Above is the now-infamous TEDx talk given by Graham Hancock in March of 2013 entitled "The War on Consciousness," in which he shared some incredibly personal aspects of his own life and shifts in his own consciousness, and then proceeded to raise absolutely vital questions regarding the nature of human consciousness, the longstanding antagonism in western culture towards visionary states, the possibility that privileging one type of consciousness over all others might be leading to very serious imbalances with tremendously negative ramifications for all humanity and the planet itself, and the related possibility that the forbidding of some types of voluntary consciousness-altering activity among adults which do no violence to others -- while at the same time permitting and even encouraging many other types of consciousness-altering substances which do not threaten the privileged form of consciousness -- may in fact be a grave violation of human liberty and personal freedom.
The talk is "now infamous" because TED decided to remove it from their official YouTube channel (thereby lessening its distribution and reducing the likelihood that people would encounter it "accidentally" while searching for thought-provoking subject matter on the TED channel), while at the same time moving it to a place where people could find it if they were already looking for it, and also at the same time publishing a note explaining that they were not engaging in "censorship" but that the talk "strays well beyond the realm of reasonable science," that he makes "statements about psychotropic drugs that seem both nonscientific and reckless," and that "it's no surprise that his work has often been characterized as pseudo-archeology" (that statement can be found here, along with statements regarding their decision to remove a talk by Rupert Sheldrake at the same time -- his talk is entitled "The Science Delusion").
TED stated that their decision to remove the two talks from their channel represents their "responsibility not to provide a platform for talks which have crossed the line into pseudo-science."
Well, thank goodness for that. We can now watch the TED channel on YouTube without fear of accidentally encountering any ideas which may have crossed the line.
Of course, TED has created their forum and their brand and can post who and what they want on it, and they are also free to call people names and label the honestly-expressed ideas of serious authors "pseudo-science" and "pseudo-archeology" if they want to. Their decision to move a video off of their channel is not really "censorship," in the sense that they are not using the armed might of the government to forbid the publishing, speaking, or reading of someone's work (if they were, then that would certainly be censorship and a clear violation of the rights of others).
Those who disagree with TED's categorization of the work of Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake as "pseudo-archeology" and "pseudo-science" are certainly free to believe that TED is egregiously wrong on this matter (which they are), and to avail themselves of the opportunity to read and explore and hear more of the ideas that Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake have to offer, and to voice their opinion of TED's hypocrisy in trumpeting the motto "ideas worth spreading" and their statement that they are all about "welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world" and "building a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world's most inspired thinkers -- and a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other," while at the same time marginalizing two extremely thought-provoking authors who are asking questions that apparently are not allowed to be asked on TED forums and from which that "community of curious souls" must be shielded from full engagement.
One is also free to point out that TED tells its visitors that it is "owned by a nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation" with a stated "agenda [. . .] to make great ideas accessible and spark conversation," and that this talk certainly raises many potential sparks worth conversing about.
Again, it is important to note that TED has every right to decide to provide a platform to discuss some conversations and not others -- but their decision to marginalize and then to plaster with the condescending labels "pseudo-science" and "pseudo-archaeology" the ideas offered for consideration in these talks would seem to be extremely incongruous with the high-minded "global community" tone that TED strikes in their public persona. They say their talks cover "almost all topics -- from science to business to global issues." Graham Hancock was addressing absolutely vital "global issues" in the talk above (come to think of it, he managed to raise some important points about the topic of "business" as well).
After apparently listening to the criticism that this decision elicited, TED came out with another statement, saying that by moving the videos away from the main site they invited "an open conversation" about "the line between science and pseudoscience" and "how far TED and TEDx should go in giving exposure to unorthodox ideas." This is commendable, although they then went on to say that since the ideas proposed by "Sheldrake and Hancock are so radical and far-removed from mainstream scientific thinking" they felt they needed to give potential viewers "a clear health warning" and noted that since "TED and TEDx are brands that are trusted in schools and in homes" they didn't want to have to answer to "a parent whose kid went off to South America to drink ayahuasca because TED said it was OK."
This last statement, of course, is over the top: Graham specifically stated he was referring to the right of "we as adults to make sovereign decisions about what to experience with our own consciousness while doing no harm to others" (17:40). There was nothing in there encouraging children to sneak off to South America without their parents' permission in order to drink ayahuasca (in itself a fairly ridiculous notion for most children, although perhaps the children of some in the TED audience have access to their own jets and the ability to take them out for the weekend without telling anyone where they're going).
Lost in all of this -- including the invited conversation about "the line between science and pseudoscience" and "how far TED and TEDx should go" -- is the absolutely profound series of questions which Graham raised in his talk. By declaring that they were moving the conversation elsewhere, that decision and its appropriateness or lack thereof became the entire focus of the debate (as it has been in the above paragraphs, since it is a subject worth debating). But far more provocative and worth discussing are the ideas that Graham actually prepared for the talk, and into which he obviously poured a great deal of effort in order to organize and convey to his audience, and into which he even more obviously poured a great deal of his own psychic energy, and in the process offered up for public comment and consideration some aspects of his own personal investment in the subject that he is trying to get the human race to at least consider.
And the fact that a great many people do not even want to consider this subject could not be more clear. That is the clarion message of TED's decision to remove it from the "mainstream" location and conversation and put it over in the "special room" reserved for distasteful issues (the "scientific" or "archaeological" merits of the talk are obviously a smoke screen -- TED hosts a great many speakers on their platform who are discussing social ideas, as well as business ideas, without taking them to task for their level of scientific knowledge; we could probably criticize a great many speakers on TED's forum for practicing "pseudo-economics," but that kind of name calling is counter-productive, and is a cheap shortcut allowing us to avoid actually engaging with their ideas).
Again, TED does not have to consider any subjects they don't want to consider, or offer up for consideration any ideas they don't want to offer up for consideration: people can go find other forums on which to do so if TED shuts them out. But the paragraphs above should make it clear that the reasons they don't want to consider the ideas in the Graham Hancock talk above has nothing to do with the reasons they are publicly providing (the fear that kids will run off on their own to drink ayahuasca in the Amazon basin, for instance, or the requirement that every TED speaker on any subject must be able to pass the review of a panel of experts drawn from the disciplines of physics, chemistry, philosophy, and botany -- or even the excuse that Graham's talk was outside of the scope of TED's stated mission of "making great ideas accessible" and sparking conversations on "subjects ranging from science to business to global issues").
The reason they don't want to consider the topics Graham Hancock raises appears rather to be that he is challenging core, foundational dogmas of the prevailing religion. He is speaking what the keepers of the hidden assumptions apparently believe to be rank heresy.
The decision to move the videos off of the main channel can be seen as a brilliant way of derailing the discussion of those heretical points -- not only by making them somewhat less accessible, but also and more importantly by turning the conversation in an entirely different direction than it might have taken had the videos simply stayed up among all the others as an open offering of ideas for comment and consideration and conversation, unremarked-upon by the administrators. Now, far more people will be focusing on and getting emotional over the question of whether TED has the right to brand someone else's ideas "pseudo-science" than will be focusing upon the question of whether Western civilization's antagonism towards what Graham calls "visionary states" might be leading to dangerous personal and planetary imbalances with tremendous negative repercussions.
And that is a conversation that is well worth having. Because the antagonism towards the visionary state of consciousness which Graham identifies is very real, and it can be traced back to a specific period in time which marked an enormous turning point for what would become known as "Western civilization." That turning point in history took place in the years between AD 70 (the year of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem) and AD 394 (the end of the reign of the emperor Theodosius, when the Roman Empire was finally and decisively split into an eastern and a western half, never to be reunited, and the western half eventually formed itself into the states which now form "western Europe").
This previous post gives a rough outline of the secret campaign to take over the Roman Empire from the inside that took place between AD 70 and AD 394 -- and it also alludes to the connection that this takeover has to the suppression of the visionary, shamanic consciousness that Graham describes in his talk, and that he rightly demonstrates to be targeted by powerful forces within "Western civilization" right up to the present day.
For centuries, the shamanic consciousness was persecuted because it was heretical to the doctrines of the literalist Christianity which was part of that takeover between AD 70 and AD 394. In more recent times, the shamanic consciousness has been additionally marginalized because it is heretical to the doctrines of a different religion (one that calls its opponents "pseudo-scientists" or "pseudo-archeologists," instead of "heretics").
For the record, previous posts have demonstrated that the visionary states which Graham invokes in his talk are not exclusively the province of those who interact with consciousness-altering plants: a wide variety of techniques have been used around the globe and throughout the ages to access the hidden realm, many of them involving drumming, rattling, chanting, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, rhythmic breathing, dancing, and other methods not involving the ingestion of plants (although those certainly have been used as well). Some texts and traditions actually contain some very strong warnings regarding reliance upon substances or approaches that can lead to what some traditional shamans appear to have classified as "imitation shamanic ecstasy" (this important topic is explored in this previous post).
One wonders what the response would have been, had Graham urged consideration of shamanic drumming as a way of accessing visionary states of consciousness, and left off the discussion of ayahuasca or mushrooms in his argument that the war against these visionary states has potentially dangerous results. The fact that shamanic drums have been routinely and often even violently suppressed by enemies of the shamanic worldview since AD 394 is a strong piece of evidence supporting the idea that there has been a long-running war against a certain type of consciousness, and that the outlawing of ayahuasca has more to do with this war against visionary consciousness than with ayahuasca's supposed "health hazards," whatever those happen to be, if any.
But ayahuasca is the method that Graham Hancock himself has used and experienced and that has, as he related, had a profound impact on his life -- and he raises the question of how one person can declare themselves to have the right to deny another adult the right to ingest a substance that does no harm to anyone else's person or property. This is a very important question, in that it goes right to the question of natural or universal law and the violation of natural or universal law (this is my interpretation of that subject: the words "natural law" do not appear in Graham's talk itself), and he connects this question to a lot of other violations of natural law he sees taking place in the world.
It would seem that a very worthwhile conversation could be held surrounding the question of whether ayahuasca is in fact illegal just because someone wrote words to that effect on a "bill" which then received a seal and a signature ("He signed ya, Bill: Now you're a law!"), and whether there is a moral obligation to treat that as law until it is changed, pointing out that Lysander Spooner argued that men and women did not have the obligation to obey the Fugitive Slave Laws just because they were "signed into law" by presidents (including George Washington), and in fact that juries had the right to refuse to convict persons of violations of so-called laws that were actually illegal laws. This would seem like yet another "conversation worth having" which Graham's talk opened the door towards having, only to see TED slam that door in the world's collective face (they did at least put up a sign saying "go have a conversation about this in the broom closet, but please focus on discussing the definition of science vs. pseudo-science, and the question of what is and isn't within the scope of a TED talk").
Graham's presentation argues that only one type of consciousness has been valued by the reigning orthodoxy (a type of consciousness that he acknowledges has many good uses and many important qualities), and that another type of consciousness has been declared to be "beyond the pale" of the reigning orthodoxy. By their reaction to that talk, the decision-makers at TED have fairly well proven his argument, while at the same time declaring their allegiance to the reigning orthodoxy on this particular (and particularly important) subject.
Again, that is certainly TED's right -- there are many media outlets which are busily generating content which supports and reinforces the reigning orthodoxy, and no one expects them to suddenly open themselves up as platforms where the kinds of questions that Graham's talk raises about sovereign individual rights, Amazon deforestation, the pharmaceutical industry, the wars of recent decades, and the connection of such issues to the suppression of a specific type of consciousness can be explored. It is their right to ignore these issues as well, and people can go elsewhere to find platforms willing to examine these vital questions -- and people are doing so in great numbers. Some such platforms are listed here -- along with some discussion as to why it is important to support them -- and there are many others.
But these really are questions that are so important that they should absolutely be given the widest possible platform for exploration by "people of every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world." They are questions which go right to the heart of the history of "Western culture," and the decisions and events which launched it on the path that has brought the world to this particular point. They are questions that concern every adult -- and questions which should not be hidden from children in school either.
The world should be grateful to Graham Hancock for raising these questions, and for framing them in such a compelling manner, one that clearly demonstrates the importance of this question of consciousness on every level, from the individual to the global. The dust clouds TED kicked up to keep the conversation from developing should actually be seen as revealing. And they should cause us to watch the talk more closely, perhaps even writing down the questions that Graham asks, and then to start exploring those questions with others, both in person and on media platforms where such discussion is welcome.