The last few days, I've been listening to old audio recordings of Timothy Leary. I've known he was for quite a while, of course, but it's always interesting to hear people in their own words in the time they were made famous, rather than just looking at the 'historical' version of them. Granted, listening to what they said at the time only gives you their public face, but in the case of cultural icons, that's what attracted all the people, so it's an interesting way to view them.
Of Leary, I would say that thus far, I find him easier to listen to than Terrance McKenna, albeit, I've mostly listening to a younger Leary and an older McKenna so it's possible their mannerisms were different at the opposite respective points in their lives. On the whole though, I find that Leary presents himself more clearly and directly where McKenna speaks in (sometimes poorly chosen) metaphors, and his pop-culture references can begin to wear on me quite quickly.
That's not to say that I find Dr. Leary agreeable. There are a few things he's said that I found interesting and engaging, but I'm also very struck by just how much a man of his time he was. I like the concept of "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out", except for two things. 1) "Drop Out" is probably a poorly-chosen phrase that did not help his movement. 2) His explanation of it is incredibly elitist, as is the design of the League of Spiritual Discovery. I think he must have really loved Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land
and saw himself as something of a combination of Hershawl and Smith.
His assertion for dropping out is that you can make these beautiful spiritual discoveries and then stop being part of the machine and have society take care of you while you do your deeply important philosophical stuff, and if you're not smart enough to find a way to get the system to support you, you're obviously not ready.... Riiiight.
The implication here is that trust-fund babies and George W. Bush are more spiritually enlightened than the rest of us. Sorry. Not buying it. I also disagree with the idea that pursuing spiritual stuff is the greatest thing one can aspire to. I don't think it's a bad thing to do. I spend a great deal of time pondering the nature of the universe, the seat of consciousness, and stuff like that BUT there's a certain point where I feel spirituality is an excuse to not be doing something more challenging. Pushing yourself artistically to create new fantasy worlds, researching math and science to understand the nature of this world and create new things. I'm sure Galileo, DiVinci, and Copernicus would agree with me. These things are all deeply deeply spiritual in a way that prayer can never be.
Coming back to Leary's League for Spiritual Discovery... It had the same trappings as Catholicism and Scientology. An elite 'inner circle' "Knows all the answers(tm)" or at the very least, supposedly knows the road to enlightenment. Yet, as stated in most religions, the way to divinity lies within. I think more than anything, it's the artificial hierarchies that religions create which bother me most. They're all created with good intentions that run something along the lines of,
"Wow! I've discovered this beautiful important meaningful thing about myself. I want to share it because I want everyone else to experience my bliss!"
The problem is.. There aren't any shortcuts. You found some imagery and ideas that made things click for you, but those things aren't going to work for everyone. Yet they get enshrined as words of law and people stop thinking about them. A lot of people don't have time to spend weeks on spiritual self-discovery. Religion gives them comfort perhaps because they feel secure they've got some 'special insider knowledge' but unless they invest that time in doing some serious navel-gazing, they don't have what they think they have... Or do they? Commoner and priest alike have a security blanket that suits the time they can devote to spirituality. I suppose it works okay, assuming the priests are truly humble and genuinely devoted to continuing to deepen their understanding. However, to my eyes, that often isn't the case. Because they need society to support them so they can continue being priests, they become invested in the status quo. They stop being scientists and become law enforcement.
In the modern world, with all this communication and longer lifespans, and people having more time to explore deeper spirituality on their own, the clergy must feel really threatened. They're no longer as special as they were and it's harder for them to 'drop out'. It's creating something of a backlash, turning further from the path of scientists to the path of law enforcers and, in turn, doing more harm to the very thing they were struggling to protect. More and more you have slick commercial mega-churches. They don't inspire you with the stunning artwork that a cathedral has. They don't provide awe and wonder and create in you a sense of desire to learn more about this beautiful universe we live in. They instill fear. They demand submission. They seek to control because they are invested in an anachronistic hierarchy.
So... Getting back to the question: How do I change the world... It now becomes apparent that there are multiple paths.
1) Make the clergy feel secure: Difficult. Very difficult. People (like me) who were harmed by the church, strike out against them and would probably tear them down to the last brick, given the chance. Therein is maybe some small thing I can do. Above, I mentioned that as security blankets for the masses, they serve a useful function and can aid others in moving along their path when they are at a point that they're ready for it. Religion has purpose and meaning. I understand that purpose and the fears of its functionaries. My rage towards them then, solves nothing. It drives the clergy to become more hard-nosed about 'the law' and hurts the followers, driving them deeper into the arms of said protection. So. I can effect change by letting go of my rage. (I'm pretty sure that's been said in one or more religions. Nothing new here.)
2) Become the Clergy: This is the dangerous path that Leary took. The risk is becoming invested in the system and becoming part of the problem. Though I wouldn't limit clergy to being part of a religious organization. Anyone who inspires runs that risk. How many musicians developed a new style that amazed the world, then spent the next 20 years re-hashing the same style because their fans rejected their attempts to break out. We're creatures easily excited by new things but who quickly retreat to comfort and safety. The real trick for clergy is to continue inspiring and exciting. Spirituality, the arts, and science all feed one another, each inspiring the other. I think this is where Leary was mistaken. You can't 'drop out'. You need to stay engaged in the world. Never take yourself too seriously and never be afraid of criticism. Whatever you're creating or exploring, show it, share it, inspire!
3) Dissolve the hierarchy: ... This one is tantamount to "1: Steal underwear. 3: Profit." It's been the goal of so many movements. It's a beautiful idea. Hierarchies are largely an artificial construct. Consider for a moment the food chain. Who is the apex predator? The wolf or the tape-worms who laze about in his belly? Or the fungi which will feast on both when they are dust, or perhaps the plants who grow in the enriched soil... Our world is made of loops and webs and very few actual hierarchies. Still. Dissolving the hierarchy requires that all people find some way to be healthy, happy, and live with their fellows. Yet... If we give up desire, we'd cease to be. At present, I don't see a way to fully dissolve the hierarchy without removing life from the equation and that simply isn't an acceptable answer.
Perhaps there's someone smarter than me who has a solution, but until they present it, I would suggest instead that reducing and redirecting the existing hierarchy is the sanest way to go. This IS happening. In Leary's day, women's liberation hadn't happened. Most towns in the US were still segregated. Non-christian religions were seldom mentioned in a national context and were portrayed as primitive and brutal heathen practices in fantasy stories. Lesbian, gay, and transgendered rights were non-existant barely 30 years ago. Most men wore the same suit and haircut as everyone he worked with. You never saw offices filled with people with blue hair, tattoos, and eyebrow piercings. As a species, we've done a lot of growing up in barely a generation. We've got a lot further to go, of course, but we've already passed the tipping point. Point of fact, we passed the tipping point back around 1215AD and we've been picking up speed ever since. So.. Here's the secret to #3... 1+2=3 ;)
Anyhow. This has been much too long-winded so I'm going to hush before I trip over my own ego (or realize I tripped over it 2 paragraphs in)