Looking Forwardback [The Trenchant Edges]

In which I try to remember exactly what I was doing and why.

Welcome back to the Trenchant Edges, the newsletter where we take deep dives into fringe culture.

I’m your host, Stephen Fisher, a professional dropout still looking to get paid to research the weirdness that permeates our world.

One of the first tasks things to do while rebooting this newsletter is looking at what I’ve done already and deciding if I want to keep pieces of the old format and goals.

This next bit is from an old email about the topic to cover after Terence Mckenna. It doesn’t take me long to realize how unformed these are. They’re not really even framed as questions to build a research project around.

That’s kinda a problem.

But let’s take a look at the topics:

“Here are some examples of where we could go divided into subjects:


  • The Brotherhood of Eternal Love (late 60s California religion and drug cartel). Might be doable in a month.

  • Operation Julie (UK acid ring). Pretty well documented, might be doable in a month.

  • William Leonard Pickard, Todd Skinner, Krystal Cole/Neurosoup, and Brandon Green and the whole boatload of fuckery that was. Too convoluted for a single month, if people are interested I’d want to hold this one off so I can get a correspondence going with people in prison which can’t really be rushed.

  • The Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church. America’s best religion, created by a solipsist alcoholic anti-semite to grift whiskey money from psychedelic uers in the 1960s and stunningly influential for a joke because they’re responsible for the legal president that one’s legal religious freedom does not create a loophole for drugs laws. One month, if I can line up the interviews with its successor orgs. Did I mention they were dedicated to the physical destruction of the planet Saturn? Art Kleps, the aforementioned founder, once excommunicated Tim Leary for being a Charlatan and a hack.

Deep Culture

  • How the Media invented, sold, and condemned the Hippie. Maybe a month or two. Could easily sprawl out from there.

  • What the hell did Marshall McLuhan say, actually? Two months. Dude’s writing is hella dense, but I already own most of big books. And I’m friends with his grandson who runs the Marshall McLuhan Institute.

  • The history of Futurism. How trying to rigorously imagine new futures, a practice that started in the 1960s, helped create the world today. Two months.


  • A history of Cointelpro. Two months or more. Doing it right means pouring over a mess of congressional testimony and god knows what else.

  • MK-Ultra. Same as Cointelpro, but worse because it’s a lot more convoluted.

  • Dunking on Jan Irvin. Two months, because the guy’s work is all built on gish gallops. He combines some really good documentary evidence and some truly terrible reasonable. I’ve been wanting to sink my teeth into his work publicly for years, but utterly cannot justify the attention to detail he needs for free. *camera pans to this newsletter solving that problem*

Spirituality/The Occult

  • The Perennial New Age: how the post-60s American spiritual milieu wasn’t ever actually all that new, with much of it being rehashes of late 19th and early 20th century new thought. MAYBE one month, if only because I’ve already done a ton of the research for this. If it means getting into a lot of primary sources, it’s gonna be longer.

  • How to spot a spiritual grifter: Wanna just dunk on active cult leaders for a month? This could be a full time job for an army of journalists. They’re easy to spot.

  • The Branded Buddha: How corporations ate eastern spirituality and remade it in their own image. Probably two months, I’ve got a pretty good idea of how it happened but would want better sources.

Alright, that’s what I’ve got at the moment. This is like, a lifetime of research if I was more obsessive.”

The other side of this is that my research estimates are laughable. Shut the fuck up, past Steve. There’s no way you could do Cointelpro justice in a couple months, let alone MK Ultra.

Those are just too complicated and controversial to really do in a meaningful way in the 1-2 months -> Big research dive format I’d planned on building this newsletter around.

What’s clear to me right now from my more recent work as a copywriter is the lack of process structure here. How long can I realistically spend a week on any of this? If I was able to dedicate 40 or 60 hours/week, a lot more of this is doable. But there’s no real way I can do even a quarter of that with my current work situation and back injury.

I think the topics themselves, though halfbaked, are pretty strong. What they’re missing is being clarified into research questions which answer two questions:

  1. Why should anyone care?

  2. What defines importance within these large subjects?

The first question justifies the effort of learning about the subject and reading about it and the second clarifies priorities within the research itself.

From there I need a research process.

Offhand, something like this:

  1. Literature/Source Discovery on each topic

    1. What sources are exist?

    2. How available are they?

    3. How much will it cost in time/money to access?

    4. Expand w/ source bibliography

  2. Topic Selection

  3. Create Important Figure Map

  4. Literature Review

  5. Identify important remaining questions

  6. Interview Available Figures

  7. Repeat until questions are answered or run out of sources.

This is probably a bit too granular and skimpy towards the end but I think it’s a good start on approaching this newsletter with a little more rigor while also making it much more clear how I’ll be able to realistically do.

I like the vibe of the newsletter and I want to keep it, I just want to add a little more underlying structure.

Alright, this one was a bit late but I think it was worth it just to think through my next steps better.

Will see you tomorrow with some McLuhan.