Abstract: a brief history of hacker and psychedelic subcultures from the 1950s onward, with a focus on chronological parallels and commonalities between the two. As I illuminate the various characteristics these cultures share, I note that one point of overlap in particular may be spiritually instructive for those seeking meaning in the wake of difficult current events. Stated summarily, this is their demonstrated capacity to self-mythologize and to create new, shareable contextual frameworks for those who identify and partake in the cultural rites of both. The ways in which psychedelic and hacking cultures have managed to “normalize” and catalyze meaningful dialogue around the explorations of the mind, digital networks and personal freedom for which both are a social nexus are remarkably similar, just like some of their more mundane shared features.
Both the modern use of certain consciousness-altering chemicals and the digital practices that go by the name “hacking” continue to be misunderstood and perfunctorily marginalized; in light of this, I have found it personally meaningful as a writer and researcher to examine the two together in order to foster greater awareness of both.
It’s well known that Steve Jobs experimented with LSD, that there’s a strong tech presence at Burning Man, and that both psychedelic/entheogen use and “hacking” — in all its manifold definitions — exist in cultural and ethical grey areas. The ability of these two cultures and practices to grow in size and recognition despite their respective public-image issues is the ability for both to generate and enfold others in a particular style of community narrative, one that is not (despite certain views) antisocial or contrarian, but that sets up its own distinct rules and vision based on values such as freedom, sharing, exploration and transcendence. The manner in which both perpetuate and expand their own healing and meaning-making mythos offers a lesson to culture at large in the wake of extraordinarily difficult circumstances (such as climate change and global economic devastation) about how to make sense and connect with one another when in the wake of such extraordinary times. From these cultures we can learn how to constructively and communally acknowledge and normalize experiences that might otherwise isolate and traumatize, without whitewashing them or giving them an ultimately unhelpful media gloss.
(That’s the abstract).
And more writing on this:
Psychedelic and hacker subcultures have a lot in common, but among their manifold areas of overlap, one shared feature is uniquely instructive: both use self-generated mythos to make meaning and “normalize” phenomena that would otherwise fail to fit into a normal societal framework. As we enter a period of self-acknowledged global crisis brought on by factors of economic devastation and climate change, what can we learn from these counter-cultures about making sense of extraordinary circumstances?
Between their inception in government offices and laboratories across the United States (and beyond) and the time in which both were cast to the margins by law, hacking activities and modern psychedelic use birthed communities and counter-cultures that changed the world. Though battling serious image crises (for which figureheads within their respective communities are at least partially to blame), they continue to unite individuals across the world. These are people for whom activities and identities as hackers, “psychedelic people” and merrily unclassifiable weirdos are as indispensable to their day-to-day existence as more well-mannered artefacts of contemporary civil society.
The histories of each have been exhaustively researched and written about, but less has been said about their similarities, and still less about their more profound and nuanced shared features. I believe that the underpinnings that have distinguished hacking and psychedelic use as not merely activities but constitutive of legitimate cultures unto themselves can guide the “mainstream” about how to lead purpose-oriented and uplifting lives.
I’ll post more as this develops.