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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Those notorious Harvard druggies

Prof. Timothy Leary

If you are anywhere between the ages of 40 and 70 and possibly smoked pot in your youth (but of course did not inhale), I'm sure you'd find The Harvard Psychedelic Club, by Don Lattin, a rip-roaring read.  Did you know that Timothy Leary,  Richard Alpert (aka Baba Ram Dass), and Andrew Weil were all Harvard professors together?  These three almost single-handedly ushered in the Age of Aquarius with their research on the spiritual, religious, and mind-altering effects of LSD.  As human experimentation on undergraduates was off-limits, the work, starting with the Harvard Psilocybin Project, was carried out with the assistance of graduate students (a specialized form of indentured adult).  The anticipated revolution in the field of psychology was to begin in Leary's home at 64 Homer Street in Newton in the winter of 1960-61.  Here is a picture of the house not a mile from mine.  Does the local historical society know about this?  Why no plaque?

 trip the light fantastic....

All these grad students tripping together under the supervision of Leary and Alpert eventually started living together as a "spiritual" family in a house Alpert/Ram Dass purchased at 23 Kenwood Avenue, around the corner (they went up against the neighbors and Newton's single-family zoning laws and won).   Everybody living and loving together---dig that Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood!

 Be here now....

The story goes on from there with much collateral damage, unorthodoxy, and ultimately, that social movement we call "the Sixties".  Weil, Leary, and Ram Dass all left, or were fired by, Harvard, moving west to Haight-Ashbury, India, Mexico, or jail and some still carry grudges for each other to this day--really, this book is a trip, pardon the pun. 

Here is one of most interesting passages in Lattin's book, relevant to ideals of Utopias, as per Morris and others before him:

"Leary and Alpert's transcendental community in the Boston suburbs was a harbinger of the hippie communes that would pop up across the country in the late 1960s. But it also harked back to an earlier social experiment conducted not far from Newton, in the Roxbury section of Boston.  One hundred and twenty years before Leary and Alpert established their three homes in Newton, a transcendentalist former Unitarian minister named George Ripley founded Brook Farm, a utopian community organized in the 1840s---the same decade in which Henry David Thoreau set up camp at Walden Pond.  Leary would soon come to see his life as a continuation of the work of Thoreau, Emerson, and Margaret Filler, the American writer and protofeminist who participated in the Brook Farm experiment.

"Leary and Alpert liked to compare their ouster from Harvard with the earlier banishment of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wore out his welcome with a famous 1838 address to the graduating class at the Harvard Divinity School.  In that speech, Emerson condemned the odious errors of historical Christianity, calling its depiction of the Son of God a "noxious exaggeration".  True religion, Emerson proclaimed, would allow "every man to expand to the full circle of the universe."  Twenty years after he was kicked out of Harvard, Leary would cite the transcendentalists as the inspiration behind his call that every man "turn on, tune in, drop out."

"They, too, were saying turn on, tune in, go within.  Become self-reliant.  Before Emerson came back to Harvard in 1838, he was in Europe hanging out with notorious druggies like Coleridge and Wordsworth," Leary said at a 1983 Harvard reunion. "They were expanding their minds with hashish and opium and reading the Bhagavad Gita.  Then he came back here and gave that famous speech where he said, "Don't look for God in the temples.  Look within."  Find God within yourself.  Drop out.  Become self-reliant.  Do your own thing."

 Now the mushrooms go in Weil's $50 an ounce youth-assuring face-creams....that's what I call moving with the times.  Or maybe he's just still moving the times himself?
The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America (Hardcover)