Can Psychedelic Masculinity Stop War?
Dazed by the bomb blast, a pregnant woman held her womb as four men lifted her from rubble on to a gurney. She died days later. She is one among the 900 deaths in Ukraine since Russia invaded. The real number is higher and climbs by the second.
We can expect that the Russian missile that killed her was fired by a male soldier, following orders from another man of higher rank. The Russian war machine destroying Ukraine is more than tanks and jets; it is a male pyramid linked by a chain of command. The military is a patriarchal hierarchy that transforms men into mass murderers. Right now, a Russian son thinks duty means firing artillery at apartments and hospitals, killing women and babies.
Russia’s war in Ukraine brings into focus a crisis in masculinity that has been on-going in Yemen, Mexico and the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, Nigeria and now the Ukraine. Violence has washed the planet in a tide of blood. Theocratic states cut down women’s rights. Rising authoritarianism threatens democracy. What must non-patriarchal men do?
In the counterculture, psychedelic masculinity has long challenged militarism. As entheogen-enhanced therapies enter the mainstream, they can link up with pre-existing elements of progressive culture. We’ve long seen men’s groups, 12-step programs, artists, gay, trans and anti-war movements include men protesting patriarchy. Psychedelic masculinity can bear witness to the cost of male supremacy and imagine freedom beyond it.
The Wounded Warrior
“Veterans who are coming back from war,” Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) said in an interview, “Many feel the psychological wounds they come home with are not being successfully treated by the current treatments offered by the VA”
The Warrior is an archetype of traditional patriarchy. He is flesh encased in armor. He doesn’t feel pain, he inflicts it. Think of the 1970 film Patton when General George Patton visits a field hospital and slaps a soldier shaking from shell-shock, yelling, “I won’t have any cowards in my army!”
The Wounded Warrior is an archetype of modern patriarchy. It fuses the value placed on male violence with an up-to-date recognition of the emotional reality. Think of 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, when Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) weeps uncontrollably from trauma. Think of 2015’s American Sniper when U.S. sniper Chris Kyle (a fine Bradley Cooper) fights back tears at a bar after returning from the war in Iraq.
The scars of war are a selling point for the medical model of the psychedelic renaissance. On an episode of The Joe Rogan Show, Doblin talked about a U.S. Army veteran, emotionally crippled by seeing friends killed in Iraq. The man went through MDMA therapy and realized his PTSD stemmed from his loyalty to his dead brothers-in-arms. During the trip, he felt how they would want him to fully live and his PTSD heal.
The psychedelic medical model heals lives broken from war. But it takes a psychedelic social movement to dismantle the war machine itself. Until then, it won’t live up to the truth glimpsed during a trip, that our greatest desire is to love and be loved.
The Crisis of Patriarchy
The God of War reigns over men. Maybe his name is Mars in Rome, lion-headed Apedemak of Egypt, Huitzilopochtli of the Aztecs, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jason Statham of Hollywood. He dons armor and brandishes weapons. He impales women on his phallus like a shish-kabob. He wins, always wins.
We prayed to him in languages that no longer exist. We have written his name on clay tablets that crumbled to dust. He re-appears again and again, the God of War, the man of men, who reflects us to ourselves across the ages.
Patriarchy – a society of male domination in politics, in economics and everyday custom – conjures up this god. In the 6,000 years since the rise of patriarchy with agriculture and cities, each new generation of men inherited its imagery and institutions. Each advance in technology made the forever war, increasingly dangerous, until what once was decided by swords and spears, muskets and bombs, now can ignite into a nuclear holocaust. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved forward the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Patriarchy is incompatible with our species’ survival. The awareness of this fact has come in high-brow forms like when scientist Edward O. Wilson said, “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”
The truth of our precarious situation also comes in low-brow forms like in 1995’s film Crimson Tide when during dinner on a U.S. nuclear submarine, Lieutenant Ron Hunter (a stoic Denzel Washington) debates Captain Frank Ramsey (a cagey Gene Hackman) on their mission. After being pressed by Ramsey, Hunter says, “In a nuclear world the true enemy can’t be destroyed. In my humble opinion, in a nuclear world the true enemy is war itself.”
So how do we go beyond healing the victims of war to stopping the forever war?
“Moloch who entered my body early! Moloch in whom I am consciousness without a body!” wrote Allen Ginsberg in his 1956 epic-poem “Howl.” That second part was inspired by peyote and it can be considered one of the most widely read psychedelic critiques of patriarchy. Ginsberg used poetry to show that the crisis of masculinity is when we lose touch with our bodies.
Today, a growing number of men in the psychedelic renaissance testify to how the alienation of patriarchy cuts into flesh. One of New York’s longest practicing iboga practitioners is Dimitri Mugianis, a former addict who has gotten others clean for decades and founded Cardea, a center for psychedelic-assisted therapy.
“For a long time, I was confused about my relation to the template of being a man because of childhood sexual abuse and being part of the streets and my Greek heritage,” says Mugianis. He ruefully laughed. “We hug and kiss all the time, but if you’re too sensitive you got teased, called a fag.”
He said iboga released his shame, “The prison of masculinity is the inability for self-reflection.” Psychedelics, he said, “releases the rage quicker” and can lead to feeling like “floating, in a very feminine way.” He looks with an experienced view on the violence rising in the world and said, “I have held space with guys who spent fifteen years in prison and it conditioned them to be homophobic. Now they go to Pride marches. We have to acknowledge that a lot of the right wing, the guys who stormed the capital, are in pain. You got to come from a place of love.”
Echoing Mugianis is Dr. Will Siu, a MAPS trained psychiatrist in Los Angeles. He’s lectured widely, appeared on Netflix, HBO and the Wall Street Journal while keeping a private practice. In an interview with Lucid News, Siu said, “Trauma separates us from our authentic selves; particularly the parts that feel vulnerable. Like the expression of sadness, fear, forgiveness; “healthy” expressions of masculinity and femininity.”
Siu continued, “When we don’t have the freedom to embody our authenticity, separation begins. These splits are caused by culture, school, family, religion, etc. When it does not feel whole, the masculine expresses itself violently. Psychedelics help you embody your wholeness, they are a tool to aid our self re-integration.”
When asked about the war in Ukraine, he said, “If we don’t do our internal work, if we feel incomplete, we look outwardly to fill this insecurity. Putin doesn’t need the Ukraine. Russia doesn’t need it. The war is based on a perceived lack, on fear.”
“I had a voice in my head of who I should be as a man,” said Micah Haskell-Hoehl, founder of Healing Equity and Liberation or H.E.A.L, a social justice organization trying to change federal polity. “It made me resistant to my sensitive and gentle tendencies, which aren’t congruent with the social messages to be stoic, macho and tough,” said Haskell-Hoehl.
As a recovering addict, Haskell-Hoehl said he was doing the work, but psychedelics helped him, “loosen the tendrils patriarchy had wound around my central nervous system.” Even so, Haskell-Hoehl knows you can’t force change. At least not this kind. “Groups of men who see masculinity differently are getting together,” says Haskell-Hoehl, “working for a collective liberation.”
Haskell-Hoehl cites a white men’s group seeking to ease the burden of activism on people of color who have their own trauma. On that point, he referenced Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, a Black man killed by the NYPD, and how she died at age 27 just five years after her father. The stress of fighting for justice took a toll on her body.
When asked about the seemingly endless series of wars throughout history, Haskell-Hoehl says, “The military thrives on signing up people looking to get a college degree or build a career. Next thing, they’re doing or seeing unspeakable things. People are getting blown up. Maybe psychedelics can help connect us to a Reluctant Warrior ethos, where we recognize and revere the humanity of those we’re sent off to fight. That might drastically affect military recruitment numbers, though.”
We are at a crossroads. The history of patriarchy has left us with opposing institutions that compete for our future. One the hand, patriarchy had built male power structures from the military, fossil fuel companies and nation-states. Each one of those institutions threatens life on the planet.
The ideology that drives patriarchy in turn creates the split-screen vision of women as either Madonna or Whore, either good, sexually pure, and domestic or bad, “fallen,” and independent. This becomes materialized in sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, rape culture and feminized poverty.
On the other hand there are spaces where men heal from patriarchy. The real us, not the boys trapped inside armor, but actual existing males who span from trans to cis, gay to straight, who wear tutus and twerk on the subway. Who build bridges, who cry when their child is born, who hug, who kiss, who love but know when to let go, gracefully. The spaces we exist in are vast. These men participate in many men’s groups, 12 step programs, festivals, psychedelic therapies, anti-war marches, Pride marches and the arts.
A psychedelic men’s peace movement can continue what #MeToo started. Set and setting for psychedelic experiences can focus on guiding men away from the blood splattered God of War branded on our brains. We can transform into conscientious objectors to patriarchy. One by one, high profile witnesses are coming out. Action star Dolph Lundgren talks openly about the child abuse that marked him. And Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke eloquently against Putin’s rape of Ukraine.
What does that look like? We saw a glimpse of it when hippies put flowers in the gun barrels of soldiers, or when the Egyptian army didn’t fire on protesters in Tahir Square, or vets threw their medals at the U.S. Capital, or Crips and Bloods made peace after police murdered a Black man.
What must it become? Widespread psychedelic therapies could fuel a social movement, in which men put their bodies into the gears of the war machine to stop it. We have to unscrew war heads from missiles, melt tanks into playgrounds, paint flowers on battleships. We have to sweep the money inside bank vaults out to the street like confetti. We have to put down the gun and pick up a baby.