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Timothy Leary as a Hero

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The term “hero” brings to mind many ideas, many events, and many people. However, one face it generally fails to conjure is that of Timothy Leary. Dr. Leary managed to create a level of infamy few Americans have achieved since this country’s inception; he is the poster-child of the mind-altering hallucinogen LSD and has been labeled by many as the subversive leader of the counter-culture movement of the sixties. Not many people appreciate this great man’s long string of accomplishments, his devotion to scientific progress, or his cheery, irrepressible personality. It is a small circle of people indeed who would label this man a hero, but the truth is that Dr. Leary embodied the principles of courage, discovery, and benevolence, which none can deny are heroic trademarks.

No man has shown more courage in the face of adversity than Timothy Leary. One great example of his valor comes from his early years as a cadet at West Point during the 1940’s. After indulging in a quantity of alcohol with some upperclassmen after a football game one evening, Leary found himself before the Cadet Honor Committee of West Point awaiting punishment. The committee decreed that he must avoid social contact of any kind, despite the fact that during his court-martial the charges brought upon him were hastily dropped. For nine months he survived this involuntary solitude, until finally the school asked him to resign because of “moral problems” that his punishment was causing. Leary agreed on the condition that his innocence would be announced in the mess hall. Two days later, he left West Point. Long afterward, after earning a doctorate in psychology and serving several professorships at prestigious institutions as Berkley and Harvard, Dr. Timothy Leary developed an interest in what he would later become famous for: psychedelics. Originally his studies were sponsored by Harvard, but after drug abuse became a major target of the mass media and politicians, a national frenzy took place and LSD became a Schedule One controlled substance. Leary, intrigued by the success of previous experimentation with the chemical and undeterred by lack of mainstream support, continued his studies privately. This eventually led to conflict between him and the DEA, the Narcotics Bureau, and the CIA. As Nixon fueled propaganda against “acid” and the counter-culture movement, Timothy Leary championed LSD as a wonderful, mind-opening tool and promoted a responsible drug policy emphasizing education, not criminalization. Unfortunately, the Establishment would not tolerate his dissenting opinions. While returning with his eighteen-year-old daughter from a trip to Mexico, border police found a small quantity of marijuana on her for which Dr. Leary quickly claimed responsibility. For possession of ten dollars worth of cannabis, Susan Leary received a sentence of five years imprisonment; Timothy Leary, thirty. Eventually, this sentence was overturned by the United States Supreme Court, but a later incident in which hashish and acid tabs were found on his person led him to inhabit a minimum security prison in San Luis Obispo to serve a ten-year sentence. This did not deter the psychologist, however. It was not long before he escaped the prison, dodging searchlights and escaping over barbed-wire fence. In vain he sought asylum in Switzerland, where he coincidentally met the discoverer of the chemical compound LSD-25, Dr. Albert Hoffman, but eventually President Nixon had him extradited back to the United States, where he served a prison sentence from 1972-76.

Timothy Leary was also quite certainly possessed by the muse of scientific innovation. After an unsuccessful military career at West Point, he eventually went on to develop an acute interest in the then-young study of psychology. In the mid-50’s, while teaching at Berkeley, he was appointed Director of Psychological Research at the Kaiser Foundation. His publication “The Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality” was both successful and ground-breaking. After several exhaustive studies involving the latest theories in psychotherapy at the time, Dr. Leary revolutionized the profession and formed a great deal of modern-day psychotherapy with the concept of a more casual, social interaction between therapist and patient, in contrast to the strictly clinical form that was formerly practiced. When a colleague, Dr. Frank Barron, introduced Leary to hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms for the first time, his initial (ironic) reaction was warn Barron that he risked losing scientific credibility. Nevertheless, shortly afterwards, the opportunity presented itself unto him to “trip,” and Leary, intrigued by the natives’ use of the mushroom as a religious sacrament, delved into the subject which would become his proverbial “calling card” throughout the Sixties. Most impressive of all,

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