Thank you for the feedback Klint & everyone. Alas the solar side to the hypothesis was dumped (at least by myself) back in 1999.
    I couldn’t access any good books on solar activity back in the 80s and 90s – maybe didn’t try hard enough.
    Anyhow, went online in 1999, onto the NASA website. Ran a search for the actual dates of the recent solar cycles. They didn’t add up in any way with the youth trends (either their budding or flowering). I’m surprised that anyone is still arguing about it as I thought I did a pretty good job of trashing it myself.

    Can I just say that I never described hippie culture as the opposite of punk culture. I’ve only suggested that they were a polar complement (Don’t tell anyone this, but I used to wear Crass emblems and black cotton whilst listening to Omnia Opera and Ozrics : ) Back then you could actually send Ozric Tentacles a cassette and the’d record onto it and then send it back in the post.)

    I agree with you, the early Sekhmet hypothesis doesn’t add up – but people are maybe still drawn to it because of the archetypes. You might find the new guide to be more open and playful – no longer a slave to the rigid 11-22 year cycles it can now open up to broader interpretation.

    I’ll try and get a better reply to the recent feedbacks on my webpage sometime but I’m little busy just now.

    Melanthia, if you think the trends are irrelevant I’m kind of confused why you think they’re relevant enough to comment on.
    As Grant says in his book, ugly giant corporations might not just be feeding off the trends on their conception they might even be trying to preempt them. One of the oddest things I saw was H&M present an urban line of hostile strength gear just after my own views were covered in the glossy Sleaze. I’m damned sure it was the same magazine it appeared in.
    Early acid house, punk culture & 60s psychedelia however was not originally created by the spectacle. That’s why we think youth trends are so strange to explore. They appear to grow out the gutter and they were of course part of our lives when we lived more in the moment…

    J Bradfield I’ve already tested the hypothesis retroactively and I invite you to do the same – it doesn’t fit : ) I’ve got a page on me website which sums it up (it’s not the greatest of websites I know and my writing’s not that good
    but it might save some of you the hassle of surfing NASA’s site for the next hour). By the way if anyone out there is a solar diehard you might like to know we’ve just gone into a solar maundering, so where does that leave cultural trends?

    I think I’ve done enough maundering and muttering myslef so I’ll say bye bye…

    • Iain, thank you very much for your comment.

      First let me commend you for admitting that you were wrong before. It takes a lot to admit a mistake instead of trying to shoehorn evidence to fit an existing theory. I salute you!

      Second, thanks for correcting my mistaken view of your hypothesis. It was based on secondary sources, and I should have delved deeper. It must be frustrating to see people still discussing and critiquing old ideas that you’ve already dismissed, instead of your new ones (though now that you point it out to me, I believe I have seen the Hare Hypothesis site before).

      Also, I wasn’t even going to touch the science behind the solar activity aspect, so I’m glad you’ve already put that one to bed.

      Cheers!

    • “Melanthia, if you think the trends are irrelevant I’m kind of confused why you think they’re relevant enough to comment on.”

      I’m attempting to steer the discourse to a more fruitful line of inquiry.

      The stuff produced by the entertainment industry is a product of the desire to make more money with less inputs.

      For example:

      At one extreme:

      Orchestra – lots of musicians, lots of instruments, music in public domain, musicians not necessarily sexually attractive, pieces last a long time, part of movements, little opportunity for commercial interruption, etc.

      At another extreme:

      One 18 year old supermodel using auto-tune svengali’d by marketing concern to crank out highly sexualized 3 minute songs (the better to allow rapid interjection of commercial advertisements) containing numerous product placement references to conspicuous consumption expensive luxury goods, while wearing designer clothing, etc.

      See how the second example is cheaper, easier to control, and more profitable? That is why it is so aggressively marketed.

      You know what punk music is? An attempt to dumb down pop music even more when it was plenty dumbed down to begin with. People with no talent or training trying to cash in on the public’s willingness to pay people for ANY form of novel entertainment by passing off their musical ineptitude as some sort of statement. Every song sounds the same and instead of 3 minutes long, it is 1-2 minutes, and took all of an hour to write, if that.

      On the other side of things, what do you have? Long masturbatory improvisational noodling that the uninitiated interpret and equate a mystical channeling of the divine, but which is actually just a bunch of well-rehearsed stage magician tricks stitched together and valorized: Jazz and Hippy music. Or perhaps you prefer elaborately constructed musical structures that resemble Swiss watches in their perfection.

      Regardless of what you choose, you are paying people to perform a spectacle to which you are a spectator.

      It always amuses me how people will make fun of the fools that spend their lives dissecting the details of sports games . . . and then will start discussing the salient points of their hundreds of favorite bands whose music they must listen to constantly, so as to prevent any original thought from occurring.

      Of course, this comes naturally to them, since every where they go, there is music playing: the elevator, the gym, the workplace, the bar, the restaurant, the car radio. And look at all the cheap devices constantly being pushed on them; i think the onion described them as “pacification devices.”

      It’s not a question of what external media are you listening to; it’s a question of why are you listening to external media?

      • Let me get this this straight: we can’t learn anything about a culture or subculture by analyzing or discussing its music, because the only thing that’s noteworthy about any modern culture of the global north is that we’re all consumer whores. Further, listening to music is a distraction from original thought. And it turns us into idle spectators, which is bad. Besides, all music of the 20th and 21st century sucks anyway and none of it has any artistic value.

        • Sounds like some ‘ole bullshit to me.

        • >why are you listening to external media?

          If you’re looking to sum Melanthia she does a good job of it here.

          Which is certainly a bit of a turn from the original topic, which I think she acknowledged.

          So I don’t take it as a direct reply to the questions raised, but instead what she said, as the suggestion of a topic she thinks is more interesting.

          And, FWIW, I find it a) a reminder of a point I agree is important and b) not so relevant, and so not to be taken as threatening, to the analysis in the original post which suggests that changing trends might be of interest.

          PS: I thought “jist” might be a mispelling but indeed it appears to be an acceptable though rare variant of “gist.” That said, if I were a professional writer, which I am not, I might opt for the more common version :-)

          • Interesting, I’ve always spelled it “jist,” but you’re right – gist seems to be the accepted spelling. I try to conform to the Reuters style guide, so I’ll change it.

        • @Klint

          Who says that the music that was and is created is the product of a “culture,” and not an industrial process designed to produce a result: namely, transferring wealth from one set of hands to another?

          I’m not the only person to make this argument; many people have made it before. Ever wonder why totalitarian (and other) religious structures make singing and music an integral part of their game-plan? It shuts off conscious thought and people focus on singing the song or listening to its words.

          Ever get a song stuck in your head? Ever have a problem getting it out? Ever need to concentrate but you have trouble because of the stupid viral song, deliberately designed to be viral by being simplistic and repetitive, like a nursery rhyme, is stuck in your head, and you didn’t even want to listen to it, except, everywhere you go it is playing, because the crooked record execs made a deal with some businessmen to have it played at every possible location? Do you think I would listen to “Hey, Soul Sister” if I had a choice? What am I supposed to do, become a shut-in because of the odd chance of running across it at the grocery store?

          Music, like a lot of things, is an expedient way to colonize the mind with BULLSHIT.

          And I say this as someone who trained for years as a musician.

          Sure, music can be fun and diverting . . . when you have the freedom to turn it on and off at will, for your own amusement. But when it is everywhere you go, whether you like it or not, and when musicians get valorized into gods or people who actually change the course of history (not music history), then you must smell a rat.

          Why should people look up to musicians more than say, philosophers, math professors, scientists, or anyone who say, produces something of tangible value.

          I’m not saying music is entirely worthless, but when I look at the differences of importance assigned to it by different socio-economic classes, I begin to smell that rat again.

          When I was in high school, it suddenly became important to like the “right” bands. This persisted for a LONG time, and still persists, except that I evade it. People are constantly going on about some band. Bands try to get you to go their shows, like they aren’t just trying to get money out of you.

          I also love how the record industry worries about piracy. People actually like their product enough to obsessively download it at the earliest opportunity and spend all their free time listening to it . . . when they could be learning a language, or traveling.

          There is simply so much more out there than music.

          That being said, I think the ideas behind the subcultures you mentioned, are far more important than the stupid music, which is just a window dressing.

          For example: Punk – minimalism, anti-consumerism, DIY, localism

          Hippies: love without economic entanglement, back to the land, peace, being open-minded, expanding the consciousness, studying Eastern philosophies

          Gangsta culture: how life outside the confines of a hypocritical white hiearchy is a hobbesian struggle to survive that comes at the expense of others in the community

          • I might agree with you, Melanthia. Actually I do agree with you, about 90%.

            I disagree that ALL music is a distraction. That’s a grave simplification of the situation. Music does have power, unfortunately it’s not often used properly due to both poor intention and IGNORANCE! Most musicians just haven’t considered that there is a moral side to making a song!

            Music can be a form of philosophizing which transmits information in a different way. So, to say philosophers should be more important than musicians is to disregard that musicians may actually BE philosophers using a medium that might TRANSCEND language! Just a thought.

            So, turn off the radio and listen to some Mouse on Mars.

          • “I think the ideas behind the subcultures you mentioned, are far more important than the stupid music, which is just a window dressing.”

            Well, yeah, and that’s part of why your comments are so off topic – this isn’t (or least wasn’t) a conversation just about music. You’re the one that went off about how musicians are actually over-glorified brainwashers working for the man. Now, I did cite musical genres pretty heavily as examples of the different “currents” supposedly running through different periods of time. That’s because I think, whether it’s something that emerges organically or whether it’s something imposed from the top down, that music reflects the spirit of a subculture pretty well.

            “There is simply so much more out there than music.”

            Who ever said there wasn’t? This isn’t even a music blog. I cover science, education and comic books a more than music. The only person in this conversation who appears to be monomaniacally obsessed with music is you.

            As for the bit about new subgenres being the result of an “industrial process designed to produce a result” – could you provide some proof? I mean, yes, the Sex Pistols were very much that – but the Pistols didn’t invent punk, they were just the beginning of the commercial co-opting of it. Every trend gets co-opted by commercial interests eventually, but I’m not going to blame the artists for that. While fascism focuses on a top-down imposition of culture and media (including music), capitalism appropriates anything that emerges organically and strip-mines it. But it doesn’t make the source material any less valid an artistic expression, nor does it negate the meaning it has for the listener (the latter is what I’m most interested in anyway).

            Of course, playing live for money means that just about every band ever intended to “transfer wealth” from the audience to themselves, but I personally am not going to fault anyone for that.

          • Well, we are in violent agreement then. I like music, but in WAY smaller doses generally prescribed by the environment I find myself immersed in.

  6. I sell glass, there is clearly an uptick in kids buying items that are normally reserved for crack heads, but its clear that they are doing DMT.

    • That’s interesting, I’ve been stunned lately by how easily available the once-mythic substance has become.

      • Yep, it’s everywhere now. I think it’s a combination of increased visibility and the relative ease with which one can extract it from the plant material. I mean, the necessary materials (mimosa hostilis rootbark, naptha, and sodium hydroxide, basically) are easily obtainable online (with the possible exception of NaOH, which is monitored due to its use in meth manufacturing, but can be bought relatively anonymously on ebay nonetheless). I’m less amazed by the abundance of DMT floating around than I am by how fucking popular it is. It’s a pretty goddamn intense experience. I think the interesting questions involve the sorts of social, cultural, artistic and political shifts we might expect to see precipitated by a legion of DMT-smoking youngsters. I mean, LSD and acid culture get credited with a lot of the sociopolitical upheaval of the 60’s and 70’s, just imagine what a “DMT culture” would entail.

  7. It seems as though (to get back to the RAW connection and the interpersonal grids) the shift between I’m-Not-OK-You’re-Not-OK dominance and I’m-OK-You’re-OK dominance in culture might be fairly easily attributed to the properties themselves (and their place in adversarial systems, which compose a fairly large portion of human society and not always unsubtly). The I’m-OK-You’re-OK type (or the flower child, I suppose) is more vulnerable to being straightforwardly duped or mistreated, which then influences a shift towards the I’m-Not-OK-You’re-Not-OK type (or the paranoid masochist), but the world of the paranoid masochist is unpleasant enough to make a shift toward the other end of the spectrum. This is not to say that the paranoid masochist cannot be duped, but instead that the paranoid masochist is difficult to dupe in a predictable and repeatable way because he lacks the trusting nature of the flower child.

    Now, this isn’t to say that everyone in youth movement X is on one extreme or the other. Art and society form an interesting symbiosis, but (as McLuhan pointed out) the artist tends to be both ahead of the curve (because either he is inspiring the movement which is to come or because he has seen the movement coming before anyone else) and more in the extreme. The circuit 1/2 orientation of an art style is probably a fairly good predictor of the circuit 1/2 orientation of its fanbase as a whole, though on the individual level there are extreme variations (I listen to enormous quantities of darkwave and IDM, but I’m neither depressive nor masochistic; I’m merely an outlier, and surely not alone).

    One thing that would be interesting to look at is whether or not the movements and modes correlate neatly with the behavior of individuals on a mass scale. Do suicide rates go up when culture moves toward paranoid-masochistic currents? Do murder rates? Do both go down? Does the shift in the behavior of the individual precede the shift in cultural orientation? Do the observed patterns hold when you eliminate die-hard fans of some style with a very firm orientation in the opposite direction? In the same direction?

    • I was looking at the Iain’s take on youth movements and transactional analysis (http://website.lineone.net/~iainsp/trans.html) and I was thinking it could be revised like this:

      -Post-WWII counter culture: “I’m not ok, you’re not ok.” I think this fits better with the Cold War paranoia, atomic guilt and anguished vets returning from Vietnam.

      -Post-Vietnam counter and youth culture: “I’m ok, you’re not ok.” What Iain called “stormer.” Doesn’t just have to be physical aggression, could include pretension. Fits not just with punk, but also art rock, glam, new wave, etc. “I’m right/punk/glamorous/artistic/smart/whatever and YOU are NOT.” Elitism.

      -Cyberdelic culture (late 80s – 9/11) “I’m ok, you’re ok.” MDMA, PLUR, technoutopianism, etc.

      -Post 9/11: “You’re ok, I’m not ok.” Cutting, patriotism, conformity, cop culture, Cult of Apple.

      But I guess we could play this game all day, just randomly reassigning the roles and cherry picking the details.

  8. Relevant to what Max brought up re: musicians not thinking about the consequences of their work is Jay Babcock’s interview with Godsmack. This link includes a link to the interview and some supporting material: http://boingboing.net/2006/05/04/arthur-magazine-vs-g.html

  9. Hi Klint, thanks again. I’ll need to get on my site and & tidy up my comments on Grant. This book release has pushed me to face the fact that the youth trend purist approach should be dumped. I hope I’ve annoyed Grant enough back in return by showing him how out of touch he is with the solar element.

    Sad to see the early print versions of Sekhmet going for 40 – 60 pounds. That’s kind of embarrassing. John Eden your copy going at 44.44? Go and stand in the naughty corner. I take it 40 pounds of your joke goes to charity? Please don’t waste your money on the early editions folks. They’re full of all sorts of crazy stuff on neo paganism and the like. Artwork was good though.

    Hi ENKI-2, I prefer to see the youth (or cultural) trends in terms of self referencing. Forgive the simplicity, but the sequential description of the four life scripts in human infancy are roughly:

    Friendly Weakness – Baby
    Hostile Weakness – ‘Terrible Twos’
    Friendly Strength – 3 to 4 years
    Hostile Strength – 5 to 6 years

    Resurfaces socially with the archetypal:

    Flower Child (RA Wilson first made this link)
    Punk, Rap
    Raver
    Hattie Jaques (Matron)

    =Crowned Adaptive Child (I reject the conquering bit)

    A classic example of infant recapitulation also occurs in John Lydon’s rendition of ‘EMI’. Take it down to only his voice and you’d fall about laughing – the fact that he now admits to being influenced by Kenneth Williams doesn’t help. And all these weird social trends are now blending into delicious hybrids. (I know Ms Jaques wasn’t a social trend – but it’s late and I’m a little tired, flat out working this last while.)

    I’m not too into this ‘paranoid masochistic’ intense debate stuff. I don’t want to speculate on suicide rates & murder rates going up or down according to the trends waning and waxing. Yeah, I know you say you’re just thowing it in like a question but honestly, that’s pretty heavy Enki (Hug – just how much darkwave do you listen to man?).
    All similar to Thomas Harris (as in TA grid fame, not the Hannibal Lector author). Give me Tim Leary’s guide any day – you read his early stuff Enki? It’s really good. Tim Leary went in for the balancing mandala approach. While Harris came out with BS on Hostile Strength is ‘criminal’ while we should all try to become Friendly Strengths – not my thing.

    Funny to see all these ideas floating round again – do youth trends create more balanced individuals? The mosh pit starts to replace the battlefield. The typical broken collar bone replacing the bullet & bomb. Berlin 1945 versus Berlin 1989. Can’t say I’m too optimistic Enks but who knows?
    Apologies if your a woman, I called you man…

    Hi Klint – atomic guilt, Vietnam etc. Well that’s one of the main reasons I rejected it when people went down this road of referencing all manner of cultural stuff (instead of being a youth trend purist). You can see what noise it starts to generate. I much prefer the study of social chaos as opposed to the study of power politics. I’ve no doubt the two must have a bearing on each other but I don’t have the sociology or brains for this one.

    I just like pure social chaos much like I like to read Winnie the Pooh occasionally.
    Never mind the Hierarchy here’s the Holism.
    Cheers all : )

  10. I don’t know about the Sun, but I was once told by a fellow /I had no reason to doubt/ that there is indeed a ten-year cycle in the affairs of (modern) man. Apparently, in 1945, when the Allies met to divvy up the spoils of war, they agreed to keep meeting up every ten years thereafter. So the (political) course we are on now is set until 2015. There’s more to our obsession with decades than simple numerology! Make of this what you will.

  11. The title question was way more interesting than the Hypothesis bit! I thought you were going to go into MAPS, the liberal canonization of Albert Hoffmann, a resurgent music festival circuit bringing good psychedelics to corners of the US that don’t usually get ‘em…that sort of thing.

    One Neil DeGrasse Tyson does a Fox special on the benefits of LSD, we’re good to go.

  12. As long as they don’t take themselves too seriously – I say fine!

    I’ve never taken DMT and have no plan on doing so. I don’t think it gets you any closer to understanding death or god, or ?. You’ll understand death when you’re dead. Everything else on the topic is marketing and the spewings of egomaniacs.

    If they or anyone thinks that DMT and other hallucinogens can change the world they ought to look at Tim Leary.

    Who was he connected with?

    Hallucinogens make you a passive receptacle for worthless “information”.

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