Thursday, April 26, 2007

Leary vs. Freud

So I was reading a book by Leary during my lunch at work, and some guy stopped by to ask what I was reading. I oblige the question by flipping the book closed and show the cover. The guy is like "Leary?!! You mean the druggie guy?". Rather than comment about the interesting characterization he chose, I rolled with it and just said it was one and the same. He moseyed on, probably thinking I'm a "druggie" as well.

I guess I'm not exactly a "mainstream" guy if that's not already patently obvious from this blog...but the reaction of this person I found very interesting, and it made me wonder how and why some people get characterizations such as "druggie" when a term like that for someone such as Leary is so obviously limiting and, well, ignorant. I guess William S. Burroughs would get the same narrow characterization from the mainstream, as well.

Sure, he quite literally did what could only be called proselytizing for psychedelics in particular LSD. But that's not the sum total of the man, not by far. Giving Leary a characterization like this is like labeling Freud a "cokehead" or a "druggie" for his use of, and advocacy for, cocaine and stopping at that narrow characterization.

While pondering this, I recently subbed to Boing Boing's Get Illuminated podcast, and the first podcast talks about Leary (with Rushkoff). The fact that the man is still being talked about today shows that he's not merely some "druggie".

I have not (yet) read biographies of either Freud or Leary, but I suspect even an overview of the two would give me a clear picture of why one is still okay to discuss in polite circles (without getting into the details, anyway) while the other seems to get the dismissive label. I wonder if it's more the time they advocated drug use, if it's the type of drug they advocated, or the challenge that they may or may not have posed to authority. I know Leary wrote and spoke directly against authority, but then so did Ben Franklin, so what is it about Leary that made him so dangerous (enough to have Nixon call him out on that)?

Having ALSO just finished reading a biography on Edward L. Bernays (who just happens to be the nephew of Freud), I also wonder about the power of propaganda and just how this might have been used against the likes of Leary to achieve that characterization.

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