Interview

Dr. Timothy Leary November 15 1976

Interview

Dr. Timothy Leary November 15 1976

Interview

Dr. Timothy Leary

As a Harvard professor and psychologist, Timothy Leary helped found a religious-social movement for which LSD became something of a sacrament: in the Sixties his name was synonymous with psychedelia. But during the Nixon years he was hounded by the police who finally put him behind bars for possession of drugs. With the helpof the Weathermen, a leftist political group, he escaped one night from the jail in San Luis Obispo and, with his wife, Rosemary, fled to Algeria. The Black Panthers, also there in exile, ran them out after four months; Eldridge Cleaver (who since has returned to the United States, a born-again Christian praising the American way) said Leary used too many drugs and wasn’t politically serious. Moving across North Africa, Asia and Europe, Leary and his wife were supported by rich friends and surrounded by a band of fugitives and jet-setters. When he was finally kidnapped in Afghanistan by U.S. agents and shipped back to jail, his marriage was over and his life was, for the first time, slowing down. While a girl friend was out raising money for his defense and was planning an aborted jail break involving a helicopter decorated like a UFO, Leary’s fear that he would end his days behind bars began to haunt him. He faced jail until he was 71 years old. Before he was released last June, after an abbreviated prison term, he cooperated with federal law enforcement authorities and testified against several former friends. George Chula, who had been his lawyer, has gone to jail on a drug charge because of that testimony. While he was in San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Centre, Leary set forth on his new career. He listened every Sunday to disc jockey Gabriel Wisdom’s program of "neo-spiritual and scientific" exploration, and he became enamored with the idea of using the airwaves to gather passengers for the next big Trip . . . this time to outer space. Now he and Wisdom share the airwaves each Sunday. Wider syndication is their ambition, and a concept called SMILE is their message (SMILE stands for "space migration, intelligence increase, and life extension”). Leary is 56 now. His hair is thinning a little, but he looks healthier than he did in the Sixties. When he talks, his eyes dart around excitedly. He has a smile that is easy to love and distrust at the same time. He does not take any drugs. He is alert and funny and, more than anything else, he is eloquent. He was interviewed by free-lance writers Richard Louv and Carole Snyder.

Maclean’s: I read that SMILE dealt with changing scientists into eroticists and eroticists into scientists. Does that mean a change in sensitivity?

Leary: Yes, the phrase actually is to eroticize scientists and to scientize eroticists. C. P. Snow, the English writer, has spoken of' the gap between the two cultures, the scientific and the artistic. We think this gap will merge because of an interesting thing that happened in the 1960s. Millions of

young people, who later went into the sciences, got their consciousness raised in the Sixties. When the statistics came out that 80% of Harvard Law School students were smoking grass, we knew then that our legal problems would be over in 10 or 15 years. It just had to be. And when we also learned in the late Sixties that 80% of the MIT and Cal Tech students were smoking grass, we realized that in 10 or 15 years we would have a new generation of young scientists, who are not just dealing with impersonal formula, but who were trained to move their consciousness around and were open to subjectively experiencing what they were studying. The space migration movement is being accelerated by those physicists, who are turned on to its social, emotional. psychological and experiential aspects.

Maclean’s: The grass didn't do it. did it? Wasn't that just a symptom?

Leary: Yes. Grass has little to do with it. That statistic was simply an objective index of something happening in their heads, which wasn’t caused by grass. Maclean’s: What about LSD?

Leary: There had to be a consciousness revolution at the same time that the first generation of people born after Hiroshima reached college age. It was inevitable. You see, everything went together—the new drugs, the new electronic discoveries that made rock'n’roll possible, that made amplification possible. This generation, your generation, the first post-Hiroshima generation, was the first totally electromagnetic generation; you were brought up with television when you were one. two, three years old, and that had an effect that made your nervous systems more mobile, more relativistic, and more Einsteinian. Turning and turning dials, flick-flick-flick, and you would have the world at your tiny little baby fingers. This was never possible in the past; drawings can't do it. So. drugs were part of a lot of things that were happening. Maclean’s: Where do you see them now? Leary: I am not very much interested in drugs. I never was that interested in drugs. I was interested in consciousness and the neurology of human thought; how minds could be changed. That’s what interested me. Drugs were useful experimental tools forus at Harvard in the Sixties, but I have never said that I was an acid guru. This is a media myth. The media loves to set up people as heroes or villains; and sure, if you want to see me as a villain, that’s fine with me. but I have no more relationship to acid, in the overall scope of my work, than the bomb has reference to Einstein. See. Einstein did many things, one fallout of which was the formula of fission, and then fusion. I'm not interested in drugs now. Drugs are big business. It's rather boring to me. Drugs have become co-opted by the consumer society. Drugs now are just another thing that people can buy to make themselves feel one way or another. It’s fine. It’s none of my business. I’m not interested in it.

Maclean’s: Norman Mailer's book. Of A Fire On The Moon, talked abut how dry the moonshots were. There was no poetry, no eroticism, no humanism in the whole episode and therefore there could be no heroes. Do you see any signs that NASA or the Russians are becoming more humanistic? Leary: Within 10 to 15 years NASA and Russia are going to have small space colonies. But these are going to be grim Star

I’M NOT INTERESTED IN DRUGS NOW. DRUGS ARE BIG BUSINESS AND RATHER BORING TO ME

Trek-type, uniformed, civil service, quasimilitary situations that are not going to excite our imagination, are not going to get us really involved. But when the first families go up there, when the first husbands and wives and children are up there in large space cylinders and each family has five acres of land to live on and every human being on the planet Earth can look up and know that there are families living up there, we will all be involved. Everything that exists on the planet can be recreated up there: San Francisco Bay bridges, Austrian ski resorts with little ski runs, Palm Springs, a little urban ghetto, if that is what you want. But it will be better, because you won’t have gravity to contend with and you will be able to control the climate and change your environment, which is the dream of every person who has performed the yoga of inner exploration. Now we can externalize the visions of the Sixties. The reason Gabriel and I are doing this program, and the reason I am going around the country lecturing, is to alert people to the fact that if we, the citizens, don’t see what is happening and get in on the act right away, space colonization will be militarized and engineered and inhuman, instead of allowing for a plurality of lifestyles. I would like to introduce your readers to the name of a man who I think is probably the most important man alive today and possibly one of the most important men who ever lived. His name is Professor Gerard O’Neill. He is a Princeton professor who in 1969 started working with his students to study the economics, the ecology, the engineering of building huge worlds in space.

Maclean’s: I am sure that you have seen the enclosed climates of some of the big condominium developments with the fake streams running through them, andfakeforests; controlled, beautiful environments, yet with something vital missing. Would there still be something missing when you manufacture a beautiful environment?

Leary: Well, in theory your question is a powerful and almost an unanswerable one, but in practice 70% of the American people live in urban surroundings. More than half the people in Denmark now live in Copenhagen. In India, the rural population is now moving to the enormous anthill cities of Calcutta and Bombay. We are living in a shrinking planet. There is no way that you can reproduce on this planet the natural wild ecology of 100 years ago, unless you migrate into space. Some of the O’Neill people have suggested that all industry will be in space. There are a million times more resources in the asteroid belt and the moon than there are in this earth, even if we raped and looted and stripmined the entire planet. So, although I can’t answer your question in theory, the irony is that we can’t—we can not—preserve the wildlife, the buffalo or the lion or the giraffe, with the way things are going on this planet. When I was in prison, I used to spend a lot of time with some AIM Indians

who are very bitter about the white man coming and taking North Dakota away and killing the hundreds of thousands of millions of buffalo. They are very bitter and they want to get guns and fight the white man. I said, “You’re crazy! I’ll tell you what I will do for half the cost of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and half the cost of all your Wounded Knee uprisings. We’ll build you 10 spaceships as big as South Dakota and you can populate them with as many buffalo as you want and you can ride around to your heart’s content.” The same thing is true of the political problems. For the cost of five years of the Arab-Israeli War, we could build 10 Israels. We’ll give four of them to the Jews, and we’ll give four of them to the Palestinians, and the Irish will keep two, because an Irishman thought it up.

Maclean’s: But don’t you think the problems will spread there too?

Leary: No, because the problems, the political problems that face humanity, are territorial. There is going to be unlimited space. We’re going to be cranking out worlds. We have to rid our minds of the concept of interplanetary travel. A planet is the worst possible place to live. Forget planets! That’s called planetary chauvinism. This planet Earth is like a 4,000-mile gravity well. All the energy has to seep down through this ocean of atmosphere to get there. We look for the sun and we try to dig the sunlight out of the earth in the form of fossil fuels. We are actually crawling around on the bottom of a 4,000-mile ocean. We are just the lowest form of seabottom creatures down here. No wonder it’s hard to move around. Down here every

animal has its territorial imperative and has to fight the other males to get the breeding grounds. That’s because this is a small planet. Out there, as I say, it’s going to be much cheaper to build people more and more worlds. There is literally unlimited space out there but not on planets. When you struggle up this 4,000-mile well and you get up there, the last thing that you are going to do is then climb down into another well, which is less hospitable, like Mars or Venus. We do not belong on planets any more than birds belong in nests. We are supposed to migrate. Migration and mutation are the key tools of evolution. Evolution improves its species by migration and metamorphosis. We must rid ourselves of the concept that we are terrestrials. The Earth is our womb, our nest, and we are about to leave it.

Maclean’s: You mentioned Israel and the A merican Indians, two very good examples ofpeople who have powerful feelings about the land on which they live.

Leary: Yeah!

Maclean’s: Who have religious, pantheistic feelings. If people are going to get used to living in space colonies, they are going to have to get rid of those feelings. How easy is that going to be?

Leary: Not all will do that. You see, we’ve been through this once before, at least several times before. A long time ago all of us lived under the water. We were marine creatures. So everyone said “I love my little lagoon. I love my little swamp. I love my little tidal basin.” They grew amphibian appendages and claws and frog legs and lungs. Those who want to live on Earth, down here, can do it. That’s the beautiful part. This is totally self-selective. There will be cylinders with just vegetarians. There will be cylinders made up exclusively of bisexuals. There will be cylinders made up of noisy people. There will be cylinders made up of quiet people. There will be cylinders with multiple group marriages. See, the reason for space migration and for living in these increasingly large and increasingly growing numbers of space cylinders is to multiply the options. Unless we migrate into space, this planet is going to become an anthill. Our overpopulation will mean that we will all live in smaller areas. We will have to be governed by a police state. There will be no options for going where you want to and doing what you want to.

Maclean’s: What about food?

Leary: Agriculture is going to be much simpler in space, because 200 to 300 yards away from the living cylinder will be the manufacturing cylinders and the agricultural cylinders. The food chain necessary to get a steak on the plate of a San Diego person is something like 5,000 miles with Teamster trucks and railroad cars. The wheat, the com is grown in Kansas or Iowa. It’s shipped to Texas. It’s fed to the cows there. The cows are put in trucks or flatcars and brought up to Kansas City or Chicago where they are butchered. Then

UNLESS WE MIGRATE INTO SPACE, THIS PLANET IS GOING TO BECOME AN ANTHILL

the stuff is dressed and shipped out in refrigerated cars to a central place in San Diego and is cut up and then put in more trucks and then it is delivered to the supermarkets, and then you get in your car and drive five miles to your supermarket and you buy the steak and you take it home. Now that is a 5,000-mile food chain. That’s ridiculous, and it has involved about 100 crooked Teamster officials. Whereas in space these cylinders will be 100 yards away from the residential zone. Maclean’s: What about meteorites and other . . .?

Leary: There’s no danger. See, we are a migrating race and there is no accident that we are sitting on the Pacific Ocean talking about the next great migration, because the Pacific Ocean is the final ending point of terrestrial migration. The physical danger of migrating and living in space is a million times less than our forefathers and mothers experienced when they got on those leaky boats and took off across the Atlantic, and then because of some vision got in their covered wagons and headed west. They formed small groups of likeminded people—Mormons, Baptists and Catholics. All those crazy denominations— they banded together and headed across the plains. The mortality rate and the possibility of disease and plague and starvation and thirst and Indians and robbers were a million times more dangerous than migrating to and living in space. Higher intelligence is telling us this. We just have a hard time hearing it right now. If a higher intelligence, meaning us in the future, our. relatives in the future, wanted to talk to us, it’s as though we would want to talk to our finny and fishy ancestors. See, we would have to put on scuba gear and go down and shout at a fish, “BOLOLULULA.” NOW that brings us to the program that Gabriel and I are working on. It’s called “Conversations With Higher Intelligence,” and it started right here in good old terrestrial San Diego. If you ask people, media people especially, what’s the one program in the history of electromagnetic broadcasting that really grabbed the audience, it was Orson Welles’ War Of The Worlds. Gabriel and I want to be the Orson Welles of the Seventies. The fact of the matter is that the American public today is bored. The level of conversation, the level of intellectual exchange is stupid. There is almost a calculated stupidity. The media are just almost going out of their way to keep everything stupid. I think the American public is much smarter than Ford or Carter, for example. I mean, 90% of the people who watched those debates saw through it. These candidates were playing some dumb, dumb game, pretending the audience is dumb, and no one was buying it. Nobody is really seriously trying to elevate the level of intelligent conversation. One of the greatest joys of life is to engage in intelligent conversation. You give all out in talking to someone with the idea you can change your life, can open up new possi-

bilities, can give yourself some good philosophic laughs, can open doors and windows, get you moving, and make life more exciting.

Maclean’s: What do you believe happens after someone dies?

Leary: The answer from higher intelligence is this: “Death is a mistake that should not be made.” There is no reason why anyone today has to die. Biology and genetics know enough now to double the life-span in three years and to keep every human being who is in really good health now alive for at least 800 years. And during that 800 years, science will have increased so far beyond what we now know that, it can be said with dogmatic finality, there is no reason why anyone reading this article has to die. If you simply keep alert to what science is doing and also back culturally and politically those of us who are

encouraging research in longevity, there is no reason why anyone should die. “Death is a biological laziness. There has got to be a mothers’ march against death.” There’s got to be bumper STICKERS-STAMP OUT DEATH! Our civilization and our philosophy and our religions up to the present time are death-oriented. That’s because we have been an evolving caterpillar. We are now mutated in our neurology and our science and our philosophy. So we know how to stay alive, and the life span of the human species has increased dramatically over the past 1,000 years. Decade by decade in the last 200 years, the life-span has increased and increased and increased till now it has more than doubled, but that acceleration is going to take oflf now. Just two weeks ago, the American Chemical Society, meeting in San Francisco, revealed that we can double the life-span within two or three years. Now the reason that we have not

done that in the past was because if the old people didn’t get their carcasses off the scene there would be no room for the young people. Until space migration came along.

Maclean’s: How interested, if at all, are you in ecology?

Leary: Ecology which is pro technology is good, but ecology which is anti technology is turning us back to the Paleolithic. Solar energy ecology is good because it is getting people to think about what they are doing. But any ecological movement that is moralistic, that says you have to restrict, limit, “think small” is not evolutionary. Ralph Nader wants our cars and our lives to be small, drab, weak and slow. I think that’s because Ralph Nader’s vision of himself is a human being who is slow, drab, small and weak. The answer to evolution is always to expand, to move faster—as long as you know where you are going, and as long as you keep in mind—it’s O’Neill’s key phrase—to multiply your options, multiply the diversity of the human spirit. Maclean’s: What do you think of all the spiritual movements?

Leary: I don’t like the word spiritual. It connotes pie-in-the-sky, hocus-pocus. A better word is post-terrestrial. You’re either terrestrial or you’re post-terrestrial. You’re either a caterpillar or a butterfly. It’s you that decides. When the astronaut Mitchell looked down through the dark blue velvet of space to this agate marble planet, he became a post-terrestrial. It’s a great revelation, and when people get it, they’ve really got it: “Wow! I don’t belong here anymore!” That’s an incredible liberation. That’s why I’m not interested in politics anymore.

Maclean’s: Who else is helping you push for space migration?

Leary: Oh, a lot of people. David Bowie, Barry Goldwater, Governor Brown. Maclean’s: What do you think of when you think about the Sixties?

Leary: People don’t understand the Sixties. Very few people understand anything. It was and is the first post-terrestrial generation and it was grounded with no place to go. It was a necessary step for space migration. You have to detach yourself from the outer world and take control of your own body. But it’s impossible living in a world with four billion people. When we move to the colonies, we’ll be able to know everybody, and then move on if we like. It’ll be much more human. These are not my ideas. They are simply genetic waves that are moving in. Gabriel and I are surfers at heart, so we are going to surf these waves. We are in the position of old wave watchers. We watched the waves of the Sixties come and go, and we enjoy the role of telling people, “Hey, watch the surf! Watch these waves. If you watch them, you are not going to get wiped out. If you watch them, you are not going to be surprised. If you watch them, you can learn to surf the greatest evolutionary movements that our species has ever experienced.”^

PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND THE SIXTIES ... FEW PEOPLE UNDERSTAND ANYTHING