Capitalism & psychedelics (via Silicon Valley and Burning Man)


Over the last few days I’ve noticed a story about the substance use patterns of a subset of Silicon Valley employees has been bouncing around the social media universe. Sites such as Rolling Stone have reported on the apparent trend of some tech workers, particularly in and around the San Francisco area, using microdoses of LSD to boost creativity and problem-solving faculties. This is not entirely new – plenty of prominent coders have spoken about their use of acid and its possible of effects on their work. But its use in an everyday work context is a bit more novel.

What is microdosing? It’s the idea – proposed by American writer and psychonaut James Fadiman – that low, sub-perceptual doses of LSD can have tangible medical benefits, such as reducing anxiety levels, increasing rates of productivity and ‘allowing messages to pass through the body more easily’.

Without fully tripping, so the theory goes, the user can get on with her daily life while experiencing a boost in energy levels and cognitive function. It’s a similar approach to that adopted by some extreme sports nuts, who claim that small doses of psychedelics can tweak their performance, making it easier to land a snowboarding trick or scale a cliff-face.

This is in contrast to the ‘heroic dose’ theory proposed by Terence McKenna and others – which states that psychedelics should be used at high doses to effect a break with everyday reality, thus increasing the likelihood of inducing intense, visionary states.

Leaving aside the actual science of microdosing – whether or not it does actually have the effects it is reputed to have – I am fascinated by the wider implications of an acceptance of psychedelics in the tech world. In particular, Is this just the latest absorption of a counter-culture – one that has its roots in shamanic tradition and which is closely linked with the search for alternative ways to look at the the world – into the wiring of modern digital capitalism? And if so, will this have an effect on the types of technology and social forms produced?

The Silicon Valley appropriation of counter-culture extends beyond office spaces and is also taking place at Burning Man, according to Jacobin magazine. The Nevada festival, built ostensibly around principles of participation, horizontality and ‘radical self-expression’ – is increasingly becoming a key networking event for wealthy tech entrepeneurs, lured to the desert as an escapist hang-out to make deals, as well as a platform for exploring what ‘a libertarian oligarchy’ might look like, a world in which participatory democracy is replaced with ‘self-imposed charity’. This suggests a kind of reversal of the ethos of psychedelic culture, with its focus on dissolution of boundaries, hierarchies and borders.

Is any of this signficant? Maybe not – maybe the number of nerds dabbling in psychedelics is too much of a niche concern to be of any wider relevance. At the same time, Silicon Valley is probably one of the most significant regions of the world in terms of the global impact of the type of technology developed there. Does the absorption of acid into the collective digital bloodstream have potentially radical consequences? Will it enhance the participatory and communal potential of the internet and digital communication? Or will heightened states of awareness merely exacerbate pre-existing capitalist modes of producing, creating new hierarchies and and extending the reach of consumerism?

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2 thoughts on “Capitalism & psychedelics (via Silicon Valley and Burning Man)

    • Hey, thanks for your comment. As far as I’m aware, Hofmann and the first generation of psychedelic researchers were more interested in what effect larger doses of LSD had on consciousness. The idea of ‘microdosing’ seems to have become a bit of a buzzword recently – indicating a bit of a shift in the way some people use acid.


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