WELCOME TO THE FUTURE: WE’RE ALL MAD HERE
YOUTUBE ACCOMPANYING VIDEO: Timothy Leary – From Hippies to Cyberpunk – By Cypress Butane
Who was Timothy Leary? You may have heard the name, you may be familiar with his books, or maybe you are party to 1960’s counterculture movements already. KNOW YOU of the grinning LSD shaman and pop icon outlaw, who rode with the Beat generation, sang with the Beatles and Dylan, and tripped alongside the Diggers and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love? Before you read of him and what his work relays our cyberpunk era, a warning, from the man himself:
This is a message to young people. To people under the age of 25 and certainly to people under the age of 40. If you’re over the age of 40 I’m not sure that you should listen. What I’m going to say might make you mad. I don’t like to get people mad. I particularly don’t like to get people over the age of 40 mad, because these are the people who have guns, and handcuffs, and prisons – a wide variety of instruments of metal with which they punish people who get them mad. Young people for the most part aren’t so concerned with control. They’re much more involved in having fun, in being curious, in exploring their sensual equipment– Making adventurous exploration. Making love.” –
– Pioneer Of The Spirit Timothy Leary – The Lost Talks, compiled/narrated by Geoffrey Giuliano
INTRO: The Bomb vs The Computer vs The Drug
“Computers were essential to the initiation of nuclear explosions, and to understanding what happens next. […] It is no coincidence that the most destructive and the most constructive of human inventions appeared at exactly the same time. Only the collective intelligence of computers could save us from the destructive powers of the weapons they had allowed to invent.”
– George Dyson, Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins Of The Digital Universe
“Dr. Ralph Metzner, the third member of the Harvard triumvirate, suggested that the appearance of LSD constituted nothing less than a turning point in human evolution. It was no coincidence, he maintained, that Dr. Hofmann discovered the effects of LSD shortly after the first nuclear chain reaction was achieved by the Manhattan Project. His remarks seemed to imply that LSD was some sort of divine antidote to the nuclear curse and that humanity must pay heed to the psychedelic revelation if it was to alter its self-destructive course and avert a major catastrophe.”
– Remarks at the October 1977 conference ‘LSD: A Generation Later’, as reported in the book ‘Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD and the Sixties Rebellion’ by Martin A. Lee, Bruce Shlain
PART ONE: A SCIENTIST DOSED BY THEIR HYPOTHESIS, ONE’S LIFE BECOMES AN EXPERIMENT / / / THE GUINEA PIG AND THE FLY
Have you heard the one about the blind Messiah? No? It goes like this. A Harvard Psychology Professor, let’s call him Tim Leary, is giving out psychedelic mushroom capsules to various ‘test subjects’, as he did to thousands of subjects over the years, not in so much a controlled environment, but let’s say, in his house. In the early days of this scientist’s experimenting, before fully taking to heart his idea of removing the white lab coat and becoming fully part of the experiment. [ To say nothing of the concept of transference, which I have not read of Leary addressing.] His daughter upstairs in her bedroom. And so this test subject one night comes over, let’s call him, I don’t know, Allen Ginsberg. And they take these pills, and they start tripping. And Allen starts flying and singing crazy songs and rolling around in Tim’s bed holding his head, so Tim has to go check on him.
The neurotic Jewish homosexual Allen is feeling the various pressures of being a psychotic poet fundamentally alienated from the entire institutional structure of 1950s society. And Tim says to him, he says “I think you’re wonderful,” something like that, and so this makes the rather nervous and self-conscious Allen feel wonderful. Next thing you know, the whole house is bouncing with Allen’s energy, and he’s saying ‘We’ve got to call everyone! This is going to change the world. We’ll call Kruschev and Kennedy and have them sit down and take these pills and we’ll have world peace!’ And when Tim tells him maybe it’ll be hard to get them on the phone, Allen calls up this buddy of his, let’s say his name is Jack Kerouac. And pretty soon they’re rapping about breaking chains and William Blake visions and Allen wants to hit the streets, go door to door and proclaim that heaven is here, now! In the flesh! He is come to declare salvation! He tells Tim ‘take off your hearing aid, you don’t need it, we are all perfect!
It’s at this point that Tim looks at Allen and, clearing his throat, mentions that Allen is still wearing his rather thick glasses.
The rapture may… or may not have arrived that late evening. But the sixties counterculture had harnessed higher forces to kick in the door of a few of its harbinger’s open skulls with tidings of ecstasy and eternal transport. Leary and Ginsberg, combining forces of peace-buttoned scientist lab coat with the pot smoke-smelling corduroy & wool poet’s jacket, poured over Allen’s vast counterculture address book, making a list of who to ‘turn on’ next, and the rest is history, or perhaps somehow… strange future-scape still.
THE MAN IN THE GABERDINE SUIT IS A SPY: MID-LIFE CRISIS IN THE ’50s? OLD SPORT TIMMY LEARY GOES AND TASTES THE FLESH OF GOD!
The book ‘Guinea Pig Scientists’ tells the story of experimenters who made great leaps and progressive strides in science by putting their own bodies on the line to test their hypotheses. Discovering the first viral transmission by allowing infected mosquitoes to bite him, Jesse Lazear died in the process but will forever be remembered as a heroic scientist. There is no entry in ‘Guinea Pig Scientists’ for Timothy Leary, however.
Tim, a Harvard Psychologist at the time he began subject experiments with LSD, had made a career out of attempting to shirk the dominant psychological tradition of Behaviorism, which as much as stated that internal states were simply not important to human activity. Leary had had a rough upbringing, failing to satisfy great expectations of success at various high placements his mother had arranged for her son. His father was a drunk who left Tim and his mother, but also left Tim with a strong imprint of how men behave towards women. Tim was sent to effete private schools which expelled him for sneaking into girls’ dormitories. The LSD guru was even a cadet at the Westpoint Military Academy, following in his family’s tradition, as his father was an army captain and his mother a letter-writing friend of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Being a part of Westpoint’s ‘Long Gray Line’ may have the most formative experience of Tim’s
life, for when he was caught by an upperclassman in a drinking binge and broke the sacred honor code by lying about it, he was subject to a trial, and punished socially by ‘silencing.’ He remained at the school, but no student was permitted to speak to him, on their honor. It’s arguable, under the alienation and stress of that time, he had a nervous breakdown, or he found his strength, as he turned to deep reading, philosophy, and a profound inner investigation to get through it. Two things Tim said of this time stand out; he wrote his mother ‘The silencing is the best thing that ever happened to me.’ And he quipped later in life, the board that let him off the hook for drinking but left him subject to social punishment was “the only fair trial I’ve had in a court of law.”
Arguably failing upwards — or succeeding at remaining a free spirit in a stifling 1950’s environment, and defying conformist institutions– Leary made it to Harvard on the merits of his unique ‘Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality’ which countered Behaviorist psychology. Behaviorism, in my admittedly limited understanding, claimed an individual’s behavior could be understood as a robot’s programming creating actions might be understood. If it is raining, Jim will close the window. Tim’s beliefs held that psychology hinged on interpersonal connections, and our relationships to others.
As a would-be Fitzgeraldian heroic type, pseudo swinging with a social group of Berkeley professors dumping out the flower pitcher to mix martinis to power down, Tim’s dissatisfaction met its most terrifying appraisal when his wife committed suicide due to inability to keep up with his philandering. The first of five wives, Marianne wanted to meet the expectations of a man she had built her life around, and Tim wanted a life outside of society’s strictures. Marianne’s heart was collateral.
Tim’s fate put him in a prison he could not escape, of guilt and remorse. His onward marching had him experimenting under Harvard’s psychology department, locked in a corrections facility with hardened criminals, taking LSD alongside the inmates, testing whether the drug had a therapeutic effect. The idea was to possibly reduce recidivism – the rate criminals return to prison after release; rehabilitation being the technical goal of prisons though often not their actual effect. He conducted experiments with divinity students to see if the drug could invoke a mystical experience around the same time period. Tim believed that LSD could turn one’s life around. Perhaps he needed to believe it; others have noted that his experiments, though noble, were not conducted along stringent scientific standards. In the prison experiment, he either fell victim to an effect whereby one thinks better of their results than they signify, or, worst case, he doctored the results by comparing different time spans for his patients rate to the core prison population, making his results look better by comparison. And he declined to mention that one of the divinity students had an extreme adverse reaction, needing a shot of sedative to calm down, although the experiment did produce genuine spiritual experiences in those who took the drug, according to the subjects themselves, asked at the time, and years later.
A scientist experiments to find out about life and the world, and the scientist who tests the mind, the human spirit, and frontiers at the edge of permitted questioning, tests themselves. In a way I believe Tim experimented as a way of testing his own soul, and of exploring meaning in his life. Tim’s first trip, in Mexico, when he ingested the ‘flesh of the gods’, or teonanácatl of Ancient Aztec culture, also known as ‘magic mushrooms’, a type of spiritual sacrament for several contemporary tribes of indigenous peoples in Central America, I think he wanted something to open a new doorway. While looking to take drugs to change your life is generally a bad plan, historically psychotropic drugs have an ancient reputation of prodding a possibly otherwise stagnant species to growth and change. The term ‘entheogen’ is applied to this usage. So the theory goes, that psychotropics ‘woke up’ ancient man to the consciousness of the cosmos, and gave reverberation to our mind’s reflection as the eyes of the universe, witnessing itself, miraculously self-aware.
Opening Epigraph From HIGH PRIEST –
Memoir of first trips in Mexico & Beyond:
But I—why should I go? By whose decree?
I am not Paul, nor am I yet Aeneas,
unworthy by myself and others. Wherefore, if I
allow myself to go, I fear it would be folly.
—DANTE TO VERGIL
Mark Dery makes the humbling point in his book ‘Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century’ of the sixties drug-takers, that “theirs was the ‘plug-and-play’ nirvana of the ‘gadget-happy American’ – attained not through years of Siddhartalike questioning but instantaneously, by chemical means, amidst the sensory assault of a high-tech happening”(Dery 1996: 29). So, in Leary’s moment of consumer ‘metanoia’ (turning toward God) — profound spiritual transformation, tasting the flesh of god — a vision crystallized: not only of the universe, but of himself as a kind of profiteer of expanding consciousness; to vault forth and to shatter the dull 50’s into a million shards; of sharp-minded movements, barefoot casualties, and glinting reflections from those just passing by.
When he evolved into a fuller form pusher of expanded consciousness, a new experimental method crystallized as well, one even purer and simpler than magic mushrooms: a colorless odorless molecule known as L.S.D.
He would carry on experiments – to better mankind per his lights – while alienating himself from its mainstreams and orthodoxies. He would perpetrate dangerous scientific gambles.
In one sense, Leary was continuing the behavior that shook his wife to the ground, unable to handle the moral confusion of his ‘explorations’. Tim was a believer. He had to be, didn’t he?
In another sense, he was a convert, a man who had had a religious experience, and felt a duty to spread the gospel. This molecule didn’t just throw him off. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, but he also is at a loss to explain. “You don’t understand!” he finds himself saying to those questioning what, why, how he does the things he does. “I can see!” It completely fused itself with his being, and, like Goldblum after traveling through his matter teleporter, he became a sort of destined messenger for the thing he melded with.
The metaphor Leary preferred for his early revelatory LSD based writings was that the drug revealed the ‘reality studio set’ of every day life. That it so aroused one to the present moment that it made people enacting routines and rote behaviors in the grips of cultural indoctrinations, inhibitive moral strictures and belief systems, appear as the incredible and incredulous actors they would to objective observation.
In a world of automatons playing out sitcom lives, the gnostic topplers of falsity needed a bold program — and with Marshall McLuhan’s advice, Tim formed the philosophy of signal disruption into catch phrases easy to swallow as 5th Avenue ad copy. For those daring enough to swim into subverted channels, that is.
TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT
“You must be known for your smile,” McLuhan advised Tim. And so Tim became the vessel for LSD’s diffusion into the population at large. In the way DNA seeks to disseminate itself on an unconscious level, with humans serving as vehicles for genes, Tim became… The HIGH PRIEST OF LSD.
Timothy Leary was once called ‘The Most Dangerous Man In America’ by none other than the President of the United States. The Most Dangerous man in America is supposed to be the President (who, in this instance, was Richard Nixon)–not a profoundly unserious, prankish professor, pushing a new highly potent, and largely untested psychotropic chemical into the hearts and minds of youth.
But Leary’s path to the most wanted was like how the Mr. Robot character Ray Heyworth describes the usual troubled path through life. The world is dark, and mostly the best we can do is stumble in the right direction, and occasionally, it behooves us to take a stand.
Tim stood to both fame’s applause and the outcast’s castigation, subject to a supremely harsh prison sentence when caught with two sticks of marijuana — Nixon is on tape saying
Leary is public enemy #1, a great target, essential putting him away will be great for his administration’s ratings –– and chased around the world after escaping prison once, lengthy tribulations as a fugitive, and extended jail time.
Some may find fault in Leary’s biographical details, but in my opinion, the man was braver and swam sharked currents with more steadfastness than most manage.
THE DEVIL’S PRICE
“We were all in the highest and most loving of Moods. (…) This can’t be true. So beautiful. Heaven! But where is the devil’s price? Anything this great must have a terrible flaw in it. It can’t be this good. Is it addictive? Will we ever come down? I hope not.”
– High Priest, Timothy Leary
‘The ecstatic experience did not extend to one member of the party, however: Burroughs had an entirely different reaction. When his friends looked in on him, they found him collapsed against a wall, haggard and tense. “Bill, how are you doing?” one of them asked. Leary recorded Burroughs’ response: “I would like to sound a word of warning. I’m not feeling too well. I was struck by juxtaposition of purple fire mushroomed from the Pain Banks. Urgent Warning. I think I’ll stay here in shriveling envelopes of larval flesh…One of the nastiest cases ever processed by this department.” When the effects of the psilocybin wore off the rest, the tension was pervasive.’
– ‘Nothing Is True-Everything Is Permitted:
The Life of Brion Gysin’ By John Geiger
So, neither side is telling the truth about LSD. The government wants everyone to be afraid of it, pushing the war on drugs.
Whereas Leary gleefully sings its praises and totes it as a panacea. I suppose everyone yearned for a cure for the wars as Vietnam became the first panoramic conflict disseminated
back into the homefront’s living room in living color. And all the disasters of human nature currently at loose in the world becoming larger, closer, and more in your face that ever before cry out for a more potent pill to keep them in check. Technicolor undeniable truth, one wonders if one is meant to handle seeing so much of reality. One wants to react, to make it right. To make one’s view felt by the bludgeoning hippodrome. You buy the ticket, you take the ride. And Leary was the carnival barker, the proselytizer, aiming to convert the world out of a sense of needed momentum, to save the world from an apocalyptic calcification, a freeze-up of spirit coming down. I see in him the criminal, but nonetheless true, wisdom William Blake offers in his ‘Proverbs of Hell’ – “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” And, the less well known, “Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.”
Leary, infamous, a tabloid celebrity figure, was a contentious character even among the outsiders. The Diggers, a kind of anarchist collective that used surrealist guerilla street theater tactics to take advantage of the moment of possibility that was the summer of love to seize on potential change for the world, had some issues with Leary. Their pamphlet ‘Uncle Tim’$ Children’ read in part as follows:
“Pretty little 16-year-old middle class chick comes to the Haight to see what it’s all about & gets picked up by a 17-year-old street dealer who spends all day shooting her full of speed again & again, then feeds her 3000 mikes and raffles off her temporarily unemployed body for the biggest Haight Street gang bang since the night before last.
The politics & ethics of ecstasy.
Rape is as common as bullshit on Haight Street.
The Love Generation never sleeps.
The Oracle continues to recruit for this summer’s Human Shit-In, but the psychedelic plastic flower & god’s eye merchants, shocked by the discovery that increased population doesn’t necessarily guarantee increased profits at all, have invented the Council for a Summer of Love to keep us all from interfering with commerce.
Kids are starving on the Street. Minds & bodies are being maimed as we watch, a scale model of Vietnam. There are people — Our people — dying hideous long deaths among us & the Council is planning alternative activities. Haight Street is uglyshitdeath & Alan Watts suggests more elegant attire.
What does it feel like to be one of the HIP Merchants? To know that you, personally, from the most cynical of greedy motives, have done this to all of these people!
Well, I’ll tell you: it doesn’t feel like that at all, because if that’s who you are, then you’re very careful not to notice what you’ve done. Even now, when the dying sprawl across the doorsteps & have to be swept off before you can open the store. The selectively expanded consciousness does not notice misery. Misery is not beautiful.
The HIP Merchants — the cats who have sold our lovely little psychedelic community to the mass media, to the world, to you — are blithely & sincerely unaware of what they have done. They’re as innocent as a busy-fingered blind man in a nudist colony.
The trouble is probably that the HIP shopkeepers have believed their own bullshit lies. They believe that acid is the answer & neither know nor care what the question is. They think dope is the easy road to God.
“Have you ever been raped?” they say. “Take acid & everything’ll be groovy.”
“Are you ill? Take acid & find inner health.
“Are you cold, sleeping in doorways at night? Take acid & discover your own inner warmth.
“Are you hungry? Take acid & transcend those mundane needs.
“You can’t afford acid? Pardon me, I think I hear somebody calling me.”
In the long term, paradise may be every pilgrim’s due, I do not know. But if one doomscrolls the news at random, it seems a good bet to wager, for every mystic ascension, there’s a My Lai, and a Manson.
Aldous Huxley said, ‘I am very fond of Tim — but why, oh why, does he have to be such an ass? I have told him repeatedly that the only attitude for a researcher in this ticklish field is that of an anthropologist living in the midst of a tribe of potentially dangerous savages.”
Tim either had more faith in the congregation of man, or thought if he was daring enough, he could convert the tribe to his vision. Or maybe he thought he knew the tribe’s gods better than the natives themselves.
You could choose to believe him, or you could side with the bureacrats. The nobodies. The soldiers conscripting you in daydream to take up a rifle and go will the world.
You chose to believe Leary because to choose the alternative made you a monster.
You sided with the chance of magnificence in your soul.
And you, having signed up for this midnight ride to the outer reaches, clung on for dear life.
The miracle was that as the de facto leader of acid-heads everywhere, Tim set any ethical standards for the drug trip at all, but he met the lowest bar. Thou shalt not interfere with another person’s trip, for example, came to him from on high when a fellow tripper wanted to stomp up the mountain (stairs) to a teenage girls bedroom during a sleepover. (Tim was once again letting experiments be conducted in his home with his children there– and his daughter would eventually commit suicide). Tim declared this a hardline ‘no’, effectively writing a moral imperative, engraving a law in stone during an LSD session, a time and place where everything is up for grabs. There are times one must admit the G. Gordon Liddy’s of the world make some salient points. [ G. Gordon Liddy, the man who raided Millbrook Mansion, where Leary’s collective lived for a time, and later was a key figure in Nixon’s Watergate scandal. Leary and Liddy did a series of live debates, which were filmed and showcased in the 1983 film ‘Return Engagement’ which I found very watchable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWj_ytto610%5D
Soon enough Charlie Manson would fail the same test, but they ended up, Tim and Charlie,in adjoining jail cells, whispering to each other through the vents (as far as I can tell from readings, this actually happened).
PART TWO: LEARY’S REBIRTH AS THE ‘SOCRATES OF THE INFORMATION AGE
ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?
TIMOTHY LEARY COLLABORATED WITH THE INFAMOUS R.U. SIRIUS ON THIS INVETERATE OUTSIDER-REBEL CYBERPUNK PUBLICATION
IS THAT ALL THERE IS? (LET’S KEEP DANCING): CHAOS AND CYBERCULTURE
He sat in reign at communes in Mexico, until they kicked him out of the country. He set up shop at a mansion donated to the cause, the infamous Millbrook estate, that I fantasize as a kind of spooky dilapidated ghost house haunted by then present occupants, tripping and grasping at the walls. He founded a number of religious freedom efforts, to claim LSD as the sacrament of their tribe, from the ‘IFIF’ – International Federation for Internal Freedom, The ‘League for Spiritual Discovery’ or ‘L.S.D.’. Site of socialpsychosexual experimentation, all night acid parties, artist co-minglings and genuine yogic practices and personal spiritual disciplines, it came down to Tim and his family getting busted on the Mexican border with a measley two marijuana joints, being given a jail sentence of 30 years. But! He made a miraculous escape, with the help of the left-wing freedom fighters/terrorists the Weather Underground, and was a fugitive for many years.
They threw Tim in jail and science at large was forbidden from experimenting with the substance LSD.
It was at that point that Tim turned his attention more to things like outer space colonization, life extension, and computers.
The one moment that stands out from Millbrook, besides the time the Merry Pranksters came to visit, is an anecdote about some old rich dowager walking through the house, and seeing the sink stacked with piles of unwashed dishes, from which cockroaches scurry this way and that. She points the mess out to a young man who was staying at the house, “Look at those cockroaches!” she squeals. To which the young man is said to have replied, “yeah, they’re beautiful.” This, whether apocryphal and legend, or simply a common occurrence with roomates in the sixties, led to the saying “Who’s going to do the dishes?”
It is a perennial question, and maybe the most important, even as we turn our attention to the stars. Arguably, the legacy of the sixties, Leary’s heyday, is being left collectively with an epistemology, after effectively leaving the planet, something like William Burroughsian/Hassan i Sabbah saying ‘NOTHING IS TRUE / EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED’. And what remains of ethics and aesthetics? The slightly less nihilistic ‘I get by with a little help from my friends.’ Into this desert of the real, we desperately need more of Leary’s thinking, beginning with his definitions of CYBERPUNK.
LEARY’S VIEWS ON CYBERPUNK – EXCERPTS FROM ‘CHAOS AND CYBERCULTURE’
A “cyberperson” is one who pilots his/her own life. By definition, the cyberperson is fascinated by navigational information—especially maps, charts, labels, guides, manuals that help pilot one through life. The cyberperson continually searches for theories, models, paradigms, metaphors, images, icons that help chart and define the realities that we inhabit.
WHO IS THE CYBERPUNK?
Cyberpunks use all available data-input to think for themselves.
You know who they are.
Every stage of history has produced names and heroic legends for the strong, stubborn, creative individuals who explore some future frontier, collect and bring back new information, and offer to guide the human gene pool to the next stage. Typically, these time mavericks combine bravery, and high curiosity, with super self-esteem. These three characteristics are considered necessary for those engaged in the profession of genetic guide, aka counterculture philosopher.
The classical Olde Westworld model for the cyberpunk is Prometheus, a technological genius who “stole” fire from the Gods and gave it to humanity. Prometheus also taught his gene pool many useful arts and sciences. According to the official version of the legend, he/she was exiled from the gene pool and sentenced to the ultimate torture for these unauthorized transmissions of classified information. In another version of the myth (unauthorized), Prometheus (aka the Pied Piper) uses his/her skills to escape the sinking kinship, taking with him/her the cream of the gene pool.
The Newe World version of this ancient myth is Quetzalcoatl, God of civilization, high-tech wizard who introduced maize, the calendar, erotic sculpture, flute-playing, the arts, and the sciences. He was driven into exile by the G-man in power, who was called Tezcatlipoca.
Self-assured singularities of the cyberbreed have been called mavericks, ronin, freelancers, independents, self-starters, nonconformists, oddballs, troublemakers, kooks, visionaries, iconoclasts, insurgents, blue-sky thinkers, loners, smart alecks.
During the tribal, feudal, and industrial-literate phases of human evolution, the logical survival traits were conformity and dependability. The “good serf or “vassal” was obedient. His “good worker” or “manager” was reliable. Maverick thinkers were tolerated only at moments when innovation and change were necessary, usually to deal with the local competition.
In the information-communication civilization of the 21st Century, creativity and mental excellence will become the ethical norm. The world will be too dynamic, complex,
and diversified, too cross-linked by the global immediacies of modem (quantum) communication, for stability of thought or dependability of behaviour to be successful. The “good persons” in the cybernetic society are the intelligent ones who can think for themselves. The “problem person” in the cybernetic society of the 21st Century is the one who automatically obeys, who never questions authority, who acts to protect his/her official status, who placates and politics rather than thinks independently.
Cyber: The Greek word kubernetes, when translated to Latin, comes out as gubernetes. This basic verb gubernare means to control the actions or behavior, to direct, to exercise sovereign authority, to regulate, to keep under, to restrain, to steer. This Roman concept is obviously very different from the Hellenic notion of “pilot” [making their own navigational decisionsl…. the meaning of “cyber” has been corrupted. The Greek word “pilot” becomes “governor” or “director”; the term “to steer” becomes “to control.”… The terms “cybernetic person” or “cybernaut” return us to the original meaning of “pilot” and puts the self-reliant person back in the loop.
Cyberpunks are the inventors, innovative writers, technofrontier artists, risk-taking film directors, icon-shifting composers, stand-up comedians, expressionist artists, free-agent scientists, technocreatives, computer visionaries, elegant hackers, bit-blitting Prolog adepts, special-effectives, cognitive dissidents, video wizards, neurological test pilots, media explorers—all of those who boldly package and steer ideas out there where no thoughts have gone before.
Countercultures are sometimes tolerated by the governors. They can, with sweet cynicism and patient humor, interface their singularity with institutions. They often work within the “governing systems” on a temporary basis.
As often as not, they are unauthorized.
If you are interlaced in a certain level of cyberpunk and cyberdelia culture already, you may have a feel for the way sixties tropes can ..interface.. nicely with cyberpunk ideas. Many of the pioneers of personal computing were also psychedelic explorers, and believed that computers were another way to expand people’s consciousness. Some believed, perhaps naively, that computers would bring the world together, and free minds. Books like ‘Where Wizards Stay Up Late’ and ‘What The Dormouse Said’ tell these creators’ stories.
In a certain sense, if one can think of the brain as a type of organic machine, or as drugs and mind-altering substances and practices as ‘technologies’ or ‘hacking’ of one’s physical being, one is already enmeshed in the matrix. Human flesh and mind augmented with ubiquitous technology is a territory which the map reflects while amplifying, dissecting, and at times simply confusing. To confuse drugs with computers more, consider what Terrence McKenna said about these unlikely counterparts. “Both computers and drugs are what I would call function-specific arrangements of matter. As we develop nanotechnological abilities, as we move into the next century, it will be more and more clear that the difference between drugs and machines is simply that one is too large to swallow, and our best people are working on that.” [ Terrence McKenna, in his talk ‘Shamans Among The Machines’, transcribed at http://machinedrugs.com/mckenna-machines%5D
So, one could argue using computers is like using drugs in more crystalized static view of how they change our sense of the world.
Leary frequently referred to LSD as a tool like a ‘microscope’ or ‘telescope’, which allowed its users to see things that non-users did not see, often flummoxing his conservative
listeners. They would prefer people understood drugs as poisons that distort or even blind the user to reality.
But whether you use drugs or not, and I will avoid any endorsement or castigation on their use, cyberpunk as an ethos to me is for individual freedom where it does not harm others, and personal responsibility where it does not destroy the life of the party.. Or something. But let’s talk now about Leary’s collaboration with R. U. Sirius, the founder of Mondo 2000, the cutting edge cyberpunk rag that blew minds and fuses in the 90s.
Leary sold the 90s Cyberpunks on a promethean proposition. He knew the risk of stealing the fire of the gods and giving it to lowly man, and rather than timidly give some safety matches, he came running down the mountain with a flamethrower screaming. And remember, for giving man the gift of fire, the light and toolkit of the gods, Prometheus was chained to a rock and tormented with having his liver picked out by birds, only to have it regrow in the night and to have it begin anew the next morning. Eternal punishment for such hubris as to empower man to become enlightened then.
I read somewhere about an acid trip R.U. Sirius took, a short time after hearing John Lennon had been assassinated, where he tuned into Leary’s thought and found some thread of hope in the technology-embracing Leary blended with the return to nature many sixties-hippies stood for. Perhaps there is a vision of the future and technology that brings some visions of utopia, much like those original creators of the personal computer.
Mondo 2000 set the tone for the 90s Cyberpunk culture with its glossy print, high fashion design, sardonic and prankish take on new developments in tech, and an ethic that believed information should be free to all. R.U. Sirius, Queen Mu, and St. Jude, as the editors of Mondo
2000, worked with Leary on a number of articles for the magazine, some of which are compiled in Leary’s book ‘Chaos and Cyberculture’.
Leary was near the end of his life when he and Sirius collaborated on a book together, and Leary’s last days were messy, perhaps romantic, and carnivalesque, much fitting the carnival barker. He was staying in a house where people constantly paraded through, some old friends, some strangers. He live streamed his bed and, pumped full of a cornucopia of pharmacology, had plans to livestream his death, but did not. A man, who spent most of his life search the high country, finding god in moments, was left alone, tired and naked in the presence.
One should beware – the unexamined life is not worth living it has been said,
But if you deign to take control of your own user experience of being alive, you may void the warranty.
TURN ON. PLUG IN. BOOT UP. JACK ON. CONNECT.
The most important thing you can do
Is baby, think for yourself
Hey, hey, hey
That’s what the new breed say
- ‘What the New Breed Say’, The Barbarians
“QUESTION AUTHORITY, THINK FOR YOURSELF” was Leary’s main dictum
Suborning even against his own claim to authority on subjects he proclaimed knowledge on – Like a boss, like a Socratic OG. Leary licked the splinter in your mind with erotic blue flamed tongues of longing for more. A championing prophet of always further… always another way. A trickster spirit wandering the desert of the real, spilling tea where others offer only mirages.
“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the “normal people” as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like “Have a nice day” and “Weather’s awful today, eh?”, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like “Tell me something that makes you cry” or “What do you think deja vu is for?”. Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others…” – Timothy Leary
The New Breed: Hippies to Cyberpunks
Parthenogenesis and Parturition are the familiar ways that human minds are born and reproduced. Parthenogenesis is fertilization of an egg by sperm, and Parturition is birth of offspring young by a parent. But computers with their information systems and reflection of our being on portable screens, do these allow new realms of self-creation and birth, and re-birth, in any salient sense? Or just a slow degeneration of the old ways into chaos? Leary late in life joined forces with R.U. Sirius, the founder of the infamous cyberpunk magazine MONDO 2000, and together they had plenty to say on society, death & dying, and that high-mountain path of immortality that sets minds reeling. [ In an interview Leary once said when asked about the afterlife, and immortality, that you know a conversation is getting good when you go in this direction.] WELCOME TO THE NEW BREED.
The Red Queen in Lewis Carrol’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’ informs Alice of how races work in Wonderland. Because, when one runs, the landscape also moves, and changes beneath one’s scurrying feet, one often runs to only wind up exactly where one started.
“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
The Red Queen theory in evolutionary biology is named for this effect and says: just because your adaptation level has allowed your species to survive to this point – this offers no insurance or guarantee that you will survive the new threats of today. Not just because predators and challenges are given the same parallel processing chance to evolve their threat against you (moving the ground beneath you as you strive), but because change is the only constant. Being old hat at being alive means that one is experienced, but also that one is old. There is a certain trendiness and novelty seeking built into biological systems. Arguably, Leary’s attitude toward life gave him a kind of avante-garde bravura and marked him for high survivability potential. One might be justified in believing freaks, mutants, when one couple’s the mutation and outsider-status with self-awareness, survive longer. Leary could adapt while maintaining something of his original character, making awareness his watchword
As we’re at a stage in our evolution, a kind of civilizational position and time that makes us more able to perceive of our evolutionary challenges, self-directedness and free choice of destiny to those with eyes to see, rears its pretty, cyborg- gene-splicing, transhumanist head. Others see the inherent danger to the definition of humanity and our souls. [ “Human, Allen, is an adjective, and its use as a noun is in itself regrettable.” – William S. Burroughs] Leary’s dictums stay true: THINK FOR YOURSELF! QUESTION AUTHORITY! where our self-awareness makes us able to choose who we become, we should take care and live by the old Socratic chestnut Leary was fond of: KNOW THYSELF!
And now, as we well know, we live in the global village chock full of idiots, facing a coming age of mass extinctions brought on precisely due to the nature of slow, lumbering
collectivism that once was our virtue. A herd too slow to react to change direction, that couldn’t corner a three-point turn to save its own planet if the entire race depended on it.
Mutants and cyberpunks would be wise to consider themselves lucky to be on the cusp of full outsider status, as the tide rises, both to drown the old world, and maybe give them enough push at the same time to show them the potential heights. Crisis, and opportunity, all at once.
“The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators.’
- Edward Gibbon, quoted in ‘Chaos and Cyberculture’
“PILOTS OF THE SPECIES”
“Do you feel it?
Do you feel it baby
Do you feel alright now
Do you feel the way you look right now
Do you feel alright babe
Lemme hear you say yeah now”
- ‘Do You Feel It’ by ? and The Mysterians
PLEASE ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF.
I AM THE NEW SPECIES.
“Nostalgia is a Dumb Drug” writes R.U. Sirius.
“I worked through my own 60’s nostalgia in the mid-70’s while it was all still fresh. I realized in 1972 that “the revolution” was never to be. A semi-institutionalized state of hippie communalism, rock & roll, dope and fucking in the streets would not sweep the nation leaving me to a life free of alienating labor, industrial parks, rent, commercial television, foreign intervention, fundamentalist Christians and other such assaults on an acid-suffused psyche. I was not to spend my early twenties at play in the Gardens of Elysium. Huey P. Newton would never be the Supreme Commander of “The People.” THANK GOD! Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not the only one who took this whole thing personally. You see, the mainstream myth of the sixties is the myth of idealistic youth in rebellion against the materialist ethics of their elders. Standing courageously against war and injustice, these idealistic youngsters were willing to lay it all on the line for a better world. It’s a lovely little myth, designed to provoke mawkish sentimentality, feelings of moral devolution, or declarations of sadder-but-wiser worldly wisdom. A myth of selflessness and sacrifice. A Judeo-Christian myth. A liberal-socialist myth. A safe myth. But not what the 60’s were about. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the new species.” – R.U. Sirius, ‘High Frontiers #4, “60s Going On 90s”’
YOU MIGHT NOT THINK THERE’S ANY WISDOM IN A FUCKED UP PUNK ROCK SONG
The project which R.U. Sirius collaborated with Leary On as he was in the process of leaving his material instantiation on this planet was titled ‘Alternatives to Involuntary Death’ or ‘Design for Dying’.
His spirit was inciting a young cyberpunk movement to reconcile the sixties idealism, flower power, with a ubiquitous technology society that there seemed to be no escape from, no commune to run to, no horizon left to head on the road to dream away. Leary gave the early cyberpunk movement the news on the spiritual-evolutionary hard-wire that there was more, more anarchic and free-wheeling, somehow both more optimistic and cynical simultaneously, less dampened and tempered. The blueprints to the machine were in OUR hands, and it wasn’t all death and control, but it was our hearts and minds, alive.
There is a double edge to Leary’s virile sword of chopping through the bullshit, bureacracy and thinking for oneself, of opening the hatch on one’s own brain and calling the tune. Mark Dery, again in his book ‘Escape Velocity, refers to Theordore Roszak who, in ‘The Making of a Counter Culture’, points out that, “[…] the Learyite article of faith that the key to cosmic consciousness and sweeping societal change could be found in a chemical concoction sprang from a uniquely American faith in technology (Dery 1996: 25).
Everyone in the sixties weren’t naive, and every counterculture figure today isn’t wizened. It is more in the nature of the forward lurching of growth, including technology’s. Culture accelerates, time compresses and dilates in perspective turns, the viewmaster lens of
generational shift chews on you till you feel simultaneously more particulate / less granular in the stream. What once crawled, can come to walk upright.
The New Breed may literally be just that. Sirius makes repeated use of ‘mutant’ metaphors in his writings on the hip-countercultural, and in the book they worked on together, he and Leary bring home the message of species-level iconoclasm by drawing the line from rebel-set to a death-defying, anti-hive superhuman diaspora coming down the tube.
Leary, as usual in his books, paints the picture in hyperbolic technosurrealism:
“If the flock doesn’t fear death, the grip of religious and political management is broken and their power over the gene pool is threatened. When control loosens, dangerous genetic innovations and mutational visions tend to emerge.”
“Fear of Death Was an Evolutionary Necessity At adolescence each kinship group provides morals, rules, taboos, ethical prescriptions to guide the all-important sperm-egg situation. Management by the individual of the horny DNA machinery is always a threat to hive inbreeding.”
Whether one takes Tim literally to a future that outthinks death, or finds rebels who grasp spiritual purpose above material controls, his words find continuation:
“Gene-Pool Protection In the past, this conservative degradation of individuality was an evolutionary virtue.”
“During epochs of species stability, when the tribal, feudal, and industrial technologies were being mastered and fine-tuned, wisdom was centered in the gene pool, stored in the collective linguistic consciousness, the racial data base of the hive.”
“Since individual life was short, brutish, aimless, what a singular learned was nearly irrelevant. The world was changing so slowly that knowledge could be embodied only in the breed-culture. Lacking technologies for the personal mastery of transmission and storage of information, the individual was simply too slow and too small to matter. Loyalty to the racial collective was the virtue.”
“Creativity, premature individuation was anti-evolutionary;
a weirdo, mutant distraction. Only village idiots would try
to commit independent, chaotic, unauthorized thought.”
-Alternatives to Involuntary Death, Timothy Leary
And now, as we well know, we live in the global village chock full of idiots, facing a coming age of mass extinctions brought on precisely due to the nature of slow, lumbering collectivism that once was our virtue. A herd too slow to react to change direction, that couldn’t corner a three-point turn to save its own planet if the entire race depended on it.
Mutants and cyberpunks would be wise to consider themselves lucky to be on the cusp of full outsider status, as the tide rises, both to drown the old world, and maybe give them enough push at the same time to show them the potential heights. Crisis, and opportunity, all at once.
Of course, Leary was preaching this lesson for a long time. He made it known when he said, “To learn how to use your head, you have to go out of your mind.” The Red Queen in biology may enjoy the sight of freaks who defy the collective, for all we know, but in Alice in Wonderland she is a death crazed monarch who cries ‘off with their heads’ at any infraction against her dominant (and mad) sensibilities. When she cries such in chapter eight at the Cheshire Cat, whose head floats above the croquet game without a body, the others in attendance scramble to comply. But how does one cut the head off of a being that is.
Just a head? When the queen threatens to punish them all with the same ‘off with their heads’ if they don’t comply, they scramble, while the cat grins. Such is the scene when the earthly forces of this world attempt to target ‘bulletproof ideas’ or the spirit of a rebel who is beyond the physical reach of reprisals, as Leary’s manifest destiny reaches in the minds of many today. The holy fool of the tarot waltzes over a cliff in his joyous dance. The troubles of the world do not concern him, only the nipping of his animal companion at his heels remind him of the earth. (We get by with a little help from our friends.) But some rebels’ personal beliefs bring them a holy reprisal from fear of the material shame of indignity. Call it advanced self-assuredness in the age of perpetual doubts.
Roger W. Holmes, in his article ‘The Philosopher’s “Alice in Wonderland”’ proposes there is discussion to be had on a semantic and pragmatic basis of beheading a Cheshire cat that is ONLY head. [ Holmes, Roger W. “The Philosopher’s ‘Alice in Wonderland.’” The Antioch Review, vol. 19, no. 2, 1959, pp. 133–149. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4610140. Accessed 3 July 2021.] Like William James argued in his infamous ‘tree-rotation’ question. The Queen thinks yelling louder will make the semantically impossible true. Whereas the bodyless cat laughs because it is untouchable. If one is perhaps a servant of the Red Queen and must give an answer, as she threatens to behead the lot of attendants if someone does not comply with her order… arguably both sides.. All of us in this future… well, WE ARE ALL MAD HERE. The point I’d like to make is that Leary escaped these captors, lived his life, in the end because his spirit was free in a way flesh seems never to be. And Leary persisted in his rebellion so that though, like the cat in this incident, he slipped away… for a time, and for those who pay attention to character, the smile remains there, midair, beaming. It is his legacy, what he did while he had choices to make and possibility to explore.
We offer due diligence as Cyberpunks surfing the web when we learn to sift from the stream these gold nuggets like the issues of Mondo 2000 and Leary’s books, and resurrect these barely transparent ghosts and give them the hard-light cores these radical-heart projectors deserve. We ought to dig up the spirits of the world we love just barely echo-lost over the horizon in the noise-mix of the mainstream and the bullshit and beckon it to dance here, tonight, for all the life of the world to come.
The night, before sleeping, when Timothy and his wife argued, where she would, alone, take her life, she told him, very drunk on martinis, that she was terribly unhappy, and in a terrible state about the fact that he had a mistress. To which Timothy replied,
“That’s your problem.”
We all relate to the Uncle Ben Moment, as shown clearly in Spider-Man (2002)
“I Missed the Part Where That’s My Problem”if not just interpersonally, in the end, somehow cosmically. Whether everything becomes part of the same weightless nowhere-the digital empty, or whether the spirit remains and gives weight to our lives by giving the material meaning– the personal computer is a consciousness altering machine, and may in fact be described as the ‘LSD’ of our age, if one wants to be provocative, as Leary did, and did. [ “Computers are the LSD of the 90s.”] And maybe Nietzsche said the most about minds connecting concepts and content through mental leaps and links when he told us ‘the best philosopher is an intellectual spider-man.’ But needless, to be cryptic, Leary spent his awaking life trying to ‘only connect’, whether from regret or holy vision. And the powers his legacy gathers to him in its web, remain great.
“Well, there you have it. I’m sure that few, or none of you will follow the advice and prophetic warnings I’ve been giving. I’ve told you, with words, and I’m telling you by example, because I’m stepping out of the university and educational setup. I hope in the coming years as you drift into somnambulance that some of you’ll remember our meeting this morning. But I want to leave one final warning. There will be many, many people who see the utility of the techniques I’ve been talking about that will want to use them, as the western scientific mind always wants to use them, for their own power. New frontiers have opened up just as real as the new frontiers that were opened up in the West, or were opened up in the new world after Columbus. And you’re going to have the same problems, of exploitation, and selfish use. There’ll be no lack of those who’ll be delighted to use the undeveloped areas of your cortex. We’ve coined the term ‘Internal Freedom’. It’s a political, didactic device. We want to warn you that you not give up a freedom– which you might not even know you have!”
- Timothy Leary, Exiting Speech Upon Leaving Harvard University as quoted in ‘Space Migration, Life Extension, Cyborgs and Clones’ Episode of ‘New Dimensions Radio’