6. Shrinking Free Thought: human rights and mystical experience

When psychiatrists forcibly abort mystical experience with drug treatments they violate fundamental human rights. The reason why this is allowed to happen is frustratingly simple. Modern industrial societies are inherently biased against independent religious thought and belief. While our scientific age is willing to tolerate non-rational, religious thinking, so long as it is safely contained within respectably organised churches, it will not abide the inflammatory visions of independent seers. This is particularly true of people with the temerity to suggest they might have some kind of messianic mission to fulfil. Such people are thought to be at best a nuisance, at worst dangerous.

Our culture feels the need to protect itself from this type of person and has charged the psychiatric profession with the responsibility of identifying and neutralising them as quickly and efficiently as possible. In taking on this task psychiatrists tacitly understand that the objective is really to silence them, not to help them. That is why they are trained in the use powerful drugs, and not in the knowledge of religion and mysticism.

However, this practice isn't necessarily correct simply because it is culturally sanctioned. There are many practices and institutions in modern societies that are similarly supported by popular consensus, but which are demonstrably wrong. Wrong in the sense that they cause relative harm by retarding the societies that practice them, and also wrong in a more absolute moral sense. The scientific/military deployment of weapons of mass destruction is one example, and the market-driven destruction of the natural environment is another. Further examples that compare more closely are culturally-based prejudices and sanctions against certain racial groups, against homosexuals, and against women. To put it bluntly, societies often don't know what is good for them. As a result they sometimes develop practices and institutions that work against their collective interests. 

Yet despite this pattern of self-inflicted cultural damage there is also another pattern whereby modern societies evolve their collective thinking and, with the passage of time, develop insight and correct their culturally-based errors. Human rights have become an important tool in the development of this type of collective insight. It is largely through the educative efforts of human rights activists that various minority groups have been removed from culturally-sanctioned black-lists and recast as good and productive citizens. Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is supposed to protect the rights of differently-minded people by asserting the universal right to the freedoms of thought and belief.