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Timothy Leary on the Culture of Secrecy

Largely because of his advocacy of psychedelic drugs

Largely because of his advocacy of psychedelic drugs, Tim Leary became a high-profile political prisoner whom Nixon called “the most dangerous man in America” (the same label Nixon used to describe Daniel Ellsberg). Leary was sentenced to ten years in prison for possession of .0025 grams of cannabis.

After escaping from prison in 1970, he became the object of an international manhunt. Finally captured in Afghanistan, he was kidnapped by the CIA – there was no extradition treaty between the two countries – and brought back to face four more years in prison, including long stretches in solitary confinement, before he was released in 1976. The following is an excerpt from a text he wrote in maximum-security Folsom Prison, California, in May 1973.

-Michael Horowitz

Secrecy is the original sin. The fig leaf in the Garden of Eden. The basic crime against love. The issue is fundamental. What a blessing that Watergate has been uncovered to teach us the primary lesson. The purpose of life is to receive, synthesize and transmit energy. Communication-fusion is the goal of life. Any star can tell you that. Communication is love. Secrecy, withholding the signal, hoarding, hiding, covering up the light is motivated by shame and fear, symptoms of the inability to love. Secrecy means that you think love is shameful and bad. Or that your nakedness is ugly. Or that you hide unloving, hostile feelings. Seeds of paranoia and distrust.

Before the FBI there were no secret police. Before World War II there was no CIA and America was much less concerned with secrecy. The hidden sickness has become lethally epidemic in the last forty years. They say primly: if you have done nothing wrong, you have no fear of being bugged. Exactly. But the logic goes both ways. Then all FBI files and CIA dossiers and White House conversations should be open to all. Let everything hang open. Let government be totally visible.

The last, the very last people to hide their actions should be the police and the government.

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We operate on the assumption that everyone knows everything, anyway. There is nothing and no way to hide. This is the acid message. We’re all on cosmic TV every moment. We all play starring roles in the galactic broadcast, This is Your Life. I remember the early days of neurological uncovering, desperately wondering where I could go to escape. Run home, hide under the bed, in the closet, in the bathroom? No way. The relentless camera “I” follows me everywhere. We can only keep secrets from ourselves.

None of the legal experts get the point of Watergate. The Special Prosecutor for the Watergate scandal chasing leaks from his own staff.

We recall the political scandals involving secrets. The heroic figures around whom Washington now revolves: Dan Ellsberg and Tony Russo. Brave Russian dissenters uncovering the secrets that everyone knows about Soviet repression.

Now comes the electronic revolution. Bugging equipment effective at long distance. I laugh at government surveillance. Let the poor, deprived, bored creatures listen to our conversations, tape our laughter, study our transmissions. Maybe it will all turn them on.

Concealment is the seed-source of every human conflict. Let’s forget artificial secrets and concentrate on the mysteries.

Written in Folsom Prison, California, May 1973. Excerpted from the original version published in Neuropolitics, Starseed/Peace Press, 1977.