Home Humor/Satire Essays, Analysis & Political Writing Poems

Book Reviews, SMH


Pyotr Patrushev - Essays and Analysis


  Anton Mesmer. Method, Magic or Mystery

The World is Full of Kooks (and some of them are us)

Drugs, Medicines and Power

Are Drugs Experimenting with Humans?

Finding A Way Home  Good Weekend

Fear and Greed as the Mighty Nation Falls Apart 

From Gogol to Global Warming - NSW Writer's Center Talk


Pyotr Patrushev - Political Writing



Pyotr Patrushev & Andrew Weil







© Pyotr Patrushev

Anton Mesmer: Method, Magic or Mystery

An Investigation into the Nature of Placebo Power, Healing and Quackery

In the mid-fifties, when I was about 13 or 14 years of age, I had my first encounter with Anton Mesmer. I was living in a small town in Western Siberia. We had boarders who were studying animal husbandry in a local college, where my sister was teaching. 1 don't know what their studies had to do with animal magnetism, but for some reason one day they brought home an old book, actually, a torn-out part of a book, published before the 1917 revolution, which described hypnosis and induction techniques, advocated by Mesmer, Braid and Bernheim.

I latched onto these yellow worn-out pages as if they were the alchemist’s recipe for transforming base metals into gold. After some unsuccessful attempts to hypnotise our student boarders, who only laughed at me, I tried our dog—who also proved a failure—and finally, my sister. To my amazement, she turned out to be a somnambulistic subject, capable of entering a deep trance. Soon, I was demonstrating hypnotic analgesia, illusions, hallucinations, and even the famed cataleptic bridge (a person lying between two chairs, supported only by her head and feet). Since that time, hypnotic phenomena have been a source of fascination—and occasional usefulness for the rest of my life.

This personal vignette illustrates the extraordinary influence and popularity of the squat and charismatic physician who was born in a hamlet in Swabia on the shore of Lake Constance in 1734. By the time mesmerism got around to Siberia, hypnosis was an accepted subject in Soviet medical schools, as well as in some American, English and European institutions of higher learning. (It must be pointed out that Mesmer himself did not think of hypnosis in the same way as we do and the invention of hypnotism is most often credited to James Braid). But there was a long and tor­tuous road between this period of relative scientific respectability and the initial reception which was accorded to Mesmer's innovative theories and therapeutic approaches. In fact, Mesmer's life represents one of the most extraordinary and fascinating examples of scientific innovation blocked by hostility and conservatism of the medical profession and the scientific establishment at large. But let us keep things in order.

I have recently heard a leading American theologian and healer talk of therapy in terms of Method, Magic and Mystery. I decided to apply the same framework to the investigation of Mesmer and mesmerism, to see what we can learn something from them now, almost 200 years after the demise of this extraordinary physician who dared to challenge the accept­ed scientific norms of the time.


Franz Anton Mesmer was a curious child, who loved nature and delighted in exploring the neighbourhood of his village. This curiosity and the desire to test theories by direct observation and experiment stayed with him for the rest of his life.

He was greatly influenced by Descartes who laid the basis for the scientific method for generations to come, and also by a radical protestant thinker Christian Wolff, the author of “Rational Thoughts On The Functions Of The Parts Of Men, Animals And Plants.”       

Wolff had published an essay on the practical philosophy of the Chinese, one of the earliest of such works in the West. The interrelationship of Heaven, Earth and Man, implicit in this philosophy, deeply impressed young Anton and affected his whole worldview. Thus, philosophically, he was well ahead of most of his contemporaries. It will come as no surprise that his doctoral thesis at the University of Vienna was on the "Influence of the Planets on the Human Body." But he stayed well away from any astrological theories or any other supernatural explanations. He was interested in the possibility that the planets actually exercised physical, potentially measurable and explainable effects on the human body. His scientific rigor and his desire to gain the approval of the medical establishment on its own terms proved later to be the source of great frustration and even misfortune to this original thinker.

Mesmer studied the practice of medicine with the best teachers of his time, people like Gerard van Swieten, who founded the advanced Vienna Clinic. He was learning the method thoroughly, so that later he could go well beyond it.

Versatile and learned, but relatively poor, Mesmer soon made another good choice that had at least removed material worries for most of his life. In 1768 he married a well-to-do widow named Anna von Posch. He could now develop his scientific interests without being coerced into conformity by the demand of daily subsistence. He was friendly with Mozart, and learned to play cello and clavichord quite adequately. His passion, however, was the glass harmonica, a little known instrument going back to the jars and bowls filled with water to different levels and used by the Arabs and Persians in antiquity. Its ethereal sound was to become a major prop when Mesmer began to develop the magical side of his healing art.

At that time, the orthodox treatment of various disor­ders was limited to such things as bloodletting, blistering and various medicinal concoctions, some of which were definitely noxious. Any departure from the traditional wisdom would then, as now, make the offending physician a target of collegial slander, ostracism and outright hostility. But, for every prominent healer there is a patient who cannot be helped by orthodox methods, who in effect pushes the practitioner into the realm of the unknown, either out of compassion or at least out of a sense of professional curiosity. For Mesmer, it was a young woman called Franzl.


    Here we are entering a grey rea where method begins to blend in magic. Something very significant must have happened for Mesmer to begin to apply magnets to his patients, instead of the usual treatments. Knowing Mesmer’s fascination with the influence of the planets on the human body, the

choice of magnets becomes perhaps quite natural. It is interesting to see that to the various practitioners of “magnetic cures” at the time (such as the ominously named

Father Hell), the shape of magnets was very impor­tant. At every level of the art, it seems, some practitioners tend to elevate the method into a panacea. Mesmer felt that it was not the shape of the magnets but the influence of life force or the

magnetic fluid on the body that effected the cure. He even suggested that the cure can be accomplished without the use of magnets as such.

However, with Franzl, who was so sick one could com­pile a medical encyclopedia out of her symptoms (which included convulsions, vomiting, depression, blindness, lameness, fainting fits, to name a few), Mesmer decided to use the traditionally-shaped magnets. Let us recall that at the time magnets and electricity were all the rage. During the last quarter of the eighteenth century they were the crystals, the Bach flower remedies, and the chakra cleansers combined.                   

When Mesmer fixed two horse-shoe shaped magnets to her feet, and a heart-shaped magnet to her breast, Franzl suddenly "felt a burning sensation spreading from her feet through all her joints like a glowing coal, with severe pains at the hips, and likewise from both sides of the breast to the crown of the head." She sweated and convulsed through the night, until all her pain had disappeared and the magnets lost their power. With this and subsequent applications she was completely cured, was able to lead a normal life and even have children.

Thus another tenet of the Mesmer magic was formed—the need for a healing crisis.

Soon, Mesmer generalised his theory and its applica­tions to any substance—paper, wood, stone, silk, glass, water. He also demonstrated that he could influence the patient from a distance, and even from another room. When he demonstrated his skills to some of his colleagues, they were both convinced and appalled. They begged him not to divulge his discovery to the public, for his own sake. Later, they denied that any experiments Mesmer conducted in their presence were successful. In fact one of them asserted that he was able to prove, using some pieces of magnetised iron, that Mesmer's experiments were nothing but a prearranged fraud.

But, since Mesmer was after all a qualified doctor, the fury of his jealous and threatened colleagues was diverted to the unfortunate Father Hell, who was accused of attempting to treat patients without license.

Of course, one man's magic is another man's method. Very soon, Mesmer and Hell had followers among the more innovative doctors who meticulously applied the new techniques. There is a truly fascinating, very thorough and "scientific," description of one case, running into some 20,000 words, penned by a certain Dr. Unzer. Magic, even lowered to the level of the Method, still apparently worked, though not as effectively as when practiced by Mesmer himself. His learned colleagues from the Berlin Academy also studied Mesmer’s magic purely at the level of the method, and came to a truly brilliant conclusion that since nothing but iron was capable of being magnetised, Mesmer's claims of cures were false.        Fortunately, Mesmer's patients far outnumbered his detractors. His fame spread, magnifying his magic even further. The poor, the well-to-do and the nobility flocked to him with their incurable complaints. Mesmer treated the poor for free, charging the rich double. This was another grave sin that the medical fraternity found hard to forgive to their wayward brother.

Mesmer, being a practical and observant man, was refining his magic, converting a part of it back into the method. He was known, for example, to gather information about a patient from the unlikeliest sources—such as from their barber—a device most doctors of his time would never stoop to. He was one of the first to recognise the tremendous importance of family and social setting for the development of a disorder. But sometimes even Mesmer was not incapable of breaking through the vicious circle that kept some people sick, despite their terrible suffering.


     When Mesmer took over the case of an eighteen-year-old girl called Maria-Teresa von Paradis, he inherited more than a few symptoms. The girl became blind at the age of three. She had a domineering father and hysterical mother who worked as a private secretary to the Emperor and the Empress. Sensitive and gifted, she became an outstanding pianist, as if to compensate for her handicap. The Empress encouraged her and granted her a generous pension to allow her to develop her talent with the best teachers Vienna could provide.

Court physicians applied the full armamentarium of their latest "scientific" treatments to the poor girl. Her head would be bandaged for months on end, until pus was oozing from under the plaster. When this did not help, the doc­tors administered up to a hundred electrical shocks at a time to her eyeballs, for the total of three thousand applica­tions. By the time she came to Mesmer's attention, the doc­tors, fortunately for her, were about to give up on her as a hopeless case.

What Mesmer did was a master stroke of a true healer. He took her away from her parents and began to work with her, meticulously restoring her sight through a series of exercises and séances. He gave her the love and attention she had never had in her life. No wonder she began to respond! Soon, she was able to discern shadows and objects. She was rejoicing at her newly found world. She did not want to go back home.

The news of the cure reached the court physicians and the public. Rumours began to spread that the girl could no longer play the piano as well as she did in the past (true, because her whole somatosensory organisation was under­going a change). It was suggested that the Empress would take away her pension, now that she was no longer sick. Her mother and father, outraged, took her back home by force. Soon, everything was "back to normal." She was blind again, and her piano playing improved, to every­one's satisfaction. She resumed her habitual existence as a "brilliant blind pianist." 


Despite the ridicule and the opposition, Mesmer was developing his magic to a fine degree of perfection. He was now "magnetising" trees with ropes hanging off them, to allow the mass of sufferers to avail themselves of his magnetic power without necessarily crowding out his reception room (think what Medicare bulk billing could do for Mesmer!).

Mesmer was also the inventor of his famous baquet — the early version of the Californian hot tub. Patients would sit holding hands, with knees and feet touching, to ensure the circulation of the magnetic fluid. Mesmer himself would play some haunting tunes on his magical glass harmonica, or walk around, clad in a robe of lilac silk, trimmed with lace. Occasionally, he would stop, piercing apatient with his gaze, do one of his famous passes, or talk soothingly in a low voice. His gestures and passes were majestic and precise, tailored to a particular disorder. The patients were effectively engaged in a group process, with mutual help and encouragement. So, perhaps not only rebirthing but also group psychotherapy originated from Mesmer's baquet. In fact, his use of live and suitably improvised musical accompaniment, as well as individual and mass suggestion, leaves our contemporary gurus of rebirthing looking like poor cousins of the Original Rebirther.

But all this fame and notoriety was not enough for a boy from a small hamlet in Swabia. He wanted official recognition, which lay of course in the hands of his "scientific" colleagues. Some hidden deep insecurity was pushing him to obtain it, although his pragmatic mind must have told him that the resistance of his colleagues had more to do with politics and money than with science.

Of course, Mesmer himself did not make his task easier. He was occasionally belligerent and haughty. When the Queen finally allotted him a private hospital and a generous salary, he refused because he felt that his independence would be in jeopardy.

Finally, he went the route of all the brilliant innovators who were too impatient to await official recognition: he created his own private universe. Together with some rich and intelligent followers, he began to set up Societies of Harmony, which, in due course, spread to many countries. In them, members were instructed (for a substantial fee—Mesmer was also apparently an early believer in “prosperity consciousness” as well) in Mesmer's techniques. At last, they could learn—and spread his method, if not his magic.

But before that happened, there was one last attempt by the orthodox scientists (who had not yet heard of Thomas Kuhn and his "paradigm shifts") to put the claims of the maverick doctor to rigid scrutiny.


Benjamin Franklin, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and Joseph-Ignace Guillotin were some of the better remembered names on the Royal Commission whose task was to investigate mesmerism. The thoroughness with which they applied themselves to this task would put to shame some of our contemporary investigators. Not only did they observe Mesmer and his pupils at work, they made themselves willing subjects of his experiments. But, to rule out the effect of suggestion (they called it "imagination"), they decided to study only the objective, physically verifiable facts. When being mesmerised, they would not pay any attention to subtle shifts in bodily sensations, deeming these to be unwanted interferences. Naturally, their findings were almost entirely negative. Unable to ignore Mesmer's successful cures, they ascribed them to the following factors: 1) pressure of hands and fingers; 2) imagination; and 3) imitation. They had eviscerated Mesmer's magic and shown it to be just a mass of tangled guts. Their conclusion was that his method was most pernicious and should be discouraged.


If we represent the Method, the Magic and the Mystery as the tub, the water and the baby, our distinguished Royal Commissioners have chosen to throw the water and the baby out and to study, most meticulously, the tub, for the evidence of Mesmer's efficacy. No wonder that all they found were some muddy streaks.

If we also, for the purpose of this exercise, quantify the healing potential of any method as 10%, the magic as 40%, and the mystery 50%, we will also see why they have failed, and why so many physicians who rely on method alone are such terrible healers. They only use 10% of their own, and their patient's, healing potential. (I give the method only a 10% because historically, very divergent and even contradictory methods were found to be equally effective, no doubt due to the other two ingredients—magic and mystery.)

Mesmer's great failing was that his mystery, because of his preoccupation with scientific recognition by his con­temporaries, was not even a baby, it remained an underdeveloped embryo. When he, an eminent physician, was once asked to evaluate the work of another healer, Jean-Joseph Gassner, who was treating people very successfully with the simple laying on of the hands, Mesmer dismissed him as a quack whose effectiveness could only be explained by the unconscious use of animal magnetism. This was the ultimate irony, for it showed Mesmer to be blind to the most powerful healing element of all, the element of Mystery, of faith, of intuitive knowledge of the highest order. While we can still talk somewhat objectively and "scientifically" about the tub and the water, the baby, an infinite being which originated somewhere in the universe as stardust and survived billions of years of organic evolution, will always leave us guessing. Or dreaming.

Many people know now that some of the most important scientific discoveries were initially conceived in a state of dream or reverie, all very unscientific, altered states of consciousness. The benzine ring, the sewing machine, the printing press, the theory of relativity all, in varying degrees, belong to this category. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that we live now in the universe which has been dreamed for us by our best dreamers. All science is doing is trying to inter­pret their dreams. The modern physics and the astronomy have gone so far in their interpretation that they are inex­orably slipping themselves into the dreamtime of science, its inchoate metaphors. By trying to turn magic and mys­tery into method, we have gone full circle. Magically, our method has first become imbued with magic and is finally teetering on the brink of mystery.

This process is a part of a natural evolutionary process and I, for one, am all for refining our scientific method so that it can touch at least the edge of Mystery, and be thereby transformed by it.

There is no need to tell the rest of the story about the gradual acceptance and refinement of Mesmer's findings by other researchers. In fact, as the American theoretician of science Kuhn would have predicted, parts of his heritage became the New Orthodoxy, with Societies of Hypnotherapy being set up worldwide and dozens of learned journals being devoted to the subject of hypnosis and suggestion, not to mention the research into imagery, healing through music, group therapy, rebirthing, radionics, and a host of other disciplines to which Mesmer, unknowingly, gave an impetus.

But the most important message of Mesmer's story, I believe, is the message that if we treat Mystery and Magic as "only placebos" and rely purely on the Method (no matter how glorified and “scientific”), we will remain 10% healers. In fact, our modern Method, with its powerful and often harmful drugs, expensive CT scanners and loveless "procedures" has become a sort of negative, sorcery-like, at times even destructive magic, devoid not only of mystery, but even of simple human compassion and understanding. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will be able to turn the corner of yet another Kuhnian revolution. And may God help us, for we need to do that.



© Pyotr Patrushev

The World Is Full of Kooks and Some of Them Are Us 

The BBC-TV special on the US anthrax investigation hinted that behind the anthrax scare was a powerful US biowarfare lobby that staged the episode in order to heighten popular awareness and increase government spending on counter-measures. In other words, it was the US biowarfare scientists who, faced with the passivity of the bureaucrats and the ignorance of the general population took the initiative and the law -- into their own hands. When the US investigators came close to the truth, they were stalled by high-level interference. What they may have come to recognise is that the rebellious scientists' action had its own logic:  unless the American people and the government were shocked into action, many more lives would be lost in a real terrorist attack. What are five victims against millions of lives potentially saved?

In Russia, 128 captive men, women and children were sacrificed to save the lives of the remaining hostages, but mostly, it seems, to save the face of the bungling security services that allowed Chechen fighters to infiltrate Moscow. It was reported that the Russian Special Forces commandoes who shot unconscious hostage-takers point-blank and left the ham-fisted and under-supplied medics to sort out the rest of the mess were later given a riotous reception in the Kremlin.

In Australia, the perk-obsessed DFAT bureaucrats at first could not even copy-and-paste the timely US travel warnings to their own website, afraid of taking responsibility and offending the sensibilities of the Indonesians. After the fact, they became ever so vigilant so as not to offend public opinion at home. Hundreds of lives were lost in the process in the Bali terrorist attack.

Welcome to the 21st century where the human primate who stole the fire from the gods and learned to manipulate statistics and public opinion   seems unable to control the march of his technological genius through the minefield of his moral inferiority.

Which brings us to the question of religion and the so-called "clash of civilizations".

The putative clash of the Mullah armed with an anthrax spore, the Priest armed with a laser-guided missile, and the Rabbi armed with a nuke should make it clear to anyone but a very obtuse person that any pretence by any religion at some sort of supernatural righteousness is a case of either naked cunning or outright idiocy. In human affairs religions are just ideologies, like Fascism or Communism or liberal democracy, whose purpose is to unite disparate groups of people under one umbrella to improve their chances for survival in competition for scarce resources -- or even simple recognition. "The supernatural justification" while palliating human need for certainty in an uncertain world also attracts thwarted and power-hungry kooks, from Washington snipers, to "sons of Sam", to bin Ladens, to Bashirs and other "semi-detached ayatollahs" so touchingly described by the British writer Jon Ronson in his both funny and desperately sad book Them.

In our world with millions of ignorant, disempowered but adrenaline-pumped youths and men manipulated by crafty clerics and God-proclaiming rulers any person seriously thinking about the role of religion in society may want to peruse the seminal work of the biologist E. O. Wilson On Human Nature. In the social scheme of things religion is the glue that enhances cohesion and potential survival of its adherents   that is, if you get the rest of your life right.

For there is the downside to the sense of superiority and certainty that religious ideologies give to their adherents. When you get caught with your pants down and get dragged off to an X-ray camp or some sort of a Nuremberg-like trial (or are simply allowed to rot on an old age pension like some retired Communist zealot) it may be a bit late to beg for tolerance and forbearance by pointing out that you are just a poor sucker (like the Pakistani boys caught in the Taliban debacle) who got misled by some Bible-bashing or Koran-reciting demagogue.

Undoubtedly, some ideologies appear more life-supporting, self-critical and other-aware than others. If one had to shop around and get oneself some off-the-shelf religious ideology to placate one's existential angst, Buddhism would seem to be a reasonable choice. With its emphasis on the "middle way", non-violence towards all creatures (not just the ones who were lucky enough to be born in your particular country and into your particular ready-made religious ideology), it should generally be less prone to abuse than most other belief systems (Thai monks having fisticuffs about real estate notwithstanding).

Thus, the greatest threat to humankind may come not from the Saddams of this world   there will always be Saddams -- but from some kook who may feel that it is a lot of fun to splice together the AIDS and the flu viruses or an illiterate fanatic who blows up hundreds of innocent people of different nationalities at a holiday resort because he "hates Americans".

We are back in the jungle and the cacophony of howls we hear at night fills us with dread. All we can hope is that the reason that allowed us to decipher the genetic code and investigate the mysteries of the universe will not desert us, and that the humility and compassion that are taught by all the great religions of the world will temper and humanize it.



© Pyotr Patrushev

Drugs, Medicines And Power

From Dependence and Control to Intelligent Use

The Story So Far

For as long as humanity existed, it used substances obtained from nature, which altered consciousness of individuals who took them. Such substances range from Amazonian coca leaves to Siberian mushrooms, to North American thorn apple, to fermented and therefore alcoholic berries. We did it initially as a matter of exploration, as do virtually all known animal species. Although some individuals got poisoned or disorientated as a result of such exploratory activities and may have perished, the drive persisted. In a sense, every one of us is a descendant of a successful natural junkie.

  Such exploratory activities were not just a part of search for food. Certain plants seemed to have had a particular fascination for both humans and animals and once eaten were eagerly sought. The chemicals in these plants readily interacted with internal chemistry of our brains in certain very powerful ways. These plants were the relatives we have left behind in our race for survival. Meeting them again was a matter of both joy sometimes pain. We found that plant-based drugs were not only about forgetting, also about remembering.

  Thus, throughout human evolution, plants and plant  extracts were used as a part of ritual of power and knowledge transfer between generations and as a communal vision quest for novel solutions. It was also a part of our perennial search for the ultimate answer, in other words, for God. Every known religion sprung from natural cults, which had a history of occasionally sophisticated use of plants for ritualistic purposes. Modern researchers are still arguing, for example, whether the proverbial Soma so eloquently described in perhaps the most ancient religious text known to man--the Vedas--is a species of a Siberian mushroom or a particular Eurasian plant. Such plant use was strictly regulated by tradition and was also relatively safe due to checks and balances built into the plants' chemical structure.

  As we grew older as a species, our search for “Paradise” that we felt we have left behind grew more and more desperate. Science and technology became enlisted in this self-fuelling process. Novel and powerful drugs, both legal and illegal, were developed and manufactured. Now we have finally reached a point when, for many societies, disruption associated with the so-called drug problem and our attempts to deal with it make it a question of prime importance.

Drugs and Medicines

  If we accept that traditional use of drugs by human beings stems from the desire to recapture the grandeur and the mystery which lies at the beginning of creation, to mood-alter, and to find dramatically new hopes and visions for the future, than we may stop talking of drugs pejoratively, as a menace to be always avoided or controlled though the use of force, and call all drugs, prescription or otherwise, medicines.

  We can then talk of medicines which may be more or less beneficial, or more or less dangerous. What we have to recognize then is that most of old medicines mankind has been taking no longer seem to appeal to us, except in small and relatively isolated tribal areas and among fringe groups. The novel medicines, from mind-expanding LSD, to mind stupefying Valium and alcohol, to mind-destroying crack and heroin, are extremely potent and dangerous.

Medicines and Power

  Older and powerful individuals, mostly males, as well as those with access to specialist knowledge (scientists and doctors who are our contemporary shamans and healers), have always attempted to regulate and control use of potent medicines by the rest of society. At different times, and in different societies, varying medicines were judged to be safe or at least not worth controlling.

  During the last century and early in this century opiates and even cocaine were widely available in some Western societies, including the US. They were used and abused by prominent personalities (including some Presidents) and ordinary people. However, availability of pure substances and immunity from persecution, as well as lack of corruption associated with illegal trade in medicines minimized negative social and health effects of such use.

  Altered states of consciousness associated with use of medicines have led not only to psychological and spiritual, but also material breakthroughs for humanity. Gutenberg was mildly inebriated when he saw that wine press he was observing could be the precursor of a printing press, thus initiating one of the most fundamental revolutions in history.

  The current state of medicine war has three main ingredients: 1) the insecurity of the older male generation about their own knowledge and power and the ability to design and implement meaningful initiation rituals for the young; 2) disruption of human and family environments (animals isolated and stressed in a zoo will also abuse medicines); and 3) polarization of forces between medicine pushers and medicine controllers.

  The powerful cartels and organizations which provide wrong and even deadly medicines for the young to design their own initiation rituals with are the shadow expression of spiritually blind men and women who now lead and govern many societies. Medicines, as if obeying some as yet undiscovered natural law, are acting as powerful catalysts in exposing the hidden gulf between the rich and the poor, young and old, black and white. Chemicals locked in a coca leaf, when suitably modified, unlock destructive and atavistic behaviour patterns in the brains of humans, transforming our cities and villages into a lawless jungle. In some societies our unconscious past has turned into a very dangerous present. On the legal side of things the pharmaceutical companies design ever-changing array of costly drugs with dangerous side-effects to placate the pill-popping urges of the general population. For many of these modern drugs (such as Prozac) the main beneficial effects appear placebo-related and diminish dramatically as the novelty of the drug wear off.

  The souls of the young who are the future of our race are at stake in the war between the medicine pushers and medicine controllers who vie for power in the contemporary world. The power and the greed of these counterpoising elites may lead our species not to a new tree of knowledge, but to the tree of collective amnesia. The stoned monkey may become a zonked out ape. The fact that the “War on drugs” is not only ineffective but totally misplaced can be seen from the fact that in the US twice as many people die from adverse reactions to prescription drugs as they do from the use of all illegal substances combined. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin kill about half the number of people that die from illegal drug use. One of the major “scourges” – marihuana – has not directly killed anyone yet. Tobacco, poor diet, physical inactivity and alcohol are the major causes of deaths in most modern societies. If the medicines’ problem was approached on purely epidemiological grounds, one could simply ignore the illegal drug use and concentrate fully on the abovementioned four major killers.

Can Humans Become Intelligent Medicine Users?

  If this were a question purely of science rather than of power politics, the answer would have been relatively easy. There are a number of experts who are very knowledgeable on this subject, both among the native informants and the scientists who are working in the area of psychopharmacology and medicine use. There are some promising new techniques and developments (see Recommended Reading and Appendix at the end of the article).

  A dangerous substance such as crack can become a healing medicine when administered via a different route (sniffing rather than smoking) to a particular group of people (elderly with arthritic problems). In this case, there is no danger of addiction or abuse. Such common medicines as marihuana can be of benefit for pain relief.

  If we start approaching the medicine problem scientifically, a number of directions for research and experimentation emerge.

1. Using recombinant DNA and other novel techniques, we can custom-tailor medicines to reduce their toxicity and addictiveness;

2. Medicines can be tailored to suit different genetic types. Active, cortically dominant types may require very different medicines and doses than, for example, less physically active, emotional types;

3. New initiation rituals for the young can evolve once the older generation will itself transcend its spiritual blindness, possibly with the help of some new medicines;

4. Even in the current medicine control climate, legitimate experimentation can be carried out with minute doses of some powerful natural and modified plant medicines. Such experiments can be monitored using sophisticated equipment and techniques to determine the efficacy of particular medicines for particular types of people at particular times, settings and doses.

5. Psychoactive plants from around the world can be made available for experimentation by packaging them in micro dose or homeopathic strengths and selling them through health food stores and practitioners. They could be also made available as experimental kits for botany and biology classes in senior schools. Taken in such doses, the plants could provoke subtle shifts in consciousness noticeable through dreams, meditation, vision quests, etc. The experimenter would therefore be able to find his or her "companion plant" which would set the strongest resonance in the psyche. The individual may then wish to pursue further acquaintance with such plant and the store of knowledge associated with it by "conscious trekking" to the part of the world where it grows. Experience acquired through the encounter with shamanistic and medicinal knowledge could then be processed and modified and integrated using modern psychological approaches. As bizarre and radical as this suggestion may appear to some, it is certainly less bizarre and radical than the current indiscriminate ingestion of random substances of unknown strength and purity in a psychological climate of subterfuge or open defiance, which not only leaves an unprocessed and toxic residue in the consciousness but makes an individual a criminal and an outcast.

6. Non-medicinal techniques such as meditation may complement and finally replace medicines after paleobotanic catalysts have "kick-started" endogenous production of biogenic amines linking our consciousness with certain plants.

  If our society is serious about medicine abuse problem, an international interdisciplinary effort aimed at replacing illegal and harmful medicines with legal and beneficial ones can be a step in the right direction. The most conscious among the power elites may choose to find new ways of re-legitimating the irrepressible human drive to stake a claim in the domain of tribal knowledge and power through communication with suitable paleobotanic consciousness catalysts (plants with powerful messages for human brains).

  While such an approach will not directly address the problems of drug-infested urban slums and their poverty-ridden, angry and disillusioned dwellers, or the problems of recreational use of drugs by the hedonistic rich, it may help to shift the long-term perspective from violent repression and control to intelligent use.

  The search for ‘Paradise’ does not have to be an exact reliving of how we were thrown out of it. Conscious refashioning of some old evolutionary tools may hold at least a partial answer to the problem of drugs, medicines and power.


(See my article "Are Drugs Experimenting with Humans?" for a more popular expose on the subject), as well as my book “Project Nirvana”.



Selected Books on evolution, religion, psychology and the nature of progress:

“A Short History of Progress” by Ronald Wright, Text Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 2004

“Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” by Jared Diamond, Viking, 2005

“Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” by Jared Diamond, W W Norton & Co Inc, 1997

“The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee” by Jared Diamond, Vintage, 1991

“The Broken Bow: The Solution to the Riddle of Man” by Edward M. Keating, Atheneum, 1975

“The ‘God’ Part of the Brain” by Matthew Alper, Rogue Press, 2001

“Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought” by Pascal Boyer, Basic Books, 2002

“NeuroTheology: Brain, Science, Spirituality, Religious Experience” by Rhawn Joseph

“Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief” by Andrew Newberg, Ballantine Books, 2002

“The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions” by Joseph Giovannoli, Rosetta Press, 2001

“The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience” by Eugene G. D'Aquili, Augsburg Fortress Pub, 1999

“In Gods We Trust. The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion” by Scott Atran, Oxford
University Press-USA, 2002

“The Next Enlightenment: Integrating East and West in a New Vision of Human Evolution” by Walter Truett Anderson, St. Martin's Press, 2003

A comprehensive collection of books and other resources on psychedelics and culture can be found at Flashback Books site:, including seminal works by authors such as Andrew Weil, Ralph Metzner, Terence McKenna, Stanislav Grof, and Alexander and Ann Shulgin.

Many online books are available through:

See also Thanatos To Eros, 35 Years of Psychedelic Exploration by Myron J. Stolaroff, a free e-book to be found at:

Pyotr’ Patrushev’s “The Transcendent Ape” (in print)

There is a plethora of sites on the Internet devoted to the continually updated catalogue of books, articles and other information on psychotropic plants, meditation, and their social and psychological effects. Some of the informative web sites and portals are:;;;;;;;

A most comprehensive list of links on Drugs and Society is:

The most complete Russian site on the subject is:

For an Indian spiritual perspective see a thoughtful article by Saurabh Bhattacharya “In Search of the Ultimate High”:

An article in the New Scientist summarizes latest medical research with psychedelics: “Psychedelic medicine: Mind bending, health giving” (26 February 2005)

Federal Drugs Administration also published an article about “Medical Possibilities for Psychedelic Drugs”:


Illegal drugs use 'rose in 2004'

Source: BBC News 6/30/2005

The number of people taking illegal drugs worldwide rose last year by about 15 million to 200 million, the UN annual drugs report says.

The value of the global drugs trade, which the report says is about $320bn, is higher than the gross domestic product of 90% of the world's nations.

It also says Afghanistan produced 87% of the world's illegal supplies of opium last year.

Cocaine production fell in Colombia, but rose in Peru and Bolivia.

"This is a worrying loss of momentum for both countries, which had already made significant progress to curb coca production," the report said.

The report said there was a long-term trend towards rising opium production in Afghanistan - although this had been offset by strong declines in Burma and Laos.

It added that there were positive signs for Afghanistan, where in 2005 the area under poppy cultivation had fallen from record levels last year.

The report said the Afghan government was strengthening its control over the economy, following elections in 2004.

 User breakdown:

Cannabis is the most widely used drug, and is taken by 160 million people, the report said.

Cocaine abuse, it said, was declining in North America, but rising in Europe.

The report said there were an estimated 14 million cocaine users worldwide, two-thirds of them in the Americas.

Around 16 million people use opiates - including 10.5 million taking heroin.

 Drug Users Around The World:

  • 160m use cannabis

  • 14m use cocaine

  • 16m use opiates

  • Of those, more than 10.5m use heroin

 Annual Causes of Death in the United States (2000):




Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity


Microbial Agents
Toxic Agents
Motor Vehicle Crashes
Adverse Reactions to Prescription Drugs
Incidents Involving Firearms
Sexual Behaviours
All Illicit Drug Use, Direct and Indirect
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Such As Aspirin




© Pyotr Patrushev

Are drugs experimenting with humans?

PYOTR PATRUSHEV considers some radical new thinking about drug addiction in the world's worst-affected nation.

I BELIEVE that the only long-term way to win the drug war is to introduce drug use into the classroom as a legitimate subject starting with, say, Grade 9.

I am not speaking out of total ignorance, and  only  partly tongue-in-cheek. For, during my recent trip to the US, I have taken an active part in the drug war, in the role, alas, of a civilian casualty.

I was walking along Sutler Street in San Francisco, in broad daylight, close to the usually safe Japantown. A gang of black youths were walking in the opposite direction. They were well-fed and dressed in smart track suits and casual clothes — not your usual derelict types who would push the streetwise button of a visitor.

I made eye contact with one of them, as he was trying to attract my attention by wild gesticulation. What happened next was a blur of movement and pain. I was kicked in the stomach and punched in the eye. As I fell to the ground, I saw the youths run.

They were not interested in my money. They were not muggers. They were high, possibly on crack. They were engaging in a self-designed, juvenile "hit-a-white-and-get-away-with-it" ini­tiation ritual. I just happened lo be the bloke with the whitest skin on the block.

I am not saying that the drug problem is in any way a racial problem. Heavy use of drugs by blacks is only one of its many facets. It is true that in the Highland Hospital in Oakland, in the San Francisco Bay Area, 45 per cent of all randomly tested, mostly black, patients showed crack metabolites in their blood.

It is also true that in New York, 73 per cent of arrested women, again mostly black, tested positive for cocaine. Equally true, drug use in perhaps less eye-catching fashion, affects all races and ill strata of the community in the US as it does elsewhere.

What I found out through this bitter personal experience is that the drug war, unleashed initially by the ebulliently optimistic if hare-brained Nixon, has left one with no place to hide.

Thinking of the staid Berkeley City Council's suggestion to introduce snifter dogs into the streets and homes of this university town, I appreciated the relative safety of Australia. And I wondered how long it would last.

Could we learn something from the American experience? This year, the US Government earmarked a staggering $US8 billion ($A10.25 billion) for drug war. This sounds like a lot of money, until we learn that the illicit drug trade will net the equivalent of the entire Federal Budget deficit in the same year - a cool $US150 billion.

Yet, only a small percentage - 5 to 7 percent — of heroin and cocaine traffic crossing the border will be intercepted. These days it costs $US2 million lo catch and jail a single drug smuggler, plus around $US18.000 a year to keep him in custody for 10 to 20 years. As one prominent American columnist had suggested, it would be cheaper — as well as much easier, although not as glamorous — to BUY smugglers off the street at $US2 million a shot and to allow them a comfortable retirement in Miami.

But even if the law enforcement agencies significantly cut the cocaine and heroin supply routes — which is unlikely — they will not snuff the demand. Just as the barons of the Medellin cartel in Bogota seem to be beating a temporary retreat, Asian and other cartels are coming on to the market with a new smokable form of amphetamine (called "ice"), which is far more addictive and easier to smuggle and manufacture locally than cocaine-derived crack.

A leading US psychоpharmacologist and drug expert, Dr Ronald Siegel of UCLA, joined recently the growing band of specialists who say we cannot stop the drug use, only learn to control it. He calls the use of plant-derived psychoactive substances (of which alcohol is an example) "the fourth natural drive" and proves that it is as widespread in the animal kingdom as it is in the human and had been throughout evolution.

He goes as far as to suggest that we may need to design better and safer psychoactive drugs and ways of using them rather than trying simply to prohibit their use.

The major problem with the current generation of drugs, experts such as Ron Siegel argue, is their illegality, their incredible potency (itself a product of science wreaking its belated revenge on man's presumptuous brain), and the abysmal ignorance of both the users and the controllers of use about the evolutionary nature and purpose of drug experience.

Drugs are now recognized as problem number one both in the US and in Australia, ahead of even such terrors as crime and inflation, and far ahead of war. Yet our response to this problem has been, it seems, somewhat myopic.

The proposed legalization of drugs, which is regarded by some as enlightened, only perpetuates the problem of ignorant and health-damaging abuse, sacrificing large portions of the population, mostly young, for the relative peace of the rest.

An old Sufi tale says: "You can only use what you have learnt to use." It advises to train the genie to obey your commands before you let him out of the bottle.

An ethnobotanical expert in the US has suggested that human culture is in fact shaped by the historical interaction of people and plants, including psycho-active plants. Man, he said, might be just an experiment by plants, and, moreover, one that is a cause for grave concern to the rest of the biosphere

This is less whimsical than it sounds when we recall that such major social upheavals as slavery and opium wars were precipitated by man's uncontrollable addiction to white sugar, tea and, finally, the extract of a poppy plant.

Coca-dollars are now a major political factor in the financial world. Just to think what a tobacco plant has done to humanity's health and finances boggles one's mind.

Other experts tell us that if you dig at the root of all modern religions you will find a plant-derived ritual. Plants were used for vision quests and initiations, thereby forging the link between the established cultural tradition and the aspirations of the young generation.

Can we put a claim lo be at least as intelligent as plants, so that we can reverse the direction of our war on drugs — which is actually an unmitigated retreat — and take some charge of the experiment being supposedly carried out by intelligent plants on our incumbent civilisation?

Can we see in 25 years' time (or is it 10, or five?) school kits with homeopathic or superdiluted extracts of psychoactive plants from all over the world being available for experimentation, together with detailed description of plant action and their ritual use?

Can we see our teachers of psychology finally being able to explain and possibly guide not just the behaviour of rats in a maze, but the craving Gutenberg felt for fermented grapes whose juice made him see an image of the printing press for the first time, thus initiating one of the most significant revolutions in human history?

Can we see field trips to the Amazonian jungle and the forests of Siberia or North Queensland (were there still such in existence) to discover the ethnobotanical lore and traditions, which have guided intelligent use of psychoactive plans throughout millennia?

Or shall we simply buy more radars and high-speed chase boats and give police robotised battering-rams to break reinforced doors of crack or "ice" — or whatever — dens''?

We have come a long way from the drug paranoia of the 50s to the rebellious euphoria of the 60s to the sober pragmatism of the late-80s. We have learnt that drug epidemics, as well as interest rates surges and recessions', come in waves whose laws seem, at this stage, more familiar to plants than to our human planners. Perhaps the time has come to study them as a legitimate subject without the fear and prejudice they usually provoke.





© Pyotr Patrushev

Finding a Way Home

Published in Good Weekend


The booth was full of holes, but the narrow slit prevented me from seeing fully what was happening inside. As the border guard clicked his invisible apparatus, I guessed that he was sending a picture of my passport to headquarters, where it was being checked against the KGB mainframe computer. All the while he was talking to his superiors on the phone. The guard queried the duration of my visa, and wanted his superiors' blessing. Even in Gorbachev's Soviet Union, no one will take responsibility if he or she can avoid it.  Satisfied, though, he waved me through.

I had been invited to the Soviet Union for the Compatriots' Congress in late August — the biggest reunion of Russian émigrés and exiles in Russian history. It was to be the first time émigrés could come back home not as prisoners in handcuffs or in sealed trains but as free citizens.

Still, I had my doubts about accepting the invitation. You become careful after spending half your life under threat of a death penalty. Only a year before, when I ventured into Russia for the first time in almost thirty years, I was, despite my formal rehabilitation by the authorities, detained on the border and held incommunicado for nine hours as soon as I disembarked my Aeroflot flight at Sheremetievo.

            So this time I decided to stop in Moscow briefly on my way to Europe, where I had other business to attend to before returning to the Congress. I wanted to smell the air for potential danger. It seemed reasonably safe, although the tension was almost palpable. Boris, my nephew, a captain in the police force, assured me there was no immediate danger of a coup. It was 1991. (How wrong can an "insider" be!) 

            Yet, as I reboarded my flight to Moscow from Paris almost a month later, my heart sank. Just a few days before, I wrote a poem, in which I spoke of my life as a "free fall into destiny". What was the destiny that awaited me? Surely, the conservatives could not tolerate a swarm of the past "enemies of the people" descending on Moscow at the invitation of Yeltsin's government? Yet I could not, would not, turn back. I had to face my destiny. At least this time I would not be alone, but with hundreds of others like myself.

The Author revisits Tomsk Psychiatric Hospital where he was incarcerated in 1962 and from which he escaped before his "treatment" commenced. Almost 30 years later and despite perestroika, the doctors refused to let him in and declined any attempts to interview them. (Author's photo, 1991)

So the Congress was going to be an occasion for formal reconciliation with my native country. Russia welcomes back its prodigal sons and daughters, seeking their advice and their views on the future of the country. Among other things, I brought with me my translation of a book on conflict resolution, negotiation and mediation skills, written by two Australian women, Helena Cornelius and Shoshana Faire — a resource badly needed in the Soviet Union as it began to split at the seams, baring conflicts suppressed for decades. The book, and my presentations at various round table discussions with Soviet and western experts, provoked a great deal of media interest. Yet my feeling of uneasiness remained. It all seemed too good to be true. My instincts told me that the people whose mentors had destroyed sixty million lives to get and keep their power and privileges would not simply walk away from it all.

On the night of the August 18, the eve of the coup, when senior Party and KGB officials moved to overthrow the Government, I had a dream. I was standing in front of a window, trying to hold it firm shut against a terrifying gale as at any minute the window could cave in. On the floor, I saw my sister, asleep with a child in her arms. I tried to wake her and tell her of the danger.

Next morning, I was woken up by a call from Australia. It was Pria Viswalingam, the presenter of the SBS TV Dateline show, asking me if I knew of the coup. I turned on a TV set in my room. An orchestra was playing against a background of tranquil meadows. An hour later, the announcement coup was read out. Nightmare had become reality.

That morning, the Congress members were invited to a special service in one of the Kremlin cathedrals with Alexey, Patriarch of All Russia. It was the Transfiguration service. As the ceremony proceeded, tanks and armoured vehicles gathered around Red Square, preventing our buses from leaving.

The next night, August 20 was the most terrifying. I had come from the Russian Parliament, known as the White House, which was surrounded by makeshift barricades manned mostly by young and inexperienced people, with a sprinkling of Afghanistan veterans, I was thinking: this is the Ghost Dance of the American Indians, trying to stop the well-armed whites by prayers and fasting. It looked like an exercise in futility, reminiscent of China's Tiananmen Square with its polystyrene Goddess of Democracy two years before.

took up a position by the window of my hotel — an excellent observation point from which I could see parts of Red Square and the roads which led to the Kremlin. My faithful portable shortwave radio stood on the window ledge, linking me to the world. Through the light drizzle, I could see KGB limousines scooting, like hungry black cockroaches, to and from the Kremlin through streets emptied by the curfew. Suddenly, some time after midnight, Moscow Echo — the last voice of independent broadcasting in Russia — went off the air with an announcement of the impending siege of the White House by government troops.

I checked a change of Soviet-made clothing hanging in my wardrobe, in case I had to go into hiding or had to make my way to the border secretly.

I had no illusions of safety, despite a reassuring call to the Australian Embassy; if this mob could hijack a legally elected President together with his nuclear codes, my Australian passport and my journalistic credentials were not going to impress them.

This was crazy, I thought. I was going to have to repeat a journey I had made 29 years ago. I thought of heading for Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and somehow getting on the first train to Finland. A repeat of the 30-kilometer swim at my age and in that season in the Black Sea didn't appeal.

In the background, the TV kept broadcasting Swan Lake.  I slept fitfully for about an hour, seeing visions of Michail Baryshnikov pursued by men with submachine guns as he pirouetted into the sunset.

As news of Yeltsin's victory and Gorbachev's return to Moscow spread, I went to the White House again. For the first time in my memory, people in the subway seemed alive. Their faces were shining with subdued joy. As there were still no newspapers, crowds clustered around posters in the subway. A middle-aged man was reading a leaflet haltingly but proudly to the whole crowd.

That morning after the lifting of the unsuccessful siege of the White House, I felt a sense of profound gratitude for the people who had stood at the barricades, and for the three young men who had died defending their — and my — freedom. For the first time in years, I felt proud to be a Russian. Finally, it seemed, the Wall of Fear in Russia had come down.


Muscovites demonstrate at the Russian Parliament against the Communist-led coup.
(Photo courtesy The Good Weekend, 1991) 

After the Congress, I planned to fly to Siberia to visit my family. My nephew, Boris, still concerned about my safety, volunteered to come with me as companion and bodyguard. Unable to get plane tickets in time, we loaded a king-size can of Mace, together with some provisions, into our knapsacks and prepared for a three-night, two-day train ride across the Urals.

But the journey turned out to be relatively uneventful. The two women conductors in our car plied us with endless cups of tea, complaining that they had not seen any sugar for two months. Luckily, we had a can of jam with us, which served as a sweetener. Peasants on platforms sold pickled cucumbers and hot potatoes with sour cream at prices that were ruinous to locals but ridiculously cheap to us foreigners. A dollar would buy the two of us an ample if plain meal, with some change to spare.

Children played in the corridor. A worker in our compartment kept saying he did not mind who governed the country, as long as he could get a decent wage and buy things in shops. Leaking pipelines and belching smokestacks flashed by the window, interspersed with mist-covered lakes and ancient farm houses.

In Novosibirsk we were joined by my sister as we headed for Kolpashevo, my old “home”. During my previous visit, I was not allowed to go there. This was the town where tens of thousands of prisoners were butchered by the NKVD in the thirties as the river told us.

I was prepared for anything on arrival in the town. We came incognito, without even bothering to register at the local police station (our stay was to be only two days). A few months earlier the editor of the local paper was nearly sacked for reprinting an interview with me published in Sibirskaya Gazeta. A coterie of war veterans published a denunciation of my forthcoming visit that amounted to a war cry. I was a traitor who could not be tolerated on native soil. They were going to show me who was boss. That was before the coup, of course.

My first day in Kolpashevo was miserable. A light drizzle made everything look gray, misting the lenses in my camera, making it hard to take good photographs. We came to the war memorial – and my father's name was missing from it. The Party was eternally vigilant. The father of a "traitor" had no place among those who were the "approved" dead. (We must make sure his name is restored to its rightful place I thought.)

There was a ditch near the town store where I often played as a child. This was where I was sent to buy a bottle of vodka, and, unable to resist the temptation, bought myself a pocketknife instead and got a terrible thrashing. I stood now in front of the ditch. The 30-odd years that have passed had filled it with the debris of time: old shoes, plastic bottles, newspapers, and common dirt. I thought: this is my body, its memory crevasses dulled, made shapeless by the passage of time. I thought of that other ditch, the unmarked mass grave a few hundred meters away, on the riverbank. My little Siberian town was a monument to the tragedies of my country.

The Author's brother and two cousins at a picnic against the background of communal flats in the Siberian city of Tomsk (Author's photo, 1991)

As had happened so many times in the past — with the Aztec mass sacrifices, the medieval witch-hunts, the Holocaust, the Pol Pot massacres — the Big Promise had gradually turned into a Big Lie.  In the Soviet Union, the Communist Party bosses ended up building giant mausoleums and using the profits from their Chernobyls to give their children piano lessons and themselves Finnish saunas and imported toilet basins.  Their main purpose, as Orwell said so well, was to destroy the memory of the past and thus control the future.

All I could do was to try to salvage my personal memories, my own witch-hunts and Chernobyls.

Later, as we stood over the graves of our grandparents, I recalled that they had gone to their graves without the traditional forgiving of each other. For a moment I felt overcome by a sense of my own inability to forgive and to feel gratitude for life, (no matter how terrible).

It seemed to me then that this inability to forgive; this lack of faith and charity  - and not just the communists or the pollution - was the true cause of the destruction of human and material values I saw around me. It was the anger that we passed on from generation to generation. Some call this anger the original sin. Standing at the graves of our ancestors, my sister and I promised solemnly to forgive others and ourselves before we died.

On the day of my departure, the local newspaper asked me to give an interview and write a personal message to the town folk. I wrote of hope and reconciliation.

Next, we went to Tomsk, to visit my mother and brother. My brother was waiting outside mother’s apartment building, sitting on a bench and smoking a cigarette. He was waiting patiently, although he even did not know the day of our arrival. I walked into the tiny flat. My mother stood in the middle of the room, slightly shrunken, but still sprightly despite her 86 years of harsh and demanding life. She was dressed in her habitual neat self-made caftan. She glanced at me fleetingly, greeted me briefly and then, much more openly and joyfully, Boris. A little wound opened again in my heart — I had been away too long.


The Author's sister. In the background is the police station in Kolpashevo in the vicinity of which mass graves of executed prisoners were uncovered.

Relatives came and went, sharing with me memories of their lives and their interrogations by the police after my escape. For the first time, I could tell them the full story. I was no longer the pariah of the family, lost to foreign shores. I was treated more as a sort of hero who came back from a long and dangerous odyssey. Even my older brother, who thought me a bit of an idealist, was impressed by my ability to convert pieces of plastic out of my wallet into bottles of imported cognac and cartons of otherwise unavailable cigarettes.

I felt contented but not happy. Where do I really belong? I recalled an old émigré, a ballet teacher in France who used to say: "When I am with the French, I know I am not French. When I am with the Russians, I know I am not Russian".

C'est la vie.

But, finally, it was over. I said goodbye to mother, sister and brother, unsure when we would meet again. We all knew a harsh winter was coming — not only with shortages, but with chilly winds of anger and grieving and decades-old fatigue.

The demagogues and the party sorcerers would be out in force again, finding scapegoats, proposing instant solutions to the bitter and the disillusioned. I recalled an acquaintance of my sister, a Party member, who brooded darkly over the failed coup and the "Gorbachev conspiracy" to destroy the Party, while savagely pruning trees at his country dacha.

It seemed to me then that even Russia, let alone the Soviet Union, would need a miracle to survive without selling its soul to the dark forces that would promise it salvation. Packs of scavengers, small and big, East and West, talking of "untapped resources" were poised to tear apart the remnants of Russia's ailing, poisoned body that would require another generation to heal.

Only a miracle can save Russia, I thought, as I drove back to Sheremetievo, my body groaning and creaking under a month-long overload of cholesterol, alcohol and nitrate residues, compounded by lack of sleep and emotional turmoil.

The taxi driver, a longhaired fellow looking like a relic of the 60's, played tapes of Russian protest songs that already seemed an age out of date. I thought of Russia's past and remembered the most poignant Russian fairy tale I knew: of Prince Ivan, lying in the field, hacked to pieces by Kashchei the Deathless, the evil male spirit who has been haunting Russia since times immemorial. Ivan is finally saved and resurrected by the powerful animal spirit to whom he had wisely betrothed his three sisters. The animals brought him the Water of Life to restore his life and limbs.

I remembered the women I had met on my journey — a professor of sociology in St Petersburg who was learning and teaching conflict resolution; a woman scientist in Novosibirsk who healed her son with native medicine and started a homeopathic and herbalist clinic; my own mother who held up through all the privations with her spirit intact and I thought:  maybe the miracle is already happening.

As I boarded the plane, I remembered a joke: it is easy to change capitalism into socialism — it is like making a fish soup out of an aquarium.  But it is much harder to reverse the process.  Yet, maybe the fish soup we were so artfully served was an illusion and the great fish of human faith was the reality that endured.  If so, Russia would endure too.  And with it, the world




© Pyotr Patrushev

Fear And Greed Rule As A Mighty Nation Falls Apart

Pyotr Patrushev has just returned from his first visit to his native Soviet Union in 28 years - the country which, only a few weeks before his return, overturned the death penalty imposed on him for his dramatic escape abroad all those years ago.

"The country is in a far worse state than when I left," said Mr Patrushev,  a former swimming champion who fled the Soviet Union at the age of 20 by swimming 30 kilometres across a treacherous corner of the Black Sea to Turkey, and who later migrated to Australia.

"But it's far better in that at least we know about the conflicts, about the need for change, and though it feels extremely uncertain for people who are in the midst of that change, ultimately it is better.

"It's like being in neurosis or being sick without knowing it and now it is finally out there - you can deal with it, it has become conscious."

Mr Patrushev - a writer, broadcaster, translator and consultant with the Chatswood-based Conflict Resolution Network - said that when he first arrived at Moscow Airport he was taken away by guards and detained for more than eight hours.

He had made the trip to visit relatives, mainly in his native Siberia, and make contacts for the network, which teaches conflict resolution skills under the auspices of the United Nations Association of Australia. (The Northern Herald reported his work in July, when the Conflict Resolution Network was inundated from letters from the Soviet Union following an article about it in Pravda, the Soviet newspaper.)

Both Soviet and Australian authorities had assured Mr Patrushev that it was safe for him to travel to the Soviet Union on his Australian passport.

But nevertheless he was detained, most of the time in a hot and stuffy airport hotel, without being able to contact the Australian Embassy or his waiting relatives.

He was freed with no explanation, except that of the hotel manager who commented: "See, perestroika is working."

Mr Patrushev said he was shocked by the "sea of chaos" that is the Soviet Union today - a land struggling to forge a market economy and at the same time overcome its former world isolation and immense social problems ranging from alcoholism to outright hunger.

"Moscow seemed like a giant derelict orphanage," he said. "There's a sense of gloom. It's as if there had been a war.

"The country is becoming more like India than any other place I know.

"There's a culture of professional young beggars that's emerging, as there already is in developing countries and in the Asian sub-continent.

"There are children in the Moscow subway - babies left by their parents, with a little kitten next to them - for people to give them money."

Mr Patrushev said there were severe shortages of food, power and basic goods and services, including medical services. People looked malnourished.

Rapidly growing unemployment was another problem - "people are talking about 25 per cent in the next six months".

Mr Patrushev said that as capitalism took over, he believed there was the danger it would be "the tooth-and-claw capitalism of the industrial revolution, that doesn't even exist in the west any more" and that a growing number of minority groups such as the aged would need protection.

"I think they will have to create soup kitchens or a system where people will have to give part of their income for these people, otherwise it will be like India," he said.

"The paradox is that the socialist structure gave the illusion of you being taken care of by the powerful State.

"The reality of it was that the predatory elite had been bleeding the resources of this very rich country and very large and relatively welleducated population, for its own benefit, and now the country is bled dry." Mr Patrushev found the Soviets were keen to befriend Westerners, as they had been starved of such contacts for so long.

Many also wanted to leave the country. A massive "brain drain" was already seeing some of the best-educated snapped up by Germany and the United States.

"But the largest malaise is the sense of moral vacuum - their lives are lacking purpose," Mr Patrushev said.

"To have the market as the new god is not sufficient yet for the Russian soul - it's not sufficient yet to make people work, and work compassionately and in the way that's going to create a true welfare society.

"People are frightened, people are greedy - the whole thing is operating at the level of fear and greed. There is not yet the emerging courage, the 'yes, we can do something and we can do something better than it was before'.

"That's what needs to come when there are some role models of courage, but they are not there, even at the highest level."

Mr Patrushev said there was a religious revival in the Soviet Union and a burgeoning environmental movement.

"Perhaps it's this new ecological consciousness, combined with the good aspects of Orthodoxy and Christianity, that will provide the impetus for spiritual revival in Russia."




From Gogol to Global Warming:

The absurdist tradition in Russian literature re-awakened

Notes on a Soiree Litteraire at the NSW Writers' Centre by Pyotr Patrushev: 
“Russia: Dead Souls Waking”, 6 February 2007 

By Professor  Peter King,  University of Sydney

I was intrigued by the title of Pyotr Patrushev's talk with its reference to Gogol’s novel Dead Souls. The talk promised to address “ultimate questions of survival and spiritual growth.”

Pyotr Patrushev, an escapee extraordinaire, writer, translator and broadcaster, found his ultimate escape not only from Russia but also from urban pressures on the shores of Jervis Bay. He told us about his personal history, his own brushes with death both before and during his escape in 1962, which entailed swimming from Georgia in the USSR to Turkey.  Sentenced to Death, which describes his incarceration in a mental institution and his flight to freedom, was recently published in Russia. At his Soiree Pyotr then wove these personal motifs into a larger context, first drawing an extraordinary “population pyramid” of Russia and comparing it to that of Australia. The deaths of tens of millions of people and the huge imbalance between the male and female segments of the population at certain ages (the males bearing the brunt of wars, purges and revolutions) became glaringly obvious.

Is Vladimir Putin (a martial arts adherent, as well as an ex-KGB lieutenant colonel) mortgaging the souls of future generations of Russians by trying to rebirth Russia’s superpower status, flexing his newly discovered petro-muscle? There was only an oblique answer in Pyotr’s talk. He spoke of the suffering of Gogol’s “little man”, whose dream of owning a decent overcoat is shattered when he is robbed by bandits. As if this was not enough, he is later divested of his remaining dignity by corrupt and heartless bureaucrats. In Gogol’s  Overcoat belated justice comes only through the intervention of a ghost-like apparition. Is this all we can hope for? In the tale even the apparition is ultimately suspect. It could even be the robber-in-disguise, using the fearful memory of the past to renew his quest for wealth and power. In new Russia writers are once again encouraged to sound “socially-responsible” themes in order to gain the state’s patronage, and an ex-KGB colonel can brazenly claim the mantle of protector of the arts.

The absurdist link between past and the present surfaced again when Pyotr spoke of his recent book Project Nirvana. An imaginary alternative Soviet Union, confronted with death by a thousand hangovers, decides to combat alcoholism (said by some to be the intermediate stage between socialism and communism) by hooking the population on a plant-derived drug, Socialin. The experiment backfires as spiritual evolution steals the hearts of the proletariat. Could a Western version of Socialin counteract the consumerist urge to turn our planet into a putrid gas-encased garbage dump?  The advertisers certainly would not like it.  

As Pyotr sees it, we concentrate unduly on the bogeyman of illegal drug use, while the obesity crisis, legal drug overuse and the revenue-rich scourge of tobacco and alcohol continue to blight millions of lives. But, far from advocating the legalisation of any drug or plant, Pyotr put on his Gogolian whimsy-hat and spoke of changing human nature with genetic engineering, creating a race of enlightened humans synthesising their food from sunlight, beings who would abhor all addictions, including addiction to animal flesh.

It became clear as the talk progressed that Pyotr believes the reawakening of Gogol’s Dead Souls can only come through an act of creation – an awakening of the dormant possibilities of the human mind and spirit. Gogol, the tormented prophet crucified by the intolerable religious agenda he tried to impose on his art, drove himself into delirium and premature death before he could complete the final volume of his masterpiece. His whimsical and yet fantastically real art, which made millions laugh (and also cry), was not enough for him.

We learned finally that although Gogol was a literary inspiration to Pyotr, his current intellectual beacons are  writers like Jared Diamond, the chronicler of our transition from the lowly Third Chimpanzee into a gluttonous Planet Eater, and Edward Wilson, the sociobiologist turned conservationist who, in his latest opus, The Creation, despite being a convinced atheist, reaches out  to the religious majority, exhorting it to forego the conflict with science for the sake of saving the remaining life on our planet.

Good on you Pyotr. You have certainly travelled far from the confines of the Tomsk Psychiatric Hospital to which, in the bitter winter of 1962, you escaped from the Army Gulag only to have the stern Guardians of the Faith meet you with a straitjacket. I’m glad you did not become yet another missing dot on the jagged Russian population pyramid. Your talk helped us to awaken our souls to the beauty -- and the absurdity -- of the human condition, East and West.




© Pyotr Patrushev

The Health Race: Finding a Cure for Isolation