I'm a Cheerleader for the Brain |
The DSN Interview with Dr. Timothy Leary
| Part 2
Publication:. Drug Survival News
Editor:. Jim Parker
Date:. November-December 1981 
Pages:. 12-19

In part one of the DSN Interview, Dr. Leary discussed his role In the recreational drug revolution of the 1960s, and commented at length on Ronald Reagan, Cheech & Chong, the Moral Majority, and human evolution. In this concluding installment, Dr. Leary touches on a good many of the topics that lie between.

DSN Editor Jim Parker conducted the Interview that follows at Leary's home (in Los Angeles September 5, and submitted this sketch, describing the circumstances of the interview.

Say what you will about Timothy Leary, the man's interesting--and a damn good subject for an interview.

Throughout his long career--as Harvard professor, high priest of the psychedelic movement, political candidate, and radical raconteur--Leary has been the foremost fashioner of media images about himself, deftly feinting and jabbing with the press like another 60's media star, Muhammad Ali, and just as often floating like a butterfly and stinging, when necessary, like a bee.

He proved himself adept at bobbing and weaving with words throughout our conversation. While never directly dodging specific questions, Leary adroitly steered his comments in directions he wanted to go, pursuing points of his own choosing. Certain answers seemed pre-programmed--not mechanical or artificial, only routine--and Leary gave stock answers to the stock questions he's confronted over the years.

Preparation for the interview was fairly minimal on both our parts. The interview itself was scheduled for the following Saturday via several late Thursday night phone calls from our offices in Phoenix. Friday afternoon and evening and the early hours of Saturday morning were spent sifting through a minor mountain of hastily-assembled material that now comprises the Drug Survival News Timothy Leary file. I read scientific papers on Leary's early work on the therapeutic applications of LSD and psilocybin, casual scribblings by Leary on long-gone occurrences in his entourage over the years, and news accounts of Leary's famous (and frequent) brushes with the law. I put together a list of some 30 questions to touch on the high points (no pun intended) of Leary's public and private life, and distilled these down to a dozen and-a-half or so Serious Questions. Finally, at just after three in the morning, I piled my notebooks, camera, and tape recorder in the car, and rushed home for a few good hours sleep before my 8:30 flight to Los Angeles.

I had to settle for just a few hours of sleep and nearly slept past my alarm s furious suggestion that I get the hell out of bed and face the morning. I showered, threw down an Orange Crush, kissed my dog goodbye, and sped off to the airport with, I was sure, a good five or six minutes to spare.

But it didn't work out that way.

The parking lot at the airport terminal was closed, so I had to leave my car in another terminal lot, while precious minutes ticked away. Grabbing bags, briefcases, camera equipment, and tape recorder, I ran on foot from terminal A to terminal B, picked up my ticket at the counter (where I was told I might make the flight if I didn't try anything foolish like looking to my left or right during the run upstairs. A mounting panic

was grinding inside me. What if I missed the flight? Could I make another? Would Leary agree to postpone for a couple of hours or cancel out altogether? What would we run in this issue in place of the scheduled interview?

Franklin Roosevelt said it, and he was right, and I'm going to repeat it right now because it's still true: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and that also applies to missing airline connections. I finally made it to gate 17, got my boarding pass, and found my seat on the plane a full 40 seconds or so before the stewardesses bolted the door shut and the jet began its slide away from the gate. I jammed my bags into the luggage compartment and opened my notes and whittled down the dozen-and-a-half Serious Questions to a dozen or so Priority Questions, then closed my eyes-wishing for a couple of moments of sleep to take the edge off the morning. But by now my body was awake and would have none of it. I peeled open a copy of Leary's High Priest and reread the section on Leary's earliest disappearances down what Bob Dylan used to call the foggy ruins of time.

The flight itself was short--less than an hour--and uneventful. Los Angeles was a sheet of gray film outside the windows of the plane as we made our descent, a sheet of wet gray film when we touched down. As we taxied to our gate at L. A. International, I looked curiously around the cabin, searching for some tangible Sign that might bode the interview well or at least an interesting Journalistic Artifact to fit into my narrative. I couldn't see a thing--only the backs of heads and the wet gray cotton outside the window. Then I heard a sound and quickly recognized both a Sign and a curious Journalistic Artifact.

It started as a faint hum of Muzak that slipped across the cabin as the plane neared the departure gate. It was the colorless, normally unnoticeable musical fluff that seems to seek you out in elevators and dentist's offices, the musical equivalent of Franco-American spaghetti--bland, inoffensive, easily forgotten. But searching for a Sign as I was, the music swelled majestically, filling the plane's cabin with harpsichords and cellos, flutes and tambourines, arranging themselves around a lush choral arrangement of a song I had momentary difficulty placing. The melody was only faintly familiar, reconstituted as it was, but I gradually came to recognize an orchestra and chorus interpreting Jefferson Airplane's 1967 drug anthem "White Rabbit." No, no impossible, I thought. Not on Muzak. Not even in California.

But I kept listening and lo, the Sign became manifest. And a host of heavenly voices were suddenly throbbing over this dense, unlikely arrangement, informing all passengers who would hear that, indeed,

"One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small,
But the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all.
Go ask Alice,
when she's ten feet tall."

Ten feet tall? That would be Leary, I decided.

I grabbed my gear and made my way to the Hertz counter wondering if the song really was portentous, a Sign of Things to Come, or just a curious Journalistic Artifact, a device to get things moving in an article someday.

You decide.

DSN: Dr. Leary, you've spent a good part of your life actively advocating the use of chemicals to modify and enhance consciousness. A main factor In "chemical consciousness engineering," as you've described it, is the type and quality of chemicals available on the street. What changes have you noticed in street drug use and availability over the past two decades?

LEARY: There's one thing that everyone should know about drugs and it's the law of availability. In economics there's a law called Gresham's Law that bad money drives out good money--paper money will drive out gold. The very opposite is true in the sociology of drugs. Good drugs drive out bad drugs.

One of the many disastrous results of the federal drug policy in the last 20 years is that they've done everything in their power to knock out good drugs or to confuse people about good drugs. Then they've allowed--or inevitably had to accept--the flooding of the nation with bad drugs.

The reason you can make PCP in the garage for a hundred dollars and then say it's LSD or cannabinol is because the safe, good drugs are not available. They knocked out the inexpensive, weak Mexican marijuana that would give you a little buzz, less than a bottle of beer. Actually, for a $5.00 bag of marijuana you'd drive your car less fast, you wouldn't get in as many fights, you'd probably enjoy everything in a much more mellow way. They knocked all that out.

But intelligent people are going to get the drugs and now you have connoisseur marijuana for $200.00 an ounce, which the kids can't have, that's 10 times stronger than the silly little Mexican stuff. So the kids are boozing and are using PCP. Booze and PCP are bad-drugs. You know that, anyone that has any access to the facts will agree with what I've just said, but you'd get crucified if you said this in the company of politicians.

It is true, yes, that in our drug education program in the '8Os we realized that set and setting--that is what you expect and what your environment lays on you--determines 99 percent of the experience. It's not the drug, it's your expectations and environment.

So we went around saying, "Take LSD, you'll improve yourself, you'll be a loving person, you'll be smarter, you'll find God, you'll suddenly feel at one with all nature." Plus, plus positive, we were openly, nakedly, advocating feeling good, being smarter, being a nicer person, being nonviolent, loving yourself, unity with nature...

We were deliberately trying to brainwash since we knew that seven or eight million people were taking LSD and we were deliberately trying to brainwash them into hopeful, utopian, positive, loving experiences. At the same time the drug enforcement establishment was running around saying, "Take LSD, jump out a window," "Take LSD, become homicidal," "Take LSD, go to a mental hospital..."

I admit we were brainwashing. We were trying to brainwash people to become better, to believe in themselves and to believe in the glorious ness of life. But the narcs were brain washing, too, and they inevitably controlled more of the media than we did and for those who were foolish enough to listen to them, yeah, they had bad trips.

DSN: What's important to you now?

LEARY: Prentice-Hall is just now publishing my intellectual autobiography, a collection of my scientific papers over the last 40 years. Houghton-Mifflin purchased my personal autobiography, which is more lurid and B-movie. And now I'm writing this book on how to use drugs intelligently.

DSN: Do you have final or working titles yet?

LEARY: The Prentice-Hall book, which is my intellectual autobiography is called Self Guided Tour. My personal autobiography is called Flashbacks. Both of those books are finished. The third book I think is going to be called How to Use Drugs Intelligently.

I'm very active as a college lecturer. I'm lecturing at Harvard and the University of. Santa Barbara on space, the psychology of space, and I'm involved in a series of debates with G. Gordon Liddy.

DSN: So much of your written work describes your own subjective response to psychedelics and, by and large, that experience seems to have been overwhelmingly positive--visionary, mystical, ecstatic experiences. Have you ever had a bad trip?

LEARY: Of course, I've had hundreds of bad experiences. I think in any psychedelic experience you have many moments of tremendous awe, fear, cosmic angst, fright. The question is, you don't make a federal case of it. You look at it. You face unblinking, eyeball to eyeball, the inevitable human fright: aging, death, isolation, personal inadequacies, guilt for past performances. And you learn from it.

DSN: Didn't Liddy have something lo do with a raid at your house In Millbrook, New York that marked the beginning of your problems with the law?

LEARY: Yeah, he busted us at Millbrook. Liddy represents a different approach to the future than I do, although we both, I think, are romantic, far-out people. I would say Gordon is far out in the past and I'm far out in the future. It lends to a colorful exchange. I believe that education, entertainment, and advertising should go together. I think Gordon and I will put on a good show.

DSN: What else are you doing? I've heard the stories that everyone else has heard that you're doing a stand-up comedy routine.

LEARY: No, that's not true. The same lecture I give to colleges, I give in nightclubs. It's never word for word, but I use the same slide show, basically the same outline.

DSN: Some people seem to be interested i n promoting the idea that Timothy Leary is some sort of pitiful, old fool who's trading on his past in some kind of decrepit carrying-on involving comedy.

LEARY: Some people say, "What a comedown for a Harvard professor to be going into a nightclub as a comedian." I want to tell you there's never been a philosopher in history--except the great ones--that's ever walked into a barroom or Athenian marketplace or London coffee shop (and held their own), and that's the toughest audience in the world. I'm preaching and teaching the same thing I do at the colleges, but I'm doing it in a nightclub venue and I'm very proud of the fact that I can do it and that it's a good show. It's the same show--evolution, intelligence, personal growth and give-hell-to-the-establishment.

You go down through history and you'll find some of the greatest futurists and greatest activists philosophers have used the satirical. If it's not funny, it's not true. So I'm not at all apologetic about lecturing in nightclubs but I understand, too, that it'll be used against me to serve as another example of my decadent psychosis. I'd like to see anyone who criticizes me of that, do it--it's not the easiest thing in the world.

DSN: Another thing that you've been associated with in recent years has been space colonization. What exactly are your ideas about the future of our species vis-a-vis space exploration and colonization?

LEARY: I believe that the future of the human species, or that section of the human species which decides to mutate and evolve this way is, going to be space migration. The trajectory of 4 billion years of evolution of this planet has been to move from the Pre-Cambrian slime to the shoreline, and then to the prairies, to the trees, higher and faster.

I make the point here that it was no accident that during the 1960s when the inner voyage and inner tripping movement was at its peak in this country--at least most visible--that exactly at that time, the outer space movement reached its highest and farthest dimensions. During the Nixon Administration and the subsequent fallback of inner voyaging, outer voyaging has decreased.

They go together, because you can only go as far without as you've gone within. You've got to expand your mind before you can expand your geographical limits. Living in space will require a different society than the one which we now have, which is based upon territorial control and partisan politics.

I don't understand why any intelligent person in America today doesn't grasp that the new resources, the new energies, the new mineral deposits, the new land and space, that we need, that we are running out of down here, is to be found in~-unlimited quantities in space. Most of all, the new visions and new aspirations and utopian ideals which our species needs and which our country needs are to be found in the next frontier, which obviously is space. But none of these are my ideas.

I'm a cheerleader for the brain. I think the brain's perfect and can be accessed and used. And I'm a cheerleader and an advertising person for outer space because we have to keep moving and growing and defining new frontiers or our species will bottom out and finalize out and stop evolving.

DSN: There seem to be other parallels at work here between outer space exploration and Inner space exploration. It seems to me that the reasons for not doing either one are similar, too, and they're largely rooted in the past-future dualism you talked about, and in fear. Do you consider the most basic, fundamental rationale for opposing external and internal space exploration to be fear?

LEARY: The cause of all America's problems are due to our organized religion. Our organized religion, Christianity, teaches that we all suffer from an original sin and that

God came down, had himself killed, destroyed for our sins. Now, that's sick. That's really the ultimate of negativity. Conservative Christians have made sinful and horrible the very act of conception, of lovemaking itself, which if there is ever a diagnostic symptom of a sick philosophy that's it--it turns people against the future, turns people against hope, turns people against their own body and even against the highest form of human behavior, love-making.

So they reject optimism about the future, any optimism that says you can use drugs to direct and manage your own brain to become smarter, to create new and better visions, any approach to the future that says we can go into space and use the resources there and the energies there to make a better place--because they don't want it to be a better place.

The Moral Majority feels that Christ is going to come back and destroy the whole thing in 10 years anyway, so why worry about ecology, why worry about the future?

Because it's all written in that book, that 3000-year-old Bible that was collected by primitive, shepherd, barbaric male tribal chiefs in the Middle East at a time when our species was moving from hunter-gatherer to the domestication of animals, so that Christianity is a herdsman religion in which we're the flock. And that's not the manual or the intellectual equipment to deal with a future that is rocketing into our consciousness every day.

DSN: Earlier, Dr. Leary, you spoke about human culture evolving onward and upward. You mentioned the death of partisan politics, but I wonder: Are we imprisoned by our own cultural formula?

LEARY: The answer to that question is: If you're stuck here, you're stuck here. Partisan politics really started in the Middle East. And look at Teheran today. Iran is a perfect example of partisan politics.

5000 years from now, when we come back from space with our biocomputer brains, in Teheran they're still going to be overthrowing the czar and the Mullahs are still going to be fighting each other and the Kurds are still going to be fighting the Afghanis. Because where you are determines the level of intelligence and evolution.

You're never going to change Washington, D.C. But we can move out beyond Washington as we moved out beyond Rome and we moved out beyond Byzantium and we moved out beyond Persia. Evolution involves migration. If you don't like your life and you want to change, move.

DSN: That sounds remarkably like one of the tapes I remember hearing from the old Timothy Leary. "You can be anyone this time around." You still believe that?

LEARY: We are limited genetically and we are limited by the laws of nature although we can tune in on them and utilize them and free ourselves from their restraints. Basically, that's a good bumper sticker. By the way, that was a hippie emblem, a hippie motto, a hippie graffiti in the 1960's. "You can be anyone this time around."

That's also the basis of Jeffersonian democracy and the vision that started this country--the ultimate American dream--that if you were trapped in the old country by the czar and by the king and by the class system you could come over to this new, wonderful Iand. The freedom-seeking American dream was you can be anything this time around in America.

I consider myself the most red-white and-blue patriot around. You can get hung for it . . . Some polls say that in certain parts of the country, the majority of the people don't believe in it. They'd throw Jefferson in prison if he started spouting about the Bill of Rights, but still it's the American dream, and I'm proud to be the most Yankee Doodle guy of all.

DSN: In your book High Priest, you described the TURN ON as "the discovery that we're not television actors born onto the American stage set of a commercially sponsored program twenty centuries old." If not that, then who are we?

LEARY: I wrote that in maybe '64. By 1974, that had become the myth of the new American consciousness--with Werner Erhard, EST movement, the thousands of discover-yourself gurus and teachers and psychologists running around saying exactly the same thing.

I think those of us who are lucky enough to be in America in the late 20th century are the fortunate beneficiaries of a movement of increasing intelligence and freedom and mobility and increasing communication and diversity and flexibility and tolerance and virtuous loving interconnection.

We're now riding the golden wave of biology in which most of the diseases are being knocked out and life-extension techniques and innoculations and pills are just around the corner. We can live as long as we want to. We'll be able to move into space. We'll be able to use the new drugs that are coming along to program our neurological bio-computers to build any reality that we want.

We're the blossom, we're the flower, of four billion years of evolution--a tremendous position to be in because it's up to us to understand our genetic function as 20th century Americans to lead the rest of the world and to offer model, good humored intelligence and diversity;and love of all the various forms of humanity and make sure there's a place for every aspect of our past in the future.

Who are we? We're in charge of the future and if we don't understand that and live up to that loving responsibility, we will have failed our mission.

DSN: One of the things that Ralph Metzner mentioned in his paper about the LSD movement 10 years after--he discussed the last time he had taken LSD. The last time was in 1970. When was the last time that you took LSD? Or do you want to talk about it? Is it a healthy thing to talk about? Are you off parole now?

LEARY: Yes--I got off about two weeks ago. It's the first time in 15 years. I'm often asked whether I take illegal drugs now. That's one question I'm always asked in every interview. There's another question which comes up either directly or indirectly in every interview and that's am I crazy or do I still have my marbles together, and I have one answer to both questions: If I told you I'm taking illegal drugs right now, I'd be crazy. But I will be crazy and tell you that my wife and I take extremely strong psychedelic drugs quite regularly--not enough--because you never do it enough, it's like any other yoga. It's part of our life.

But we don't take illegal drugs--we're taking drugs that are coming out of chemical laboratories which are improvements--second and third generation Wright Brother planes that fly faster, higher and.safer and in much better control than the clumsy, old LSD. As you probably know, they've improved the making of LSD--there's more pure, safe LSD around right now than there was in the 60's different forms of LSD.

You simply can't stop technology. You can't stop progress and if people want to activate and change their brains with drugs, they're going to do it. I just wish that the government, instead of encouraging the use of bad drugs, would live up to its responsibility of helping us through an intelligent program of drug monitoring and drug education.

DSN: In the book Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered, Grinspoon and Bakalar described your"broad intellectual influence" as one in which your "books, articles, lectures shaped the ideas of people who hadn't even read them." How has Timothy Leary influenced our society and culture?

LEARY: Well, I can go megalomaniac or I can go modest on that and either one is true. When you use the word drug, you should think of the word "brain." So, if you're against drugs, you're against the brain, against accessing the brain. I came along as a prominent and successful psychologist and, as it turned out, a charismatic educator, at a time when brain activation suddenly happened, just like atomic energy happened, or steam boat power--I happened to be around the river when Fulton came along with a steamboat. On the modest side, I take no credit whatsoever--it was bound to happen. If it weren't me, it would've been Winston Churchill.

On the other hand, I credit myself with the courage and intellectual honesty to accept the enormous responsibility of educating and reassuring my species. I can't think of any better position to be in, in terms of history. I think of everything in terms of history, I always have. I have two tricks that are of tremendous use to anyone who understands who they are in evolution. One is geographical. I try to think of what role would I be playing in the Soviet Union right now? I think every American is playing a role that there's an equivalent for in the Soviet Union.

So, if you're the head of the CIA, you're going to be the head of the KGB, and if you're Johnny Carson, then you're the leading establishment commentator in the Soviet Union. Now, as a counter-cultural dissenter, I assume I'm like Sakharov or Solzhenitsyn poor guys, they have a harder time than we do because America's simply a million times freer.

When I compare America with the Soviet Union, there's no implication that we're equal, we're a million times more evolved in every way. But I also do the same thing in terms of history, 100 years ago, who would I have been; 1000 years ago, who would you have been? 100 years from now--200 years--who will we be?

DSN: 100 or 200 years from now?

LEARY. Yes, 100 or 200 years from now, I hope to be alive at that time with the longevity pills and life-extension innoculations, I certainly plan to be around. I'm not going to be stupid enough to die.

DSN: I hope to be here with you.

LEARY: I hope so. I hope I'll be interviewing you in 200 years. Play a little game: Put yourself in the future and look back on the late 20th century. I think that I may just stuck with this horrible reputation as being a person, as Grinspoon suggests, as a cheerleader for accessing the brain with organic chemicals, with the hope--maybe I was premature, maybe I was naive--but we always have that hope that we're gonna make people wiser and better and happier.

Just get here? Click to check out Part 1 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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