Golem is a short film by Patrick Mccue & Tobias Wiesner. It’s hard to describe, but the filmmakers say it’s based on ideas of “freedom and curiosity, fear and security, abstraction and fiction, the lack of accessibility in face of unknowing and the need for generating meaning.”

Watching it, I couldn’t help but think of how very psychedelic these topics are — not because they’re “far out, man,” but because they are important. These are exactly the kinds of big-picture revelations that cross my mind while in a state of heightened awareness.

Thoughts like these–whether inspired by an intense conversation, a mind-opening trip, or a beautiful short film like Golem–can make everything else seem small in comparison. How can I get caught up in television dramas and other diversions when the grand themes of humanity are being played out? Golem, like a good acid trip, reminds me to think bigger.

Around the halfway mark, the narrator’s soothing voice describes human cultures and beliefs:

You got rid of freedom to find security and meaning in self-constructed cultures. Unaware, you have started to plug this hole of uncertainty with myths and cultures over thousands of years. Several bitter and sweet perceptions were necessary to add dignity to your lonely fate, and to justify your existence on earth. You held demons, elements, spirits, powers of the earth and sun responsible for the birth of culture. But never yourself.

She then goes on to describe culture as a powerful tool, albeit one that must be used unwittingly. For as soon as our myths are revealed as fiction, they lose their power. It’s a beautiful “scene,” if you can call it that.

Golem’s use of the word culture to mean all our conventions and fictions, a “golden cage” that simultaneously limits and reassures us, reminds me of Terence McKenna. (And if you’re familiar with Robert Anton Wilson, “reality tunnels” will spring to mind.) Two McKenna talks fit perfectly with the themes of Golem. The first is called Culture is Not Your Friend:

The next is Culture is Your Operating System. The first 5 and a half minutes are especially great:

There are quite a few McKenna quotes that offer insight on culture, all of them piercing and eloquent:

Culture is the effort to hold back the mystery, and replace it with a mythology.

“Unexamined cultural values and limitations of language have made us unwitting prisoners of our own assumptions.”

We are caged by our cultural programming. Culture is a mass hallucination, and when you step outside the mass hallucination you see it for what it’s worth.”

“Culture is a closed system of thinking and values, of the sort I am denouncing; and the greatest barrier to your enlightenment, your education, and your decency, is your culture.”

“You must cut through the aura of programming and cultural assumptions that surround us from the moment we are able to speak. The only way this can be done is by dissolving the boundaries of ego. Ego is a structure that is erected by a neurotic individual who is a member of a neurotic culture against the facts of the matter. And culture, which we put on like an overcoat, is the collectivized consensus about what sort of neurotic behaviors are acceptable.

Here’s an excerpt from “Culture and Ideology are Not Your Friends,” a talk McKenna gave in Denver in 1999.

“What does it mean to be incarnate in a human body at the end of the 20th century in a squirrely culture like this, trying to make sense of your heritage, your opportunities, the contents of the culture, the contents of your own mind? Is it possible to have an over-arching viewpoint that is not somehow canned, or cultish, or self-limited in its approach? In other words, is it possible to cultivate an open mind and sanity in the kind of society and psychological environment that we all share? And it grows, daily and weekly, as you know, harder to do this; weirder to integrate; more on your plate to assimilate. And I certainly don’t have final – or even nearly final – answers….Any ideological or belief system that offers closure – meaning final answers – is sure to be wrong; sure to be self-limiting, sure to be inadequate to the facts.

…It’s a kind of a con game. It is in fact, strangely enough, a kind of virtual reality. We have been led to think of virtual realities as something on the screen of a computer, or presented through a headset, but that’s an electronic virtual reality. The primary technology for the building of virtual realities is language. Once you start talking about race pride, loyalty, our destiny, our God, our mission, it’s like building virtual realities; and people begin to treat these things as though they had the substantiality of real objects, and to build their lives as though these things are real. And what is this? It’s a diminution of humanness. You’re choosing to limit yourself to a cultural reality; whether it’s the reality of being Huitoto or Orthodox Jewish, or whatever it is, it’s a smaller world than the simple hardware you were born into this universe with.

…Cultures are boundary-defining engines – that’s what they do! They teach you: ‘We do it this way. DON’T GO THERE – in your mind, in your heart. Follow the rules. Follow the rules.’ Cultures are like operating systems.

So how can we break out of the virtual reality called culture? How to escape the “sweet unconscious cage of slavery” and return to what Golem calls “the big hole” of uncertainty? For one, foster open-mindedness and resist absolutes. As McKenna said (last quote, I promise): “when you believe in something, you are automatically precluded from believing its opposite.”

Sometimes it’s better to confront the empty space of ignorance without belief, without dogma, without faith. A question is often more valuable than an answer.

How else can we break the rigid mold of convention? Psychedelics, of course! Nothing strips away the veil of culture like a good trip.

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