On January 21st 1971, Timothy Leary was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the possession of two joints of marijuana. Soon after, an additional 10 years were added for an earlier conviction, which the American Supreme Court had quashed once before when he had been tried under an unconstitutional tax law. The conviction for that previous offence, for an incredibly small amount, was 30 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.
Leary had been described as, “the most dangerous man in America,” by Richard Nixon. Leary, then a prominent psychologist, had never murdered a single person, nor had he directly incited any violence. He had just really loved LSD, and had been devoted to researching ways in which it could be used in therapy to treat long-term psychological problems. One of the areas they looked at was anti-social behaviour in criminals. At the same time, similar testing was being done by Elliott Barker. Leary and Barker had initial successes, but the long-term results suggested that some criminals, particularly those with psychopathic traits, were merely taught how to conceal the coldness within them whilst acting out human emotions for the benefit of those around them.
However, Leary lived at a time before these long-term results became obvious, and he genuinely believed in the therapeutic uses of hallucinogens. When the US government outlawed them, Leary became an advocate for their decriminalisation, and their use in treating patients with mental, and sometimes physical, disorders. Indeed, tests on various banned substances are today showing potentially positive results: LSD treatment in therapy has resumed in Switzerland, and MDMA has shown positive results when used on suffers of Parkinson’s disease.
However, at a time when Charles Manson had his family murdering people, Ted Bundy was responsible for the deaths of college age girls, and the Zodiac Killer was most active, it was Leary that right-wing politician Richard Nixon described as the “most dangerous man in America”.
Why? There were three reasons.
Firstly, Leary popularised the saying, “think for yourself and question authority.” That same ideology was the one that eventually led to the Watergate Scandal, and the end of Nixon’s presidency, so he would be right to fear it.
Second of all, it was the beginning of the Establishment’s long running failure to fight a war against drugs. The real reason those in power so feared the drugs of that age was because what represented a quiet revolution of bands and free-love and daisies-in-your-hair, also represented a shedding of the kind of proper, mannered restraint that the right-wing saw as a moral obligation. To them, it was every Freudian-nightmare about the dark-undercurrent that dominates the subconscious mind of the masses – it was the mob breaking free of their shackles. In much the same way that Julian Assange is the current face of an information revolution, Leary was the face of a psychological revolution. “Think for yourself and question authority.”
The third reason was much, much more insidious, and seems like it comes from the realms of conspiracy theory, but was actually the subject of a public apology from Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford. The MK-Ultra project was designed to test the use of hallucinogens (specifically the same Lysergic-Acid Diethalymide-25 created by Albert Hoffman and used by Timothy Leary) in an attempt to manipulate the brain for the benefit of the CIA. It resulted in at least one death.
However, at the same time that the CIA wanted to exploit this drug, the Establishment was doing its best to slander Timothy Leary, and then lock him away using a sentence far beyond the maximum permitted sentence for the crime he had committed.
And they would have succeeded, too, had it not been for the fact that the Establishment of that time was as stupid as it was brutally criminal. The tests administered to Leary to rate his psychological condition, and determine whether he would spend the next twenty years in a minimum- or maximum-security prison, had been written by Leary himself. Leary decided that, not being The A-Team, he would go the maximum-security route. He promptly escaped, and was smuggled out of the country, eventually ending up in Switzerland.
Leary was eventually returned to America, where a judge commented that, “If he is allowed to travel freely, he will speak publicly and spread his ideas.” In 1976, three years after his recapture, he was released. Whilst in prison, he told notoriously-hard-to-define writer Robert Anton Wilson that he believed he had more freedom whilst imprisoned than most people had on the outside. To Leary, the idea of freedom was not physical, but mental.
Wilson had his own revelation about freedom during a sit-in at a segregated barber-shop. The shop’s owner refused to serve black customers, and so those in the local community who were aware of the importance in fighting racial segregation decided to sit-in his shop. Eventually, the police were called, and the protesters, rather than the racist barber, were arrested. Wilson later commented that it showed him that to the Establishment, even your own body is not yours, but theirs, to do with what they want.
These topics rest forefront in my mind at the moment not because of Julian Assange, who was mentioned earlier, or because of the economic hardships robbing so many people of their own freedoms, or because of the reaction to the strikes by public sector workers (told that they should feel grateful to receive less for more, in a staggering reversal of the very nature of capitalism). No, the events described above are at the forefront of my mind because of the Establishment reaction to the Occupy movement, especially in America.
Occupy is said to have started on Wall Street, and in San Francisco this past September, but the date the movement began on, and its original location, are less important than the ideas it claims to represent. These ideas are varied, but the are predominantly about a form of responsible capitalism. Not anti-capitalism, as if so often claimed, but responsible capitalism. Responsible capitalism is, of course, about as anti-capitalist as you can get to the current Establishment.
The current Establishment is against any form of regulation, or protection for the general public, from the forces of the market. As was mentioned earlier, one of the great fears of the Establishment for most of the last century and the start of this one has been the dark subconscious desires of the masses, so often referred to in the common lexicon as “the mob mentality”. The war to control this, to manage by consent, has been at the centre of modern political thinking. However, when the masses seem to turn on the Establishment, or any part of their dominant ideology, management by consent becomes management by terror. (Of course, the exception to this is when the dominant ideology is challenged by the market, such as the events of Black Wednesday here in the UK, and the politicians learn who really has their hand on the whip.)
It is tragic, rather than ironic, that those in positions of power cannot see the direct correlation between the gunning-down of protesters during the Arab Spring, and the brutal evictions across America. Those who believed, like Leary, that you should, “think for yourself and question authority” are now finding themselves, like Wilson, learning that even their own freedoms will be denied them should they act out in a way considered to be against the beliefs of the Establishment.
In this sense, it makes a mockery of democracy, but to understand democracy you have to understand the simplistic ideas of democracy which a government will allow, verses the reality of democracy that we have been denied all our lives.
The simplistic form of democracy is as follows: each person, regardless of their ignorance, is invited to vote after a period in which they are bombarded by propaganda controlled by the dominant political classes and those who own the media.
In Leary’s instance, the dominant voices were the likes of Richard Nixon and his then media consultant, now Fox News President, Roger Ailes.
Now-a-days, it is the likes of Ailes (still), Rupert Murdoch and Goldman Sachs.
In this model, you have only as much power as the amount of information they allow you to have. This is why the likes of Occupy, Anonymous and Wikileaks terrify the current Establishment, as they are weakening the level of information control they have over the public, and ruining the illusion of a society that is “in this together”.
The other model of democracy is one we will likely never see, but is the one that most of the counter-culture has tried to popularise in one way or another since the term was first coined, and perhaps back to Adam Weishaupt and the Bavarian Illuminati, and perhaps even back to Jesus (if you believe in him or not, the important thing here is the message, not whether or not he existed).
It goes as follows: each person is expected to learn as much as they can about what they are required to vote on, and is relied upon to make an informed choice about what they have learned through both mainstream and more marginalised means of delivering information. Or, arming yourself with information, if you will.
In this way, the truth about Occupy is that it is an idealised form of democracy taking on a corrupt, manipulative form of democracy. And, just as Leary was punished because they couldn’t allow him to spread his message, so the evictions and the restriction of media coverage were set up to muddy the true message of the protest: a need for economic openness.
There have been many commentators that have disputed this message. One of the most spurious arguments came from Louise Mensch, MP, who, on Have I Got News For You, commented that they can’t have an i-Phone and a Starbucks coffee and be against capitalism. This was later followed up by comic book writer Frank Miller, who, like Nixon perverting Leary’s advocacy of LSD-use, sought to write off the Occupy movement as a group of “liars, thieves and rapists.” This is to be expected. After all, when someone comes into contact with something they can’t comprehend or understand, they often say something stupid. (Another example would be David Cameron’s attempts, today, to turn the word, “leftist”, into an insult.) If a UFO made out of liquid that bent at angles our eyes were not able to fully see landed outside your house, you would either misunderstand what you had seen, or you would act in fear.
The lesson to be taken from all this is a simple one, though: the Establishment has always acted in the same way towards ideas it considers dangerous, regardless of how dangerous those ideas are. The true heroes of recent memory are not usually those who agreed to go and be shot at in a war, in exchange for financial remuneration, but those who gave up their time to be beaten, maced, shot at, killed, and abused in public because they stood up for their beliefs against an Establishment that neither cares to listen, nor cares for the numerous bones that are cracked under their oppressive heal. There is no guarantee that you will be proven right, and there is no guarantee that you will be remembered as a hero. But, when the Establishment send in hired goon squads, or hand down sentences far exceeding what is required by law, it is time to admit that something has gone wrong with our democracy.