No one will ever convict the 60s of a being a dull decade. Whereas many equate the 1950s with a certain complacency amid paralyzing fear of Communism and The Bomb, the 60s became Ground Zero for a lot of social movements that, for all intents and purposes, got their embryonic beginnings the decade earlier.
In the midst of all this social upheaval came pundits, seekers and guides – the ones who came looking for answers and the ones who proclaimed finding them. It was a decade where seemingly everything came into question, including our brains, our motives, our thoughts.
Timothy Leary, although not the first, certainly became the most vocal in this quest for self-examination. Who were we, what were we doing, where were we going; these were issues that started being asked during the Eisenhower Years – they became the mantra for the 60s. Everything we said and did came under scrutiny in the 60s – there was no norm or institution that escaped.
Add to it the generational component; that desire of all youth to not do or become what your parents were or did, and you had a generation seeking different avenues of coping – different methods of achieving comfortably numb or alarmingly enlightened. The world was an insane place, made more insane by the shrinking of it from developments in Technology and speed of communication – coupled with youthful exuberance – that certain “world is my oyster” swagger and sheer kinetic energy, you were bound to have a perfect storm brewing.
And so when Timothy Leary proclaimed Turning on – Tuning In and Dropping Out to be a virtue – it was embraced on an almost mass scale. Sure, there were those who balked – thought the world had lost its collective mind and that this generation; the Baby Boomers, were in the grips of some demonic, self-destructive power. There were the arguments of “tearing it all down and then building something else” with “build something else first before tearing it all down” – became a tug-of-war of ideologies. But times were moving fast – events were taking place in rapid succession. We more or less had to think on our feet – and sometimes our feet took us to questionable places and dark alleys.
On May 3, 1967 Massachusetts Institute Of Technology staged a debate – between Dr. Timothy Leary and Jerome Lettvin over the issue of LSD and whether its use was a good thing or bad thing. Naturally, Leary was vigorously in favor, while Lettvin was diametrically opposed. By 1967, Leary had achieved a goodly amount of notoriety as an advocate for use of a wide range of drugs, and getting arrested for them, as well as getting bounced out of several universities for advocating their use. But by this time he had become a folk hero and Pop Star.
Whether he was right or wrong in the long run is still up for debate – because honestly, the 60s aren’t really over – the roller coaster ride hasn’t come to a full and complete stop yet and we’re still wearing our seatbelts.
We’re still looking – we’re still hoping – we’re still human.
Have a listen to this debate from May 3, 1967 – 51 years ago. Monitor your reactions, you may be surprised.