Wade Davis interview at Mind Hacks

 2008 Apr 27-From-Haitian-Zombie-Poison-To-Inuit-Knives Ecuador

Gryphon Productions image

Mind Hacks has conducted a two-part interview with Professor Wade Davis. We've posted many times about Davis, a pioneering anthropologist, ethnobotanist, and author who studies the world's cultural diversity, what he calls the Ethnosphere, and the use of psychedelic drugs in ritual and daily life. Davis has written many amazing books about the dangers faced by disappearing cultures, both to the people whose vibrant cultures are getting wiped out, and to us. His latest book is The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, based on his CBC Massey Lectures last year, but he is perhaps best known for The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985), an incredible report on Haitian voodoo and zombies. From Mind Hacks:

Davis: For whatever reason, people in the West define drugs by culturally routed moral and legalistic opinion and therefore the drugs we habitually use we dismiss with euphemisms. So we don't use caffeine we have a 'coffee break', or we'll have a 'cocktail party' or a 'quick smoke'. The irony is, is that the drugs we do choose to use, by chance turn out to be pharmacologically some of the most powerful and arguably some of the dangerous. Obviously, tobacco being the first to come to mind.

What you see in indigenous cultures by contrast, and lots of people have written about this, is that they seem to recognise that the desire to periodically change consciousness is an acceptable desire and the ethnographic record says it's so ubiquitous in the human record that you have to see it as a basic human appetite. But they also recognise that the pure effects of these substances can be profoundly disquieting and so they insulate that possibility in a protective cloak of ritual.

Of course, they use their drugs in natural forms – again, I'm not speaking with hippy ethnography – but it's just a more benign way of taking any drug. And that doesn't mean that they only use these drugs for 'culturally useful purposes' – that was a sort of wonderful puritanical rap laid on us by anthropologists in the 70s who wanted to say it was OK for Indians to take drugs but not us because they don't really have fun when they use drugs. That's just not true. The Yanomami love getting high – that's what they do all day long.

Interview with Wade Davis: Part I – altered states (Thanks, Maggie!)

Interview with Wade Davis: Part II – culture clashes