Leary trades Drugs for Space Colonies
Timothy Leary, former-Harvard professor, LSD-guru and federal prisoner, is one of the most controversial figures to emerge from the halcyon days of the Sixties. Considered a prophet by some and an informer by others, the 56-year old author is reportedly living today in seclusion in New Mexico’s splendid Sangre de Cristo Mountains following his recent prison parole. In the following interview, Leary answers critics, recalls prison experiences and talks about his space colonization ideas.
Robert Anton Wilson: How does it feel to be out of prison after six years?
Timothy Leary: Beautiful. I’m on top of the world and getting higher every minute.
Wilson: You always seemed that way, even in prison. How do you stay so high all the time?
Leary: I take it as the natural state and I’m somewhat puzzled at how other people can manage to be down so much of their lives. Don’t you think it’s easier to be high than to be low?
Wilson: Most people don’t think they have any choice in the matter.
Leary: But they do. That was the first scientific contribution we made in our research on neurotransmitter drugs in the early 1960’s the discovery that we can learn to use our brains in an efficient, ecstatic, intelligent manner. I use my nervous system for fun and profit. If others use their neurons for suffering and misery, it’s simply because they’ve never learned to dial and focus the controls.
Wilson: Since some people still think you’re an informer, isn’t it undiplomatic to speak so glowingly about your own happiness? Both the right and the left would be more likely to forgive you if you said you’d suffered abominably in prison and learned the error of your ways. Why do you always refuse to suffer?
Leary: In my line of work, which is self-induced brain change, every minute and every human encounter are tremendously exciting adventures. I simply don’t have time to suffer. As for the legends about my snitching on all my old friends, and the massive arrests that would happen, that was all planted in the media by persons who wanted to discredit me. Some of the false stories were planted by federal agents and some by opportunistic exploiters who had nightmares about what might be revealed if I really started singing. This is perfectly normal mammalian politics and all right with me. I have never been concerned with gossip, public image or winning the approval of professional moralists. American morale and intelligence are so low at this time
that anyone who is universally popular must be doing something dumb.
Wilson: Then you deny that you’ve testified against your friends?
Leary: I did not testify against friends. I didn’t testify against what the press called “the vast drug conspiracy known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love,” since that was a myth that never existed. I didn’t testify in any manner that would lead to indictments against the Weatherpeople. When the full details of my actual testimony are revealed, the Weather Underground might even be grateful to me.
Wilson: Some people can’t understand why you cooperated at all with the government which had imprisoned you for so long. Why didn’t you just stonewall it?
Leary: I have always tried to cooperate and communicate with the government and with everybody who fears my ideas. Since 1965, I have repeatedly said that I’m glad they wiretap my phones. I want them to know what I’m doing and thinking. I believe all stupidity comes from jamming communications.
Wilson: Would you explain that in more detail? Most people these days are trying to hide from the government’s snoopers…
Leary: Concealing the truth leads to paranoia and confusion all around. The first professional controversy I was involved in, back in the 1950’s, concerned my insistence that the scientific ethic required psychiatrists and psychologists to be honest with their patients. To let them see their records, for instance. Never to lie to them. This did not go over well, I must say, and some of the attacks on me then were even worse than the attacks during the LSD hysteria of the 1960’s. My position has always been that science, intelligence and sanity itself depend on accuracy-of-signal. Secrets destroy human trust and ruin social relationships.
Wilson: Then you don’t believe in the National Security philosophy — that power comes from hoarding secrets?
Leary: Absolutely not. If the American government had made known to the Russian government everything they were thinking and doing in the 1940’s and ’50’s and ’60’s, we’d have more real security now, not less. Many of the dangerous lurches in American foreign policy happened because the men in Washington misjudged how much the Russians really knew about us. Secrets are the Original Sin, the fig-leaf in the Garden of Eden. The cause of shame and neurosis. Liberals are entirely wrong in wanting to pass laws against wiretapping. Instead, let everybody wiretap everybody else! The government, above all, should be under constant surveillance. Government officials are the last people, the very last, to ever have an excuse for hiding things from the people they claim to represent.
Wilson: Some people will say you’re rationalizing that you made a deal with the feds to get preferential treatment in prison and a quicker release. How would you answer them?
Leary: First, I’d suggest that they stop believing loose rumors and start thinking for themselves. Second, I’d ask what preferential treatment? What quicker release? Look at the record. Any lawyer will confirm that I served four times the current maximum for my “crime” is that preferential? And it wasn’t easy .time. It was some of the hardest time the American prison system provides. The hole at Folsom. Two years in solitary. In the last year, in San Diego, I only inhaled fresh air and saw the sun once a month. Finally, whatever happened to the “massive arrests” that were supposed to happen in 1973 and 1974 and 1975? The fact is that nobody has been arrested because of me and nobody ever will be.
Wilson: What about your recent criticisms of the left? Is Eldridge Cleaver right in saying you think the left ripped you off?
Leary: I am too busy with space migration and other exciting, creative work to waste my energy harboring resentments against the left, the right or anybody else. I don’t take politics seriously — it’s a mammalian game that should be played on all fours, barking and pawing the ground. I’m interested in more important issues.
Wilson: Such as?
Leary: Evolution toward Higher Intelligence. That’s my game, and this is why the role I play has to be judged very critically by society. I play neurogenetic pool the game of mutation. The species has every right to test, to challenge, to oppose a mutation. Every way, all-out, no holds barred. Twenty-nine prisons in six years was part of the test I had to pass; that’s why I have no resentments. My involvement with double agents of right and left, and triple agents exploiting both sides for personal profit, was another test. Now I’m finished with all those vertebrate territorial games, and looking upward to the stars.
Wilson: Do you have any political interests at all?
Leary: Well, yes … I’d like to see somebody run for President on a platform of space migration, higher intelligence and life extension. Specifically, I think we should start an all-out crash program, similar to the atomic project of the 1940’s, to double the national IQ, triple the life-span, and build the first O’Neill space cities, all within a decade. This is more worthwhile than spending 100 million a year on mammalian territorial defense and the country would boom with a spirit like Renaissance Italy or Elizabethan Elizabethan England. What could the right wing say? That we should spend the money on weapons? If intelligence doubles, our technology would make us invulnerable, so that answers them. What could the left wing say? That we should spend the money eradicating poverty in the ghettos? People with a tripled lifespan and doubled intelligence will get themselves out of the ghettos.
Wilson: In your unpublished book, The Game of Life, you say that we can learn more from science-fiction than from the Buddhist and Hindu scriptures. Were you serious when you wrote that, or just being provocative?
Leary: I’m always being provocative. To provoke new thoughts in one’s contemporaries is elementary evolutionary courtesy. The Oriental forms of brain science are historically very important and certainly nobody who wants to understand the nervous system can avoid a basic study of those traditions. I spent nearly a decade mastering them. But to me, and to those who have kept moving, those traditions are outmoded now. I want to personally apologize to anyone who has been led into the Hindu trap because at one time I was using that model. My whole philosophy is based on metamorphoses, which is the law of evolution. We should all keep moving from rock to rock, from habitat to habitat, from model to model, from planet to planet. The fact that we were once using Oriental models to describe higher brain function doesn’t mean we have to be stuck on that rock forever. The search for a Perfect Master is only recommended if your goal is to become a Perfect Slave. Sci-fi has much more exciting models than anything in the Vedas.
Wilson: Some people complain that you change so fast they never know where you’re at. How would you answer that?
Leary: The DNA signal is that the signal we should have learned from the last decade is that life on this planet is changing, changing, changing. For instance, all the men responsible for putting me in prison are out of the government now; most of them are in prison themselves. You must understand that so-called „future shock“ is actually present shock.
That is, the present is the “future” of the nervous system. In general, the nervous system stops taking new imprints at adolescence. Nixon’s nervous system, for instance, saw the 1960’s and even the 1970’s through a bubble of 1920’s imprints, which was when his nervous system evidently stopped evolving.
Wilson: What do you think will be the ultimate outcome of the LSD controversy?
Leary: I’m no longer very interested in the larval terrestrial politics of drugs. As a guess, it always takes a generation for a new breakthrough to be accepted. That’s because the present is always seen through a nervous system imprinted in the past. It takes a generation for young nervous systems to mature and use new knowledge. When the young Russian neuro-psychologists start curing everything in sight with LSD and similar neurotransmitters, scientific research will be allowed in this country again.
Wilson: Have you also changed your famous slogan “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out?”
Leary: Certainly. That was never understood very well anyway. As I explained it in The Politics of Ecstasy (1968), it meant: Turn On to the next level of consciousness and intelligence above you, Tune In to the signal there and use it, then Drop Out of that model, leave that game behind, and Turn On again to the next level up. Don’t blame me if the newspapers distorted that. Reporters are incapable of getting a metaphor right, as Mailer has noted. My new slogan is S.M.I.L.E. — Space Migration plus Intelligence Increase plus Life Extension. Building O’Neil’s space cities, doubling IQ and tripling life-span are just the first steps, to be accomplished in the next decade or two. After that, we can start aiming for starflight and immortality.
Wilson: One thing that hasn’t changed is your optimism.
Leary: I am often accused of being an irrepressible optimist. My answer is that we’ve been hemmed-in by repressed pessimists for too long.
Wilson: What else do you see in the future, besides space migration, intelligence increase and life extension?
Leary: Grassroots decentralism and libertarianism will increase. Mind-your-own-business is the politics of the future. Racism and sexism will disappear. The world will become increasingly scientific in essence and science-fiction in flavor. Due to life-extension research, I expect to live long enough to leave the solarsystem and participate in the interstellar age.
Wilson: Do you have any concluding thought for Barb readers?
Leary: Yes. As Casey Stengel once said, most men my age are dead already.
Leary trades Drugs for Space Colonies
by Robert Anton Wilson appeared in Berkeley Barb, Volume 23, Issue 22 in June 1976.