John Robison’s TMS memoir, Switched On, is really good. I’d previously posted about him before reading the book. In it, he mentions a video of him in a tractor on YouTube, as a pre-TMS baseline.
His voice is noticeably more expressive, etc.
The book is a description of what it’s like to have an enlightenment experience and successfully integrate it into your life. It’s notable that I compared his experience to TMS to the psychedelic experience, not knowing that he does the same thing in the book. He ate ‘shrooms in the 1970s. He discounts the possibility, but I think it’s probably why he reacted more dramatically than other people in the study. I have evidence for this.
A large body of evidence, including longitudinal analyses of personality change, suggests that core personality traits are predominantly stable after age 30. To our knowledge, no study has demonstrated changes in personality in healthy adults after an experimentally manipulated discrete event. Intriguingly, double-blind controlled studies have shown that the classic hallucinogen psilocybin occasions personally and spiritually significant mystical experiences that predict long-term changes in behaviors, attitudes and values. In the present report we assessed the effect of psilocybin on changes in the five broad domains of personality – Neuroticism, Extroversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. Consistent with participant claims of hallucinogen-occasioned increases in aesthetic appreciation, imagination, and creativity, we found significant increases in Openness following a high-dose psilocybin session. In participants who had mystical experiences during their psilocybin session, Openness remained significantly higher than baseline more than 1 year after the session. The findings suggest a specific role for psilocybin and mystical-type experiences in adult personality change.
I’d say that I’ve experienced something similar to what Robison did, but from a variety of influences over a longer period of time. It’s really the same path of development prescribed in Buddhism, Taoism, or psychotherapy.
The big difference between my grandfather and my father’s masculinity is generational. As a young man, my dad didn’t understand or respect the way my grandfather dealt with white people with his cool demeanor. My dad came of age during the birth of the black power movement, and yearned to be different. His idols were men like Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, and Stokely Carmichael. Their brand of manliness was defiant and swaggering: peeping out the window with rifle in hand, perched on rattan chair toting a firearm and a spear, or raising a black fist mightily through the air.
While some of these leaders had more progressive views on masculinity for their time—Newton saw the LGBTQ community as comrades in the struggle, for example—much of their legacy has been watered down to one-dimensional rage and macho posturing today. Instead of their vital critiques of American capitalism, radicals from the 60s and 70s are often defined by their guns and Afros and sleek outfits. Like many young black men searching for an identity, I bought a leather jacket and a beret before I ever critically read the works of Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon. Instead of complex men with compelling ideas, bygone leaders like the Panthers are often flattened into leftist bros who fit a familiar, and quintessentially American archetype that is all about force and individualism, like the cowboys of the Wild West.
But when the struggle for racial equality is framed as a pursuit for domination and a thirst for violence—the foundation on which inequality in this nation was built—it undermines the revolutionary mission and reinforces the status quo. To achieve change that breaks down the patriarchal power structure, we don’t have to just end race-based oppression, we also have to kill our tired notions of manhood.
As men of color, we can’t allow ourselves to be defined only by our rage against the system and our craving for raw might. We must give ourselves space to feel and express a range of emotions. Left unaddressed, the internal angst we harbor can be almost as destructive to us as the external oppression we face off against.
I’m still working my way through that maze of machismo, but instead of wallowing, I’m discovering a path out. In my early 20s, my go-to solution was to drink, numbing myself, silencing the feelings I didn’t want to feel or acknowledge. Lately, I’ve been taking a different approach: allowing myself the room for expression to escape the stifling aura bestowed upon me and actually figure out who I want to be.
One of the most important steps I’ve taken on this journey came during a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC…
I felt this wave of feeling rise inside of me that I couldn’t deny or ignore. I thought about the fact that my father and grandfather had faced some of the same violent American traditions that took Till’s life. And that despite all the marches and legislation and (sometimes historic) elections since, the threat was there for Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. And it has been there for me as well—in every traffic stop, in the face of all the epithets, and in the psychic pain I carry everywhere I go. And there’s little doubt that it will be there for my son one day, too, should I have one. The burden of blackness will be his birthright as an American man.
As I approached Till’s casket, these facts elicited an unfamiliar reaction. It wasn’t defined by anger, and I didn’t try to suppress it. I felt sorrow for all the suffering, fear for the pain yet to come to my brothers, and a deep sense of powerlessness at the weighty inevitability of it all. And so, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I cried.
I cried in front of old gray-haired black men in their HBCU T-shirts and young brothers in Jordans. I cried in front of moms in their updos and little girls in braids and berets. It was an ugly cry, with my head hung over, my mouth gaping and upturned, my eyes clamped tight. The tears welled up at the corners of my eyelids, then streaked around my cheekbones and clumped together in the coarse hairs of my beard.
I cried for all the times I had never cried. I cried for all the men who’ve died in the struggle, and all the men who told me that I should never cry. I cried until I didn’t have any more tears—until I had run completely dry. Maybe most surprising: When I was done, I didn’t feel embarrassment or shame.
There was something purifying about laying my burden down like that, if only for a brief moment. Thanks to the strong black men in my life, I’ve always had the will to fight. But at the foot of that coffin in that hallowed space, I found the strength to cry. It’s a power I will never give away again.
I’m reminded of the Samuel Johnson quote at the beginning of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” Because empathy hurts when you’re doing it right, who wants to empathize with torture victims?
Being macho and being a man are opposite things, because being macho is based on fleeing from pain. Inflicting pain on others can’t overcome that fact.
Emotions helpfully inform decisionmaking. How can self-alienation be in one’s own best interest?
Interestingly, an effect of the TMS for Robison was that he started picking up on it when customers were rude to him and started telling them to fuck off. Also, he was better at loving people.
Getting over emotional retardation is actually the only way to even really see what the problems are in the first place. Both in terms of the fucked up things taking place and the reasons they happen.