Sunday, October 28, 2018


INTRODUCTION (continued)

LSD had a different and more fascinating history than the American public had any clue about in 1967 and one which few historians have examined even today. The drug originated exclusively from two interrelated parts of the liberal anticommunist establishment, at least one of which was utterly despised by the counterculture. The military and intelligence communities, in their all-out war against Soviet communism, had been “turning on” in clandestine state laboratories since 1951 to research new chemical weapons and mind control techniques. And an expanding “scientific” American mental health movement, in its need to reduce people and consciousness to neuro-chemical mechanisms, had been using LSD at least that early to model psychosis and pry open the enigmatic Freudian subconscious.

Psychiatrists, psychologists and spies were secretly way into LSD by the mid-fifties. Some archetypical establishment people were ahead of Leary, Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, the Grateful Dead, the flower children, and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band(7) by a good many years. This is a connection which in a strange way threatens to debunk the romance of rebellion or fill in the fabled Generation Gap. Possibly, LSD use in elite segments of American society between 1953 and 1963 had a catalytic influence on the upheavals which followed. But certainly, if middle-aged Americans now believe nothing psychedelic could possibly predate their Sixties Generation, or that LSD belongs primarily or exclusively to their original Rebellion, they should reinterpret some of their old rock ‘n roll song lyrics. No lesser example of elitism than Claire Booth Luce commented even while she was a member of Ronald Reagan’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board: “Oh, sure, we all took acid (in the fifties). It was a creative group — my husband and I and Huxley, and (novelist Christopher) Isherwood…. (But) we wouldn’t want everyone doing too much of a good thing.”(8)

This thesis first attempts to establish a point of irony about “the Sixties,” that fierce eruption of culture unequaled since the Civil War or perhaps the French Revolution, which gave birth to so much of our present social reality. Those institutions of the adult establishment which were most opposed and caught most unaware by the turmoil, had been involved during the fifties in an important element of the deviance they later feared. America kept certain secrets from itself, and the dramatic contrast between two decades was partly a result of keeping those secrets.

Following that context my thesis presents personal recollections by Vermont photographer George Leisey, the son of celebrity nutritionist and author Adele Davis. Leisey’s unique perspective on LSD, far from setting the sixties apart, provides unexpected connection to the whole Twentieth Century narrative of world war, anticommunist paranoia, consumer materialism, social conformity, and American scientific, economic and cultural ascendence.

A chronology of selected events, which to my knowledge has not been assembled before, is provided as an appendix. The odd history of LSD has previously been painted in thematic frames, omitting a vital element of sequence between one picture and another. Different authors have detailed particular aspects of the story. For example, John Marks(9) got the CIA’s mind control Projects Bluebird, Artichoke and MKUltra in good order, but he confused time with regard to earlier and concurrent psychiatric research or the later roles of experimental subjects like Ken Kesey; Jay Stevens brilliantly chronicled the procession of high society psychotherapists and their LSD exploits through the fifties, but he never related that picture to the Cold War in an understandable way; Lee and Shlain(11) omitted little, but often mixed things together within overly broad time segments as if describing an LSD trip of their own. Sequence is extremely significant for the irony in this story and a fascinating sense of fate and connection disappears when it is altered. The specific appended chronology in this thesis is presented as a pilot remedy for questions about what really happened in a recent and frenetic time, to better explore how the fifties ever could have become the sixties.

My end notes occasionally offer substantial digressions into tangential subjects which fascinate me but may not interest readers or directly affect my main arguments. Some notes do add to the irony in the story or suggest unanswered questions but remain unnecessary for the basic analysis. Others are just the standard citations of source. I would like all readers to pour over every word, but of course each will budget his or her own effort.


7. The Beatles’ stunning benediction for a blossoming psychedelic counterculture earned them dramatic contradictory reviews from Timothy Leary and Spiro Agnew. The acid guru declared the Beatles to be mutants sent by God; the vice-president suggested they were part of a communist conspiracy and noted that their music showed an understanding of the principles of brainwashing. (Lee and Shlain.)
8. Remarks on The Dick Cavett Show, April 9, 1982, quoted in Lee and Shlain, page 71.
9. Marks, John, The Search for the Manchuria Candidate; New York: W.W.  Norton and Company, 1979.
10. Stevens, Jay, Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream, New York: Harper and Rowe, 1987.
11. Lee, Martin A. and Bruce Shlain, Acid Dreams, The Complete Social History of LSD: the CIA, the Sixties and Beyond, New York: Grove Weidenfelg, 1985.

(Next part, “CONTEXT: LSD and the Cult of Intelligence” coming soon.)

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