Pete's Blog

Dr. Leary

The late Dr. Timothy Leary, former Harvard psychology professor and LSD advocate, earned his living after being dismissed from Harvard by mooching off Paul Mellon, touring a debate act with Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy, and writing books. In one of these he relates a story from the years LSD was still legal, of attending a meeting of the corporate board to a pharmaceutical company that had synthesized a prototype batch. Leary talks at some length about the uptight squares around the table and their dense, unfeeling response to his request that they donate some of this stash to his program at Harvard, a program which involved, among other follies, the dosing of undergraduates. In the end, the Board turns Leary down. Afterwards, the story goes, a man who had been in the meeting approaches Leary and gives him a large vial containing a generous portion of the LSD Leary had been asking for."Your work at the frontiers of human consciousness is too important," etc. etc. I've always wished I could have met Leary, if only to ask him if it had ever occurred to him that that man might have been a government agent. It makes sense. It has taken 40 years for progressive politics to recover from the effect LSD and other drugs had on the intellectual foundations of the New Left. The unthinking destructiveness, an addled nihilism disguised as theatricality, rendered it irrelevant, essentially meaningless in terms of real people's lives, to the extent that all George Bush, Sr. had to do to win the presidency was to call Michael Dukakis a liberal. To this day the strawman image of an over-educated libertine routinely convinces broad sections of the electorate to vote against their own interests. The only satisfaction we can take in the whole sorry story is that the Right now seems poised to go down the same road. There isn't much difference between Rush Limbaugh's blowhard bullying and the politics of personal insult practiced by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Limbaugh just uses different drugs. The result could well be the same: 4o years of exile and irrelevance and an absence of substantive debate or opposition. The difference is that over the last 40 years times were usually good enough we could indulge ourselves this way. The next 40 years might not be so easy.

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