Tripping and Politics

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“Unlock Vienna’s intellect with capsules from Sigmund Freud’s personal safe” is stated in this short clip by the Vienna tourist office.

They promote “A Trip to Vienna” with their new product: a set of micro-dosed capsules. Each of the six pills contains a different ingredient suggesting a variation of effects associated with Vienna. These presumably encapsulate air from a safe in Berggasse 19 and by swallowing them, you should “tune into Freud”.  You can also drop iron chips of the Riesenrad (the “giant ferris wheel” in the Prater) in order to “elevate your senses” and “embrace the imperial power and grace of Lippizaner stallions distilled for your enjoyment”, the latter contain elite horse’s sweat. In this way, a trip to the Austrian capital becomes both more hallucinatory – as you could turn on Vienna from anywhere around the globe – and more real, since you are actually ingesting physical parts of the city. The tourist office is proud to announce they have made Vienna digestible. Sure, it’s fun and we can laugh it off – it is not even clear from the website if the set of pills is up for sale or if it is a mere joke – but let’s take a closer look at the kind of ideology that drips off this ad in macro doses.

Tripping Truth

Ingesting psychoactive plants and chemicals can give human beings a possibility to break free of their usual perceptive and cognitive environments. The reverberations of these transgressive experiences can be subjective truths with personal meaning. Just as travelling to other countries and interacting with people of foreign cultures can be a challenging experience for one’s own world views, tripping can cause one to stumble and perhaps even fall. In capitalist societies, the search for a substantial experience turns us to substances that promise pre-determined, often grandiose results. The weight of the subjective fades and all we are left with is tautology with market value: when we take tripping out of the trip and instead consume a substance that is supposed to interfere in a specific way with your nervous system in order to create a pre-formulated effect. This is what you pay for. It’s like travelling to a country and just ticking off the list of sites your travel guide dictated, and then putting up the pics on social media so that the others see you “did that city”. “Sharing” and “liking” may be a modern way to keep the Borromean knot in place, but this has a huge price: the subjective truth that can emerge from tripping is replaced by something that is supposed to correspond to the circularly reinforced image, the singular experience in itself loses relevancy.

Filling the Lack

Tripping and falling means there is an obstacle you did not account for, or a hole in the whole thing. This leads to questions: what is it the Other wants from me? Che vuoi? What is the symbolic order of this culture about? How does it relate to history? How absurd and funny and also disturbing it can be to get lost in translation, to realise: there is no Other of the Other, no guarantee of the symbolic order we operate in. Instead of getting involved personally, we try to fulfil an idea of vacations, embrace the Other’s imperative to enjoy and prove this to others who will want to follow accordingly. So we feed others with imaginary content (fetishes) to mask the lack and this enjoyment kills desire. If this is not the disavowal of the perverse structure at work in capitalism, what is? 

It screams regression too: you are prompted to disregard the difference between yourself and the product of an artist’s work. you become identical with what you ingest. Instead of an enigma of meaning that can touch you though art metaphorically and can unleash desire, you trust a substance derived from the physical object to convey to you the quality of the object. Thereby, the subject is expelled.

Becoming It

“Enjoy microscopic fragments of an original Klimt” and “melt into this masterpiece of Viennese Modernism before seeing it for yourself”. This formulation suggests that by eating homeopathic concentrations of paint that is over a hundred years old, you can experience the art for the Other mediated directly through your body’s biochemical laws, maybe even without yourself. It screams regression too: you are prompted to disregard the difference between yourself and the product of an artist’s work. you become identical with what you ingest. Instead of an enigma of meaning that can touch you though art metaphorically and can unleash desire, you trust a substance derived from the physical object to convey to you the quality of the object. Thereby, the subject is expelled. A pars pro toto simulating holy communion, but ripped of the metaphor, The Last Supper is just cannibalism. It is deeply disturbing because nothing seems reliable anymore, if the actual substance in your actual body is not at work. Can we trust the symbolic order in our societies? The unconscious opening is stuffed with adhesion to images, with identity politics, instead of having a barred subject with a driving force of unconscious desire. If the artist is their work, what we see is what they are, the imaginary sticks too close to the symbolic and there is no space inbetween for questions of the subject. If there is no difference, the only thing left is to spit it out, expel it. Thus, we install cancel culture. Representing ideals is called hypocritical, thus we have politicians like Donald Trump as caricatures of cringe that can only speak up for something of substance: their own enjoyment and money – the motors of capitalist ideology which are much worse than working on perhaps impossible ideals.

Short-cutting the Analytic Discourse: From Suggestion to Ingestion

“Inspiring, enlightening, majestic” – this is the image by which Vienna is trying hook tourists, now in the form of pills. The aspect of suggestion as selling point is interesting, of course. Placebo, hypnosis, homeopathy are based on suggestion and prove the great effect that our unconscious wishes can have on reality. Therefore, these pills that probably do not contain any psychoactive chemical but sugar, might just make an inspiring, enlightening and majestic experience after all, only by putting an unconscious wish to work through suggestion. No harm would be done, just a little surplus fun by taking one of these cutely designed pills. Freud himself knew the power of suggestion but he moved away from the technique of hypnosis soon because he figured there is not just one truth to tell, there is not just one repressed reason to unravel in order to achieve healing. To put the constraints and aims of psychoanalysis more accurately: reinstallation of desire and a change in the administration of jouissance, making the subject regain the capacity to love and work is a real trip – you do not know where it leads. There is not just one right path to decrease suffering from a symptom, and no body can guarantee healing, the human mind is just too vast, but some sort of healing usually is a side effect of psychoanalysis. The patient will have to do the work, will have to listen to his or her symptom as an enigma, confront the Other of their culture and their personal history, and eventually restructure their world based on their own judgement elaborated in the process of analysis. Yes, this is an oral process too, just like dropping the pill, but mediated though language and the body – there is space for the questions of the subject. It takes conviction not to impose one’s own version of the truth, be the know-it-all Übervater, and to let the patient plunge into his or her unconscious with only a parachute of words and the web of their associations, as well as a relationship based on transference. This is very different to claiming to be a master and having the solution, as most medications or other forms of therapy do. The position of the analyst must be the subject supposed to know, and not the Other. 

Substances and Politics

At this point, I want to state my doubts about the structure of the psychedelic renaissance in relation to psychoanalysis. When psychoanalysts stop believing that dreams are enough and turn to substances that should induce the therapeutic work, we are committing a serious break with our theory and we need to have conversations about that. Of course, psychoanalysts as mental health professionals are not outside the medical field, where medication as a part of treatment is not uncommon. But having your psychoanalyst inject you with Ketamine, or giving you MDMA in order to help you heal from your PTSD, technically is not psychoanalysis any more! It is medicine in a capitalist discourse, perhaps even direct administration of jouissance by “a guide” who knows what is right. This treatment aims to be faster, cost-effective, consumable, reliable, reproducible – thus we enter politics.

I hear Rick Doblin’s justification: “building bridges instead of burning them” concerning donations from questionable sources. For example, Doblin’s organisation MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies) accepted money from Peter Thiel in 2018, who also made substantial donations for Trump. Money is money, right? And if used for a good cause, it will maybe even create some kind of connection between the interests of left and right wingers? In my opinion, either Doblin has surfed the love and peace-and-unity, MDMA wave for too long, or he is a real business man. To make the war traumas “go away”, so the veterans do not cost as much and the next war will be even cheaper to handle is something that can be sold to any politician, even if it involves “unorthodox”, historically leftist, measures like Hippy drugs. But here is the rub: MDMA is not really a psychedelic. Also, let’s remember that microdosing was popularised in Silicon Valley with the aim to chemically unleash creativity and thus increase productivity and sales. This seems to resonate with the ever-growing promises of medicalising the psychedelic trip to achieve “healing”, even though MAPS generally does recommend macro doses. We usually do not call an alcohol or cocaine intoxication “a trip”, technically, neither microdosing nor rolling on molly is. These substances or these concentrations are applied for certain indications to achieve a specific effect, tripping is not the aim, but staying in control by controlled disinhibition. The “psychedelic therapists” will always be there to reassure you, as if they were the Other of the substance. There is a disavowal yet again: to take a psycholitic substance but control the effects, maybe even to come down later and forget about that altered state. Psychoanalytically, it is argued that these substances remove resistances faster, but can we really argue for that? We directly mess with the body and therefore the drive by introducing substances in therapy. The discomfort in society is not the result of a symbolic super-ego imposing moral prohibitions but of a chemical controler that is supposed to keep your body and mind in place. It’s a brave new world! Introducing the real psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin into psychiatry via the Trojan horse MDMA and the politically promising issue of treating “war neuroses” / PTSD will just put them in the same capitalist discourse and make them lose their psyche-revealing effects, I think. A substance is nothing by itself, outside of the discourse.

Maybe we should start by integrating stigmatized people, like immigrants, instead of stigmatized substances. Maybe we should think harder, much harder, about wars and their driving forces instead of teaching veterans to deal with the consequences. Of course, I don’t want anyone to have to pay with their personal suffering for a political decision their governments made and there is no doubt at all that these substances have helped many people with their problems. Climate politics tend to do the same: putting the responsibility on the citizen instead of venturing on a systemic change.
I do admire the stamina Doblin has shown and the work he has put in since the 80s for this huge historical moment of soon legalizing MDMA for medicinal purposes and for substantially pushing psychedelics into public discourse, but beware of any Robin Hoodian analogies – this is business. MAPS is not claiming to do anything psychoanalytical, they train all licensed therapists willing to pay. I want to mark here that we have moved far beyond the psychoanalytic discourse. 

Daddy Issues Resurrect God

The downfall of the place of the father was already palpable in Freud’s time – otherwise he would not have been able to pick up on it. He listened to the mental health phenomena of his time: first and foremost hysteria. I have always wondered why the reception of Freud is thus loaded with prejudgement and fantasy – often plain lies. Most especially, the dialectical way Freud developed his ideas – never really claiming general truths, but proposing models to explore unknown territory – seems to get lost in the reception. Nowadays, he is portrayed as some drug-taking, incestuous, hypocritical, sex-obsesseed sect leader (see Matt Brown’s 2023 movie). Is it still antisemitism or the prudery of society? Is it just a common defence mechanism against the unconscious? It is more than obvious that psychoanalysis shaped our current society in many ways. Isn’t it disavowal to rave against Freud as the “sex doctor” who got it all wrong, and at the same time having the internet reveal that “milf” and all kinds of polymorph perversities are the stock of porn sites and having surreptitious advertising as a basic marketing strategy? 

I come to think that attacking a father figure today represents the repercussion for the fact that daddy is alack and expresses the anger that there is no Other of the Other, there is no guarantee. Maybe it is the rat tail of “the death of God”, and maybe the pandemic aggravated the troubled position of the father, because we should believe in science now. The Coronavirus made us realize that scientists do not always agree with each other, and that the state, representing the Other, made mistakes, could be at fault, could not know it all. The reaction for many citizens around the world were conspiracy theories that provide an Other without lack, a system that explains it all. The corresponding clinical phenomenon here would be paranoia, psychosis. The internet has become the Other without constraints, without lack and without rules, but lot of objects of jouissance ready for your consumption. And it operates with concrete language (although AI is getting better, their puns and capacity to understand slang are still very disappointing – fortunately!). 

Science used to occupy a hysterical position in societies: it was applied to find the lack in God (or in the established power of the Church/feudal regimes), and it was always driven by questions. It is quite interesting that the current publications of the psychedelic renaissance are not only concerned with psychiatric, pharmacological, psychotherapeutic research, but mystical and spiritual phenomena figure largely. Just as paintings of God as an old man became popular in the Renaissance, we seem to have come back to religion as explanation for subjective experiences science cannot account for. Freud’s Oceanic feeling was a longing for the father. Lacan’s “if God is dead, everything is allowed” comes to mind. Instead of facing the lack, we go for disavowal: “We do not believe in God, yet…”

Toxic Symptoms

Will a medically administered psychedelic, when the policy determines and restricts its use, still be able to invoke tripping? Is not the result already dictated by the Other of the medication information leaflets? Antidepressants, stimulants, tranquillizers, weight loss pills – these are other substances administered based on statistically elaborated clinical trials. If medication does not work on a patient, but on all the others, they will likely come to the conclusion that something is wrong with them. At least, this is what I encounter in the clinic. Here we face the symptoms of the capitalist discourse in our mental health phenomena: either your body becomes an instrument for the Other’s enjoyment, as in perversion, or your body becomes the shit-hole of Hamletian depression without desire, or you become the Other’s object of jouissance per se, and the persecutory Other of psychosis. You have enjoyed it, it’s not worth it to cathex more libido into it, as the next object of jouissance is just around the corner. “Toxic relationships” declinate the temptation of being an ideal object that will be consumed and discarded instead of a speaking subject that lacks. This is the capitalist ideology that kills desire, rejects the subjective and leaves the death drive of jouissance in charge. Your subjectivity dies at this point and is replaced by objective knowledge imposed by the Other. Identification with a diagnosis is en vogue, it closes down all the questions of the subject with an answer about their identity. It is no coincidence that the identification with the lost object, which is the structure of the melancholic, also prevails as depression in our society: identification with the lost/discarded object as an unconscious strategy to keep it. ADHD is another way of disavowing the lack by compensation and displacement, anxiety is about avoiding the lack in the Other, and needless to say that eating disorders and addictions are all about objects of jouissance. 

“Die Stimme der Vernunft ist leise”

Yay! the tourist office has made the variety of our city digestible, therefore disposable through their new product. I wish the tourist office had ventured to change the unwalkable streets of the Innenstadt, remove the repetitive multinational shops that you find in every European city alike instead of producing pills of tartaric acid to “experience Vienna’s spirit” in a hallucinatory or suggestive way. The promised originality is a hoax as capitalism feeds on our societies and disrupts the social bonds and metaphors producing for desire. Can you risk getting lost and exiting the frame in order to put your unconscious to work and tripping over a truth? What a Gucci-Starbucks-horror trip Eurpoean city centres have become.

“Die Stimme der Vernunft ist leise” is a quote of Freud inscribed somewhere in Vienna. It has been falsely translated with “the voice of intellect is quiet”. To tune into Freud’s intellect would be to miss the point entirely. We are all over consciousness techniques, it’s loud and colourful. The quote reminds me that rational reason (or intellect) is not a driving force of human beings, it points towards the great power the unconscious can have over our actions. The ego is not master, although we would like to believe it in our age of narcissim. We deal with the unconscious’s destructive forces by repression, disavowal, rejection – usually mechanisms that make social life possible and on top, produce culture. Psychoanalysis deals with the symptoms of a subject, but they are always marked by its society. Therefore it is the objective of psychoanalysis to turn an ear towards what is not being seen. This has never been mainstream. It is okay to be the quiet voice but we need to vocalise our concerns and keep the unconscious producing.