Interview of Terence McKenna by Gracie & Zarkov

G&Z: Why did you write Food of the Gods?

TM: I felt if I could change the frame of the argument and get drugs insinuated into a scenario of human origins, then I would cast doubt on the whole paradigm of Western Civilization, in the same way that realizing that we came from monkeys did a great deal to re-set the dials in the 19th Century Victorian mind. If you could convince people that drugs were responsible for the emergence of large brain size and language, then you could completely re-cast the argument from: "Drugs are alien, invasive and distorting to human nature" to: "Drugs are natural, ancient and responsible for human nature". So it was consciously propaganda, although I believe all that and I believe it's going to be hard to knock down.

G&Z: Who is your target audience?

TM: The target audience will be the converted first of all, but my hope is that the engines of public relations and publicity will move it much more into the mainstream. The 18-25 year old group that is drug-friendly but has no rationale except that it's a good time. This book is what I want every co-ed next Fall to be carrying to Anthro 101 to beard the professor with.

You've heard me talk about meme wars, and how, if we could have a level playing field, these ideas would do very well. The theory I'm putting forth — to disprove it you would have to get your feet wet and get stoned. Anybody who doesn't want to do that should rule themselves off the case. So that presents academic types with a real problem.

G&Z: If you're going to challenge the conclusions you must come to grips with the empirical facts of being high.

TM: That's right. It's not a metaphysical argument, or an emotional plea; it's an argument on their own terms. Can they do better? What was happening?

I think we should look at the impact of diet and realize that what you eat changes the parameters of the environment that is selecting you. I found no discussion of the impact of diet on human evolution, and yet at the very moment that the great [primate] evolutionary leaps were being made, there was a transformation of the diet towards omnivorousness-meat-eating, predation — away from the fructarian original state.

I'm not saying that civilization fucked up what was otherwise a naturally-occurring politically correct situation. There was a period when, because of the presence of psilocybin in the diet, the natural tendency to male dominance hierarchies was interrupted. It was in that moment that community values, altruism, language, long-term planning, awareness of cause and effect, all the things that distinguish us were established. Then, as the mushroom became less available due to climatological factors, after 15,000 years of this human-mushroom quasi-symbiosis, the old dominance hierarchy hard-wiring re-asserted itself in the ancient Middle East with the invention of agriculture, the need to become sedentary in order to carry out agriculture, the need to defend surplus, the establishment of kingship. These are a re-assertion of an older pattern that had been interrupted by a factor in the diet which basically made people mellow.

G&Z: Did that interruption occur throughout the entire human genome, or are there areas which would have been outside the mushroom Garden?

TM: People have been migrating out of Africa during each interglacial. I think the mushroom was having an effect in Africa over the last three million years, but what really kicked the process into high gear was that during the last interglacial, true pastoralism evolved. All previous migrations out of Africa were the migrations of hunter/gatherers. The migration that began at the melting of the last glaciation about 18,000 years ago, were the first herders out of Africa. It's the cattle/human /mushroom triad that reinforces the partnership, non-dominant, orgiastic style.

I talk in the book about how apparently at a certain point in the evolution of human cognition, cause removed from effect became something that people noticed. At the very moment that men were realizing that the consequences of sex were children 9 months later, women were realizing that the consequences of tossing trash onto middens was food availability in those very spots 12 months later. This ability to correlate a cause with a delayed effect indicates a certain level of neurological processing that sets the stage for the suppression of orgy. Because the suppression of orgy is linked to a concern for male paternity. Before you know that sex leads to children, all children are the tribe's children. Women know who their children are, but for men, children are group resources. Once you put the male paternity thing together, the notion of ownership soon follows. The idea is that psilocybin is an egolytic compound, that orgies every new and full moon, everybody screwing in a heap, makes it impossible to form these notions of my women, my children, my weapons, my food, and so forth.


The remainder of this article is available on the CD-ROM.

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