Home CultureArticles & Essays Welcome to the Future, We’re all Mad Here: Tim Leary from Psychology to Cyberpunk

Welcome to the Future, We’re all Mad Here: Tim Leary from Psychology to Cyberpunk

by Cypress Butane
Welcome to the Future, We’re all Mad Here: Tim Leary from Psychology to Cyberpunk

Tim Leary was  dosed by his own Hypothesis. His Life became the experiment.

Did you hear the one about Timothy Leary? No? It goes like this. 

Two notable Harvard psychologists distributed  psychedelic mushroom capsules to various test subjects from 1960 to 1962. Of those professors, Leary would continue to provide psychedelics to thousands of subjects over the years. Not in so much a controlled environment, but more than likely in his house.

 In the early days of his experimenting, Leary took to heart his idea of removing the white lab coat and becoming fully part of the experiment. With his daughter upstairs in her bedroom, a new test subject comes to Leary’s home. Let’s call him, I don’t know, Allen Ginsberg

Ginsberg and Leary take the psychedelic, and they start tripping. Ginsberg starts flying and singing crazy songs while rolling around in Leary’s bed holding his head Leary has to go check on him.

As a jewish homosexual man, Ginsberg felt 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 Ginsberg feel wonderful.

Tim Leary and Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg (left) and Timothy Leary (right)

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.

Allen wants to hit the streets, go door to door and proclaim that heaven is here, now! In the flesh! He has 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 Leary 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 60s 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 a peace-buttoned scientist lab coat with the pot smoke-smelling corduroy & wool poet’s jacket, poured over Ginsberg vast counterculture address book, making a list of who to turn on next.

Timothy Leary as a Young Harvard Professor
Timothy Leary as a Young Harvard Professor

Tim Leary: Guinea Pig Scientist at Harvard

The book Guinea Pig Scientist: Bold Self-Experimenters in Science and Medicine 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.

Leary, who at one point switched from psilocybin to LSD, 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. 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, in their honor. It’s arguable under the alienation and stress of that time, he had a nervous breakdown or he found his strength. 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”. He quipped later in life that 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”.

Leary and the Concord Prison Experiment

Arguably failing upwards or succeeding at remaining a free spirit in a stifling 1950’s environment while defying conformist institutions, Leary made it to Harvard on the merits of his unique Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality. This evaluation countered behaviorist psychology. Behaviorism, in my admittedly limited understanding, claims an individual’s behavior could be understood as a robot’s programming creating actions might be understood.

Tim Leary and Richard Alpert
Leary and Richard Alpert (right), confidant of Harvard and later guru named Ram Dass

If it is raining, Jim will close the window. Leary’s beliefs held the separate idea that one’s psychology hinged on interpersonal connections and our relationships to others.

As a would-be Fitzgeraldian heroic type, Leary was swinging with a social group of Berkeley professors who were accustomed to dumping out the flower pitcher to mix martinis to power down. Leary’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. 

The Psychedelic Experience
The Psychedelic Experience, by Tim Leary Richard Alpert and Tim Metzner

Tim’s fate put him in a prison of guilt and remorse he could not escape. His onward marching had him experimenting under Harvard’s psychology department, locked in a corrections facility with hardened criminals, taking psychedelics alongside the inmates, and 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 Concord 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 thus making his results look better by comparison. 

He declined to mention that one of the divinity students had an extreme adverse reaction and needed 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 when asked years later.

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Psilocybe aztecorum
Psilocybe aztecorum, the hallucinogen native to Mexico where Leary experimented.

Psychedelic Drugs in Mexico and Flesh of The Gods

A scientist experiments to find out about life and the world. The scientist who tests the mind, the human spirit, and frontiers at the edge of permitted questioning tests themselves. In a way, I believe Leary experimented as a way of testing his own soul, and of exploring meaning in his life. In Leary’s first trip toMexico, he ingested the “flesh of the gods” or teonanácatl of Ancient Aztec culture. It’s 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.

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’. To attain was not through years of Siddhartha-like questioning but instantaneously by chemical means amidst the sensory assault of a high-tech happening”. 

So, in Leary’s moment of consumer “metanoia” (profound spiritual transformation, tasting the flesh of go) a vision crystallized, not only of the universe, but of himself as a kind of profiteer of expanding consciousness. He wanted to vault forth and to shatter the dull 50s 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 mushroom. A colorless odorless molecule known as LSD.

He would carry on experiments to better mankind per his lights while also alienating himself from its mainstreams and orthodoxies. He would perpetuate 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 everyday life. That it so aroused one to the present moment that it made people enact routines and rote behaviors in the grips of cultural indoctrinations, inhibitive moral strictures and belief systems, and appear as the incredible and incredulous actors they would to objective observation.

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

In a world of automatons playing out sitcom lives, the gnostic topplers of falsity needed a bold program . With Marshall McLuhan’s advice, Tim formed the philosophy of signal disruption into catch phrases easy to swallow as Fifth 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. A mid-century Morpheus.

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 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. 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. Essentially, putting him away will be great for his administration’s ratings.Leary was 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.

Does Tim Lear Pay 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.

Timothy Leary’s High Priest

Neither side was telling the truth about LSD. The government wanted everyone to be afraid of it, pushing the war on drugs. Whereas Leary gleefully sings its praises and totes it as a panacea. This was not true for the time William S. Burroughs was dosed by Leary, saying “Urgent Warning. I think I’ll stay here in shriveling envelopes of larval flesh.”

 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 than ever before cry out for a more potent pill to keep them in check.

Timothy Leary's High Priest, a psychedelic trip guide.
Timothy Leary's High Priest, a psychedelic trip guide.

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. 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.

William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell

As an infamous tabloid celebrity figure, Leary 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 criticizes LSD’s role, and thus Leary’s role, in the development of the American drug problem.

In the long term, paradise may be every pilgrim’s due, I do not know. But if one doom scrolls the news at random, it seems a good bet to wager that  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.”

Leary 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 bureaucrats, 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, Leary set any ethical standards for the drug trip at all.  But, he met the lowest bar. For example, “thou shalt not interfere with another person’s trip” 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 and 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.

Soon enough Charlie Manson would fail the same test. But Tim and Charlie end up in adjoining jail cells, whispering to each other through the vents. A far as I can tell from readings, this actually happened.

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Tim Leary's Chaos and Cyberculture
Tim Leary's Chaos and Cyberculture

Tim Leary’s Rebirth in 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.  I fantasize that place as a kind of spooky dilapidated ghost house haunted by the 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,  and also The League for Spiritual Discovery or LSD. Site of socialpsychosexual experimentation, all night acid parties, artist co-minglings and genuine yogic practices and personal spiritual disciplines. It came down to Leary and his family getting busted on the Mexican border with a measly 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. Leary 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 roommates in the 60s, 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 Leary’s heyday, the 60s, is being left collectively with an epistemology, after effectively leaving the planet. Something like a William Burroughsian/Hassan i Sabbah saying: “Nothing is True. Everything is Permitted”.

 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.  Let’s begin with his definitions of cyberpunk from his book 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.

Tim Leary’s Chaos and Cyberculture

If you are interlaced in a certain level of cyberpunk and cyberdelia culture already, you may have a feel for the way 60s 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 during his talk Shamans Among The Machines.

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 from Shaman Among the Machines

One could argue using computers is like using drugs in a 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. This was often flummoxing to his conservative listeners. They would prefer if 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 so long as it does not harm others. Also, 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.

R.U. Sirius and Mondo 2000

Leary sold the 90s Cyberpunks on a promethean proposition. He knew the risk of stealing the fire of the gods and giving it to a lowly man, but 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 the light and toolkit of the gods, Prometheus was chained to a rock and tormented with having his liver pecked 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. He tuned into Leary’s thought and found some thread of hope in the technology-embracing Leary that blended well with the return to nature many 60 hippiedom 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
Cover of Mondo 2000, the premiere Cyberpunk Guide

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. RU Sirius, Queen Mu and St. Jude, as the editor 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. Leary’s last days were messy, perhaps romantic and carnivalesque. Much fitting for 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, while pumped full of a cornucopia of pharmacology, had plans to livestream his death but did not. A man, who spent most of his life searching the high country and 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.

“Question Authority, think for yourself!” was Leary’s main dictum, suborning even against his own claim to authority on subjects he proclaimed knowledge on. Much 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 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

Cyberdelic and Free Will

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 do computers, with their information systems and reflection of our being on portable screens, allow new realms of self-creation and birth and rebirth in any salient sense? Or is it just a slow degeneration of the old ways into chaos? 

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!

Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass
The Red Queen Hypothesis
The Red Queen Hypothesis explains that one must constantly move and adapt to survive

The Red Queen hypothesis in evolutionary biology is named for this effect. 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, survives 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 our evolutionary challenges, self-directedness and free choice of destiny rears its pretty cyborg- gene-splicing transhumanist head. Others see the inherent danger to the definition of humanity and our souls. Leary’s dictum stays 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.

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 as quoted in Chaos and Cyberculture

Tim Leary’s Death and Transhumanism

The project which R.U. Sirius collaborated with Leary n as he was in the process of leaving his material instantiation on this planet was titled Alternatives to Involuntary Death. Sirius’ point of view on his own 60s experience proved fruitful for the cyberpunk team up with Tim Leary.

Sirius and Leary’s spirit was inciting a young cyberpunk movement to reconcile the 60s idealism with a ubiquitous technological society that there seemed to be no escape from, no commune to run to.

Nostalgia is a Dumb Drug.

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 playing 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 60s were about. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the new species.

R.U. Sirius, ‘High Frontiers #4, 60s Going On 90s

Leary gave the early cyberpunk movement the news on the spiritual-evolutionary hard-wire that that was more anarchic and free-wheeling, somehow both more optimistic and cynical while being 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, bureaucracy and thinking for oneself in order to open the hatch on one’s own brain and calling the tune. The  Mark Dery, 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.”

Tim Leary's Alternatives to Involuntary Death
Tim Leary's Alternatives to Involuntary Death

Everyone in the 60s 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. Culture accelerates, time compresses and dilates in perspective turns, the view master lens of generational shift chews on you till you feel simultaneously more particulate and 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. In Alternatives to Involuntary Death, 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 paints the picture in hyperbolic techno surrealism. 

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.

Tim Leary’s Alternatives to Involuntary Death

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. We 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.

Even in death, Leary’s work shine’s light on the beacon of truth, a beacon that will deliver us from our own creation: society. From the man who claimed that the computer was the “LSD of the 90s”, Leary’s work, whether psychedelic or cyberdelic, was one of the main tenants informing modern cyberpunk philosophy and culture.

Hey, chum. These posts don't write themselves. If you wanna stay in the know, it's gotta be a two way street.*

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