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The Psychedelic Experience

by Lisa Bieberman

The New Republic, August 5, 1967

Copyright (c) 1967 by The New Republic, Inc.
Used by the Council on Spiritual Practices with permission. All rights reserved.

It was five years ago that I attached myself to the Cambridge group that started the psychedelic movement. In those days we didn't use the word "psychedelic" much - the accepted phrase was "consciousness-expanding drugs," or more briefly, "mushroom," since the Harvard group worked mainly with psilocybin. There was a whole new world in the mushroom, so we said - the key to a stronger, richer human life soon to be made available to every man. We were full of the happy excitement of sharing a soon-to-be-public secret that was going to save the world.

Were we like today's novice acidheads? It is hard for me to tell, because my perspective has changed so much. To my younger, naiver eyes, the mushroom people were idealistic as children, brave as Christian martyrs, and full of wisdom. They were an indissoluble family, destined to go forward, hand in hand, to win souls and bring in the Kingdom.

I have no idea what has become of most of them. They are not in the movement any more. Some of the conservative fringe members are still conservative fringe members. Some went "straight." A few drifted away from psychedelics to follow Meher Baba or embrace some other form of occultism. The originally most enthusiastic members just disappeared, sometimes turning up briefly in this city or that, but no longer activists. The leaders, Leary, Alpert and Metzner, apparently unmoved by the fact that their own group had fallen apart, went out to preach LSD as the key to consciousness-expansion, to new starry-eyed kids, forming new groups that fell apart in turn.

Two years ago I started a bimonthly newsletter called the Psychedelic Information Center (PIC) Bulletin, in which I reported the activities of various projects purportedly aimed at furthering the use of psychedelics for religious or philosophical purposes. The collected back issues are a catalogue of frauds and failures. I finally had to change my editorial policy, because I came to realize that I did readers a disservice to report on things like the Neo-American Church, the League for Spiritual Discovery, the psychedelic shops and so on, as if they were to be taken seriously. Most of the psychedelic projects I reported have flopped, even though the more obvious losers were screened out before printing. Those that remain are a caricature of the psychedelic vision, a mockery of the idealism of youth. (The Church of the Awakening, run by John Aiken, is an exception. It is led by older people who mean what they say.) If the utopian vision of 1962 was too good to be true, it does not follow that what came out of that had to be this bad.

Does the psychedelic experience really have to be offered to the public in the form of bizarre shows? Do the psychedelic people have to live in squalid ghettos? Does their conversation have to be a rapid-fire rap of slogans and meaningless declarations of "love"? Does LSD still have to be used so excessively and so carelessly; do freakouts have to be regular occurrences at Millbrook (Leary's mecca)? Do interpersonal relationships among acidheads have to be so shallow, so short lived? Must the leaders deliberately foster distrust between age groups? Do cheating and stealing have to be the rule among acid dealers?

The word "psychedelic" is ruined; it might as well be scrapped by those who still wish to speak earnestly about their experience. Psychedelic now means gaudy illegible posters, gaudy unreadable tabloids, loud parties and anything paisley, crowded noisy discotheques, trinket shops and the slum districts that patronize them. There was something I used to mean by psychedelic but if those posters are psychedelic, that other thing isn't. Put "psychedelic" down along with"community," "love," "religion" and other good words the hippies, with the help of Leary & Co., have corrupted. (A community is a place for people to live and work together, put down roots, raise their children and grow old. There is no psychedelic community, least of all at Millbrook, a madhouse place that nobody can stand for long. Of the group that started there, none remain except Leary and his daughter and son. In the mad scramble to be In, nobody asks what became of the people who were In last year, and the latter are silent. How long can this farce be played out? Apparently indefinitely; the turnover of Leary's followers goes on, each new group of converts as true-believing as the last, until their turn comes to fall out through divorce, rejection, psychosis or disillusionment.)

Whatever happened to the Neo-American Church Boo-Hoos whose names I used to publish (and what will happen to the new ones)? Art Kleps, "your Chief Boo-Hoo," went to Florida where he knew there was a warrant for his arrest, got raging drunk, picked a fight with his ex-wife and passed out in a railroad station where he was picked up by police and, when his identity was learned, held on the old charge. (This is what he means when he writes in his recent bulletin, "This is not a good test case - too messy.") I made the mistake of feeling sorry for him and raised $1,000 for his bail, only to have him retreat into Millbrook and refuse to appear for trial, thus causing me to lose most or possibly all of the bail money. He is able to get away with this because psychedelic people have such short memories, and because they apparently do not expect their leaders to be trustworthy.

"LSD Has Been Sold Out"

Not the least consequence of all this is the loss of the possibility of trust. A sensitive person can no longer distribute LSD after seeing how it is to be used. One can no longer buy LSD; the dealers cannot be trusted. It is unlikely that I will ever go anybody's bail again. No old head expects much of any newly announced psychedelic project (unless it goes commercial, and then it may become big and rich, but irrelevant).

Younger converts, however, may be taken in rather cruelly. Last winter a college freshman in Kansas, having been appointed Neo-American Boo-Hoo for his campus, publicized his appointment and began running LSD sessions for members. The church was soon infiltrated by federal agents, and the boy was arrested in the act of handing the sacrament to one of them. "Attaway to get busted, Jim," wrote Kleps in one of his bulletins. But when the trial approached, Jim's friends tried in vain to obtain from Kleps the membership applications of the entrapping agents, which were essential to the defense. They write: "We all tried repeatedly to get in touch with Art Kleps. The first phone call roused a secretary who didn't know who he was but promised to leave a message 'somewhere.' The second call also had vague overtones, but we finally got a message for kleps to send us the applications which the two narcotics agents had filled out during their sleuthing of Jim. The trial began, and still no membership cards showed up. We called again, and this time no one even answered the telephone. There was never any communication, no money, no support, help in any way. Tim Leary did send a cryptic note offering love and help, but little came of that. Jim was placed in the absurd position of having the money for his lawyer come from [those] he way trying to oppose, the Episcopal Church. (His father is a priest.)"

Let those be warned who think a fake church is better than none for testing the laws. In this sad letter, naivete of distance still shows through the disillusionment,e.g., in the supposition that any of the female adornments of the Millbrook estate could be described as a "secretary," and in the assumption that Art Kleps would even have wanted documents on file. In his mellower moods he has been observed to toss mail unread into the fire. The experience described is typical of what is to be expected in attempting to communicate with the estate at Millbrook (known as "Castalia" after Hesse, or maybe Kafka): the note from Leary is also typical. It is Leary's custom to offer his disciples love and help on any occasion, and to mean absolutely nothing by it.

I have been told I shouldn't publish these things, because they will weaken the image of the psychedelic movement, and that any means are justified in popularizing LSD because it is the only thing that can prevent nuclear war. This silliness is part of the Psychedelic Line, the collection of halftruths, wishful thinking, and lies repeated until they are believed, that has the movement morally paralyzed. LSD had been sold out, and it's up to anyone who still cares about, or remembers, the psychedelic experience to reject the phony, commercialized thing that has been erected in its name.

Vacant-faced kids drop by the Psychedelic Information Center and ask "What's happening?" Pressed for what they mean, they usually turn out to be looking for a rock band, or maybe a shop selling buttons, or news of the latest busts. I have nothing for them that they want, and they go away puzzled - they thought I had a Thing here, but it turns out to be just a few publications, no flashing lights, so it isn't hip.

There's still the same thing happening, of course, that's been happening since psychedelics became available: the possibility of having an experience that will reawaken a person to the basic truths he understood as a child, and point the way to becoming a better man or woman. (But even this possibility is cut off for many of the kids - they have had 100 trips and are jaded. Thus the pathetic search for drugs "stronger than acid.")

That would be the only psychedelic happening that I'd be interested in - if a few people could be helped to lead better lives with the aid of psychedelics. If the Indians can do it with peyote, it should be possible for us - if we could just get clear of the cultish, flashy, idiotic pseudo-underground.

I do have a plan for it, involving a house in the country, above ground where guided sessions will be run for small groups, by advance application. But it won't go into effect until 1970, as it will take me that long to earn enough money and make adequate preparations and plans. I have seen too many psychedelic projects fall apart to go into one of importance without considerable planning. I have been planning this for more than a year - but then there is no reason for anybody but me to believe that it will work: If another head told me he was going to do something like that, I would be skeptical. I believe it because it is my own commitment. I will not abandon the psychedelics, to which I owe my most valued experiences, to their present fate.

The LSD story up to now has been a tragedy. A tool of tremendous potential value for science, medicine and personal life enrichment has been allowed, partly by default, to become the plaything of unscrupulous cultists. Most of us have been too hypnotized by the increasing publicity attending the splashy hippy happenings to remember or assert that LSD was once thought to bear quite a different message. Whether one places the blame for its corruption on the politicians who drove LSD underground, on the academicians who allowed this to happen, or on the opportunists who took advantage of the result, the fact remains that society could hardly have done a more thorough job of confounding the good, and magnifying the evil potential in these powerful drugs if that had been the avowed intention of all concerned.

If the future of LSD is to be more wholesome than its past, it must be squarely recognized that the most publicized advocates of the psychedelic are its worst enemies. We cannot rely on them to fight our battles for us, whether it be for religious freedom, the right to do research, or the dissemination of accurate information. Flower power is no substitute for integrity.

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