M.A.’s, M.F.A.’s, M.P.H.’s,, Ph.D.’s, M.D.’s, J.D.’s, Ed. M.’s, M.S.W.’s, M.B.A.’s—like bulbs, they are planted in fall and bloom in spring and cost as much as the ones that bankrupted Holland. Each year more of my friends and relatives sow the seeds of debt and degrees, and each spring ripens and rots with money spent, dissertations written and diplomas bestowed. Gender theory, public health, anthropology, psychology, social work, neuroscience, medicine, ethnomusicology, theology, marine biology, comparative literature, creative writing, law, international relations, industrial design, urban planning, fine art. They become masters and doctors, pass their boards and bars, and get to graduate again, cardboard squares upgraded to fuzzy berets.
Sometimes I wonder if I should be pursuing an advanced degree. But then I remember that I’ve already experienced many of the revelations available in graduate school with none of the accompanying federal loans or punishing teaching workload, through my own self-directed course of study in the use of recreational drugs. While this pursuit has not impressed my extended family or increased my eligibility for any grants, I’ll take drugs over grad school any day. Literally.
Getting into drugs is much easier than getting into grad school. You don’t have to take a standardized test, write an essay, or get letters of recommendation. You just beep a guy.
Why go to law school when you’ve already done cocaine? Both law school and cocaine inflate your ego and take up a lot of your time. Both are very expensive, both keep you up all night and make you mean and self-centered. Both help you to talk in long, complete paragraphs as if you know everything. Both make you secretive and paranoid, and both can fill you with regret and make you suspect you’ve accidentally sold your soul.
There was a time I was considering going to divinity school. This was before I had the epiphany that experiential learning is far more valuable than book learning. And there’s nothing more experiential than hallucinogens. Why read about God when you can talk to him or her directly with the aid of a well-chosen fungus or cactus?
If anthropology is more your bag, you can travel to foreign countries and take the medicines of other cultures on their native turf, pleasantly untainted by impurities often introduced to these substances in the course of international transport. On foreign soil, you can ruminate about authenticity, indigenousness and the meaning of development free from the oppressive perspective of the American empire. One country’s narcotic is another’s sacred medicine, and field research is a very malleable and widely applicable term.
Beyond medicines, there is the study of medicine itself. When pursued through the normal channels, it’s a highly competitive enterprise. While fewer than one in ten aspiring doctors is ever invited to take the Hippocratic Oath, anyone can amass a working knowledge of the human body without subjecting herself to the sleepless schedule of a medical student. A few minutes of simple internet research can help you to identify by name the neurotransmitters with which you are flooding your synapses and altering your perceptions. A suggestive imagination and even a mild hallucinogen can enable you to fly around inside your blood vessels like in that sci-fi novel Fantastic Voyage.
And then there’s the vomiting. Sure, you can pay a lot of money to dissect a cadaver under the auspices of an accredited medical school. Or you can just overindulge and puke your guts out all night and all day until your dry-heaving gives way to a green substance you might rightly assume to be bile. By this point you will have learned about all the different types of fluids present in your upper GI.
A rough time on shrooms, acid, or mescaline can provide more insight into paranoid schizophrenia than your average psychiatry residency. A good time on shrooms, acid or mescaline can provide you with knowledge that far surpasses the research of actual neuroscientists. I once asked a friend in the midst of a neuroscience doctorate what he had learned about the human brain from his expensive experiments on cognition. “I could put an electrode on your head and by measuring your brainwaves while you looked at a red dot on a screen, I could tell you whether you’d seen the red dot before. Well, not for sure. But with an accuracy better than chance.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell them that in my own brain research I was able to see exactly which parts of my brain are connected to which other parts of my brain via which neurons and electrochemical reactions, and how my brain, consciousness and memory were part of a collective consciousness and memory in which we are all individual, incandescent parts of a coherent and eternal whole. Is that not more valuable and extensive knowledge of the human brain than whether or not you’ve seen a red dot before?
I have re-lived my own birth, heard the sound of the all the DNA in the universe spinning in unison, sat on a rock in the middle of a river and felt time flow through me like water, and cupped a piece of moss in my hands that I believed to be the universe and myself its loving god. I have made peace with the fact that I will one day die. I have made peace with the fact that these insights will never be formally recognized by the academic establishment from which I once sought approval.
Still, I am proud of my friends who have completed their degrees and are seeking publication in esteemed professional journals. As for my friends who are in the beginning or middle of their advanced degree journeys, I wish them luck. May you all get choice residencies, tenure-track positions and federal funding. As for me, I’ll just try to steer clear of the federal agencies, while I, like all of you, pursue that rarified and sacred knowledge by which the individual brings herself—and by extension all humanity—higher.