Still crazy after all these years

[Timothy Leary is interviewed for Psychology Today by Bill Moseley]

Booted out of West Point, fired from Harvard, Timothy Leary lights into his 75th year as a felon, fugitive, guru, and great grandpa. The bad boy of American psychology is not only alive, he is still high on brain-change chemicals and trying to expand his mind--in cyberspace. Writer Bill Moseley first met the grizzled guru when he portrayed him in a fictionalized account of Leary's night in San Quentin cell-to-cell with Charles Manson. (Leary saw the performance eight times.) For this interview, Moseley caught Leary at his Beverly Hills lair showcased on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

PT: Is there anything you find interesting in cutting edge psychology?

TL: Psychology didn't exist until the beginning of the 20th century. William James and the early experimentalists started the so-called science of human behavior.

Human psychology really became mainstream during World Wars I and II. For the first time in history, instead of selecting warriors on the basis of how big their shoulders were and how dumb they were, you had to have bombers, navigators, and calculators. War had become highly technical. The Army had to select people for various jobs based on their psychological performance.

That started behavioral psychology. The military always gets the new technology first, then it moves over [to the civilians].

PT: The trickle-down theory?

TL: I would say it explodes out; it's explosive! In the 1950s, American affluence, individuality, and self-confidence were beginning to take off. A group of behavioral psychologists, of whom I was one, quite deliberately set out to take the power to describe, control, treat, and change human behavior away from doctors using the pathological model.

Carl Rogers said that if you have a behavior problem, it's not like a disease; you don't go to a doctor. If you're a third baseman and you strike out against left-handed pitchers, you study, you get coached, you go to other people. It's no longer a disease; we all have ups and downs, winning streaks and losing streaks.

In the Eisenhower years, the psychology of the day was adjustment: Tell me, are you well-adjusted? It seems ridiculous to us now. What we would today consider a good, adjusted person was considered abnormal then.

At the present time, if you look in the Yellow Pages, there will be eight pages of self-help stuff. There's hardly one orifice of the body, hardly any kind of disease or relationship to someone with a disease where you don't get together and talk about it as individual human beings, thinking self-reliantly instead of counting on some doctor to tell you what to do. The success of this psychological revolution is staggering.

If you look at the number of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts listed in the 1950 phone book and the 1990 phone book--whew! Naturally, as Gorbachev found to his dismay, once you give people freedom, they look up and do all sorts of crazy things! Gorbachev never thought that Russians would use their freedom to study alchemy or astrology, but that's the way it is.

PT: What about the Sixties?

TL: We did the same thing at Harvard, but this time with drugs. We took the power to use, to control brain-change drugs away: and made it available to train adults. Now the very concept of a government-approved, government-funded study of brain drugs on people, that's [Josef] Mengele. I have been blamed for having mined psychological, scientific studies of psychedelic drugs. I don't deserve the credit; I was one of many.

Currently, we are facing a fascinating situation where the world has been flooded with extremely inexpensive electronic processing devices. They cost less than a textbook and will allow multimedia stuff on screens that can be used to communicate, like a telephone that you can now use audiographically.

The hottest thing on the business page every single day is IT, the information highway, and the different groups fighting for control, just as they fought over the control of iron before. But they can't control the information highway because they're dealing with packages of light. A computer screen is just clusters of light; it all comes down to light.

We're now learning to communicate. The telephone allowed us to use electromagnetic magnification of our voice, but now you can do it audiovisually. It's the enormous power of a new language.

Marshall McLuhan is the key; he said electrical communication will create the global village. Philosophy and psychology in the 20th century is all linguistics. McLuhan said, "The media is the message." Change the media, you change yourself; change the media, you change your culture. You've heard me say this, haven't you?

PT: Absolutely.

TL: I want to say one other thing about drugs. I just received a 40-page manual from the DEA or the FDA, with a list of well over a thousand words for different kinds of drugs. Like "Easy Boo" or "Mary Lu." The DEA agents have to learn this language. Here's the government training their agents to learn a cultural language used by a big minority in America. While the language is legal, the government has decided that certain brain-drugs are illegal. The government reserves the right to control any vegetable that will allow you to change your mind.

Everybody wants to control the drugs: the FDA, the DEA, the junkies. There's a good reason for that. Psychoactive brain-activating drugs are the most powerful tools humanity has for operating your mind, your brain, developing new language, building up new communities, new cultures and subcultures.

The long history of brain-change vegetables has always been associated with shamanism, mysticism, art, poetry, free sexuality, acceptance of the body, an ecological sense of the oneness of all things. This runs through Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Greek humanism. There was an enormous drug influence on the French Revolution, on Wordsworth, Coleridge, Emerson, Thoreau; its a tradition.

After all these years of studying and listening to and watching and talking to different drug users, it's my duty to take any new drug that comes along. Now, I don't run off and buy something from some guy in a trench coat in a bar. I get these drugs from the chemists, from the most respectable, responsible people in the field.

Never take a drug that you don't receive from a dear trusted friend. You're accepting the keys to your soul, your brain. The reason I use the word soul is because the attitude toward brain-change drugs has always been very religious. There's no rationality about it. You simply cannot debate legalizing drugs.

Drug use has always been demonized. Drug fiends! Marijuana, the killer and assassin of youth! Before that, alcohol; it goes on and on. There's a reason for this, The wonderful variety of human nature is such that we come out with different definitions of gods and goddesses--and people will kill for that. A lot of that power was unlocked by psychedelic drugs.

Look what the government has done. They're filling up the prisons with young males [guilty of possession, trafficking, etc,], not to mention creating a criminal class. Once you criminalize a normal activity like sex, marijuana smoking, or booze, you're going to create a Mafia, whether it's Peruvian or Sicilian.

PT: What about drug use now, in the Nineties?

TL: Here's the idea that I'm fooling with now. We know that monotheism is a religious organization that says there is one God, He's our God, He's male, He's a very bad-tempered God and He's going to kill anyone who does not accept Him.

There is also something you might call molecular monotheism. People have incredibly passionate convictions about the morality of vegetables that can allow another person to change their brain.

There have been more than 50 million years of symbiosis, growing slowly between the vegetable queendom and the mammalian kingdom. It's no accident that we have 70 or 80 receptor sites in our brain for very specific vegetables.

Was there some evil devil that gave our brains these receptor sites? Religions have demonized these vegetables, because they actually do what religious rites are supposed to do: They open up new vistas or visions, which have to do with illumination, insight, revelation. Even among the most passionate drug enthusiasts there's this fundamentalist monotheism.

In the Sixties I was very pious; I came out strongly against heroin and amphetamine. I didn't know anything about heroin until 1979, when [British psychiatrist] Ronnie [R. D.] Laing sent out for a few shillings of heroin and shot me up, totally legally. I got a little nauseous and had the experience. I want to apologize now for all the hypocrisy that I spread around in the past about knocking other people's drugs. It's an entirely individual process.

One thing we certainly know is the government must keep entirely out of the field of criminalizing what adults do inside their own home, inside their own bodies.

Obviously children have to be protected. They should not be allowed to use drugs or liquor or chain saws or drive the car. But [the drug "problem"] is something that cannot be solved by sending out the National Guard to try to stop everybody from smoking marijuana.

PT: What influences have affected your psychology?

TL: I am a humanist. I assume, as did Emerson and every other mystic, that divinity lies within, and you don't look to the chapel or the book that you find in your motel drawer. Look within--and you have to look within with other people. Religion is a team sport. It's got to be done eye to eye and soul to soul.

It's your responsibility to learn how to operate your own soul. That's a new concept. Divinity is something you have to work at, just like you work at any other profession. Its something that requires moment-to-moment readjusting. You can't fall back on commandments or anything like that. It really requires that you think for yourself--make that selves, always with other people.

Divinity is the most thrilling human career. It will be the basic career in the 21st century The first thing a kid will be taught when he gets to first grade is, you've got this enormous brain and you're going to have to learn how to use it.

PT: Do you do anything on a daily or weekly basis to keep in touch with that divinity or to get to know it better?

TL: Yes, there are certain tips here. You hang out with people who share your celestial ambitions, hang out with the smartest, most open-minded, well-in-formed people. The amount of information you have coming in is key. The average 10-year-old receives more information per day than the wisest people in the world did 100 years ago.

PT: In [your autobiography] Flashbacks you state, "It seems to me that the person who dies a natural death is a deluded victim of state-managed suicide." What do you mean by that?

TL: You are aware of the fact that death and the ethics of mortality are totally controlled by religion, by society. And of course with government health plans, they're getting more and more involved.

Throughout the history of humanist philosophy--Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism--it's basically the way you die, the way you manage your life, that has consequence. You have no choice of how you get in here, but you have total choice of with whom, how, under what conditions you die. Are you going to go out like a packaged sausage, shoveled off into a government care center? And costing the taxpayers $20,000 a month?

The Pharaohs realized that. They arranged their passage, which was a metaphor. You were very happy to know that in the Pharaoh's tomb there was going to be a nice place for you. The attitudes toward death are absolutely the most important aspects of a society, a religion, or an individual's life.

PT: Is there no other way to achieve a mystical state than to take mind-altering drugs? It does seem a lot easier than spending 10 years meditating or going through mortifications of the flesh.

TL: What would you rather do?

PT: I'd rather take a pill.

TL: Not take a pill; you share. The notion of a "trip" was good. We didn't invent that; the hippies were into that. As a humanist, everything I stand for is think for yourselvesness. Not alone--think for yourselves. Question authority--don't attack authority, question it. Take responsibility for your divinity. It's a team sport; living is a team sport, divinity is a team sport.

PT: Is dying a team sport?

TL: Dying is a team sport.

PT: I still don't get dying as being a victim of state-managed suicide.

TL: One of the biggest political issues is self-dignified death, self-liberation--Dr. [Jack] Kevorkian. The state has nothing to do with it. The family gets together and plans it together. That was on the ballot in three or four states. It's a hot new issue, taking responsibility--but not [dying] by yourself, sneaking away and jumping off a bridge or anything like that.

The time comes when the dignity goes down. There's going to come a time for me very quickly when I will be in a state where my diapers will have to be changed. That's part of it. Already I'm showing symptoms. I watch very carefully with my friends.

The beautiful thing about it is that there are no models; we have to invent it ourselves, We're the first democratic society that is facing the issue that everyone and every religion faces: death, death, death, death, where, why, who? When a person is sick, here come the priests like so many black vultures to take charge of the soul. It's extreme unction; you have to have a sacrament to be a good Catholic. The church has to put the stamp on it like that.

The church hates suicide because that's you doing it yourself. You didn't do it with a group. That's why they hate in vitro pregnancy, It's not natural. Only God is supposed to knock a woman up.

PT: Have you made peace with your Catholicism?

TL: I was a Boy Scout between the ages of 10 and 12. I was a good Boy Scout. I went to Catholic school for eight years and actually went two years to a Jesuit college [Holy Cross] because I was thrown out of all the Protestant colleges.

The Catholic church maintains an incredibly powerful influence on human civilization. To me, the Pope and Mother Teresa are the two most evil people alive. There they are, running down to Africa, where the problems are starvation and overpopulation, and they're encouraging [the birth of] more little Catholics that will die a week after they are born. And Mother Teresa is running around Calcutta encouraging more babies, more poverty.

And of course, the Church is totally against science. The Protestants have been more scientific because they're more mechanical, post-Gutenberg. But the Catholic church is to this very day violently opposed to any scientific approach,

PT: When my father passed away several years ago, my two brothers and I decided to have him cremated and carry his ashes up to his favorite fishin' hole in northern Wisconsin. We folded him into the wake of our rowboat on the pond where he'd caught his biggest brown trout.

TL: That's the idea, That concept didn't exist much before the Sixties, that you could actually step in and make your own life ceremony, make your own life a sacramental trip--but always with other people. There's nothing so pathetic as the great scholar or the acidhead who's figured everything out but doesn't know her zip code. You've got to do it with other people; it's a team sport.

Publication: Psychology Today
Publication Date: Jan/Feb 95

Timothy Leary Being Interviewed by Paul Krassner
in 1995 (the year before he died)

Part 1 (of 2)
You may need to install or update your Adobe Flash Player to view many of the videos on this site.
Part 2 (of 2)
You may need to install or update your Adobe Flash Player to view many of the videos on this site.

Here's Saint Timothy Three Decades Earlier, in 1966

And here's Allen Ginsberg's Summary of
the Phenomenon Known as Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary Was Wrong!

Well, that's too simplistic. We consider much of what Leary said to be sacred, divine wisdom. But as you can see on our page entitled "Timothy Leary and the Naive LSD Revolution Visions of the Otherwise Wise," much of what he believed was downright naive.

In contrast, the formation of Yoism is based on the clear understanding that only an organized dedicated group of people can compete with other highly organized groups promulgating their versions of reality. Indeed, the near total failure of Leary and the hippie movement to achieve their ends—ends that they were so sure were inevitable—provides a prime example of why a new religion like Yoism is needed.

For a further exploration of these issues and to see how South Park's Trey Parker approached this issue, take a look at The Trouble with Trippies.

Saint Timothy Was Right!

Despite his character flaws and folly, Timothy was a genuine Yoan Saint. He tried to promote some of the holiest, most profound religious ideals ever formulated. For a closer look at some of his insights, as well as some of his folly, consider the following.

Saint Timothy: The Brilliant, Misguided, LSD Visionary

Timothy Leary's How to Operate Your Brain: An Owner's Manual

Timothy Leary's Declaration of Evolution

Timothy Leary and the Naive LSD Revolution Visions of the Otherwise Wise