Ecstasy, Y2K and Camille Paglia

Readers respond to recent People stories.

Published February 14, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

Read "The disunited states of ecstasy" by Janelle Brown.

Your article on the ecstasy conference was interesting and perceptive, but unfortunately contained a remarkably inaccurate comment about "MAPS, the famed Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which does unauthorized nonprofit research into drugs without the DEA's blessing." As the founder and president of MAPS, I know that statement is fundamentally opposite to what MAPS is really all about. The author makes it clear that she missed the talk I gave in which I discussed MAPS's $4 million, five-year plan to develop the therapeutic potential of MDMA through FDA- and DEA-approved research.

The front page of the MAPS Web site says,

"The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is a membership-based non-profit research and educational organization. We assist scientists to design, fund, obtain approval for and report on studies into the healing and spiritual potentials of MDMA, psychedelic drugs and marijuana.

MAPS' goal is to use the data generated from scientific research to develop these drugs into prescription medicines."

MAPS seeks to obtain permission for authorized research from FDA, DEA and institutional review boards, and has succeeded on a number of occasions.

I recently earned a Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, with my dissertation on the regulation of the medical use of psychedelics and marijuana. I've invested much of my life in learning how to work for change and research within the current regulatory system. That's because I believe that there's more overall social change potential in legal research.

-- Rick Doblin, founder and president, MAPS

Read "Bunker fever" by Katharine Mieszkowski.

I really enjoyed your article. As a psychiatrist who sees this kind of paranoia every day in the form of what we call delusional (paranoid) disorder, I have found that the best way to conceptualize the problem is to think of paranoia as an enhancement or distortion of our normal, human ability -- which so far cannot be mimicked by machine "intelligence" -- to discern patterns in our environment. When a person is paranoid, he or she sees a pattern that, by general agreement, is not really there. Perhaps scientific and mathematical geniuses have an ability to see patterns that everyone else misses, but can then be persuaded do exist. But the Y2K and "alien" paranoias are clearly about patterns that are delusional. It is interesting to me how, in my clinical cases of paranoia of this kind, the sufferer functions mentally in all other respects, in most cases, entirely normally, in contrast to, say, schizophrenia, where there may be paranoia but there is also a general breakdown in the mind's integration and functioning.

-- Jamie Woolery

I thank Salon for this article on what's left of Y2K believers, since I've been curious about it. The paranoia angle, though, seems to just skim the surface. These people have developed a new belief system, based on a mesh of technology and millenarianism. There certainly was a large and well-publicized millenarianist Christian segment to the Y2K doomsayers, people who were obviously hoping for the rapture, and those included in this article are keeping that same faith. They may not call themselves Christians, but the yearning for a disaster, especially one that will leave them even more affirmed in their superstitious beliefs, is palpable. Unfortunately for them, any Y2K-based "disaster" would merely, at worst, plant us back to the era of 1950 or so. Things seemed to work pretty well then.

-- George Grella

Great article -- only one paragraph makes me think you might have missed your own point.

"The hardcore Y2K doomers -- the ones who fled to caves -- were like biblical prophets predicting a calamitous future. But the Y2K faithful, the people still paranoid about Y2K, are seers from a different paradigm. Like the philosopher of Plato's Cave, who realizes that we're all living among shadows that the rest of us can't recognize, they see the truth. It's an insight that sets them apart from the corruption, decline and ignorance of the society around them. They are a knowing elite, an enlightened few." The point here may be that it's the same paradigm -- it only appears different to those with the delusion. There is no difference between the New Age drivel and the "political" (for lack of a better term) drivel -- it's all drivel. I keep myself on a couple of e-mail lists where I get all the New Age promotional stuff and see the same kind of thing. It's based, as you say, on their thinking they know something everyone else doesn't know. These people have a form of mental illness where anything that doesn't fit into their view of the universe -- no matter how warped it has become, whether through some magical spiritual programming or a Y2K seminar -- is a conspiracy of either ethereal or corporate entities to hide "the truth." And for only $99.95 they will let you in on the secret so that Mommy can kiss it and make it better. It's easy to find marks -- there are an awful lot of us boomers who continue to play a cruel joke on our parents by never growing up. It's just the same old con job -- only the packaging changes.

-- Andy Parx

Read "Crying wolf" by Camille Paglia.

I'm bemused by your failure to recognize the unbelievable shallow and mendacious style of John Ashcroft. The man is a truly revolting liar without any shame for the depths of his deceit. His Missouri campaign ads set a new all-time low! He will disappoint us all bitterly during his term.

-- Gary Strus

I was booing Bush [at the Inauguration Day parade], and I am not a "Democratic operative." I was there at Freedom Plaza, where the largest group of protesters along Pennsylvania Avenue ended up before the illegitimately selected ones finally got the gumption to trot by us as fast as a Secret Service agent can run in dress shoes while the TV coverage cut to commercials.

I am with the Green Party. I rode with a group of Greens and other activists on a bus chartered from Richmond, Va. I did not wear any Green or Nader buttons at the Inauguration because I didn't want to send mixed signals, though a lot of the protesters did wear their Nader buttons.

The successful protest rally at Freedom Plaza was mainly possible due to the efforts of the International Action Center, a socialist organization. About a thousand people marching from the Voter March rally in Dupont Circle ended up mixed in with us Greens, Socialists, Anarchists and other sundry activists by the time the chicken-hawk pretenders finally gave the USMC a chance to stop guarding the portable toilets and salute.

Despite such a volatile mix of radicals, Republicans, Marines and Girl Scouts under extreme weather conditions, the scene was still remarkably orderly as the protesters did their best to quite deliberately try to ruin the parade for Bush's misguided and outnumbered supporters in their soggy mink coats.

What the Supreme Court did in its Bush vs. Gore decision is tantamount to sedition. The protesters with their "tacky" but authentic homemade signs may have included some Democratic operatives, but they were all patriots fighting for real democracy on a day that was already spoiled for the nation by the Supreme Court's historically dishonorable actions.

-- Mark Newton, Richmond, Va.

I have similar views regarding the Democratic Party. However, regarding John Ashcroft and the Confederacy, I disagree with you. Conservative Southern politicians seem to want it both ways: They wrap themselves in the American flag one moment, calling themselves true patriots (and by implication, Northern liberals are not), and then the next defend (even glorify) people and symbols from the old Confederacy.

How can you be both? How can you believe in the American Republic yet glorify those who sought to destroy it? It is a legitimate issue. It is a question that men like John Ashcroft and Trent Lott should answer. These men seek to lead the nation, not the South. I expect (at the very least) our elected leaders to at least believe in the idea of an indivisible America. Can you lead a nation you do not believe in?

-- Mark Danderson

You are wrong on abortion. We are the same age, and when we grew up, abortion was a thing of the very poor, and of the elite who could pay the bucks. On the one side there were the coat hangers and, in my case, girls who could go off for a while and come back after a semester at school out of state.

These days as well as back then, the Pill is available. I think that I am a case study in the matter of birth control, even though I am male. As a young guy I naturally always wanted to have sex but respected the consequences. Condoms were better than no sex. If I was selfish, I could have pulled it off in the height of passion, but there was still the problem.

At my age now, most of the women whom I date are past menopause, and they are classy women who like a similar gentleman. I just have feelings for the aborted. There is an old joke about people praying to God that he hasn't given us a cure for cancer, and his answer is, "I keep sending the answer, but you keep killing them before they are born."

I live down the street from two old ladies in their 80s, and they can tell you about birth control. They believed in keeping both of their feet in a syrup bucket until they were married. Suppose you or my daughter were born in China? Those people are fascinating because of their terrible history. It is a holocaust in the millions for female babies each year. Do you support that?

-- Louis Miller

As a conservative who loves to read your columns because of your common sense, I would like to know, briefly, how you can be pro-choice. It is a medical fact that all abortions stop the beating hearts of innocent human beings.

How can you say this is OK and should be sanctioned by the government? And while we're at it, why are most liberals all for protecting baby whales and seals but couldn't give a flip about unborn but still very much alive humans? Just wondering!

-- Mark Cornett, Dallas, Ga.

I thank you for your understanding of both of the "pro-choice" and "pro-life" positions. As a young man in the '60s, I was an abortion supporter and couldn't understand why everyone wasn't. Now, as an older man in his 60s, I have changed my view. I believe that life begins at conception and there should be no choice other than to protect that life (with the exception of saving the life of the mother).

Yet I understand the old saw, "Everyone's anti-abortion until they need one." It must be very difficult to be a young girl or a poor woman faced with an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy. As a father, I can understand how difficult it must be to see your daughter, with her whole life ahead of her, placed in such a difficult position. The anguish must be horrible.

Is it possible to have it both ways? To be anti-abortion yet to let those who decide to take the life of the unborn do so with impunity? If we do, who is to speak for the babies who are innocent and haven't even begun their lives?

I must believe that there is an answer. If an answer comes, I'm sure it will not be through abortion-clinic violence or the horrible one-issue political activism of the radical feminists. The answer, in my view, will be through science. I hope that a time will come when abortion on demand changes to birth on demand.

-- William J. Schultz

Your observations of the current state of the humanities departments of the modern university reflect my own experiences so perfectly that I felt the need to tell you, "Bravo and keep up the clamor."

I really don't see how the modern university can hope to survive the next 20 to 40 years without becoming a very expensive technical/business school. If it weren't for their massive and ever-expanding general-education requirements, most schools of humanities would wither to a few wizened old professors shoved into tiny, dusty offices with little more to do than train a yearly and dwindling crop of disciples and eccentric budding scholars.

I do have to disagree with you on one point. You seem to ascribe the decline of the humanities to elitism and fatuous adherence to outdated socialist ideals among the faculty. Although these do alienate those attracted to the humanities in the first place, they don't really affect those who decide before ever opening a college handbook that they want to pursue the quick path to suburban wealth. The real problem lies in the marketability of a degree in the humanities. The education requirements of most white-collar jobs in America are dictated by another sort of elitist snobbery -- the educated urban professional. These are people who insulate themselves and their jobs by inflating the importance and difficulty of their positions by taking ever more advanced and specialized degrees, when such advanced education is not really needed to perform their jobs. Thus, the job that 30 years ago required some college now requires a specialized master's degree, as most companies are unwilling to replace their outgoing master in business administration and international communication with a bachelor in European history.

The revolution to save the American university then needs a double focus. It needs to remove the entrenched demagogues who control the humanities, and it needs to educate corporate America to the fact that college teaches people to learn, and unless you are talking rocket science or genetic engineering, it doesn't really matter what you learned so long as you proved yourself able to learn it.

-- Jeff Crook

I am not surprised at the decline of liberal arts colleges and humanities departments. Were I a college student today, the last thing I would do is major in English or history. (I graduated from a liberal arts college in 1978 with a B.A. in English.) I'd steer clear of the humanities and stick with the hard sciences -- still untainted, I hope, at the university level. The anti-intellectual strain on college campuses is frightening and depressing. When he wrote "The Closing of the American Mind," I couldn't help thinking how prophetic was Alan Bloom's criticism of professors who crush the thirst for knowledge and warp the fragile sensibilities of incoming freshmen. The reduction of art, history, culture and literature to mere vehicles for promoting American Marxist chic is a disgusting spectacle.

On the lighter side: Have you noticed how in some ways Bill Clinton resembles George Wickham in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"? He simpers and smiles and makes love to us all.

Right on with your insight into the diminishing of American pop culture and the elevation of "gangsta vulgarity." Much to our embarrassment, we were hit hard with it during the Super Bowl halftime show. Yuck!

Why is it that the best in black American culture -- spirituals, jazz, R&B, rock 'n' roll -- has been relegated to the sidelines as inner-city crime and prison pop come front and center? And the imitation of all this by liberal-minded white pop stars makes me squirm. This is evidence to me that the current pop scene is starved.

-- Cheryl Hargis, Germantown, Md.

A few comments on James Wolcott. I never paid attention to him until you started writing about him a few years ago. Several months ago, I went to the library and made copies of all his Village Voice writings and many of his other articles (though quite frankly, he has written so much stuff I have not yet found time the to copy all of it).

You are so absolutely correct about him. For instance, that article from 1977 titled "The Cult of the Little Girl," which paired photos of Shirley Temple and Jodie Foster with quotes from the "Satyricon" and lines from underground '70s porn, is just incredible! He puts so much material into that piece, and yet there is nothing weighty or tiring about it at all.

The article "Big Brother Is Trekking You," from Feb. 2, 1976, is another outstanding article. And as someone who was nowhere near the '70s New York punk scene, I am totally grateful to him for his writings on John Cale, Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman and others. Thanks to Napster, I've recently been able to hear all of the music Wolcott writes about in those articles, and if anything stands out it's that Wolcott's assessment of Cale's "Helen of Troy" should be headlined in every magazine ranking the best of rock.

I've also read Wolcott's Vogue articles. Again, magnificent. His essay on Greta Garbo in the December '82 issue reminds me of your meditations on sexual personae. Vogue pulls a particularly delicious quote from the piece: "Nearly all of the sex icons of our time have had this androgynous mystique -- from Kate Hepburn with her tomboyish daring to Mick Jagger with his bitch-queen pout and strut, from Joan Crawford's hard, mannish edge to Elvis Presley's honey-pie curves." I'm also impressed by the article "Hot Stuff ... it begins with languor in the lips," where Wolcott writes about the languid style of early '80s actresses such as Isabelle Adjani, Clio Goldsmith and Blair Brown.

One of the things I like about Wolcott is that his interests spread out into so many areas. He reads important books, enjoys TV, listens to rock, has the eye of a gay aesthete -- and I'm sure he enjoys sports, too.

Again, thank you for drawing my and other readers' attention to Wolcott. It's interesting -- for someone who has had such a long, distinguished career, who writes for one of the most popular magazines [Vanity Fair] and is, according to, one of the highest paid journalists in the world because of it, he is someone who seems to have no fame whatsoever. I hope he appreciates your attempt to change all that!

-- Damion Matthews

How right you are about Gloria Steinem. Her brand of feminism had nothing to do with the formation of bossy, opinionated baby-boomer babes.

I remember when she and her kind dropped onto the counterculture in the late '60s. It was the wet blanket of all time. What had been fun became tedious. Whiny dishrags began dominating political meetings, and women not of their ilk were called "male-identified."

Ms. magazine was (and is) a total bore. Nothing but careerism and chlamydia. And Ms. as appellation is an abomination. I still grit my teeth when forced to use it in business correspondence.

-- Mrs. Carola Solomonoff

Thank you for commenting on the essentially false Lifetime Television profile of Gloria Steinem. More than 15 years ago I read a quote from Gloria Steinem in a magazine profile where she spoke about her personal defense mechanism against weight gain and possible obesity.

Prefacing her thoughts with a statement that she had one or more close relatives who were obese, she said that she kept her weight under control by having in her Manhattan apartment a functioning refrigerator -- with no food whatsoever in it. To me, her most telling comment (as best I am able to remember) ran something like this: I control my weight by never eating anything at home. I know me, and I know my own and my family's reactions to food, and if I kept any food at all in my fridge, I would not be able to stop eating until it was gone, and in no time I'd weigh 300 pounds. So I just don't have any food in my apartment.

I was surprised then, and still am, at her remark. I am 51 and grew up in Atlanta, so underlying fear and mistrust of any of the pleasures of life are familiar cultural touchstones to me. However, if for food one substitutes "whisky," she speaks in the absolutes of a religious abstainer, or one for whom temptation is such a distraction that they do in fact pluck their eyes out rather than be cast into the fire.

-- Scott Tomlinson

By Salon Staff

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