Timothy Leary on the Wall Street Occupation Movement

In one of his last published writings, Timothy Leary foresaw the current generation of youth making use of the exploding technology of new communication software and devices to challenge the control exerted by centralized governments and corrupt institutions. The following was written in 1990 and revised in 1994. (Michael Horowitz and Lisa Rein)

The Function of Post-Democratic Government

The primary function of a free society in the post-democratic age is the protection of individual freedom from politicians who attempt to limit it.

This individual-freedom movement is new to human history because it is not based on geography, politics, class or religion. It has to do with changes, not in the power structure, not in who controls the police, but in the individual's mind. It is a “head” revolution: a consciousness-raising affair.

Questioning Authority and Thinking for Yourself

This cultural meme involves intelligence, personal access to information, an anti-ideological reliance on common sense, mental proficiency, consciousness raising, street smarts, intelligent consumerism-hedonism, personal communication skills. The meme is not new. Countercultures go back at least as far as Hermes Trismegistus, and include Socrates and Sappho, Voltaire and Thoreau, Gurdjieff and Ginsberg.

But the rapid spread of this mutational meme from 1960 to 1990 was due to the sudden mass availability of neurochemical and electronic technology. Chemicals and screens spraying electronic information into eyedrums and earballs, activating brains. Suddenly, youth all over the world are wearing jeans and listening to John Lennon's “Give Peace a Chance.” The individuality meme that swept American youth during the 1960s has infected the world. The McLuhan epidemic keeps spreading.

The signs of this awakening are always the same. Young minds exposed to electronic information suddenly blossom like flowers in the spring. The June 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square were a classic replay of Chicago 1968 and Kent State 1970.

Power, Mao said, comes from the barrel of a gun. That may have been true in the industrial past, but in the cybernetic 1990s the very notion of political power seems anachronistic, kinky, sick. For the new breed, the concept of “political power” is hateful, evil, ghastly. The idea that any group should want to grab domination, authority, supremacy or jurisdiction over others is a primitive perversity – as loathsome and outdated as slavery or cannibalism.

It was not the Berlin Wall of concrete and guard houses that protected the “evil empire”; it was the electronic wall that was easily breached by MTV. McLuhan and Foucault have demonstrated that freedom depends upon who controls the technologies that reach your brain-telephones, the editing facility, the neurochemicals, the screen.

Mass Individualism Is New

This sudden emergence of humanism and openness on a mass scale is new and revolutionary.

In tribal societies, the role of the individual is to be a submissive, obedient child. The tribal elders do the thinking. Survival pressures do not afford them the luxury of freedom.

In feudal societies, the individual is a serf or vassal, peasant, chattel, peon, slave. The nobles and priests do the thinking. They are trained by tradition to abhor and anathematize openness and thinking for yourself.

After the tribal (familial) and feudal (childlike) stages of human evolution came the industrial (insectoid) society, where the individual is a worker or manager; in later stages, a worker-consumer.

In all these static, primitive societies, the thinking is done by the organizations that control the guns. The power of open-minded individuals to make and remake decisions about their own lives, to fabricate, concoct, invent and reinvent is severely limited.

Youth had no power, no voice, no choice.

The post-political information society does not operate on the basis of obedience and conformity to dogma. It is based on individual thinking; scientific know-how; quick exchange of facts around feedback networks; high-tech ingenuity; and practical, frontline creativity. The society of the future no longer grudgingly tolerates a few open-minded innovators. The cybernetic society is totally dependent on a large pool of such people, communicating at light speed within and without geographical boundaries. Electrified thoughts invite fast feedback, creating new global societies that require a higher level of electronic know-how, psychological sophistication and open-minded intelligence.

This cyber-communication process is accelerating so rapidly that to compete in the world information marketplace of the 21st century requires the navigational skills of change-oriented, innovative individuals who are adept in communicating via the new cyber-electronic technologies.

The new breeds are simply much smarter than the old guard. They inhale new information the way they breathe oxygen. They stimulate each other to continually upgrade and reformat their minds. People who use cyber technology to make fast decisions on their jobs are not going home and passively letting aging, close-minded politicians make decisions about their lives.

The emergence of this new open-minded caste in different countries around the world is the central historical issue of the last 40 years.

Excerpted from Timothy Leary, “The New Breed” (KnoWare, 1990); revised, Chaos and Cyber Culture (Ronin, 1994).

Published with permission of the Leary Estate.

Article edited by Michael Horowitz and Lisa Rein.