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Dear Psychedelic Community: We Need Healthy Debate

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Dear Psychedelic Community: We Need Healthy Debate

The mainstreaming of psychedelics has invited a polarity of divergent perspectives from multiple stakeholders who are all intent on building their case for the correct way to formally integrate these long maligned substances into society. 

Healthy debates among leaders of various organizations in the psychedelic space have increasingly spiraled into bitter feuds and open-ended vitriol on social media and in-person events. Publications skeptical of corporate interests in psychedelics write critical pieces about companies and industry figureheads, which typically elicits defensiveness from those subjects. In one case, it led to said journalists being banned from an industry-led conference – not the sign of healthy discourse. 

Platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram have increasingly become a breeding ground for psychedelic industry controversy that does more to alienate and silo off the various stakeholders from each other than it does to achieve a meaningful resolution to their debates and disputes. In the process, the real losers in this situation are the people who might well benefit most from psychedelics: the general public. 

All this transpires in full view of those gravitating to psychedelics with no frame of reference for the nuanced and historically-rooted controversies they see unfolding before them. 

The psychedelic drama has found its way into the mainstream media as well. A recent Dr. Phil episode featured several well-known figures in the psychedelic space on opposite sides of a debate around microdosing moms. A Rolling Stone article published earlier this year also highlighted the growing rift in the psychedelic industry. 

Social and legacy media platforms are not built for conflict resolution; their business models largely depend on conflict amplification.  They are one of the key limitations and bottlenecks to how various stakeholders in the psychedelic space are attempting to engage each other. 

You can’t effectively debate or resolve a dispute on Twitter. You can’t do it on Dr. Phil either. Period. Both parties lose their diplomatic edge if they engage. This is because the business models of these two media platforms are largely built on amplifying differences of opinion and riling people up towards choosing a side, not on conflict resolution. These platforms  are focused on generating engagement and views so that they can keep eyeballs glued to their content and sell more advertising, not on legitimate conflict resolution. It turns out that stoking outrage tends to generate more engagement than solving problems.

For social media, technologist and philosopher Jaron Lanier does a great job of deconstructing this phenomenon in his book “Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” For mainstream media, the old adage “If It Bleeds, It Leads” describes this bias. 

Rather than ad hominem attacks and fanning outrage on social media and in the press, a more productive approach to legitimate conflict reconciliation could involve a private “unconference” – a participant-driven meeting in which stakeholders from various key organizations determine the discussion topics together. 

No public discourse, just an open invite to meet and talk face to face. Social media isolates, amplifies and exacerbates problems far more than it helps deliver legitimate solutions to them. Just get in the same room and talk. That’s what diplomatic efforts are built around. You don’t have to reconcile worldviews and solve your problems with each other overnight, but you have to begin establishing a rapport if you’re actually committed to conflict resolution. 

In-person diplomacy is ideal, but given the potential logistical difficulties, a virtual meeting could also work. 

The next step would be a public debate moderated by an informed, neutral third-party. This could also be the first step. The art of healthy and constructive debate is completely untenable on social media; so much context and nuance gets lost in the absence of direct engagement. Add the specter of lurkers, trolls, and bots, and it becomes wholly nonviable as a legitimate forum for public debate. Healthy debate is necessary for any community or industry. If we don’t create the conditions suitable for healthy debate, then unhealthy forms of controversy and vitriol will take its place.

As the general political discourse in our world continues to disintegrate and further entrench opposing worldviews, it behooves the individuals and organizations publicly presenting as thought-leaders in the psychedelic space to find a better means of engaging each other. Continuing to resort to conflicts on social media is a net loss for the entire psychedelic movement. 

The irony of all this is that psychedelics are often touted as agents of ego dissolution and universal oneness. Yet the evolution of the psychedelic space continues to be beset by personal squabbles and diplomatic dead ends on its journey from the underground to mainstream society. 

The bottom line is that we need a better forum for communication and mediation between clashing perspectives. What we don’t need is further amplification of personal disagreements, keyboard warrior antics, and PR teams trying to downplay or mitigate legitimate criticisms. We don’t need to ban journalists and critics from industry events, as unfortunately happened last year at the Wonderland conference. We need to give people with divergent and dissenting views a fair shot at a healthy debate in a respectable forum. 

The mainstreaming of psychedelics is akin to the parable of the blind men touching an elephant. One person touching the trunk of the animal is sure they have a better account of the phenomenon than the person holding the tail, and both are wrong according to those touching the sides of the elephant. 

In the end, some of these differences of opinion around psychedelic mainstreaming are zero sum games. Not every worldview can be given equal weight towards shaping the future.  However, there is a possibility for diplomacy, mediation, and some degree of amelioration. If we don’t find a way to establish common ground and effectively mediate between influential parties in the psychedelic space, we’re doing a major disservice to the stakeholders who matter most: the 99% of people outside of the psychedelic “in crowd.”. 

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