Wednesday, November 7, 2018

SLOUCHING, part 11


Professor Nancy MacLean of Northwestern remarked after hearing part of this thesis, “I’d hate to reduce people’s ideas to a function of their drug consumption!”(129) At the time she was teaching an undergraduate History course on the Sixties. Her emphasis was on social reform movements and the factors which cause people who have no political power to become active and assume power. Perhaps one lesson of the LSD story is that political power is only a small issue within the complexity of cultural dynamics. Although Americans find the fact distasteful and instinctively select other aspects of civics more worthy of their attention, their freely-elected national governments spent millions of their tax dollars over two decades trying to develop a technology whereby people’s ideas could be made into a function of their drug consumption. That project (probably…) never resulted in anyone’s clear political advantage.

Northwestern‘ s Michael Sherry has argued persuasively that the militarization of America which began prior to World War II was a cultural turning point comparable to the Revolution or the end of the frontier.(130) He evaluated the sixties as a phenomenon of the mounting stress within that trend of militarization, noting:

(S)ocial and political divisions yielded less violence but still seemed to partake of war. Counterculture hippies talked of “peace” and “love,” but their goal of “liberation for all Americans” had a coercive edge (even as they repudiated “missionary aggressiveness”), and the fury they provoked often got expressed in war’s words.(131)

But if war’s words dominated our lexicon, the subtler languages of science and secrecy were close behind. If Berkeley activists and the flower people of the Haight intended to liberate all Americans, and if Ken Kesey “pranked Amerika” to coerce the nation toward culture-shattering LSD insights, the word “psychedelic” was yet coined from Greek roots by a medical authority and used in the fifties by the same experts who brought us electroshock, brainwashing, the H-bomb and anticommunist paranoia.

The first half of the Twentieth Century had culminated in a nightmare of unparalleled, organized scientific violence. European Civilization had perhaps developed to one logical extreme, and cultural trends from the late forties through the sixties reflected the philosophical crossroads at which all of humanity had arrived, the dust of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the ruins of Stalingrad and the silent crematoria at Auschwitz were juxtaposed against that picture of a sailor kissing a nurse in the midst of Times Square victory celebrations, in the largest city of an undamaged, bright and youthful America where innocence was not destroyed, an America where concentration camp survivors could come and rest and look out across quiet summer resort lakes to wonder, “Where are the Nazis? How can there be a world without Nazis?”(132)

This unfathomable discontinuity was a set for some divine authority to say through the modern media of television and Time magazine — maybe editorial arrangements had been made during Henry Luce’s conversation on the golf course with God, the first time Sidney Cohen gave him LSD(133) — “Before you this day are the blessing and the curse, life and death, good and evil: Choose life!”(134) Americans chose a life and a culture in the fifties by buying Levittown homes and General Motors automobiles, watching Lucy and Milton Berle, and supporting their government’s resistance to “godless communism.” Some studied Adelle Davis’ prescriptions for keeping fit, having healthy babies and getting well, and a few partook of the salacious luxury of speculation about themselves through quaintly evolving Freudian and Jungian theories.

Behind the walls of that culture a new class of specialists had secret jobs. Adolf Berle, Edward Teller, Allen Dulles and Richard Helms had to keep the Russians contained; Harold Wolff, Nathan Klein, Paul Hoch and Harold Abramson had to cure the unfortunate little flaws in the social brain. But our experts were not angels. The social brain was a machine that no one had built and no one maintained. Artists, writers like Adelle Davis, ordinary people and celebrities began to wonder if intellectual and physical development were overstressed and emotional and spiritual development neglected,(135) LSD started to flow in the synapses of society, and suddenly the walls were breathing. Between those breathing walls as one decade became another, Adelle Davis wrote:

Dr. Janiger’s question, “Have you noticed any difference in your interest in anthropology or history?” meets with my hearty, “Indeed I do.” Formerly I found it extremely difficult to imagine the feelings of anyone whose living conditions or culture differed markedly from our own; examples would be anyone who lived several hundred years ago or a primitive alive today. Under LSD I was repeatedly all humanity, experiencing its hungers, yearnings, hatred, terrors, and illnesses, its love, appreciation, reverence, tranquility and ecstasy. As a result I have a wonderful, crazy feeling, admittedly without basis of reality, that I have been in every person’s shoes. This emotion has given a pulsating aliveness and a throbbing heartbeat to history and anthropology and has tremendously increased my interest in both. Partly as a result of these identifications, I am convinced that the emotions of all persons from prehistoric man to the modern sophisticate are essentially the same. Some people certainly suppress their feelings more than others, some are more sensitive, and the lives of individuals vary widely indeed, but the actual emotions themselves, I believe, remain identical and universal.(136)

Modern Psychological Warfare, a post-World War II alternative for recently-intolerable conventional war and unthinkable nuclear Armageddon, is based in the realization that surrender is almost always a sequential process that can be influenced over time by covert means.(137) This may hold true whether it is geography being surrendered, an ideological position being amended, or a personal identity being lost. The use of LSD over two contrasting decades beginning in 1947 might be understood as a coincidence, or cacophony, of covert psychological operations by psychiatrists, spies and rebellious young Americans. Territory changed hands. The various targeted enemies — schizophrenia and rational time-stream consciousness, Soviet communism and the liberal anticommunist establishment, were enemies of each other, too. But the actual emotions of LSD enthusiasts were identical and universal across a curious historical continuum.

 Like surrender, history is also a sequential process. There is no apparatus of culture whose gears and wheels can suddenly be made to stop, or even to change direction by more than a fraction of a degree over considerable time. If it appears otherwise historians might remember that Ozzie and Harriet lived in a secret psychedelic nation while the rough beast LSD slouched toward Haight-Ashbury.


129. Conversation with Professor MacLean in her office, January 29, 1998, from my notes.
130. Sherry, Michael. In the Shadow of War: The United States Since the 1930s. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.
131. Ibid. Page 294.
132. This was a scene in the movie, Enemies, a Love Story, which portrayed recent Jewish refugees in New York shortly after WWII.
133. Swan burg, W.A. Luce and His Empire; and Sheed, Wilfred. Clare Booth Luce. Both referenced in Lee and Shlain, page 71 (note on page 305).
134. From the Jewish High Holy Day Prayer Book, part of the Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur services in Conservative synagogues. (NOTE: I have no idea whether the anti-abortion people derived their current tag line from this same source, but no reference whatsoever to that is intended here. I’ve loved this quote for twenty years, and I only realized after putting it in the first draft of my thesis that it may have the other political connotation for some readers.)
135. Dunlap, page 13.
136. Ibid. Page 202-03.
137. Stephen A. Pease described psywar: “Psychological warfare uses mental bullets. It is bloodless and inexpensive, and often ineffective. It is an offensive weapon that attempts to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses to further tactical or strategic ends. Like a real bullet, it doesn’t care if it wounds. Unlike a real bullet, it can be used at home, too.” Psywar: Psychological Warfare in Korea, 1950-1953; Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1992.


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