A few weeks ago, as I was researching a blog post, I noticed something in the Wikipedia biography of Timothy Leary: "He was noted for his strong views against the use of drugs which 'dull the mind' such as heroin, morphine and (more than occasional) alcohol ... "
Given the ongoing opioid-opiate epidemic (pretty strong in Ohio, where I live) and the fact that alcohol abuse remains a big problem right now, this seems quite prescient. I wanted to know more, but I didn't know where to look in Leary's books. So I wrote to two Leary biographers. (What a weird world this blog has created for me, that I know two Timothy Leary biographers well enough to write to them.)
John Higgs suggested Flashbacks, Leary's autobiography, and The Politics of Ecstasy. R.U. Sirius also mentioned Flashbacks.
I put both books on hold at one of my local libraries, and The Politics of Ecstasy arrived first. It turned out to have an introduction by Sirius. I wasn't really sure I would actually read all of it, but it was so energetic and entertaining I read the whole thing. (My copy was the abbreviated Ronin Press edition, with many chapters of the original title published as a separate book, Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out.)
Leary is a very vivid writer. "You read this page, light hits your eyes, and your brain sees squiggles of black and white which are words. Do you believe that you are really reading what Timothy Leary wrote? Does this pattern of black and white lines lead you to believe in the existence of a seed-bearing, soul-carrying human being, Timothy Leary, who sat one New Year's Day at a wood-grained desk littered with notes, clippings, books, loose tobacco, coffee cups, ashtrays, looking out a picture window at the silver-gray expanse of the Pacific Ocean, writing these lines?" (pages 31-32)
And it turned out there was quite a bit in the book about opiates and alcohol. "Alcohol dulls the mind game and produces emotional stupor." (Page 42.)
Here are a couple of provocative paragraphs:
"It is of interest that the heroin addict and the illuminated Buddha end up at the same place. The void. The junkie is a deeply religious person. The alcoholic is, too. Thus our physicians and psychiatrists have no luck in 'curing' addicts. If you see an addict as a social misfit, a civic nuisance who must be rehabilitated, you completely miss the point.
"To cure the junkie and the alcoholic, you must humbly admit that he is a more deeply spiritual person than you, and you accept the cosmic validity of his search to transcend the game, and you help him see that blackout drugs are just bad methodology because you just can't keep holding the 'off' switch and that the way to reach the void is through psychedelic rather than anesthetic experience." (Page 43.)
Well, that takes care of the stigma problem! Leary's emphasis on psychedelics seems a bit dated - later on, he got more interested in personal computers - but if you read this as "feed your head rather than blacking out," as I choose to, it holds up just fine.
All of those quotes are from the introductory essay, "The Seven Tongues of God," originally delivered as a lecture at a meeting in Lutherans in 1963, that I thought was the best piece in the book. There is quite a bit in it about Leary's seven-circuit (later eight) model of consciousness, which he apparently developed years before Robert Anton Wilson wrote about it in Prometheus Rising.
A couple of other good Leary digs at alcohol and narcotics:
[From the section that relates each of the seven circuits to a particular drug]:
"7. The Anesthetic State is produced by narcotics, barbiturates, and large doses of alcohol. Anyone can reach the void by self-administration of stupefacients. Most Americans know just how to pass out.
"6. The State of Emotional Stupor is produced by moderate doses of alcohol. Three martinis do nicely." (Page 45.)
And from an interview with "Playboy" magazine: "The lowest levels of consciousness are sleep and stupor, which are produced by narcotics, barbiturates and our national stupefacient, alcohol." (Page 136).