"Doesn't he recently hear of voices from outer space? Does he want to leave earth like a used-up eggshell?" — Allen Ginsburg
Timothy Leary, whose name was once synonymous with the Beatles, LSD, psychedelia, and the generational turn inward, now wants to depart this planet.
Before leaving, though, he intends to be his generation's Orson Welles, transmitting over the radio waves news of the impending migration of humankind into outerspace, which, he says, is now where we belong. This new career follows 16 years of controversy, which began on a Saturday afternoon in 1960 beside a swimming pool in Cuernavaca, where he ate a handful of mushrooms; the flood of sensations swept him into the Sixties. As a Harvard professor and psychologist, he helped lead a religious-social movement for which LSD became something of a sacrament. Even during that time, though, Leary was not loved by everyone in his own sector. Those movement people who were most politically committed did not trust him; some felt that he was a media freak, using the movement for his self-aggrandizement.
During the Nixon Years, the police hounded Leary and finally put him behind bars on a drug bust. With the help of 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. But the Black Panthers, also there in exile, ran them out after four months. Eldridge Cleaver (who since has returned to the U.S., 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 wired fugitives and jetsetters. When Leary 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 girlfriend 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. Because of two roaches in Laguna Beach, an ounce of grass smuggled across the Texas border from Mexico, and his prison escape, he faced jail until he was 71 years old.
Before he was released last April after an abbreviated prison term, he cooperated with Federal authorities and purportedly testified against several former friends. George Chula, Leary's former lawyer, has gone to jail on a drug bust because of that testimony.
While in San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Center, though, Leary had already set forth on his new career. He listened every Sunday to KGB 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. Leary called Wisdom, collect, and thus started a long association. Now they share the airwaves each Sunday, and "Commodore Leary" has his own corner on the Joyful Wisdom show. 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 still living in the San Diego area, but, he says, "like the hitchhiking hero of Tom Robbins' new book Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, I am in motion." He has a national lecture tour this month.
Wisdom, who acts as a manager for Leary, insists that Leary's lawyer had it coming and that no other busts resulted from Leary's testimony. According to Wisdom, Chula had been using Leary's name and influence to peddle drugs, against Leary's wishes and legal interests. Wisdom also says that he views Leary as the Plato of our age, and that his defense is yet to begin. Poet Allen Ginsburg and Leary's son, who both spoke against him in a mass meeting to protest "Leary's lies," have since, according to Wisdom, returned to Leary's side. "Once they knew the facts, instead of hearsay, they came back."
The truth, one way or the other, has yet to emerge, but Timothy Leary is picking up speed again; this time he is determined to move so fast that he escapes the earth's pull.
The following interview was granted with the agreement that we would talk about where he is going, not where he has been.
He 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 drank Budweiser while we talked, and then wine with dinner. He does not show any hangover from the hundreds of LSD trips he has taken; he is alert and funny and more than anything else, more perhaps than being an original thinker, he is eloquent.
And he wants to escape, finally and forever, this planet.
Q: I read that your SMILE dealt with changing scientists into eroticists and eroticists into scientists. Does that mean a change in sensitivity?
A: Yes, the phrase, actually, as it came out of the advertising offices and into the broadcast both, 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 science, got their consciousness raised in the Sixties. When the statistics came out that 80 percent of Harvard Law School students were smoking grass, we knew then that our legal problems would be over in ten or fifteen years. It just had to be. And when we also learned in the late Sixties that 80 percent of the MIT and Cal Tech students were smoking grass, we realized that in ten or fifteen 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.
Q: The grass didn't do it, did it? Wasn't that just a symptom?
A: 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.
Q: What about LSD?
A: I think that every energy structure that comes along in history has a certain reason. 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, because books can't do this and drawings can't do it. So, drugs were part of a lot of things that were happening. You can't say one is cause and one is effect. They go together.
Q: Where do you see them now?
A: 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 for us 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.
Q: Norman Mailer's book, Of A Fire On The Moon, talked about 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?
A: Within ten to fifteen years NASA and Russia are going to have small space colonies. But these are going to be grim Star 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 this 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.
Q: I am sure that you have seen the enclosed climates of some of the big condominium developments with the fake streams running through them, and fake forests; controlled, beautiful environments, yet with something vital missing.
A: What's a fake stream?
Q: It looks like a pretty stream on the surface, but you get close to it and you can see the iron gridwork underneath the water. But it's not just the technological problem; they could work out those bugs. But would there still be something missing when you manufacture a beautiful environment?
A: Well, in theory your question is a powerful and almost an unanswerable one, but in practice, 70 percent 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 a hundred 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 ten 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 ten Israels. We'll give four of them to the Palestinians, and the Irish will keep two, because an Irishman thought it up.
Q: But don't you think the problems will spread there too?
A: 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 here. 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 no 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. We are not going to climb into another womb--as pleasant as that might sound.
Q: You mentioned Israel and the American Indians, two very good examples of people who have powerful feelings about the land on which they live.
Q: Who have religious, pantheistic feelings. If people are going to get used to living in space colonies, they are going to have to have to get rid of those feelings. How easy is that going to be?
A: 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 m little lagoon. I love my little swamp. I love my little tidal basin." Then some said, "You know it's getting too crowded down here." 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. It's going to become as the Soviet Union and China are becoming — homogenized, police-run, restricted, limited.
Q: What about food?
A: Agriculture is going to be much simpler in space, because two to three hundred yards away from the living cylinder will be the manufacturing cylinders and 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 corn 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 the stuff is dressed and shipped out in refrigerated cars or refrigerated trucks and it comes to some 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 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 a hundred crooked Teamster officials. Whereas in space these cylinders will be a hundred yards away from the residential zone. You'll grow it there and just give it a little push with an aerosol can and it will go across the hundred yards to the main cylinder.
Q: What about meteorites and other life?
A: 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 like-minded people: Mormons, Baptists, and Catholics. All those crazy denominations then banded together and headed across the plains. The mortality rate and the dangers 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 fish relatives. 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. Gabriel and I want to be the Orson Welles of the Seventies. You remember Orson Welles about 30 years ago electrified, startled, terrified. But we don't want to terrify anybody. But 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.""
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 percent of the people watching those debates see through it. These candidates are playing some dumb, dumb game pretending the audience is dumb, and no one is 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 that you can learn something, that you can change your life, can open up new possibilities, can give yourself some good philosophic laughs, can open doors and windows, get you moving and make life more exciting. So, our program, ""Conversations with Higher Intelligence,"" is a way of stimulating interest because we know that most people are bored and want to have funnier and smarter interactions.
Q: What do you believe happens after someone dies?
A: Say this again.
Q: What do you believe happens after somebody dies?
A: 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 thousand 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 off 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.
Q: How interested are you in ecology?
A: 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 which is moralistic, which says that 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. The only way to do that is in space.
Q: Have you seen Ken Kesey lately?
A: Ken Kesey is in a very negative place. He's one of those people who suffer for idealistic reason. He's not writing. He stays out in his field all day, plowing. He's like that comedian on the Saturday Night show who says, "I'm Chevy Chase and you're not," the inference being that the rest of us don't know anything. When the first fish climbed out of the sea, there were many fish left behind who knew they would never climb out, because they still had gills. I think that's why so many people are depressed today, they know they still have gills and they're going to be left behind while the rest of us climb out of this earth.
Q: What do you think of all the spiritual movements?
A: I don't like the word spiritual. It connotates pie-in-the-sky, hokum-pokum. 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. I'm not going to struggle with another caterpillar for Northern Ireland or whatever. It's tremendously humorous and liberating, you see; we're not against anything. The meek can inherit the earth. They can have it.
Q: Who else is helping you push for space migration?
A: Oh, a lot of people. David Bowie. Barry Goldwater. Governor Brown.
Q: How was prison in San Diego?
A: San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Center is the hardest place to do time. It's not a prison. It's a jail. All this talk about it being a Hilton is ridiculous. Would you like to spend ten years locked up in a Hilton Hotel room? In the San Diego Metropolitan Center you don't have one-hundredth of the athletic and educational resources that you have in Federal prison. It's worse than Leavenworth, not the people running it, just the way it's built. At least you have a ball park at Leavenworth. At least you have a yard. It's not a prison, it's a detention center. It's mainly, as you know, for harder crimes.
Q: Did you make good friends in prison?
A: Some, yeah.
Q: I've seen you before.
Q: At the 1969 Moratorium in Washington. They motioned to you and you stood up wearing a buckskin coat.
A: I was with Peter, Paul, and Mary. Big crowd. Cold, wasn't it? November day. Like any bureaucracy, the Moratorium was divided up into politicians and entertainers, so that the head of the Trotskyite party of Milwaukee got three minutes and the head of the S.D.S. got three minutes and all these curious men and women were standing there with their fists out. Very serious. They couldn't decide where I was supposed to be, with the politicians or with the entertainers. The politicians refused to give up any of their time. I finally sneaked on with Peter, Paul, and Mary. They stopped playing and I said something very brief.
Q: What do you think of when you think about the Sixties?
A: 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 it if we like. It'll be much more human.
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 our species has ever experienced. This was a good dinner, wasn't it? We all had salmon, isn't that interesting? Here we are talking about crawling from the sea."