Lessons from a Counter-Culturalist

What a strange and un-nerving presence Timothy Leary’s writings have in this post-psychedelic era. The remnants of a highly charged socio-political and quasi-religious philosophy, which not only erupted against the established norms of external power structures but which also celebrated the right to our internal freedom, is today, a spectre-like memory.

Many of the important themes in Leary’s work, like mystical experience and sensual exploration, are now widely regarded as irrational and untestable. There remains, however, many external, political parallels between Leary’s and the 21st century’s social struggle for freedom.

When Leary wrote, in the 1960’s, that ‘the number of pot smokers worldwide is larger than the population of the United States of America’ and that they out-number the moral middle-class to the measure that there is, practically speaking, a dictatorship of the minority, I think we can all agree that nothing much has changed.

Our fight has become an increasingly political battle over the last thirty years. The idealist values of personal exploration, religious rite and the morality of ‘one love’ are the tools of a forgotten ‘tuned in’ and ‘dropped out’ generation. They’re defunct methods as we pursue our freedom politically. But by losing the ‘hippy’ the game is played out on the ground of the moral minority, in their comfort zone, by their rules, from their dominant perspective.

Playing the political game in Britain has created a nightmare cannabis culture. The bartering for inches of law, the mis-analysis of barely related-statistics, the bad science and an acute institutional ambivalence have plunged Britain into a post-psychedelic depression. Marijuana is being concreted into a criminal framework at the expense of the once peaceful psychonaut.

The ‘holy sacrament’ is now provided by criminal gangs, poisoning us with money-laundering additives and we are ‘turned on’, not by our trusted friends but by the twin educational paranoia’s of ASBO degenerates and pier-pressure. The middle-aged, once safe growing and smoking in the privacy of their own homes are now potential terrorists who have the right to be watched, searched and defiled.

Worst of all? That inner sanctum, the internal freedom that Leary fought so hard to protect, is now the reason for our subjugation. We are ‘unstable, mentally deficient and potential criminals’ because we use Cannabis.

There was always two sides of the same coin in Leary’s psychedelic revolution. On the one hand, the necessary change in our socio-political culture that would come, according to Leary, from our new, growing psychedelic perspective. On the other, there was the knowledge that one needed to protect and harness the personal, the internal and our spiritual morality as the necessary centre of strength in our external lives.

Take for example Leary’s essay ‘The magical mystery trip’ in which he extols the virtues of the British, not only as the leading cultural light in the internal psychedelic movement but also, surprisingly, in the external attitudes of our politicians. He transcribes a Commons debate from the 1960’s in which questions are raised about the disillusionment of the youth and the prevailing alienation within British society. But what’s happened?

Today, there is no public debate, there is no public vote and the advice of experts is disregarded out-of-hand; regardless of the fact that tokers now use medical and socio-political arguments. But then, the post-psychedelic fight has lost one half of it’s strength. It’s no longer about our internal freedom, it is solely driven by the rights of our external freedom and is thus alienating us from our personal experience, our high. After all, the experience of smoking of pot is not a political game. It’s not about finance and the categorical control of external power.

Leary was always eager to understand the possible socio-political ramifications of his research and he acutely recognized the dangers of the pre-existing external systems, and this is why he remained mystic. He remained, in all his speculation, true to the internal experience. Fighting the cause from his own ground, his own centre of knowledge and his own, personal, belief.

It is now, in the current climate, where some of the so called crack-pot ideas of Leary are finding new premise. We may not be quite starting our own religion, as Leary asked us to, but we are getting together in small tribes in order to grow and smoke cannabis in safety and peace. Just look at the underground medical marijuana scene.

We’ve been driven into the old ideas because the external world won’t have us and because we reject the criminal world that we are labelled with. We grow and share in a safe circle of trusted friends. It is not, as many politicians would have you believe, a degenerate sub-culture of Britain. It is a counter-culture and it breaths the morality of internal freedom.

Leary was responsible enough to recognize the need for safe guidance in using more powerful psychedelics. Skunk is a prime example; it has the potency to elevate you to a very different experience of life (a right we each have to explore within ourselves) yet today, ‘the guide’ is a dealer; and the dealer is defined by a long prison sentence. Once again, the space that was frequented by the spiritual and which has been ignored, is now the realm of the criminal.

Tokers come from all walks of life – this is the division given to us by society. To be heard as this sub-culture is to be drowned in empty rhetoric, funnelled through media and dogmatic concepts and to be lost in a cacophony of bureaucracy. But to be heard as a clear single voice, a fresh perspective that slices through pre-conceptions; this is to be counter-culture. Tokers all enjoy exploring their consciousness – this is what unifies us. Our strength, Leary makes clear, is in our internal unification – not the external division that is defined by those who wish us silenced.

The seeds of change, for culture and society, lie in natural growth and evolution; not in discourse and game-playing – these are merely masks of power. If we restrict ourselves to politics then we deny ourselves our culture. Leary showed us, above all, that change is fed internally. To change the current dogmatic discourse, which is leading to a further recession of our external rights, there needs to be a re-opening of the old front – the internal battle. As Leary might have said; playing politics is copping out, not dropping out.

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6 Responses

  1. Juliano says:

    I don’t personally like it when psychedelic talk is confused with cannabis talk. Cannabis is NOT a psychedelic. It is totally different. believe me I know what I am talking about, as an ex toker who toked religiously everday bar a break of about a year after a shock for 30 odd years!!!
    Cannabis like you hint is NOT the ‘peace and love’ trip of the middle classian tokers of 60s and 70s but is part of the gangster culture, the big boys drug runnin, the gangastas and the wannabe gangsters who will toke and drink and then go out and kick someones head in, and/or stab or shoot

    Cannabis is really the desperate tokin everyday to self-medicate rather than take the dreaded toxic pharma-srink meds for ‘mental illness’

    I have BEEN/seen the young and not so young doing tokin sesssions and rollin spliff after freakin spliff. And if ther’s a lull of spliffs the mood going down, and then when someone is rollin the mood goes up–ad nauseum
    Tokin in typical western consumerist mentality has become a commodity and means of E S C A P E from the fukin hell of this civilization!

    Your post is a kind of propaganda. You ASSUME you talk for me, and others when you claim that we now do NOT want to explore the spiritual deep but rather be political. BS—politics and the psiritual are not separate. It is only this fucked up mechanistic culture that splits it.
    Of COURSE people want to explore the deep. That is why there is violence, and ‘mental illness’ and apathy and sheer bordeom and misery precisely because we cant, or if we DO it is donwplayed as ‘passe’ or reduced to chemicals, or delusion, and escape. Ie., there is no CONTEXT because many of us are not hip to what has happened mythologically. Ie., the patriarchal myth is basically propaganda which manipulates, and the current myth is that everything is meaningless, and dead

    Tim Leary, although he had some good insights is not the best role model. He began preahcing that Earth was just a stepping stone to the stars-=-in typical patriarchal fashion, and that we could ‘imprint’ ourselves like machines beahaviourism+LSD…………..We rather neem to look closer at Feminism. may women are afraid to join this discussion. Know why? Cause of the Burning Times is why!!!

    • psypressuk says:


      Thank you very much for taking the time to read my blog; this I appreciate. I’d also like to extend my apologies, as far as it was never my intention to cause offense to anybody. I will however, try to respectively defend what I wrote.

      I assume from the points you’ve made, (like mentioning Burning Times) that you’re of a pagan persuasion – and feminist, I will touch on this later – always a pleasure to speak with someone whose own conceptual framework is close to my own (regardless, I think, of what this current difference of opinion entails.) It means that perhaps we’ll be able to come to a mutual understanding – a smiling agree to disagree, at least I hope.

      Right; that’s enough idle chit-chat.

      In the strictest chemical sense, perhaps you are right that cannabis is not a psychedelic; though I’d be interested to know which classification system your using to come to that decision. Your experience in using it really means squat in this discursive sense. I could find you people, smoking longer, who would claim the opposite from their experiences. This is to subjective a means; merely boiling down to a difference of opinion.

      Cannabis, like any drug, is what you make of it. By this, I don’t mean just your social view of it, I also mean the make-up of your own psychological and physiological make-up and in how that interacts with the experience. This is one reason Leary thought they should be legalised; in order that if they are taken it can be done responsibly and under guidance. At this juncture I might also point out that you criticized me for romanticising the image of the toker; you then proceeded to stereo-type the gangster image. Hypocrisy comes back three-fold, believe me. You continue then to perpetuate the image of the young, morose, life-less toker. I agree this is awful. That is why we need responsible guidance; as a drug it has many other wonderful experiences, which if one is truly experienced, one can engage with.

      My post is exactly propaganda – this I can’t deny and nor would I want too – but by your logic anything other than fiction (barely though!) and scientific journals is propaganda. Ergo, if you want to avoid it, you should all but stop reading. Don’t paint people to thickly with your broad brush; it can dirty those you love as well.

      I totally agree with you when you say that culture is f**ked up because of the mechanistic system. In fact, if you re-read the blog, you’ll see there is an accord. The patriarchal question is a little tougher though because I think we’re just gonna have totally different foundations in our beliefs. Let me explain mine in the hope you don’t think I’m just another programmed, chauvinist pig. It is a patriarchal system, I agree. The system is screwed, I agree. Where do we differ? You want a matriarchal led system, whereas I believe any system which alienates individuals from one another (which extreme forms of feminism/matriarchalism does) are in fact some of the key devices in a problematic social structure. To swing from one extreme to the other, and forget midway that we are all parts of the same universe, seems naïve.

      I feel the main reason for your anger was perhaps because of the spiritual discourse of the piece. I defended Leary because he called for people to take a look at their lives, the internal journal, the state-of-being. You’ve disregarded this, which I’m a little hurt by because I thought that was perhaps something, judging from what I can in your reply, that you’d be in tune with. The picture you’ve painted of Leary is the one given to us by the f**ked up society; yet you persist in acquiescing with it, regardless of your personal views of that system.

      In writing this piece, I wanted to try and remind people that they don’t have to blindly follow the external governs of their lives. There is a freedom of internality that each and everyone can tap into and, by doing so, can touch upon the greater mystery of the Universe. My apologies Juliano, but I think you missed the vital message of the piece and merely vented some of your own frustrations with society. Peace and love.

      PS. There are many audiences and you cannot speak to them all.

  2. KPH says:

    Juliano, I can not agree that the political and spiritual are the same. There needs to be ground somewhere for people who are agnostic or deny spirits exist. While I deeply disagree with them, I can not see imposing laws that legislate what beliefs are acceptable as a good thing. While I think certain rituals (sacrifice, circumcision, murder of abortion clinics, abstinance pledge “my father owns my sex” dances, etc.) ought to be outlawed on the premise of them being unethical, this should not be legislated based on religion or spirituality. No government has the right to mandate what beliefs are accaptable, HOWEVER, it can mandate that child abuse, treating people as property, gential mutilation, etc. are illegal. Hence, people of religion would have to make comprimises that obide the law. No more treating daughters like sexual tools and property, even if your religion is okay with it.
    Also speaking as a pagan, no pagans today sacrifice like we used to in mesopotamia or egypt. Why? Because we have evolved since then. Although sacrifice was a major part of the tradition and ethics of paganism, we all still have to be law obiding people– we can’t murder.

    The same can be said of people of different spiritualities and religions, that they have to obide the law like everyone else, without comandeering spirituality through policy. I would personally be just as terrified if the bible-thumping theocrats took power, than if the “away with all gods, abolish religion” freaks took political power and started arresting my parents for putting a nativity scene on their front lawn.

    Mixing private values, such as that in spirituality, and the law is a scary and dangerous thing. The reason serperation of church and state is good is not only because it is supposed to make it so that a theocracy couldn’t take over, but also because it means that people should be protected from having their right to share thoughts and organize violated. That’s all that religion is, organizing to preach and share thoughts in order to make sure that everyone clearly understands the founder’s message. Several religions in the past have been dragged into state affairs, but you could technically make a religion about anything. As a matter of fact, I should make a religion about music theory right now!

    • psypressuk says:


      Thanks for your input on PsypressUK. I totally agree that the separation of state and religion is vital – the French state model is a very good example and it’s a shame that the UK can’t adopt a similar perspective. Though, with the Head of State also being the Head of the Church of England, then this is very unlikely to happen; fortunately it’s a pretty defunct system anyway! The various religious attitudes toward certain rituals, which you mentioned, have no place in religion anyway I believe. The law taking exception to child abuse, genital mutilation etc.. is really cleaning the areas that religion really has no place in dictating about. Spirituality is, in my opinion, an inward affair and any action that is dogmatic and authoritative over others is inherently flawed.


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