Pandemics, Psychedelics and Timothy Leary, Part 3
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities” – Voltaire.
People have belief systems and they will do anything to protect them and I find that peculiar; what is it that’s so important about a belief system that would lead people to commit acts that under normal circumstances would be conceived as incomprehensible, even by those people”.
– Dr. JB. Peterson, 1996, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OV-KC__6A3
Manson would give his family large doses of LSD then preach to them for hours”.– from Charles Manson: A Life From Beginning to End, by Hourly History, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018.
The Manson family murders are considered a pivotal moment in the history of sixties youth, when things went from peace and love to violence and chaos. Although Manson was no hippy – he was more a pimp and cult leader – the killings on Cielo road in Los Angeles would forever taint perceptions of the youth culture:
“At Manson’s trial, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi argued that the cult leader was inspired by his misreading of The Beatles’ White Album. Indeed, “Helter Skelter” had been smeared …on (the victim’s) refrigerator”(1).
With the aid of LSD and skills he had picked up as a pimp, Charlie Manson had programmed his group of young adherents into believing an absurd take on Beatles lyrics and managed to manipulate some of his troop into taking innocent lives.
To soothe his following and seem tough on the ‘tripping’ counter-culture, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse to be public enemy number one. This “war on drugs” was used to fight the counter-culture in the same manner as J Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO program was used to harass subversives, socialists and anarchists. Infiltrating, discrediting and various dirty tricks were to be used to disrupt “subversive” youth activities (see The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD by Bill Minutaglio and Steven Davis, 2018).
According to authors Minutaglio and Davis, Richard Nixon soon became the scourge and chief adversary of a rebellious youth. In an attempt to halt the spread of communism, Nixon had perpetuated a bloody war in Vietnam. Fearing the draft and disagreeing with American involvement, many students were vehemently opposed.
Nixon’s 12-day Christmas bombing of North Vietnam to sue for “peace” was unpopular, even with fellow Republicans. One senator thought Nixon had “taken leave of his senses” as the B52s carpet-bombed and the civilian death toll climbed. World leaders criticized the action while Far Left youth considered it the latest work of an imperialist empire.
For his part, Nixon believed he was playing the part of Churchill in challenging an aggressive and totalitarian group of regimes bent on taking over the world. As a student in the 1930’s he had thought British PM Neville Chamberlain was the “greatest man alive” for attempting peace with Hitler and Winston Churchill a “madman” for wanting to fight yet the Nazi invasions in Poland and elsewhere changed his perceptions and Nixon now saw the importance of containing extremism.
Ironically, Nixon’s methods were awfully “extreme” in terms of the bombing and killing.
The High Priest
Timothy Leary’s psychedelic lectures made him appear a counter-culture icon and his latest book title added to the perception. To promote his concept of a psychedelic “divine process”, Timothy Leary wrote a 1968 autobiography called “High Priest”.
Arch-conservatives viewed Leary as a pied piper character leading children to their doom. Few of them heard the psychologist when he talked about LSD and internal freedom or the process for personal growth and constructive change. His idea was to educate others on the use of tools for discovery, not to tell them what to think.
“Think for yourself and question authority”, Leary would maintain.
The authorities and powerful people in government would soon wage war on the man they considered “high priest” of a “misguided” youth culture.
Leary Runs for Governor
Leary’s political ambitions jolted them even further. To gain additional publicity and promote his ideas, Tim announced he would be running for the governor’s job against Nixon’s friend Ronald Reagan. John Lennon wrote the song ‘Come Together’ as a campaign song for the new candidate, reflecting Leary’s new slogan, “Come together, join the party”.
The ultra-cons were not in the mood to “party” nor were they amused.
Some felt Dr. Leary was ruining young lives by filling their heads with nonsense about drugs, communal living and Eastern mysticism. TV personality, Art Linkletter, would blame Tim for his daughter’s suicide, saying it was LSD and Dr. Leary’s reckless drug promotion that made her jump out of a 6th story window, even though the autopsy found no drugs in her system.
Older generations were worried the youth might become “acid casualties”, suffering from flashbacks and drug-induced brain damage. This sentiment was echoed by many parents who were shocked to see their fine children returning from college looking like Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix.
Leary had already taken LSD hundreds of times and saw no sign or danger of permanent brain damage. Instead of being attracted to fear, murder or suicide, he felt “love” (see The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD by Bill Minutaglio and Steven Davis, 2018) .
His claims would only serve to incense an establishment who insisted there was a link between LSD and psychosis, or alternatively, the counter-culture and chaos. To the conservative parent, the Beatles song title, “Helter Skelter” sounded a harbinger of horrors. To them, the fact that LSD was used by the Manson family only proved the drug was a destructive influence.
Nixon would soon call Leary, “the most dangerous man in America” and suggest to his enforcers, “we got room in the prisons for” the High Priest.
While on a family vacation in 1965, Leary’s daughter Susan was caught with a small amount of Marijuana at the Mexican border. Leary claimed ownership of the drugs so she wouldn’t be charged (see Flashbacks, by Timothy Leary, Published March 17th 1997 by Tarcher – first published 1983).
In 1968, police at Laguna Beach, California claimed to have found 2 Marijuana roaches in Leary’s car and arrested the “high priest” again. Leary later told an interviewer the joints were planted as part of a frame-up.
But all of this led to prison sentences – 10 years for the previous 1965 conviction would be added to Leary’s newer sentence for a total of 20 years. Needless to say, the middle-aged professor did not relish the idea of spending so much time behind bars and attempted to fight the legality of the Marijuana Tax Act. He was partially successful, prompting lawmakers to act:
“In 1969 in Leary vs. the United States, part of the Act was ruled to be unconstitutional as a violation of the Fifth Amendment, since a person seeking the tax stamp would have to incriminate him/herself. In response the Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act…” .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_on_drugs#20th_century
Despite this victory, Leary was still on the hook for prison time so his lawyer, Michael Kennedy, hatched a plan. If Leary could break out of his minimum-security prison, the Weather Underground could be paid $25,000 to spirit him away, allowing the “high priest” to escape.
Leary was subject to psychology testing by the authorities and was surprised to see the survey’s design was influenced either by his own work or by designs he readily understood.* To make escape easier, Leary made himself appear gentle and docile with aspirations to work outdoors as a gardener. The ruse seemed to work as Leary was assigned to a minimum-security prison.
An avid player of sports and in very good shape for a man of fifty, Leary climbed and shimmied along a lengthy telephone wire that led over the barbed wire fence of the Californian prison. Even though he was fit, Leary would later describe the ordeal as excruciatingly painful. His body hurt for days after but Leary managed to get to the pick-up spot before prison management realized he was gone.
Leary had left a note for his guards:
“…Listen, guards, to the ancient truth. He who enslaves is himself enslaved. The future belongs to the blacks and the browns and the young and the wild and the free… Oh, prison guards, I pray that you will repent and reform. Open the gates of your hearts and be free. Break out. Follow me to freedom and love and laughter. Be free, prison guards, be free”.
A car soon arrived and Leary jumped in the back seat. He was surprised to find the driver was a very young and innocent-looking teenaged girl. This would be his first contact with The Weather Underground (WUO).
The WUO was a highly effective group of young radicals who were violently opposed to capitalism. At first, the “Weathermen” planned to carry out terrorist killings but after a mishap in bomb-making, decided it would be better to blow up “imperialist” symbols or empty buildings instead. During their active phase, they remained well hidden and they were able to claim responsibility for destroying multiple places, including targets in the Pentagon and Capitol buildings.
They blended-in. The FBI could not get informers or even tell the WUO apart from the counter-culture youth of the day. The group was also notoriously difficult to infiltrate as Weather Underground membership were carefully monitored and highly indoctrinated. They were made up of young people well aware of the youth culture maxim; don’t trust anyone over the age of 30.
Nevertheless, the Weathermen called Timothy Leary “brother” and asked for his written endorsement. Under their protection, the “high priest” could only oblige.
The Odyssey Begins
What followed was a bizarre odyssey and adventure where Dr. Timothy Leary would be hunted and sometimes imprisoned in several countries by authorities, criminals and radical organizations:
- In the USA, Leary met and camped out with three leaders of the Weather Underground. They decided Tim was too “hot” to stay in America. Leary’s escape was very embarrassing to conservative leaders who had previously celebrated his imprisonment and the FBI promised to catch him within 10 days. The WUO sent Leary to Algiers and hoped he would be beneficial the Black Panther Party situated there (The Panthers had been given an embassy as “The American Government in Exile” by the Algerian government). Once they learned Leary was out of the country, American authorities would implement an international manhunt for “the most dangerous man”, Timothy Leary.
- Leary’s philosophy of personal freedom and the revolutionary authoritarianism of the Panthers had little in common. In Algiers he would have to escape the controlling grasp of leader Eldridge Cleaver. Unhappy with the professor’s independent spirit (Leary and his wife Rosemary had moved into their own apartment and had invited non-revolutionary people to a house-warming party), Cleaver arranged the kidnapping of Leary and Rosemary and Tim had to pull-off an escape act for the second time. Fortunately for the High Priest, the Algerian government told the Panthers to leave him alone. Leary and Rosemary soon decided to run to Europe.
- In Switzerland Leary would be “protected” by a mysterious arms dealer Tim nicknamed “Goldfinger” after the villain in the James Bond tale. A celebrity in exile, Tim would live the life of a rock star hanging out with royalty, Keith Richards, Andy Warhol, Ram Dass (formerly Dr. Richard Alpert), and the original discoverer of LSD, Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman. There were donations to his cause – John and Yoko sent funds – but running is expensive and Swiss ‘rock star’ living (Porsche buying, mountain skiing, celebrity hob-knobbing, fine wine, fine dining and hotels, black/purple hair dye, velvet clothing, etc, etc) demanded some serious coin!
- Despite the demands of American authorities, the Swiss government refused to send Leary back to the United States as they found the prison sentence excessive for the crime; possession of marijuana in Switzerland would only result in a small traffic ticket-like fine. 20 plus years and a world-wide manhunt sounded ridiculous to the Swiss authorities who likely saw Leary as a philosopher being persecuted for political reasons. They did however, place Leary in a lock-up for a short while.
- Leary’s wife would leave him in Switzerland and not long after, Tim found himself near broke and looking for a place he could live more affordably. After a brief trip to Austria with his new lover, Joanna Harcourt-Smith, and his Porsche – he planned to sell – being trashed by his son-in-law’s brother, Leary would end-up imprisoned in Afghanistan until American drug enforcement officials could arrange his return to America.
- When drug enforcement agents caught up with him, Leary looked like an “Acid King”. His hair was dyed purple and he was dressed in a shimmering silver shirt and purple satin pants (The clothing had been his girlfriend’s idea; the hair was an accident that happened in Austria when they tried to dye it black but waited too long before rinsing).
(The escape saga is detailed in The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD by Bill Minutaglio and Steven Davis, 2018).
Timothy Leary would end up imprisoned for a total of four years before the American authorities finally let him go.
Freedom Behind Bars
Former Playboy editor Robert Anton Wilson visited Timothy Leary in jail and found him in good spirits:
“Timothy was conspicuously unbrainwashed, I would say; although he had been in solitary confinement for 19 months, he was still the same high-energy, high IQ, high-exuberance individual he had been since I first met him in 1964”.– Robert Anton Wilson, The Cosmic Trigger
Leary explained he no longer needed to use drugs but could accomplish mind expansion via meditation and yoga. In reference to being placed into solitary confinement, Tim said he was grateful to the prison warden for guarding his privacy so he could get some work done and avoid interruptions. While in solitary, the professor was able to complete the first draft of a new book, Neuropolitique.
For a while, Leary was passed from prison to prison. Eventually, he was given the possibility of release if he cooperated with the FBI. Former counter-culture personalities became paranoid but Leary insisted he was careful not to give information on friends and associates that the authorities did not already have (save for lawyers he thought had set him up and had “stolen” his house in Berkeley) or which was of little consequence.
After more than six years of running and imprisonment, Leary was pardoned by Californian Governor, Jerry Brown.
Just Say Know
Instead of a continued focus on drugs, Leary became more interested in human space migration, life extension, and the increase of human intelligence. In his 1977 book, Exo-Psychology, Leary proposed an eight-circuit model of consciousness:
“The first four circuits deal with life on Earth, and survival of the species. The last four circuits are post-terrestrial, and deal with the evolution of the species, altered states of consciousness, enlightenment, mystical experiences, psychedelic states of mind, and psychic abilities… the term circuit is equated to a metaphor of the brain being like computer hardware and the wiring pf the brain being as circuitryhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight-circuit_model_of_consciousness
In the eighties and nineties, Tim was busy raising his step-son Zach and working on simple software games, teaching people to create change in their lives:
Leary became fascinated by computers, the Internet, and virtual reality. He proclaimed that “the PC is the LSD of the 1990s” and admonished bohemians to “turn on, boot up, jack in”.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Leary#Post-prison
Sadly, Leary would experience the same nightmare and pain as Art Linkletter, when his own daughter committed suicide in 1990. Although she had become a conservative Christian and was not a drug user, Susan Leary suffered from mental illness and was in prison awaiting trial for an attempted murder charge. Tim visited her often in jail but not even the shaman could prevent his daughter from ending her life.
Big Pharma & Bad Trips
Despite the negative press and legal troubles, Timothy Leary introduced psychedelics to the public mind. Lately, we have seen psychedelics remerge as a promising treatment for mental illness (see part one) and other conditions such as stroke^.
As mentioned in Part One, several small companies have taken up the task of testing psychedelics against mental disorders and other maladies. Many research programs are aiming to make psychedelics less hallucinatory:
For example, many of those who take “microdoses” swear that psychedelics in these quantities are life-enhancing without the hallucinations^^. Such approaches seem to help to minimize the risks of “bad trips” and possibly, law suits that blame drug companies for people inflicting self-harm.
We might avoid “bad trips” if hallucinations are disallowed but we might also miss out on rich experiences. For example, night-time dreams share similarities with hallucinations and dreams can be very insightful and life-changing (2)(3).
Perhaps the experiential part of the psychedelic is important to the healing. People seek meaning in their lives, come to resolutions about their past and like to see themselves in a new light.
Consider how the Shaman’s ritual enhances the treatment of one who is ill or experiencing a “loss of soul”. The “patient” doesn’t just take a pill and go about his or her day. They go through a ritual led by the shaman. Ritual experience performs both a social and psychological function – it is a meaningful process to the person in question and those in the community. The “patient” watches as she experiences the transformation and is cured.
Likewise, a hallucination can be beneficial if it becomes a meaningful revelation. Researchers might want to put the hallucinations back in but I doubt Big Pharma will embrace the idea. To them, hallucinations open up the possibility of being sued if something should go wrong and injury or death is blamed on the drug company.
Tragedy is horrible enough but it also creates the possibility of a “reverse business model”; the more people who take hallucinogens, the more potential lawsuits and liability.
(Update March 3, 2021: I should make it clear that many drug companies investigating the utility of psychedelics are looking into beneficial extracts of psychedelics or non-hallucinogenic versions of psychedelic substances and are not basing their business on micro-dosing, which was recently investigated by an Imperial College of London study as to a possible placebo effect (4).).
An ontological shock can be very disruptive to people who are ill-equipped to handle it. Still, I think some could use a larger perspective on their world. Small-mindedness is a world-wide pandemic that creates many dangers, such as extremist movements.
Extremists Box Themselves In
Ideologue. noun. an adherent of an ideology, especially one who is uncompromising and dogmatic”.– Oxford Languages
Don’t be a puppet. Recognize that violent extremists don’t have the answers you need. They just want to use or control you”.https://www.fbi.gov/cve508/teen-website/why-do-people-become-violent-extremists
The “zombie” crowd (mentioned in Part One) are growing restless. There can be no doubt the pandemic is contributing to unease and mental unhealth everywhere.
Although correlations between violence, extremism, and mental illness are thought to be weak, I am concerned the pandemic has given radicals more time to plan and implement destructive behavior.
Government buildings are getting stormed or having their windows smashed; small businesses are seeing their property looted. Street violence is spreading like wildfire and “followers” are too easy to find.
The anger might be justified in some cases (like blatant unfairness and racism) but there are also rudderless groups of people who are happy to virtue signal when it is considered ‘appropriate’ yet too eager to destroy others when they think they can get away with it. They seem to be harboring darkness and sublimating it into destruction where socially acceptable.
Based on suspicion and accusation only, people are having their careers ruined and opportunities canceled as if something akin to the McCarthy era had returned.
It might be good if some take a chill pill. Psychedelics might help the extremists step outside of their box and see how violence is not only destructive to innocent people but to themselves:
“Good wins in the end because evil is a self-destructive, cannibalistic force that inevitably engorges upon itself.”-Ken Poirot, author
The Down Side
Lastly, there remains the question of a downside to all of this – can “they” weaponize psychedelics?
Unfortunately the answer is “yes, it’s possible”.
It is ironic that the same magic one can use to free their mind from an oppressive view on reality can also be used to impose ideas and indoctrinate by others.
Many are excited about the benefits to humankind, yet after learning about Manson’s family brainwashing and the strange CIA mind control program known as Project MK-Ultra, we can see how psychedelics can also be misused by powerful forces or nefarious people. Extremists might use them as part of an initiation ritual where recruits are indoctrinated.
Voltaire says that those who can make you believe absurd ideas can also get you to commit atrocities. Bad ideas sound crazy to most people but if a “handler” can imprint the ideas while people are in an open state and have let go of their take on reality, the lunacy can become part of a rigidly held belief system. Like the fictitious(???) Manchurian Candidate who is brainwashed into shooting a political candidate or the Manson Family member who murders innocents, people might be lured into committing all kinds of violence.
The extremist is also dependent on their belief system. They are dogmatic to the point of insanity; one only has to look at the irrational behavior of the Nazis, Communists, or even the Nixon administration to see how the “need for self-justification” can lead to mass destruction, genocide, and ultra-violence.
People who would normally be opposed to violence can be extremely nasty in protecting their belief system. Oddly enough, many do not even realize they are being indoctrinated. One can be led down the garden path to an abyss.
At the moment, the gulf between Left and Right in Western countries is so great, you might say the two camps live in two different realities. Seeing the other side as “the enemy” pushes both groups to greater extremes while the ideologues have a field day.
Couple the extremist mindset with mind control techniques and the potential for disaster is massive. Research in the 21st century shows that psychedelics are beneficial to humankind yet in addition to the researchers and therapists, watch-dogs are needed.
Dr. Timothy Leary said many times, “think for yourself and question authority”. In fact, this has become a famous saying. This small piece of advice might be his most valuable contribution to psychology.
-Andrew James Brown
1 see https://boingboing.net/2019/08/09/charles-mansons-deeply-dark.html
4 see https://www.newscientist.com/article/2269908-benefits-of-microdosing-psychedelic-drugs-may-be-due-to-placebo-effect/
“Because it is hard to get permission for research where people are given illegal drugs, Balázs Szigeti at Imperial College London and his colleagues came up with an unusual trial design. They used internet forums to contact people who were already frequently micro-dosing at home using LSD, the magic mushroom compound psilocybin or similar drugs, usually bought online. The researchers didn’t analyze the difference in effects based on the drugs participants were using…. participants were sent empty medical capsules in the post that they could open to insert a small piece of drug-impregnated paper. When reclosed, the loaded pills looked the same as empty ones. The 191 volunteers put the drug into some of their capsules, then put them in batches into envelopes printed with QR codes and shuffled the envelopes so they no longer knew which contained the drugs… A third of the participants took only the drug microdoses for four weeks, one third got placebo capsules and another third got half and half… All three groups experienced similar improvements in their long-term psychological and cognitive outcomes over the four weeks”. BUT:
“While the scientists believe the results are valid, they concede that the study is not as robust as a standard, laboratory-based placebo-controlled clinical study. Since the participants sourced their own drugs, it is impossible to be sure what doses each ingested, and many of the participants were evidently familiar enough with the effects of the drug to guess whether they had taken a microdose of LSD or a placebo capsule”.
(In other words, more research has to be done on LSD microdoses to confirm the findings). Interestingly:
“At Imperial College London there is a dedicated Centre of Psychedelic Research, which has as its deputy head the UK Government’s former chief drug advisor — a clear a sign of this field entering the scientific mainstream” (see https://sifted.eu/articles/psychedelics-atai-compass-beckley/).
^ see http://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2021/02/08/2171367/0/en/Algernon-Pharmaceuticals-Signs-Agreement-with-Charles-River-Laboratories-for-DMT-Preclinical-Studies.html
^^ see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychedelic_microdosing
??? see https://abcnews.go.com/US/robert-kennedys-killer-sirhan-sirhan-brainwashed/story?id=13029050
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