Organizing the Panic | An Interview with Dr. Ray Peat
Vision and Acceptance is excited to present an interview with Dr. Ray Peat, “Organizing the Panic”. This phrase is in reference to a line we quoted from him in one of our previous posts where he said, “Panic isn’t inappropriate when looking at nearly any part of what’s happening in the world, but we have to get the panic organized, so it can be productive.” So V & A conducted this interview with the intention of creating opportunities for awareness and discussion about where our world is headed and why. This will hopefully generate momentum toward action.
1. Blake College was a school that you started in Mexico. What were your objectives in creating it?
When I was teaching “Introduction to physics for biology majors” at Urbana College, the president of the school, Ralph Gauvey, said the goal of such courses should be to enable students to read and evaluate current newspaper and magazine articles related to the subject. At that time, the question of the biological effects of radiation from the fallout from atomic bomb tests was constantly in the news, so I devoted part of the course to the effects of radiation on cells, and suggested that students consider the authors’ affiliations. It was clear that people who worked for the Atomic Energy Commission, such as John Gofman, never acknowledged that there was evidence of harm from fallout, and that physicists or biologists who suggested that it could be dangerous were always independent. In the few instances in which a government employee described harmful effects from the radioactive isotopes in the bomb fallout, that person immediately lost his job, and was defamed by announcements that he had been fired for reasons of bad character or subversive associations. I was aware that professors with research support from the government were unable to criticize the atmospheric bomb tests if they wanted to keep their jobs, but since Urbana was a tiny independent church affiliated school, and I was simply following Gauvey’s instruction, I didn’t consider my little course to be very controversial. Usually, when a college plans to fire a person, they let them know by early spring, so they can make other arrangements for the fall.
In the spring of 1960, it was mentioned at a faculty meeting that a biology professor from the University of Illinois, Leo Koch, would be giving a lecture at Urbana, but the topic wasn’t announced. He chose to lecture about the dangers of radiation. He began his talk by holding up his wrist, and observed that he had stopped wearing his watch, since he had become aware of the danger of its radioactive dial. During the lecture he made a favorable comment about my course, and emphasized the great harm being produced by the bomb tests.
I think it was just after his lecture in Urbana when Koch’s name appeared in the newspapers, because of a scandal that had been created when the John Birch society contacted the university trustees about a letter he had written to the student newspaper, in response to an article that had condemned student “petting parties.” The Birch Society had been aware of Koch’s antinuclear activism for some time, but his letter gave them an excuse for attacking his immoral and unchristian character. Gauvey sent Koch a letter saying that it would be impossible to offer him the job (which I would be vacating, I learned a little later) because of the scandal, and then the Illinois president fired him. Realizing that small-minded trustees are always going to be opposed to free investigation and teaching, I immediately started working toward creating a student and teacher controlled college. Leo Koch didn’t have a job, and was in demand around the country as a speaker about academic freedom, and he spread the word about the kind of school we wanted to start. For a few months we were thinking about starting it in California, using my parents’ home as the mailing address for people who were interested in participating. The state of California said we could award any degrees we wanted to if we showed that the school had capital of at least $50,000, but without capital, it would be illegal to issue transcripts or even acknowledge that students had been there.
Oregon and other states had similar attitudes, the assumption that a certain amount of wealth would assure that the school didn’t rock the boat. That was a big part of the reason for starting the school in Mexico, but another important thing was that the exchange rate made it possible economically—while charging very low fees in dollars, we could rent an adequate place and pay acceptable wages in pesos to the teachers. During the time before Leo got a job (in a soup company as a mycologist), I had compiled some articles related to learning, by Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Alan Ginsberg, Paul Goodman, and others, and borrowed the mimeograph machine from the church across the street from my parents’ house to print a few hundred copies. (I had various jobs during that time, US Park Service ranger-historian, substitute high school teacher–the combination made it possible to work 7 days a week–and US BLM blister rust service.) As I got a little money ahead, I had it printed into a small book format, and called it Emanations from Blake College, proposing it as the first issue of our school journal. That’s relevant to the third question, because after the school had closed, I learned that several of the people who had received that publication used it as a model for starting free universities around the US.
2. Why did it close?
Within a few weeks of putting up the sign on the building in Colonia Roma, the cultural attaché from the US embassy came to visit, supposedly to make us aware of their potential services, but the thing that seemed significant was that in asking about my background, and learning that I was a graduate student in linguistics, he asked me why I wasn’t affiliated with the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Wycliffe Bible Translators:
“Major Herbert Brusow was an SIL manager in Colombia in 1980: is this the same man who was implicated in the liquidation of ‘Che’ Guevara in Bolivia (according to the Mexican newspaper El Dia, 19 July 1979)? And how about this text, published by SIL itself in 1959: To reach the soul of the Indian one must understand his psychology, and this is done through his language. To win the East [of Ecuador], to exploit its economic riches, one must integrate the Indian into national culture. The first step in this process is alphabetization, during which the indigenes learn to write and read their own language which serves as a bridge to the learning of Spanish.” L.-J. Calvet
My answer, that I wasn’t interested in doing religious translations, clearly didn’t please the attaché. I gave him some of our printed material. A few weeks later, a girl arrived at the school and said she had written to the embassy to get information about the school, and was told that there was no such thing. So I took some more printed material to the embassy, and asked them to make sure that the staff was aware of our presence. About a year later, another student said he had been told by the embassy that the school consisted of one teacher in a mud hut in a remote village that could be reached only by a long donkey ride. But worse things happened fairly frequently, that I think derived from the embassy’s concern. (Later, around the time of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, a uniformed military attaché of the embassy came all the way out to Valle de Bravo to have a friendly conversation with each of us about our view of the war, what we thought it was about. At that time it was illegal for foreigners to wear military uniforms in Mexico.) Once I was returning to the school with Joe, (an American who had visited to inquire about a teaching job) from some errand he wanted me to help with, when my key felt funny in the lock, and had flakes of wax on it when I pulled it out. Joe said that happens when someone is making an impression of the lock, to have a key made. Although we didn’t need another teacher, Joe visited frequently just for friendly conversation, and he would ask about everything we had been doing. Because of many strange events, especially related to his visits, I inferred that Joe was a government spy, and several years later when I asked his wife what he was doing currently, she said “same and always,” and when I asked what that was, she said “surveillance.” After about a year we moved the school from Colonia Roma to the town of Valle de Bravo. For much less rent, we got a nice old hotel building. Dick O’Hair, who my father met at one of the frequent gatherings of foreigners, bragged to him about having been an “undercover communist for the FBI” in Chicago, and showed clippings and an identification card, I think it was CIA. He said he had been keeping an eye on me and the school, but that he had decided I was o.k., and told the embassy so. When I talked to a thuggy official in the embassy about Dick, he said he didn’t have any connection with him, but when I mentioned something Dick had said that indicated a direct connection, he got angry and said “I don’t have anything to do with him, he’s _____’s contact,” and gestured to the guy in the adjoining office.
Joe mentioned that the state university in Toluca had a job opening, and I applied and got the job. Students there recommended their favorite teacher, Gustavo Velazquez, as someone who would be appropriate for our school, and he had grown up in Valle de Bravo. He was an official in the PPS, Popular Socialist Party, which was the government’s official, subsidized, “opposition” party. That renewed Dick’s interest. When Madalyn Murray arrived to be a teacher, I asked Gustavo if he could help get her political refugee status, and he started the process, but then she tried to enlist his help in taking control of the school for herself. Gustavo and his friends kept me informed. Around this time another young American arrived in Toluca, direct from Vietnam, and began teaching English at the University (UAEM). A friend of Gustavo’s was the secretary of the university, the person who did the actual work of running it for the rector, who was just an idle political appointee, waiting to move up the line to higher offices. The secretary told me that the new teacher had presented CIA credentials when he applied for the job, and to be careful around him. Every Thursday in Valle de Bravo Madalyn had an afternoon meeting with reporters and minor government officials, something that neither she nor Dick could possibly have arranged by themselves; neither of them could speak Spanish. Things that happened at the school were reported by students to Madalyn, who wove them into a political-subversive-drug-mafia story over a period of several weeks. At that time the trick of eliminating political or labor groups by making arrests on drug charges was just being developed. The group was aware that I would be leaving at the beginning of September on the several day trip to the US, and they timed the news stories and arrests of the students and teachers who happened to be at the school then so that neither I nor Gustavo would be present. On the last part of my drive to the border, from the last Pemex station where everyone had to stop for gas, I was accompanied by a hitch-hiker that I had a nice conversation with, who at a check point went through without showing his papers to the soldier, saying he was just an ignorant peasant, then showed me his Federal Police credential. A few days later, I heard about the events in Mexico, and realized then why the guy had been so insistent about riding with me.
That’s how it closed, and by implication, why: People in the government wanted it closed.
3. Was its closing difficult to recover from? What were the types of things that kept you inspired or motivated to continue to explore the same lines of thought despite its closing?
While I was still in Valle de Bravo I had decided to find ways to work on the substance, rather than the form of the various issues, thinking about the basic issues in science the way I had about politics and education. Gustavo told me I should go back to the US before I died, and about that time I heard about a linguistics teaching job at Montana State, and applied. A friend in Valle knew someone who worked at the Mexico City branch of the Ford Foundation, and we submitted a proposal for funding the school. (A little later the foundation supported a formally student centered college in a conservative university.) Back in the US, a few of us started a little version of Blake College in Eugene, which became a focus of antiwar activity and some FBI attention. After a couple of years I wanted to spend more time on biology, and enrolled at the U. of Oregon. I kept teaching some classes on subjects of interest at the Lane Free University, and the junior college, honors college, and various courses in other departments at the university. After a few years passed, I was interested in teaching in Latin America again, and heard about a project at the Catholic University of Chile in Valparaiso that was being started, to study the effects of nutrition on brain development and intelligence, something I had been interested in for a long time. I applied, and was hired as the director. I planned to go by ship, and got a big trunk, but before I left, there was the coup, Sept. 11, 1973, and I heard that the army had occupied the university, and arrested lots of professors. Joe was still staying in touch, and a couple of times steered me away from taking jobs in Latin America. The message that border guards read on their computer seemed to be getting longer each time I reentered the country from visits to Mexico, so I haven’t considered any kind of institutional connection to be feasible. I haven’t bothered asking for anything related to me through FOIA.
4. In your articles, you reference scientists’ work as far back as the 1800s like M. Piorry, William Budd, and on through with William F. Koch, Otto Warburg, as well as contemporary scientists Gilbert Ling and Mae Wan Ho. The Dark Ages seemed to be an interruption of successively building on the knowledge that had been acquired beforehand. Presently, older knowledge and paradigms are looked at derisively by leaders in mainstream science and medicine. How do you contend with their implication that current science is the most accurate?
The ruling class ideology is probably what makes an age seem dark when it’s viewed by anyone else. Heisenberg’s acausal universe is a projection of that class’s fantasy of their divine right to be in control of everything, a fantasy of the emptiness of everything but their way of life. Medicine and militarism have parasitized the populations, the way toxoplasma makes rats associate with cats, changing their behavior from self-preservation to servitude and self-destruction. I guess the way I deal with those who ignore information because it’s old is to arrange current ideas in ways that make their errors visible. I don’t present evidence as necessarily authoritative, but as something that has to be dealt with if it conflicts with current theory. When Halton Arp assembled pictures of galaxies with very different redshifts, but with substance connecting them, he was denied further use of the telescopes—evidence annoys the authorities. I used to orient myself to the science publications using Biological Abstracts and Chemical Abstracts, but the new science librarian packed them into unlabeled boxes and put them in storage, while the computer database went back only to 1960. I don’t know whether they ever got a computer version of the volumes back to 1910. But it wouldn’t matter to the professors–in the years I was there, there were only two professors that I saw in the library more than once. One of the reasons ideas in “science” seem so impoverished is that professors don’t read much.
5. In consideration of all the things that diminish health and our well-being such as adulteration of the food supply, oppressive schooling, stressful jobs, stressful relationships, Wi-Fi, exposure to radiation, pesticides, not getting enough light, vaccinations, water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution, low carb diets, over-exercising, drugs, hectic schedules … essentially a slew of things that human beings have never faced before en masse, what is the world going to look like in ten years in terms of the toll on the population from all these stressors?
If we extrapolate the curves for Alzheimer’s disease and obesity, it looks very bad, but things could change quickly if people shifted their energy from destructive to constructive ends. If people who refuse to talk about the real issues keep getting elected, then maybe the US population will become too fat and too stupid to keep destroying the world, setting an example for the other “advanced” countries.
6. For those of us who are aware of all the threats to our health, would avoidance seeking behavior and criticism of the culture be a logical focus? Do we still owe ourselves a life filled with fulfilling work, meaningful relationships, and self-knowledge?
If civilization doesn’t sink into disease and tyranny, those things have to happen. Bartleby the Scrivener was Melville’s perception of the importance of avoidance of bad work, the kind of refusal everyone has to start making before constructive things can become possible.
7. When we start opening our eyes to certain threats like the oceans being in peril, depleted uranium weapon use, college students being crushed by 1 trillion dollar loans, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and the growing global food crisis (to name just a few), we can see how so many of these stresses are beyond the control and scope of everyday life. Should we be panicking on some level? Or participating in organized demonstration like “Occupy Wall street”?
The Occupy movement was manipulated away from making any demands that would have had the possibility to turn it into a party and gain broad support—much of the 99%, maybe half of the voters—could have seen it as their representative, leaving the other parties to divide the other half. The requirement for consensus allowed many special issues to be heard, but it kept the essential mass demands from being made. The FBI papers that were released under FOIA showed that the powers had identified the leaders at the beginning of the demonstrations, and had snipers ready to eliminate them if they became a threat, but the government organized the police to suppress the movement without having to kill the leaders, and the lack of specific political demands kept it from spreading. Organized action is essential, but I think it has to work like an organism, with learning and thinking integrated with action. Dissent has to be accepted within the movement, to permit the bulk of it to take action, while the dissenters keep working on their issues. Several groups with several demands wouldn’t keep the larger group from succeeding with the goals they have in common, such things as eliminating the absolute power of the ruling class. Julian Assange said “Parties should be fun. They should put the word party back into politics.” The political party should be something integral to life.
8. If there is an economic collapse, are there any places that are safer than others to seek refuge in the world right now?
Extremely rural places won’t notice the collapse. People who depend on corporations and shipping systems will. Many of the concerned people are focusing on how to keep their present wealth, and obviously they can’t consider taking it with them into a self-sufficient rural community. Practical thoughts about the future require making some present changes in affiliations. Maybe helping someone start a chicken or goat farm, improving an irrigation system, or such, that would make them a welcome guest sometime in the future.
9. Some people suggest that we need to ban all government, but modern human existence centers itself around the perceived necessity of organization. Given this value, is it feasible to not have some governing body? Can we prevent its corruption?
Given the chance, I think it would be easier than people often think, to do without governors. Margaret Mead’s observation of the flexibility of pre-literate cultures is what I have in mind. The cultures without written rules could redefine relationships and practices that some anthropologists thought were essential organizing principles, when situations changed. As soon as she died and couldn’t defend herself, the anthropologists of the prescriptive sort said she was wrong, but there are examples everywhere that support her view. The injustice that would disappear along with government is pervasive, and people will be very busy discovering who they are and what they want to do and become. The Old Believers will all move to Connecticut, to live on dividends.
10. “I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow” William Blake
Why have we judged friction as negative when it is needed to create change in our environment?
Blake distinguished between Contraries, without which there is no progression, and Negations, which hinder:
But Negations Exist Not: Exceptions & Objections & Unbeliefs
Exist not: nor shall they ever be Organized for ever & ever:
If thou separate from me, thou art a Negation: a meer
Reasoning & Derogation from Me, an Objecting & cruel Spite
And Malice & Envy: but my Emanation, Alas! will become
My Contrary: O thou Negation, I will continually compell
Thee to be invisible to any but whom I please, & when
And where & how I please, and never! never! shalt thou be Organized
But as a distorted & reversed Reflexion in the Darkness
And in the Non Entity: nor shall that which is above
Ever descend into thee: but thou shalt be a Non Entity for ever
Jerusalem, Plate 17, (E 161)
11. “For a tree’s branches to reach to heaven, its roots must reach to hell” Alchemical Dictum
“The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” William Blake
Problems, for humans, can be an opportunity to grow in awareness and become more whole, but our problems in the age of commercialism are regarded as either something needing a quick fix, something we should hide, or not a problem at all even re-framed by doctors as “normal”. What role do problems play in our lives?
There’s one world in common for those who are awake, and every sleeper has his own private world. A problem can be part of the process of waking up, seeing errors that had been created by misunderstanding or inattention, seeing solutions that had been hidden. Seeing things objectively, problems energize and attract. Natural things are communicating their nature, and natural perception is in dialog with them, with a Heraclitean sense of development, but cultural structures that are codified for privilege have to be problematized consciously. Paolo Freire’s critical pedagogy taught problematization.
12. People have a hard time with the word “conspiracy” with connotations of people in a dark room plotting the end of the world, but when doctors prescribe Accutane rather than just vitamin A for acne at the expense of depression, intestinal damage and deformed babies, is this conspiracy or unintended consequences of commercialism?
I think they do it in elegant offices in the drug companies, for example the 1941 estrogen conspiracy described by Carla Rothwell in her history of hormone replacement. Just before the approval of the synthetic form of vitamin A, there was a wave of articles across the country, including the national magazines, about the great danger of natural vitamin A overdoses; the synthetics were promoted as the safe alternative. I asked some of the reporters where they got the information, and one gave me the name of a university professor. When I phoned and wrote her for some details about it, she didn’t answer; her secretary said she wasn’t available. The coincidence of the rash of news stories, and the phoniness of the reported facts, couldn’t reasonably be explained as anything but a drug marketing campaign. Usually it’s done in the medical journals first, but in that campaign they apparently worked directly through professors and the mass media. There are occasional simply stupid medical accidents, but the everyday medical horrors are obviously done with massive organization and deliberation. They calculate the billions in profits against the probable cost in legal settlements, and time the drug withdrawal accordingly, when the costs are expected to cancel profits. But when it’s done at the top, with capital, it isn’t conspiracy.
13. If we reap what we sow, is any part of our culture or society presently sowing anything other than destruction that we will see the fruits of in the years to come?
Edward Bernays’ cigarettes as Torches of Freedom, football and boxing for gender equality, fit nicely with the program to enlarge the labor pool and increase profits, so now one full-time worker can’t support a family of four. The civil rights movements and cultural issues happened to fit into the elimination of the split between parties of workers and owners that gave the ruling class considerable trouble during the Roosevelt years. All the little decorative opportunities are to distract from the bigger oppression.
14. “He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.” William Blake
In light of the New Age that 2012 ushered in, some people seem to be counting or hoping for some form of morphic resonance or 100th monkey effect to save us from the planet’s destruction (at our own hands). Is there a misunderstanding that “thought synergy” alone is the action instead of it being a call to action?
Monkey resonance working in reverse can produce pestilent inertia. But once people sense that there are real possibilities, many kinds of appropriate solutions will be immediately conceived and put into action. Immediacy is an energizer, and projects can be as big as is consistent with a sense of continuity between need and fulfillment. All of the hindering delays between need/desire and acting for fulfillment are inauthentic mechanisms for control, ultimately for exploitation. The mind-forged manacles breed pestilence.
15. For those of us not living out in the country, our physical bodies and pets are some of the only remaining daily connections we have to nature and even these connections are tenuous as both suffer abuse and neglect. Can modern humans intellectually will ourselves to evolve toward a more life-affirming existence without us having a sustained relationship to nature?
Our contact with our bodies and our pets and pests is interpreted for us by our cultures, which are like minimally functional software, that allow us to function as workers and consumers, and appliers of pesticides, and make us fear the undefined. Cities used to be organized around factories, and suburbs with commuting developed from that, but the irrationality of the production system is where our thoughts and desires could start opening a new existence. One aspect of cities that’s neglected is the craziness of dumping sewage into rivers to pollute them and the oceans. A large part of the sun’s energy becomes vegetation, some of which becomes sewage. In the suburbs, foliage from trees and lawns is disposed of in various ways, but seldom by composting. With a small amount of simple engineering (just applying some ancient practices, modified to fit farms or suburbs or villages), waste vegetation and sewage could be composted to produce not only fertilizer but energy. Winter vegetables can be produced in a greenhouse heated by compost, and stimulated by the CO2 produced. A backyard compost pile can produce hot water, or a big one could heat a house. “Right livelihood” is a good demand.
16. “Something that is evil at one level of evolution can be good at an earlier stage because it provides the essential stimulus for development. But you want to judge everything by your own standards. You have reached a comparatively high level and so you see what you fight against as evil. Just think of the others, those who are at an earlier stage of development. Do not bar them from the path toward progress and evolution.” P.D. Ouspensky
We have so many moving parts to humanity, how do we come up with solutions and ways of thinking about our evolution that doesn’t invalidate everyone’s phases of learning and being?
Critical thinking and empiricism work anywhere. Communication works across phases.
17. “Unconditional positive regard can be facilitated by keeping in mind Carl Rogers’ belief that all people have the internal resources required for personal growth. Rogers’ theory encouraged other psychiatrists to suspend judgment, and to listen to a person with an attitude that the client has within himself the ability to change, without actually changing who he is.” Wikipedia
Can unconditional positive regard be broadened to solve global problems? Is trying to find a solution to our problems contributing to the problem and creating more problems?
If the therapeutic situation could be extended indefinitely, the inner resources might eventually make contact with the universe in an objective way, but William Coulson’s and Michael Polanyi’s perspective on Rogers’ approach is valid, it’s an effective tool for corporations, strike breakers, and Nazis, anyone committed to preventing fundamental change. I knew about the Oxford Group’s (later Moral Re-Armament’s) methods before I read Rogers, and could see what was being done in culture (for example, what Siqueiros called Rockefeller’s “ghost art”), so I could never completely trust Rogers’ basic motives. Formalism is a traditional way to evade the meanings that exist empirically. Since we aren’t empty vessels or blank slates, there is something left when critical questioning has removed all the exploitative impositions. I think Rogers’ respectful approach and positive regard can be combined with a collaborative sense of working together to clarify meanings, to understand which things are the arbitrary imposition of the culture and which things have the potential to develop into good solutions. Failing to consider that the game is rigged in favor of the house is why the “solutions” always make things worse. Reich pointed out that Freud was working for the oppressors, but even his followers generally didn’t want to think about it. Even mentioning class isn’t acceptable in the mass media—when John Edwards used the word in the 2008 campaign, he was immediately treated as unelectable by the media. Everything is conditional, conditioned by the cosmos, and in particular by an oppressive class system; affirming the potential means equally recognizing that things are set up to destroy potential.