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
Say what you will about Timothy
Leary, the man’s interesting–and a damn good subject for an
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
DSN: I hope to be here with
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.