A couple salutary links while waiting for some of my more substantial post-seedlings to blossom...
Menand notes how the established Leary myth--of an educator and researcher who, Buddha-like, left the safe world of academia to pursue deeper knowledge and enlightenment--masks an uglier, but probably more interesting, truth. As a psychologist-turned-proselytizer for alternative lifestyles, Leary was always in one priesthood or another, but his sermonizing was strictly toward worldly ends:
Leary spent the first part of his career doing normative psychology, the work of assessment, measurement, and control; he spent the second as one of the leading proselytizers of alternative psychology, the pop psychology of consciousness expansion and nonconformity. But one enterprise was the flip side of the other, and Greenfield’s conclusion, somewhat sorrowfully reached, is that Leary was never serious about either. The only things Leary was serious about were pleasure and renown. He underwent no fundamental transformation when he left the academic world for the counterculture. He liked women, he liked being the center of attention, and he liked to get high. He simply changed the means of intoxication.
Leary's genius was more Malcolm McLaren than Aldous Huxley: he was, at core, a self-interested self-promoter. That there was a dash of messianism mixed into his monumental self-regard really just contributed to a lot of destroyed lives among people he never met. As the 1960s recede further into the past and a clearer historical picture emerges of the time, I expect we'll see a more judicious sorting of the heroic from the moronic. This account doesn't leave much doubt where Leary sits in that judgment.