Intelligent People Keep Growing and Changing |
The DSN Interview with Dr. Timothy Leary
| Part 1
Publication:. Drug Survival News
Editor:. Jim Parker
Date:. September-October 1981 
Pages:. 12-19

Dr. Timothy Leary has been one of America's most provocative and flamboyant public figures since he first flared across the national consciousness in the early 1960s. Preaching a message of chemical-induced ecstasy, Leary openly advocated the use of LSD and other drugs, while urging youthful listeners to "turn on, tune in, and drop out." Millions did just that, as Leary established himself as both a catalyst and spokesman of the emerging "psychedelic movement." And, although jailed repeatedly over the years for relatively minor drug offenses, Leary has continued to advocate greater individual freedom in the exploration of chemical nirvanas.

Leary's early years gave little indication of the bizarre turns his life would take. Born in 1920, the only son of Irish-Catholic parents in Springfield, Massachusetts, Leary quietly distinguished himself as an academic, taking degrees from the University of Alabama and Washington State University before receiving his doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of California in 1950. After the publication of two major papers on personality diagnosis, Leary joined the psychology department at Harvard University, eventually collaborating on two textbooks and participating in the Center for Research in Personality.

During a trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico in 1960, Leary ingested psilocybin mushrooms with friends and, in his words, began " feel strange. "

"It was the classic visionary voyage and I came back a changed man," he wrote of this first trip several years later. "You are never the same after you've had that one flash glimpse down the cellular time tunnel. You are never the same after you've had the veil drawn."

Leary quickly proved to his Harvard superiors and to the world at large that he was no longer the same. Upon his return to the university, he continued his psychedelic investigations, gradually expanding the focus of his self-administered, self-monitored explorations to include the then little-known chemical LSD-25.

Applying insights gained from his own psychedelic experiences, Leary developed structured therapeutic LSD encounters with a population of convicts at a maximum security state prison, but similar experiments with graduate and undergraduate students quickly attracted the ire of the Harvard administration. After ignoring a university ultimatum to curtail the experiments, Leary and colleague Richard Alpert were dismissed by the university in 1963.

The intervening years have often seemed very much a media roller coaster ride with Timothy Leary both creator and victim of his own image.
See the Doctor Now!

He has been prosecuted relentlessly by state and federal authorities and, until being discharged from parole two weeks before this interview, spent 15 years occupying a seemingly-endless succession of roles in the U.S. criminal justice system, either accused, convicted, imprisoned, or paroled -- ultimately even an escapee and international fugitive -- for two relatively minor marijuana charges. Ironically, each offense involved less than an ounce of pot -- misdemeanor offenses under current California law.

Dr. Leary has remained a prolific writer and social commentator, despite his legal problems. He has authored 20 books and monographs, including High Priest, Politics of Ecstasy, Principles and Practice of Hedonic Psychology, and Confessions of a Hope Fiend. He currently lives in the hills above Los Angeles with his wife Barbara and 7-year old son, Zachary.

Drug Survival News editor Jim Parker conducted the interview that follows. The conversation was taped on September 5, 1981.

DSN: Dr. Leary, It you weren't real, your life would read like unbelievable fiction. During the past twenty years, you've been, among other things, a respected scientific researcher, the "high priest" of the psychedelic movement, a radical politician, a social reformer, and, more recently, a convict, an escapee, and an international fugitive. Which roles -- or set of roles -- have been most satisfying?

LEARY: I believe firmly in a philosophy of personal evolution. I think that the goal of life is to master the reality of the particular stage you're in and then move on. You have to learn to crawl and to walk and to talk and to write and to socialize and to deal with sexual identity challenges, domestication...So I have liked all of the stages I've passed through. I've had a very full life and I'm continuing to develop and grow. That's the problem of approaching biography in a static way -- intelligent people keep growing and changing.

I've always been basically an individual; I believe firmly that the intelligent individual is the unit of human life, therefore I've always been somewhat detached from the family and the state and church bureaucracies and organizations which attempt to take over the responsibilities and progress of the individual.

I'm an all-out believer in selfhood. I think the great evolutionary advance in the last 20 years in this country is the sociology and neuropathy of self -- the so-called me generation -- the first mass generation in human history (as far as I can find out) that defines the unit of civilization and life as the responsible and intelligent self-reliant individual. That is, of course, the basic American visionary point of view -- the Emersonian, self-reliant, look within point of view. It's really happened in the last 20 or 30 years and I'm glad to have contributed to it.

Everything I did as a scientist and as a reformer and as an occasional political activist was to challenge the state and other bureaucracies in their attempts to take over the human body and the human brain -- the first and last frontiers of selfhood, your own body, and who and what you put in your own body and your own brain. No one can limit, restrict, or try to control how you access, activate, manipulate your own brain through the use of drugs.

DSN: Years ago, you suggested that we have a constitutional right to modify consciousness with chemicals. Do you still believe that we have an absolute right to use chemicals to alter awareness?

LEARY: (laughs) Absolutely. It's ludicrous and ominous to think that the government will try to limit, restrain, control where you're going to put your head, and how you're going to manage and direct your own neurology. That's the basis of your own freedom. Now, as far as behavior is concerned, if what you do in your head leads you to violate any behavioral law -- a traffic law or imposing on the rights of other people -- then you should be busted. But in the privacy of your own home, your own body and your own brain, that's your business. It's everyone's business to keep busybodies out of our homes and minds.

DSN: Several years ago, your former colleague and collaborator in LSD research, Ralph Metzner, published a paper In which he discussed some of his feelings about the psychedelic movement. Metzner described his main feelings as gratitude and disappointment -- gratitude for the experience and the opportunity to experience psychedelics and the way they transform consciousness, disappointment that the behavioral health establishment had not seen fit to develop structures for incorporating these drugs into meaningful activity related to growth and development. How do you feel about your Involvement In the psychedelic movement -- a movement which you, more so than any other, catalyzed and led?

LEARY: The concept that you can access your own brain and learn how to activate different circuits of your own brain and run it intelligently in a disciplined fashion is probably the most important concept of the 20th Century. I'm not the first person to say that. Aldous Huxley, actually, said that the 20th Century will probably be remembered as the century in which humanity learned to understand and use our own brain.

The fall-out from that is incredible. We're now in the age of information -- which is obviously a sequela of this concept of learning how to live as a neurological rather than a neuromuscular, industrial person. The age of computers is a tremendous breakthrough in communication -- home video, satellite dishes -- it's all neurological, that we're learning how to hook up our brains, not necessarily our muscles or our bodies, to the incredibly-expanding society that we're developing. So I feel I'm the luckiest person who ever lived to be part of an event that's changing our species -- taking us from industrial/muscular, to a neurological, intelligent race.

I'm not disappointed at the fact that the government has done nothing to help support research in brain-activating drugs. It's the function of government to slow things down. and no one's ever accused any government in world history of trying to make their citizens smarter or more independent-minded. There's plenty that's wrong with drug use in this country.

I would say that 99 percent of people misuse, abuse drugs right now. But that's not the problem of the brain, the brain is perfect, nor the drugs because the drugs are pretty good -- if you know how to use them. It's simply a fault of poor education.

Is there anything wrong with any drug like LSD or euphoriants that are addictive? Let the pharmaceutical companies or let's have research grants that will give us drugs that will allow any adult American to put their brain exactly where they want it to be. That is happening, of course, outside the sphere of government control and government knowledge.

Laboratories throughout the country are filled with organic chemists and psychopharmacologists who are developing better forms of drugs. The first Wright Brothers' planes were somewhat dangerous and rather inefficient, but you don't ban flying. The first cars, similarly, broke down and were risky operations, but you don't ban cars. The same is true with drugs which accelerate and elevate consciousness and intelligence. You got to make them better.

DSN: In your book High Priest you described the youth culture of the sixties in this way. You wrote: "For the first time In history teenagers (our advanced mutant species) have written their own songs, beat their own rhythms, created their own religion." What happened to that religion?

LEARY: As you ask that question, the most popular band in the country today is Jim Morrison and the Doors, as you know. And also Led Zeppelin's early material and there are probably more Beatles records selling now than there were...

That particular signal is still viable. It's true that the college kids today are not idealistic, or romantic, courageous, visionary, utopian as they were in the sixties -- and there's good reason for that because the adult society has really come down with a heavy program of fear and terror and cynicism. Who knows, but I can read what's going on in the high schools and colleges today. The kids are afraid of poverty and afraid of the future.

I feel, though, that this is deceptive and there's no question that college kids today are much more concerned with developing their own careers than they are in saving the world or starting a utopian society. But I think this is a reasonable and realistic position, and I endorse young people today developing their own competencies and excellences and sort of get self-confidence that they can support themselves and their families.

But they haven't given up utopianism and there's a tremendous latent asset in America today -- the younger generation. They're extremely sophisticated and they're extremely intelligent and they've benefited from what their parents in the sixties generation have learned and when the time comes, as it will, because everything goes in cycles, don't ignore high school and college kids today. They're basically bored with politics because politics is so boring and partisan politics is over. The older generation doesn't realize that, but the kids realize that.

DSN: In what sense do you mean that partisan politics is over?

LEARY: The last two presidential elections, more eligible voters didn't vote than voted for both presidential candidates combined, so the basic vote was no president. This is a mark of an extremely intelligent civilization, when people intelligently and freely refuse to get involved in the low-level past politics that in fact drives our country today.

But, although confidence in government and all bureaucracies is plummeting, and has been plummeting regularly since the sixties, self confidence -- confidence is one's own ability with one's friends to create a mini-reality that is livable and growthful -- has never been higher. So we're getting to be a country of increasingly intelligent individuals, which I think is great.

DSN: So you see the future of humankind then as basically positive? I hear you being hopeful. Do you see the future of human consciousness as being one of greater diversity in thought and expression or one of greater conformity?

LEARY: Yes, I am a scientific optimist. And I can, anyone can, show you charts on every measure of energy available to the individual -- information available to the individual, freedom of mobility of individuals -- that the front edge of our species is zooming ahead at a higher rate than ever before. Now you can't generalize about the whole species because everything is determined by geography.

Where you are determines who you are. Geography determines destiny -- the ecological niche you inhabit defines your species. And you have what's known as "Leary's Law of Longitude." The further east you go, the less individuality, the less freedom, the more tradition, the more violence, the more authoritarian and the more worship of the past. And the further west you go, the more sense of intelligence, virtuous access to the future.

So everything I've said about an optimistic future and about young people growing intelligently holds for North America only, and particularly the western part of America. These geographical zones define different species, really. So everyone gets what they want defined by where they live.

DSN: That might explain why you're In California. But do you feel that other geographical factors are Involved In shaping attitudes, say a North vs. South world view, or do you feel that It Is primarily East/West?

LEARY: I feel it's East/West. The West, throughout human history -- from Athens fighting Persia to today, which is basically L.A. vs. the east coast -- the West has always been the frontier -- where individuals, where visionaries, where freedom-loving people have always assembled -- because that's as far away as you can get from the man who controls things, and that's certainly true today -- attitudes towards drugs, attitudes towards space.

Over 50 percent of people in the West would like to go into space, personally, whereas on the east coast only 33 percent would like to go into space because they think the money should be spent on urban renewal (laughs). You can cite that as an example of geography defining character and identity.

And that's the solution, of course, to your drug laws. To have national drug policies is ridiculous. It should be a local option. People who want to use drugs intelligently, who don't want to impose them on people that don't should be able to. And there should be places where people who want to access their brains and develop their lifestyles based on neurological growth should be able to do it.

DSN: Any comments on the Reagan administration's avowed intention to bring about a major escalation in the "War on Drugs?"

LEARY: I don't know anything about the inner workings of Washington, DC, and I'm not sure I want to. I'm not sure that it's relevant to anything anyway. What they decide in Washington has nothing to do with what you and I are going to do out here. We're about as far away as we can get from it.

But from my reading of the Reagan administration, Reagan is quite intelligent. He says that drug enforcement should not be up to the states -- as a good libertarian right-winger he's got to say that, "get the state out of our business" -- it should be the family, the neighborhood, the local school. Nancy Reagan said the same thing, that cops can't educate or enforce drugs -- it's got to be intelligent parents. I would find it very ironic if Reagan, who promised to get government off our back, would increase this army of narcotics agents prowling around poking into our business.

DSN: It's Interesting that you said army because part of the legislation that's before Congress now would bring the Army, Navy, and Air Force into drug interdiction.

LEARY: One thing about drugs, they certainly cause psychosis in bureaucrats who haven't taken them. At a time when Reagan is promising less government, for the first time in American history they're proposing to use the Army against American citizens -- which would make Jefferson and Franklin spin in their graves. The number one priority of American government is to keep the feds and to keep the military out.

That's banana republic stuff. If the Army can come down on dope smokers, what's next? They can come down on the next group that offers a vulnerable target.

DSN: You said that you feel that drug control Is properly a function of the neighborhood and the family. Maybe not drug control per se, but creating the attitudes and values that would amount to drug control In the final analysts. Do you feel that drug control Is a legitimate function of government?

LEARY: I think that intelligent government could serve a purpose. I believe in pure food and drug legislation. The government's responsibility should be minimal, should be to insure quality -- that if you buy LSD, you're getting pure LSD and you're getting approved LSD that is not going to give you bad trips. And it's going to come in a package with all sorts of warnings, with dosage control, and it should have all of the warnings against abuse and it probably should be licensed or prescribed.

I don't object to government intelligently helping people to avoid drug abuse. All drug abuse is due to ignorance. A person doesn't realize what they're doing to their brain with this chemical they're popping in there. And the ignorance is caused by government and police policies of fright, scare, intimidation and outright Iying.

Drug education in this country simply doesn't exist with all these fancy organizations and bureaucracies claiming to educate people on drugs. Drug education today is just like sex education was 50 years ago. The only education was saying "No -- don't."

Fifty years ago, the psychiatrists and the ministers and the politicians were saying "If you masturbate you're going to get hair on your hands and premarital sex will cause you to go insane and hospitals are filled with young people today who have been making out with each other." Today, we have more sex education than we need. Everyone is publishing books on their theories but this is healthy, because we realize that it's not "yes" or "no" on sex -- that sex is an incredibly complex personal and interpersonal experience that changes as you grow and mature and presume to get better and smarter and wiser at performing sexually.

I feel that the responsibility of any intelligent American should be to encourage accurate drug education. There is a checklist of the 15 things that you absolutely don't do if you're going to take LSD -- or the 10 things that you avoid doing if you want to take a euphoriant-erotic drug like marijuana. Drugs are going to be used and they're being used more and more by more and more people, and research, intelligence, scientific facts, accurate transmission of the truth is the only way you're going to eliminate abuse.

I could give you a policy that would eliminate 98 percent of drug abuse in this country within six months.

DSN: Okay, shoot. How would you do it?

LEARY: I'm writing a book, actually, on how to use drugs intelligently, or how to avoid drug abuse. I think how you do it is implied in many of the things I've said in the last three or four paragraphs. The application of intelligent, accurate education and also the use of humor -- we should make fun of drug abusers, should ridicule them.

That's one thing about Cheech and Chong. Cheech and Chong make "doper" movies in the sense that their constituency is that 60 million Americans who are out there that enjoy laughing at themselves. And although Cheech and Chong appear to be dopers, almost everything that they do is to make fun of drug abuse -- they show you the spaced-out hippie and they show you the sloppy grass smoker and they show you the jittery, paranoid cocaine user. And I think they're performing an incredibly wonderful social function -- and they're making billions of dollars doing it. They're not pro-drug, pro dope movies. They're movies which encourage an intelligent appraisal of people that misuse drugs. They're putting down drug abuse. And there should be more of it.

DSN: Dr. Leary, how would you respond to the conservative parents groups that have developed around the country who would disagree with that assessment, who have said that Cheech and Chong encourage drug use by portraying It in an unreal light, that they make it funny and cute and completely overlook the human misery and suffering and problems that attend drug abuse? Also, how would you characterize these groups? Do you see them as some sort of evolutionary throwback in the era of chemical consciousness engineering?

LEARY: America is going through a staggering mutation right now. We're moving from a family oriented, church-oriented, state-oriented society to an individual-oriented society with the sovereign individual as the basic unit. And this causes tremendous anguish and understandably so.

I think we should be very kind to the conservatives who are understandably confused and irritated and panicked because everything they thought was secure and solid is suddenly becoming Einsteinian. There's not just one macho male dominant sex -- there's suddenly fifty different types of sexual identities. And people are trying and changing them, so that the plurality, the variety, the individual differences that are emerging are very offensive to people who want one monolithic totalitarian state.

But, no, they're not the future. Those who believe in intelligence and evolution and variety and tolerance and education -- we're the future. No question of that. Or there'll be no future.

I feel that the most ominous thing about the Moral Majority, the anti-drug fanatics, is that they're traitors to the American Dream.

I see America as an incredible, free collaborative team enterprise. And we should take tremendous pride in our team. Americans shouldn't fight with each other. The lowest level of metaphor is to think of America as a pro football team. You have an offense, where you have to move things ahead, and you have a defense to keep things back.

So you have future people and past people. And we can't all play offense because we can't all be rushing into the future trying new things because there has to be at least half of our team that are slowing things down and keeping the score down. But on a good football team.the offense doesn't fight against the defense. American conservatives shouldn't be tackling American future people. It's not left/right. It's not racial. The issue is future versus past.

I have great sympathy for the fear that many conservatives feel about their children and drugs because my wife and I feel it, too. We have a seven-year-old, beautiful, intelligent youngster and we don't want him to go off to school in the next two or three years and be exposed to PCP or be exposed to the dumb, lousy, terrible abused drugs that are being foisted onto the kids today.

And I'm going to, now that I'm off parole, I'm going to speak freely and I'm going to go around the country lecturing on drug education to raise the level of intelligence about drugs, because I don't want my kid growing into a society in which the Moral Majority claims to run things with the DEA but really it's the sleazy dealers who are controlling the action.

I want government supervision and government help in making sure that when my kid is exposed to drugs -- and he's going to be -- that it's in a context of intelligent choice, that he knows what's happening and he's not going to be seduced into it by the underground or a naughty teenage kid.

Ready for more? Click to check out Part 2 of the Drug Survival News Interview with Dr. Timothy Leary.

This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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