The Politics of Consciousness Expansion (1963)
Date: Tuesday, December 11 @ 18:46:17 UTC
Topic: Freedom

The Politics of Consciousness Expansion

by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert
EXPANSION-CONTRACTION. The tension between the flowing process and the fixed structure.

Inorganic processes: The expanding gaseous cloud whirls into temporary patterned structures. The structures always changing, hurtling towards eventual entropy.

Organic processes: Watery, electro-biochemical globules cluster into cells. Cells cluster into temporary hardened forms (vegetative or animal), themselves always changing, eventually returning to the entropic.

Social processes: The free expansive vision is molded into the institutional. Hardly has the institutional mortar set before there is a new cortical upheaval, an explosive, often ecstatic or prophetic revelation. The prophet is promptly jailed. A hundred years later his followers are jailing the next visionary.

One is led naively to exclaim: Will man never learn the lesson of cyclical process? Must we continue to jail, execute, exile our ecstatic visionaries, and then enshrine them as tomorrow's heroes?
Naive question, which fails to appreciate the necessary tension of the expansion-contraction play. Membrane contracts. Life force bursts membrane. Establishment controls vision. Vision bursts establishment.
The expansion process in physics and biology is described in evolutionary terms.
The expansion process in human affairs is defined in terms of the word "freedom." We measure social evolution in terms of increased freedom external or internal. Freedom to step out of the tribal game and move to construct a new social form. Freedom to move in space. Freedom to experience. Freedom to explore.
Society needs educated priest-scholars to provide structure the intellectual muscle, bone and skin to keep things together. The university is the Establishment's apparatus for training consciousness-contractors. The intellectual ministry of defense. Defense against vision. This statement is not pejorative but a fact about evolutionary function. We need stability. We need expansion. The far-out visionary. The academic council which sits in learned judgment on Socrates, Galileo, Bacon, Columbus, Thoreau. The protagonists in these dramas are neither good nor evil. No villains, no heroes. They just are. What will be the next step in biological and social evolution?
Here are two clues. (1) You are more likely to find the evolutionary agents closer to jail than to the professor's chair. (2) Look to that social freedom most abused, most magically, irrationally feared, by society. Exactly that freedom which you, the intellectual, the liberal, would deny to others. Good. Now you are getting close.
The administration always recognizes intuitively the next evolutionary step that will leave it behind. To cast this drama in terms of saints and Pharisees is entertaining, but outmoded.
The drama is genetic. Neurophysiological.

So spare us, please, the adolescent heroics of Beethoven - Shakespeare.
Where, then, will the next evolutionary step occur? Within the human cortex. We know, yes we know, that science has produced methods for dramatically altering and expanding human awareness and potentialities. The uncharted realm lies behind your own forehead. Internal geography. Internal politics. Internal control. Internal freedom.

The nervous system can be changed, integrated, recircuited, expanded in its function. These possibilities naturally threaten every branch of the Establishment. The dangers of external change appear to frighten us less than the peril of internal change. LSD is more frightening than the Bomb!

There are two obvious avenues toward this next stage of human evolution. (1) Biochemical methods of freeing the nervous system, slowed down by heavy learned concepts and starved of tryptamine.* We are, in a real sense, prisoners of our cognitive concepts and strategies. Passed on from generation to generation. The cognitive continuity of history. And the stuff of it is words. Our current reliance upon substantive and "closing-off" concepts will be the amused wonder of coming generations. We must entertain nonverbal methods of communication if we are to free our nervous system from the tyranny of the stifling simplicity of words.

Biochemical methods of increasing cortical efficiency. "Biochemicals in the human body, in plants, and in drugs. There exist 111 nature hundreds of botanical species with psychedelic ("mind-opening") powers. There exists around the indole circle a wide variety of psychedelic compounds. Cortical vitamins.

The existence of these substances has been known for thousands of years, but has been maintained as a well-guarded secret. The scarcity of botanical supply. Now, in 1963, the mind-opening substances (e.g., mescaline, LSD, psilocybin) are available for the first time in limitless, mass-produced quantities. What a threat! What a challenge! What a widespread menace!

The danger, of course, is not physical. A recent editorial in the Medical Tribune (March 18, 1963) clearly recognizes the physiological safety of consciousness-expanding drugs. Nor is the danger psychological. In studies reported by Ditman, McGlothlin, Leary, Savage, up to 90 per cent of subjects taking these drugs in supportive environments testify enthusiastically.

The danger is not physical or psychological, but social-political. Make no mistake: the effect of consciousness-expanding drugs will be to transform our concepts of human nature, of human potentialities, of existence. The game is about to be changed, ladies and gentlemen. Man is about to make use of that fabulous electrical network he carries around in his skull. Present social establishments had better be prepared for the change. Our favorite concepts are standing in the way of a floodtide, two billion years building up. The verbal dam IS collapsing. Head for the hills, or prepare your intellectual craft to flow with the current.

Let's try a metaphor. The social situation in respect to consciousness-expanding drugs is very similar to that faced sixty years ago by those crackpot visionaries who were playing around with the horseless carriage. Of course, the automobile is external child's play compared to the unleashing of cortical energy, but the social dilemma is similar.

The claim was made in 1900 that the motor carriage, accelerated to speeds several times that of the horse drawn vehicle would revolutionize society. Impossible to conceptualize because in 1900 we possessed no concepts for these possibilities. But we always have the standard objections to the non-conceptual. First of all, we object to the dangers: high speeds will snap nervous minds, gas fumes are fatal, the noise will prevent cows from giving milk, horses will run away, criminals will exploit the automobile.

Then the puritanical objection: people will use cars for pleasure, for kicks.
Then we question the utility: what can we do with speedy carriages. There are no men to repair them. There are no roads, few bridges. There are no skilled operators. The supply of fuel is small, who will sell you gas?

Then we raise the problem of control: who should be allowed to own and operate these powerful and dangerous instruments? Perhaps they should be restricted to the government elite, to the military, to the medical profession.

But why do we want cars anyway? What is wrong with the good old buggy? What will happen to coachmen, blacksmiths, carriagemakers?

The automotive visionary of 1900 could have pointed out that his skeptical opponent had no concepts, no social structures to implement these possibilities. Remember, if one talks about experiences and prospects for which the listener has no concepts, then he is defined (at best) as a mystic. Our automotive mystic 60 years ago would have asserted the need for a new language, new social forms, and would have predicted that our largest national industry would inevitably develop out of this vision.

Can you imagine a language without such words as convertible, tudor sedan, General Motors, D.A.W., Standard Oil, superhighway, parking ticket, traffic court? These most commonplace terms in our present culture were mystical images three generations ago.

In totalitarian states, the use and control of instruments for external freedom - the automobile, the private airplane - are reserved. for the government bureaucracy and the professional elite. Even in democracies, the traditional means for expanding or contracting consciousness (internal freedom) such as the printing press, the radio transmitter, the motion picture, are restricted by law and remain under government control.

Now consider consciousness-expanding drugs in 1963. No language. No trained operators. Lots of blacksmiths whose monopoly is threatened. A few people who do see an inevitable development of a new language, a transfiguration of everyone of our social forms. And these few, of course, the ones who have taken the internal voyage.

It is possible that in 20 years our psychological and experiential language (pitifully small in English) will have multiplied to cover realms of experience and forms of thinking now unknown. In 20 years, every social institution will have been transformed by the new insights provided by consciousness-expanding experiences. Many new social institutions will have developed to handle the expressions of the potentiated nervous system.

The political issue involves control: "automobile" means that the free citizen moves his own car in external space. Internal automobile. Auto-administration. The freedom and control of one's experiential machinery. Licensing will be necessary. You must be trained to operate.* You must demonstrate your proficiency to handle consciousness-expanding drugs without danger to yourself or the public. The Fifth Freedom - the freedom to expand your own consciousness - cannot be denied without due cause.

A final hint to those who have ears to hear. The open cortex produces an ecstatic state. The nervous system operating free of learned abstraction is a completely adequate, completely efficient, ecstatic organ. To deny this is to rank man's learned tribal concepts above two billion years' endowment. An irreverent act. Trust your inherent machinery. Be entertained by the social game you play. Remember, man's natural state is ecstatic wonder, ecstatic intuition, ecstatic accurate movement. Don't settle for less.

* To bring the discussion from the verbal-controversial down to the more practical: a psychedelic "driving- school" will open in Mexico on May 1, 1963, in a panoramic Mexican village, Zihuatanejo. There, during the next 22 months, manuals, chemicals, and guides will be available for training those who want proficiency in consciousness expansion.

This article comes from Community of One Love

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