Monday, July 10, 2006

Where is my Mind?
A couple salutary links while waiting for some of my more substantial post-seedlings to blossom...

  • While I think the Phillies blog I'm involved with does a pretty solid job of analysis--and this year, helping maintain it has given me a metaphorical taste of police forensic work; this is as close as I ever hope to get to determining cause of death--there is, after all, more to life, even more to baseball, than figuring out who should get traded, who should stay, and whether Bill Dancy's third-base coaching idiocy is innate or learned. So I have to commend my new favorite (maybe that isn't quite the word) Phillies blog: I Love Misery. It's acidic balm for the Phils phan soul.

  • Whatever your opinion of the '60s, psychedelic drugs, or the cultural trends of that time, you really need to check out this New Yorker review, a few weeks old now, of a recent biography on Timothy Leary. Louis Menand, a pretty damn fine writer himself, does what I imagine is a far better job of telling Leary's story than does the biographer. And what a story: this guy was, apparently, a first-class schmuck who was married more times than Rush Limbaugh, cheated on all of them, was an awful dad to his maladjusted kids (who came to tragic ends), and eventually sold out his friends and allies to save his own ass and pal around with William Buckley and G. Gordon Liddy.

    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.
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