The Excommunication of Timothy Leary (recension of 1998)
In a famous sub-title called “The Decay of Taste” in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon says of the Greeks of Constantinople:
“They held in their lifeless hands the riches of their fathers, without inheriting the spirit which had created and improved that sacred patrimony: they read, they praised, they compiled, but their languid souls seemed alike incapable of thought and action… In every page, our taste and reason are wounded by the choice of gigantic and obsolete words, a stiff and intricate phraseology, the discord of images, the childish play of false or unseasonable ornament, and the painful attempt to involve a trivial meaning in the smoke of obscurity and exaggeration... The minds of the Greeks were bound in the fetters of a base and imperious superstition, which extends her domain round the circle of profane science. Their understandings were bewildered in metaphysical controversy: in the belief of visions and miracles they had lost all principles of moral evidence, and their taste was vitiated by the homilies of the monks, an absurd medly of declamation and Scripture…”
To see how far we have advanced from this, let us examine a few samples of popular thought, which, in the mass media at least, is taken to represent the very vanguard of “expanded” consciousness in our era.
John Lilly, explaining, presumably, his epistemological rationale:
“What one believes to be true, either is true or becomes true in one’s mind, within limits to be determined experimentally or experientially. These limits are beliefs to be transcended. This is the situation when one has been freed up from one’s environment, from one’s surrounding reality, and all of the usual forms and patterns of stimulation are attenuated to the minimum possible level.”
I think this rare example of occultist philosophy is worthy of careful attention, for, although it makes no sense at all, it is never the less a perfect example of a style of incantation upon which occultists rely when they attempt to make the vague, shifting blobs of their pictorial imaginations "live up" to the standards of minimal definition without which no reasonable communiation is possible.
The famous Jean Houston and Robert Masters, co-authors of Mind Games, 1972, like most occultists, do not bother to define their terms. Heaven forbid. Instead, they press their brand of group hypnosis on the public education system. Here some examples of the kind of ideation they advocate the teacher/hypnotists of the future should indoctrinate in the little kiddies entrusted to their care:
“…and understand now we can and must materialize the Group Spirit, endowing that entity with a sufficiently material being that it can appear to all of us … and there is also believed to be a very great mystery surrounding the Egyptian pyramids… The mind games are a means of advancing towards what must be the main goal of every person in our time—putting the first man on earth. In the near future such mind games will be routine in education at all levels.”
Let us pass on to the case at hand—Timothy Leary. The following is taken from a report of a press conference in The New Yorker of December 3, 1973:
“Miss Leary, who is slim and has a wide, thin mouth and lank red hair, said that Dr. Leary had been receiving messages from intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. ‘Dr. Leary and I have been very conscious of the arrival of the comet Kohoutek, which, six months ago, we renamed the comet Starseed,’ she said, in an undeterminable European accent. ‘It is clear to us that Dr. Leary and I were brought back to the United States to decode the message of the comet Kohoutek. The Starseed transmission was received by Dr. Leary six weeks ago in his cell in Folsom Prison. This is the transmission translated into English.’ Then Miss Leary recited part of “The Starseed Transmission”: ‘One. The comet Starseed is to leave the womb planet Earth. The Starseed is a comet of prophesy. Two. Life seeds egg planets throughout the galaxy. When life leaves the womb planet, it attains immortality in the galactic star school. Three. When the embryonic nervous system can decipher the genetic code, it receives instructions for leaving the earth—womb and contacting higher intelligence. Four. There is no choice. Life must leave the womb planet to survive and evolve.”
The above samples of smog are part of a miasma which, since the beginning, has threatened to envelop and obliterate the revolution which psychedelic drugs must cause in philosophy and religion. The descent from the original teachings of Jesus (“The Kingdom of God is within you”) to the metaphysical monstrosities of Byzantine theology took 9 centuries. Tim’s collapse has taken about 9 years, and has ended in Cometolatry, or at least my attention to his descent has ended.
Let’s leave aside the possibility that all of this is an outright fraud, which would involve the invention of impressions and misrepresentation of experience. I will grant that Dr. Leary may have heard a voice telling him what he says it told him, and this voice may have been accompanied by images of great clarity, brilliance, detail and depth showing what might be called a comet streaking through the void, dancing double helixes, saints attending graduate school and what not. Maybe a variety of incidents in his everyday life have shown a synchronistic tendency to illustrate and elaborate the same images present in the vision and the ideas he had about them.
Since I grant all of this, most Blobovians will be perplexed, or think that I have some conflicting cosmological fantasy to offer. Why am I so intolerant? One man’s word is as good as another’s, right? What’s the fuss? You push your visions and I’ll push mine and may the better confidence man win.
I keep telling these characters that it isn’t their impressions I object to, (although I reserve the right to discriminate among visions in terms of beauty, utility, sex appeal or whatever other standard I care to apply whenever I feel like it) but their ideas. This distinction falls on deaf ears. Occultists, by and large, are not just poor philosophers, or dishonest philosophers (if there is any difference) but rather people who have no philosophy at all, other than whatever mixture of naive realism and supernaturalism they acquired in childhood by contagion. The paragraph I quoted from Lilly is a high point in the history of modern Blobovianism, since it seems to show an awareness of such questions as the means by which truth may be ascertained and in the definition of terms.
Prior to the discovery of the powerful psychedelics, the brilliant and awesome visions anyone can now produce by taking a little LSD and retiring to a darkened room were in short supply and one might have maintained, with a superficial plausibility, that rarity and artistic quality were sufficient reasons to take them as superior guides to correct generalizations about the nature and function of the external world - assuming that there is an external world, and assuming some kind of agency which confers upon rare and beautiful things a special immunity from error - two assumptions I see no reason to make. But what is so special about such visionary experiences now? As collectors, although not as reporters, half the high school kids in the country are the equal or the superior to such as Blake, Coleridge, Crowley and Yeats. Why, if some external agency is responsible for them, do not these daily millions of visions produce a consistent and general coherent message rather than the infinite variety which we also find in our ordinary vague and slippery imaginations? If we distinguish at all between the mental and the material, between external substance and internal thought, it is contrary to all the evidence and logic to call the visions substantial and external rather that mental and internal events. It is implied, although rarely stated, in the writings of the Blobovians, that such distinctions are made by them as they are made by the philosophers of the supernaturalist religious traditions.
Why is the comet vision of Timothy Leary more meaningful than a vision of ray gun warfare between Martian mice and Venusian ducks? What is the basis for calling one burst of visions “philosophy” and the other “cartoon freakies”? Presumably, because the comet vision explains something while the cartoon freakies do not. What is it that the comet vision explains? What philosophic questions are answered? In what way has our understanding of ourselves and the world been improved by the introduction of these ideas of comets seeding egg planets, “galactic star schools” and this multiplication of super-human entities?
Not in any way at all. Grandiose notions such as these have been around for a long time, and are have crippled human thought since the beginning of recorded history.
Dr. Leary now calls himself a “philosopher,” but to discover what philosophy he actually represents, we are obliged to find out what is implied rather than to respond to what is stated, exactly as one must do with Joe Blow, but not with Aristotle. We see at once that his “cosmological” speculations, which he incorrectly calls “ontology”, are undemonstrable fancies which he does not bother to support with any form of reasoning. If he did, it would be revealed that he hasn’t changed a bit since he was the star student in Sister Teresa’s Sunday School class.
“It is clear to us,” Joanna says, “that Dr. Leary and I were brought back to the United States to decode the message of the comet Kohoutek.”
By stretching things a lot, we might say that some kind of container/contained distinction is being asserted here. That might be legitimate “metaphysics” and so are similar assertions that one thing or class of things is in the service of, or an aspect of, another thing or class of things. A very conventional supernaturalist thesis is being asserted: a super-human entity (or entities) exists which manipulates human lives to achieve an intended result. Human suffering, such as imprisonment, may be explained this way, as a necessary condition of such an operation, which, at the time, is not understood by the robot or dancing marionette at the end of the strings. Doesn’t this sound familiar? It is also implied that the comet is not in Leary’s mind but that Leary is in the comet’s mind, or, if that would represent a pseudo-Catholic, neo-Gnostic heresy, as I imagine it probably would, the alternative would be that Leary occupies part of this mundane sphere, but that the whole works is ruled by the comet or comets, which (who?) are either superior to or the authors of the laws of physical causation and randomness which ordinarily apply to those who, because of their lack of cryptographic skills, have not been extended a special dispensation. Living in fear of a world of indifferent matter, in which one’s body is but another thing or mechanism (at best, a “nervous system”), one is offered “hope” in the form of “immortality” if one follows “instructions” and “contacts” those ethereal Beings before whose “higher intelligence” one is but an “embryo.”
As Gibbon says, “Their prose is soaring to the vicious affectation of poetry; their poetry is sinking below the flatness and insipidity of prose.”
There is a peculiar isolation to all these systems. They don’t mesh, although their authors often scratch each other’s backs. The Comet Being sees fit to communicate with Dr. Leary and his girl friend but leaves Castaneda, Ram Dass and Subramuniya out in the cold. Do the creatures in Castaneda’s cosmic zoo talk to anyone else? Evidently not. These wonderful Omnisciences are parochial, if not jingoistic in their interests. Everything reduces to monads which never touch, and the world of “super-conscious” entities becomes a cosmic Folsom Prison, with cosmic Keepers and a cosmic Parole Board “bringing people back” or “letting people go” according to some incomprehensible code beyond the ken of merely human minds. Timothy Leary has imitated everything and learned nothing. At various times he declared himself a Taoist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Roman Catholic and he is now, it would seem, a Cometist.
The understanding which the peak psychedelic experience brings is always the same: Life is (is in the nature of) a dream, and the externality of relations is an illusion.
This is “Zen” or “madhyamika” Buddhism.
Everything else is repression.
“Attaining immortality” is a supernaturalist, dualist concept. It assumes that one’s life is a particular item in a space-time continuum, along with other lives. It looks that way in a dream and it looks that way “here” but it isn’t so in a dream and it isn’t so “here.”
Genuine Enlightenment involves the realization that the distinction between “life” and “death” isn’t much. Since “life” is illusory, so is “death.” Both are fake dramas to maintain the illusion of externality, multiplicity, and space-time. One’s mind does not exist in the world, the world exists in one’s mind. What is the nature of that mind? That is the question.
This is the tradition of the Neo-American Church which I founded ten years ago. Although it is the oldest and the largest representative of the psychedelic wing of the “alternative culture” in our era, has been almost totally ignored by the communications media of both the dominant and sub-dominant cultures in favor of the ephemeral constructs of our traditional rivals. There are many reasons for this, but I think that the most important may be the fact that we are always at least half-right, for, in one’s dreams, we are always right. This is not an acceptable insight to the depressed neurotics who operate the publishing and entertainment industries.
What about the comet? Kohoutek “is” I’m sure, a “dirty snowball”, a collection of atoms, a collection of abstractions, just like everything else in the scientist’s world. But since we say that that is a dream, we are in no way restricted by the “laws” of randomness or of physical causality when we ask what the comet means. In a dream, as we know, everything has meaning, it’s all meaning, the randomness one might experience as a loss of cash in a dream Las Vegas, is merely an illusion, and so is “the force of gravity” or the “force” or “power” (words occultists love) of anything else. If a brick falls on your lover’s head in a dream, was it “the force of gravity” that brought about the concussion?
If the comet is seen as dream content, it’s meaning will be found through the analysis of those relations in myth, poetry, history and so forth to have a universal application and through the analysis of the individual drama of the dreamer.
Puns. A comet, a comment, a comma, and an exclamation point-joining name and appearance. In other words, something important is happening so pay attention: Revolution. Invasion. The appearance and disappearance of genius. The games you are playing at the time you see the thing, the things you are trying to repress, your wishes and fears. Free associate.
But what if Leary’s fantasy turns out to be correct, as some visions do. A comet in the White House? An asteroid in city hall? What then, Forsooth? That would mean you are wrong, right?
No. What of it? That would be “impressive,” but what of it? What is the comet’s philosophy? The location and actions of a comet do not answer any philosophic questions. Leary, like all supernaturalists, does not have any answers. He isn’t the philosopher - the comet is the philosopher. Leary doesn’t provide anything but displacement. He puts you on hold. The comet will be with you in few eons.
The naive “realist”, in his dream, is reminded by the comet of his insignificance before the mighty works of nature, and congratulates himself on the stoical courage which allows him to continue functioning under these circumstances without self deception.
Timothy Leary, having the same dream, appropriates more power in the dream world than the average guy gets by imagining that his lord and master, Mr. Comet Head, has made him Its spokesperson here below. In other words, Tim has elected to become a fruitcake of the old school, or maybe to act like one to get out of prison. What bothers me most is that a lot of kids will buy this garbage and have bad trips because of it.
As far as this writer is concerned, the comet provides me with a good reason to excommunicate Tim, something I probably should have done a long time ago. I hereby do so. And it forces me to be more explicit about these distinctions than I have been, which is even more important.
It’s a blow which I’m sure Tim can endure without inconvenience, and since it will help to define him, me, and the Neo-American Church and favor clarity and dispel confusion, I think it is good for all concerned.
Note of January 10, 1974: In the failure of Kohoutek to live up to its advance notices, we have been deprived of a spectacle but provided with a good example of how synchronicity works. The pretensions of the Blobovian supernaturalists have been embarrassed, and the scientists have been warned to take care when predicting particular events on the basis of statistical probabilities.
Note of Sunday, May 3, 1998: The Zmms would have been a big help here, but I hadn’t invented them yet.