Turning the Head, or Turning On

1966

Talking to an audience at San José State University, Alan Watts recounts the first time he tried consciousness-altering substances after meeting Aldous Huxley. He argues that Western society largely isn’t ready for the mystical experience which can be triggered in these mental states, but nonetheless advocates for them, as they may arouse positive transformation in the human collectivity.

Mentioned:

00:00

I suppose that, next to the question of racial disturbance, there is no more controversial problem about the domestic affairs of this country at the present time than drugs. The word “drugs” has a very funny semantic problem. You have a place called a “drugstore,” which is perfectly inoffensive and a regular part of the scene of life in these United States. But at the same time you have a word, “drug,” as when we say a person is drugged, which means that he is happy but incompetent; under the influence of heavy medical sedation. We also have another word that should be “drugged” (I suppose, if we use it in that way), which is called “drunk.” Because a person even pleasantly inebriated with alcohol is just as much drugged as a person who might be under the influence of morphine. He is rendered insensitive and vaguely sleepy.

01:52

Now, I should explain how I came to be interested in the problem which has now become so controversial: of the influence of chemicals on the human mind. For many, many years—more than thirty years—I’ve been interested in the psychology of religion pretty much as a disciple of William James, who was really the first outstanding psychologist of religion, who tried to understand what is going on when people have religious experiences. And he concentrated finally, and rather particularly, on a certain class of religious experience.

02:48

There are experiences of visions which people have, revelations—they see Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, Krishna, Buddha, or who have you—but these are, in a certain way, less interesting than the experiences in which the individual has a sudden transformation of his sense of being alive. These experiences occur sometimes quite spontaneously—to children, to adolescents, or to anyone—at almost any time of life. Sometimes they occur as the apparent result of a discipline, as if you practiced yoga, zen meditation, or catholic contemplative prayer. And sometimes they occur as a result of certain ingestions of chemicals.

04:00

The interesting type of this experience is when the individual is brought to realize something that we’ll have to describe from a number of different points of view. The experience itself is extremely simple. The only thing that is complicated is when we start to try to describe it in language. The experience itself, in its utmost simplicity, was once written down by somebody who took nitrous oxide and had a sense of total clarity about all the problems of life. And as he came to out of the experience, he had his pencil poised over a sheet of paper to write down what was the real nitty-gritty about this. And he wrote it down. He really got the point. Then, when he returned to normal consciousness, he looked at what he had written, and he saw that what he had written was: “Everything in this universe is the smell of burnt almonds”—over which the academic community had a good laugh and said, “Well, obviously this was a perfectly frivolous enterprise.”

05:30

But upon mature consideration, everything in this universe is the smell of burnt almonds. That is to say: take any particular experience, such as the smell of burnt almonds, or looking into the eyes of the person you love, or eating a steak, flying an airplane, lying on the beach in the sun—any experience. There is a way in which that experience implies everything else in the universe. The word “implies” is probably better than the word “is.” It’s to say there are certain states of consciousness in which you experience that everything is interconnected: everything “goeswith” everything else.

06:31

I knew a woman who got in an accident in an elevator. She hadn’t taken any drugs. But in this accident she was pinned with her leg caught in the mechanism, and she was there for half an hour before anybody could get to her rescue. She was having agonies. But she knew that she simply had to wait. There was nothing to do about it. So she completely accepted her situation. And she said that in that time she realized—to put it in her own words—there is not a single grain of dust in this whole universe that is out of place. In other words: that peculiar, painful, unwanted situation was somehow made acceptable and alright because it fitted in to a harmonious arrangement which involved everything that was happening, that had happened, or that ever would happen.

07:38

And whether you approve of this kind of experience or not, whether you think it’s rational or not, it keeps happening spontaneously—through discipline, or as a consequence of chemical agencies—to thousands of people. And it is, of course, one of the generating forces in the things we call the great religions of the world. Obviously, Jesus Christ had an experience of this kind, which brought him to the feeling that he, as a living organism, was an expression of what he called (in the language available to him) “God the Father.” “I and the Father are one. He who has seen me has seen the Father.” That was an absolutely unacceptable pronouncement to his contemporaries, and so he got crucified.

08:45

We are, I hope, a more tolerant age. And we are, I think, really in need of experiencing the relationship of the individual to the physical world in a way that is more positive, more constructive, more friendly, more close than that which expresses itself in a hostile technology bent on the domination and the conquest of nature considered as something alien to the human spirit, mechanical, thoughtless, and stupid, that surrounds us as the mere featureless energy behind the galaxies.

09:39

If indeed it were possible for many of us to have a sensation of not just merely belonging in this world, but being it—if we could feel that our separate individuality is a coming and going expression of what it is that is happening through all the cycles of time and generations of cosmoses—we’d be able to cool it a bit and not be so frantic in our pursuit of survival. It might be a very good thing. And that’s simply giving an explanation of why I personally have been interested in exploring the psychology and the conditions of this kind of experience for so many years.

10:42

Now then, in the middle 1950s, a British psychiatrist by the name of Humphry Osmond persuaded a British novelist by the name of Aldous Huxley to take a dose of mescaline. And in the thought that, at the time, this was a drug which induced states of consciousness similar to schizophrenia, Humphry Osmond realized that Aldous Huxley was a marvelous master of words, and therefore it might be a good idea to see: if this experience were given to a man who could describe things in a wonderfully accurate and vivid way, we might learn something about what it does. Aldous Huxley didn’t simply deliver a private report to the doctors, he rushed into print and published a book called The Doors of Perception, in which he said, in effect, that he felt from his point of view that having taken mescaline gave him an experience which he could not but identify with the great mystical experience of Man’s integration with the universe, which of course had been known through all history.

12:13

And when I read this as a student of the psychology of religion, I was naturally fascinated, but unbelieving it. I thought, you know, Aldous sometimes goes off the deep end. I knew him very well, and i know he had a kind of enthusiasm for all kinds of novelty. He had foreseen, in his novel Brave New World, that there might be a way of drugging human beings into sort of perpetual contentment and happiness so that they would give no further trouble to each other. And, of course, everybody had put this down and said that would be the end of the human spirit. And so I thought maybe this is another of Aldous’ weird things, and slightly dismissed it.

13:05

But then the psychiatrists who had involved him in this finally got in touch with me. Because they said, “You’re supposed to be an authority on the psychology of religion, and we’d like to know what you think about drug-induced mysticism.” So I was foolish enough at the time to accept an invitation to stand in for Aldous Huxley at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Los Angeles. He couldn’t be present, and they asked me to talk about this in his place. I had not at that time experienced any of these drugs, and I simply gave a theoretical talk on [the subject, and said if indeed they do] produce something like the deepest religious experience, I would imagine that it would be like the sensation of swimming with water wings: that you’re kept up by so-called artificial means, you get a notion of how it is to float, but as yet you haven’t actually learned how to swim. And you know that magical moment—because almost everybody in this room, I presume, knows how to swim—and you remember the magical moment when you suddenly found you could trust yourself to the water and keep afloat. And it was something a little bit beyond, a little bit different, than being kept up by a life jacket or water wings. Well, in a way, I still preserve this point of view with regard to the relation of psychedelic chemicals to mysticism.

14:39

But let me go on with the story of what actually happened. Somewhat later, one of the doctors who had been associated with Aldous Huxley said to me, “Will you actually try this out and give us your views on it?” And it’s very nice to be flattered as an authority. And also, I was just plain curious. And I’m the sort of person who’ll try anything once. And so I submitted to being dosed with a hundred micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide number 25—which, baby, is not what you call acid! It’s a very specific and particular chemical. And I had an extraordinarily interesting experience—but I felt that it was an aesthetic experience, not a mystical experience, and so reported: it was just fascinating the changes of one’s sense perception.

15:45

It was as if—you know, a gadget called a teleidoscope, which is a combination of a kaleidoscope and a telescope? You look through this thing, and it models everything you look at in fascinating patterns according to its own inner structure. And I felt that this drug did exactly the same thing as that: that it modified your nervous system in a certain way like looking through a kaleidoscope-telescope instead of a telescope-telescope. And it just jazzed everything up. And that was very interesting, and so what?

16:21

Then, later on, another psychiatrist approached me. He was in San Francisco at Langley Porter and said, “I don’t think you’ve really gone into this deeply enough! I think I could point out certain things to you that would be interesting.” Because, you see, this drug is something that you have to learn how to use, just as you would learn how to use a microscope. There’s a certain technique to it. Supposing you’re a biologist or a bacteriologist: you’ve got to learn the art of using the the instrument.

16:59

So I said, “Okay, okay, okay. Let’s try it again.” I was very skeptical of the whole thing. And lo and behold, I had what I simply could not deny being an experience of cosmic consciousness: the sense of complete, fundamental, total unity forever and ever with the whole universe. And not only that, but that what this thing was, fundamentally—despite everything and every kind of appearance in ordinary life to the contrary—that the energy behind the world was ecstatic bliss and love. Well, I was very embarrassed by this, because I thought, “Gee, you can’t get mysticism out of a bottle. That’s degrading everything!” But yet, I couldn’t deny the fact that it had happened.

18:02

So then, by this time Aldous Huxley had rushed into print, and had let the cat out of the bag that this kind of experience was possible through chemicals. At that time, neither he nor I knew that this would become a tremendous popular rage. But I felt that I had a certain responsibility as somebody who knew something about the psychology of religion. And since he had come out in print, and the idea was getting around that this was possible, I ought to say a few things about it in addition that would induce wisdom, caution, and responsibility about the whole thing. And so I recorded my own experiences of this kind of thing in a book called The Joyous Cosmology, to which I appended not only—since the center part of the book was a description of the experiences that I’d actually had, and then there was a prologue and an epilogue which were concerned with the social problems, psychological problems that might attend this kind of practice. And of course these are things that have assumed almost catastrophic dimensions.

19:35

Suddenly, in other words, the whole world of young people caught on to this thing and said, “Let’s turn on! Let’s have this experience!” And then, when Timothy Leary got in the act, all caution was thrown to the winds. And he felt that this is something that everybody really owed to himself. Everybody ought to be turned on! Well, I wasn’t so sure about that. Because I wouldn’t say everybody ought to sail around the world in an open sailboat. I mean, it’s a great thing if you can do it, but I wouldn’t, sort of, recommend it to anyone. I wouldn’t say that everybody ought to spend three weeks absolutely alone in a forest to find out who you are. If you can take it, it’s a great experience. But I wouldn’t want to shove it down your throat.

20:39

And, incidentally, that’s the reason I ceased being a minister of religion. I was one for a while, but I found myself in the awkward position of supporting missionaries: of people saying this Christianity is so great, that you’ve all got to have it. And I don’t believe that, however good a thing there may be in the world, that you should force it on people. You should offer it, yes—you should make it available. But don’t shove it down the throat. And always observe the saying of Jesus, which ought to be very embarrassing to the missionaries of Jesus: “Give not that which is holy unto dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.”

21:33

So I don’t want to define and advance who are swine and who are not, but I do think there is to be observed a very great caution in handing out anything good. After all, you don’t serve oysters Rockefeller to your children, because what they want is hot dogs or hamburgers and ice cream. You have to have a certain taste and a certain palate to appreciate things like that. And this is even more true when something you’re going to do involves a certain element of danger. And we all saw right away that the use of psychedelic chemicals could be dangerous as well as illuminating.

22:27

Why? For a very simple reason: that the mystical experience is something rather badly handled in Western culture because we’re not used to it. It’s not something which our standard brands of religion have done anything much about. They preach morals, they don’t help people to find cosmic consciousness. And therefore, in the context of Western culture, a person who has the mystical experience is very liable to get up and announce that he’s God the Father almighty, and that he’s personally in charge of the whole universe, and that this is at the same time a terrible responsibility—so much so that a boy down in Los Angeles who took some black market LSD and had a very troublesome experience turned himself into the police with a little note saying, “Please help me,” signed, “Jehovah.”

23:42

Other people have imagined that they are perfectly weightless and can walk out of a window and fly. Other people have imagined that they understand everything completely, that they can predict the future and remember all the past, that they can understand the meaning of any foreign language spoken to them instantly, and all sorts of marvelous things like that. And this is because of their traditional idea of becoming God and being omniscient and omnipotent. And because they feel that very basic sense of being one with everything that’s happening, they misinterpret this through the screen, through the conditioning, of their Western Christian Jewish culture to mean: I am personally in charge of everything that’s going on. And therefore they get megalomania, delusions of grandeur and all that kind of thing. And so an unsupervised experience with this kind of thing can sometimes be quite disastrous.

24:51

Now then, we have therefore various things to consider. Is the experience induced by such a chemical as LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, or the humble cannabis—is it valuable socially or is it simply a hallucination? If we might begin with the peculiar state of mind induced by alcohol: let’s first of all consider that. Is the feeling of comfort and ease and relaxation which you experience through alcohol a real relaxation, a real comfort? Or is it a hallucination? Well, we can say that alcohol does have a valuable service to mankind to a certain extent. Mild quantities of this chemical make people less uptight, make them socialize easily, relax them to have a good appetite before dinner—but only in very strict moderation. More than enough of this chemical is deleterious to the whole human organism, and therefore it should be taken only in slight quantities, and is best handled as the French have handled the cult of fine wines, where you drink for the taste rather than the kick. And the cult of French wines lies behind the whole cult of French cooking, and is a highly civilizing influence. Hooray for that! But it’s strictly in moderation. Beyond that point, it’s really not so good.

27:02

But what about these other things? We find that all of these, strictly speaking, psychedelic chemicals—to be specific again: lysergic acid, mescaline, psilocybin, cannabis, and to a lesser extent the tryptamine drugs which have not been so fully explored—that these chemicals are not addictive as is alcohol, as is heroin, morphine, and things of that order, in that, if a person stops using them, he does not suffer from withdrawal symptoms, and also he does not have to keep increasing the dosage in order to produce the peculiar effects which they induce. But the question remains: is the change of consciousness which they produce (a) socially valuable, and (b) anything which gives us a better view of reality, or is it just a hallucination?

28:21

Now, let me take the second point first. The basic transformation of consciousness which comes about through the use of psychedelic chemicals is probably best described as one of polar feeling. You feel that everything outside is not the opposite of, or contradiction of, the inside, but it just goes with it. You feel that the figure always goes with its background. And therefore you see in a funny way that all human behavior goes together in such a way that you cannot have saints without sinners, you cannot have cops without robbers, you cannot have failures without successes, and vice versa. You cannot have the good and the valuable in life without the background contrast of the failure and the evil. And also, you cannot have life without death.

29:47

And that’s a rather shocking realization. Because, you see, our culture is geared to the idealism of having the good without the evil, of using medicine to bring us to the point where we don’t need to die, so that we can have life without death, and of reforming and psychotherapizing people so that we can have all good law-abiding citizens and no criminals. All sane people, and nobody in the asylums. And yet, and yet, and yet, and yet, from another point of view, you can see that, were there no sick people, there would be no incentive for the study of medicine. Were there no crazy people, there would be no incentive to the study of psychology: finding out about the human mind. And were there no wicked people, there would be no puzzle and thinking about the problems of ethics.

30:54

So that you arrive, sometimes, at this funny point of view where you see that everybody, however bad, has an essential contribution to the totality of life. And you don’t know quite what to do with that kind of insight. One, you’re inclined to say it’s completely subversive. And yet, from another point of view, you say: but it isn’t subversive, because it shows that everything is somehow in its proper place. But at any rate, that is a point of view which is very largely brought about by the use of these chemicals.

And therefore you can very easily see why any kind of government would be uneasy about it, because they would feel it undermines conscience—that is to say, it enables people to feel not so guilty about themselves. And every government manages people by exploiting and working on their sense of guilt, because everybody in this room has a private secret. There’s something about yourself that you’re not going to talk about publicly, something you’re frightened of or ashamed of, and any good psychologist can worm it out of you and brainwash you and exploit your peculiar temptation or your peculiar psychosis and make you hate yourself because of it, and therefore expiate for your sins by going along with his particular designs and his particular form of punishment to relieve you of your guilt.

So exploitation of guilt is the primary method of dictatorships of wrangling you into obeying the directives of an authoritarian government. Watch it! Because the idea that all men are equal in the sight of God becomes under the administration of dictators the idea that all men are equally inferior. You’re all criminals, and therefore the police can be rude to all of you. Everyone’s a crook until proved innocent. But the basis, of course, of our notions of common law is that everybody is innocent until proved guilty, a principle that is observed more in the breach than otherwise. So there is, then, a kind of a threat in this sort of experience.

31:39

Now, let’s go on to consider: is it a fantasy, or is it in any way true? Let’s suppose I experience that my own individual existence is completely continuous with the existence of everything else. That I’m a part of nature—not merely a part, but an expression of the whole activity of the universe. Is that a hallucination? How am I to judge? The criteria by which we judge today are the ideas of our scientists. And if I go to the biologist, the physicist, the chemist, I find out that his description of me as a human being fits better with this so-called hallucination than does my normal state of consciousness. In my normal state of consciousness, in which I am a product of a certain culture which believes that every individual is a separate soul (or Freudian ego) inhabiting a physical vehicle, I feel myself alienated from and separate from everything else that goes on. But if I’m described by a biologist, I’m nothing of the kind. A biologist describes me as an organism-environment: not an organism in an environment, but an organism-environment. The way that he describes my behavior: he describes my behavior as the same thing as the behavior of my environment. He’ll go further than that. He’ll describe the behavior of my environment as the same thing as my behavior. We are a single field of process, or what is sometimes called a transaction.

33:40

In other words, the fact that the sun is light is the result of my nervous system. My nervous system turns the sun into light. And the sun would not be light unless my nervous system and your nervous system made it so. So, in a way, you make the world. At the same time, your nervous system is in the same physical world as the sun. And likewise, sometimes, under the influence of psychedelic chemicals, you feel that everything that’s going on is simply inside your head. The next moment you feel that your head is inside everything that’s going on. And then you feel that everything that’s going on inside your head—it sort of caps itself, like this; like a game that children play. But both points of view are true.

34:39

But what I’m going to say is: the feeling of my being continuous with everything that’s happening in the physical world fits the facts as described by science more accurately than the normal subjective feeling of my being something merely in the world, being pushed around by some extent, and being able on my own part to push it around to some extent—but basically a stranger in the Earth. So, upon that sort of criterion I feel that the change of consciousness induced by such a chemical fits the facts of scientific observation better than the normal kind of consciousness which I’ve been taught in my family and my schooling, where I’ve been given a feeling of my own existence that is simply the mythology of a particular culture.

35:38

And also I go on to feel that it may be quite important that my state of consciousness be changed for our general survival. Because if I feel myself alien from and against my natural environment, the likelihood is that I shall pick a fight with it, and that I shall use technological power to destroy it, and not to cooperate with it. This, I can see, is what our culture is already doing. And therefore, it impresses itself upon me that there is a certain urgency for human beings’ minds being changed so that they can cooperate with their environment and not fight it.

36:22

So then, the idea occurs to me: is it perhaps providential that at this time in history a chemical agent makes itself available which will enable us to treat the disease of alienated consciousness, of hostility to the world—could it be as providential that this is found in the 20th century as Jenner found smallpox vaccine in the 19th century? That’s not inconceivable.

37:01

Arthur Koestler—who is a very sober gentleman, and with whom I’ve had considerably bitter arguments about his estimation of oriental philosophy—has in this book, The Ghost in the Machine, come out with the notion that maybe the only thing that can save technological man from destroying himself is to treat his neurology directly; to alter it. And some neurologists are seriously beginning to talk about the necessity for peace technology. We might call it chemical peacefare.

37:43

But there is among so many of us a resentment to this whole idea, because we say it means, then, that you are reducing the human spirit to mere chemicals. And that we cannot tolerate. I remember being at a meeting of psychiatrists, and someone was talking about the marvelous uses of things like thorazine and reserpine in treating mental disturbance. And this man said, “If I ever thought that my profession of psychiatry would be reduced to giving pills, I would become a used automobile salesman.” The feeling—in other words, this is a great put-down on human beings—if all that you are is chemicals, so what?

38:43

But, but, but! Our experience (again and again and again in the use of these chemicals) does not go along with that view. We have found that—and this has been pretty much statistically verified by people working at Silver Springs, Maryland, which is the official United States center for research with psychedelics—that there is no necessary connection between taking, say, LSD and having a mystical experience. It may happen and it may not happen. Because it depends on factors beyond the drug itself. It depends on to whom it is given, and under what circumstances it is given, and by whom it is given. In other words, the function of the chemical is purely instrumental.

39:44

Here you’ve got a gorgeous piano made by Steinway company. Beautiful! Crazy! And anybody who knows nothing about playing the piano can flitter his fingers around on the Steinway and it produces sounds that are essentially, in themselves, excellent because the piano is a fine instrument, but they are not ordered in any kind of musical coherence. Give the same instrument to an expert and he uses it marvelously. And it’s exactly the same thing with psychedelic chemicals: anybody can have a ball with them, just like anybody can have a ball looking through a microscope or a telescope, but not everyone can use them to produce religious experience, or profound aesthetic experience, or, as in many cases, scientific inventiveness. It depends on what you bring to it, what you get out of it.

40:51

So we must regard these things as very strictly instrumental. They do not do for you anything which you yourself, in a way, don’t bring to it. But there always is, naturally, the temptation to feel that salvation lies in the bottle, salvation lies in the pill, and if we only could take this thing we should somehow be transported. And that this is not the case is proved by the increasing number of people who have taken what I’ll call street acid under the worst sort of circumstances: not knowing what it’s even made of, what the dosage is, and having no regard to the conditions in which it is taken, and that had the so-called famous “bad trips.” Of course. And I must underline the fact: don’t use street acid! You don’t know what it is. Of course, if you’re willing to play Russian roulette and you’re willing to take all sorts of gambles, I suppose it’s a free country. But it really isn’t very sensible. You can take risks which are not under your control, and you don’t know what to do with it.

42:18

On the other hand, when we consider from a social point of view what we’re going to do about this, it isn’t simply that there is lysergic acid of some sort running around on the streets in the black market, mescaline, psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine, but also, of course, our old friend marijuana—which, here there’s no particular question about whether it’s bad marijuana. It’s just a vegetable.

42:55

And what should be public policy with regard to these things? I feel very strongly that, in a country where we value freedom, we must not attempt to legislate morality—especially morality that is simply the concern of the individual towards himself. In other words, going back to even the basic religious ideas about moral behavior. It’s fundamental to both Jewish and Christian thinking that an action is not significantly moral if it’s done under compulsion. In other words, if you stay faithful to your wife merely because you are afraid of the consequences of adultery, you are not a truly faithful husband. If you give alms to the poor merely in order to get yourself a place in heaven or, you know, on the roster of donors to the synagogue, you are not truly charitable. So it is of the essence of moral behavior according to Jewish and Christian theology that it be voluntary. So that any moral behavior which is enforced is not moral behavior as a result of enforcement. And the only reason for enforcing any moral behavior is that immoral behavior may in certain circumstances cause grave inconvenience to others: as murdering people, as robbing them, as mugging them on the streets. That we are, I think, agreed ought to be prevented by the police.

45:02

But when it comes to whether you will gamble, whether you will have irregular sexual games, whether you will change your state of consciousness by alcohol, by tobacco, by sleeping pills, by aspirin, by caffeine, by lysergic acid, you have a certain responsibility to judge for yourself. Because if you’re deprived of that responsibility, of what other responsibilities might you also be deprived—for your own good? What you read? Ought you to read the works of Karl Marx? Mr. Rafferty didn’t think so. And yet, how would you know what do you do about a communist enemy if you didn’t understand the philosophy of Marx? How do you know how to deal with China unless you’ve read everything written by Mao Zedong? You’ve got to understand your enemy, if enemy he must be.

46:19

So responsibility implies a certain freedom to take risks and to make adventures. It’s very dangerous (it could have been said) to go up in the air in a machine. The Wright brothers took a grave risk. Why, if they had crashed, what would have happened to their wives and children? Would they have been a care of the state? Therefore, the Wright brothers should not have been allowed to fly that airplane! So, in the same way, you might go mad, and your wives and children no longer have your support if you took certain adventures in consciousness. It’s the same problem.

47:03

So does the state have the right to tell you that there are certain risks you mustn’t take? If the state does assume that responsibility, it can’t be helped that the state is also saying at the same time that we must not make experiments which could possibly result in great benefits to mankind. We don’t know whether they will result in this or not. The knowledge about this whole thing is not, as yet, certain. But we at least have the right to make the attempt. But I suggest that we don’t make that attempt in absolutely undisciplined and uncontrolled situations. But the opposition to the use of these chemicals by politicians who are simply collecting votes and arousing all the little old ladies terrified by sensational stories in the press—that’s all that is.

47:55

But the fact remains—the hard core of the fact is that, if we are going to take dangerous adventures of this kind, it should be done absolutely out in the open with the assistance of the best scientific and psychological and religious wisdom that is available. If we send people out into space in our astronauts, we have the whole scientific faculty of the country behind them. Likewise, if we’re going to send people into inner space, instead of being something that is done sub rosa in a paranoid, guilty atmosphere, it should be something in which we openly cooperate with the feeling we’re holding your hand and we’re with you all the way.

48:50

But it isn’t being done like that. And we are going through the same problem that we have been going through in this country for years. And you may be—as I am—very anxious that there be law and order in this country, that there be respect for our policemen. But respect for our policemen in this country ceased when prohibition came into effect. Because the officers of the law were asked to enforce things that the citizenry simply were not going to observe. They became hypocrites—therefore, armed preachers. And all preaching creates hypocrisy. I mean, you put guns into the hands of clergymen—you’ve got real trouble! At one fell swoop we could restore respect for the police in this country by taking all matters of private morals out of their hands. Question needing no answer: who would volunteer to serve on a vice squad; what kind of personality? Who would volunteer to peek through holes into men’s toilets to see what they’re doing; what kind of personality?

50:26

You know, we can’t retrain the whole police. We can’t recruit a new police force with college educations and anything you might demand. It just can’t be done. It’s not practical. There isn’t enough budget—as if that really mattered—but the fact of it is there isn’t. But at one simple stroke of the pen: if we remove the drug questions, the sex questions, the gambling questions and all those sort of things out of police control and regard them simply as public health problems, respect for the police would go up, zzzhoom, like that. And we need it! We’ve got to have it. Because you can’t be schizophrenic about your law enforcement officers and say to them: “It’s your responsibility to control us in ways that we don’t want to be controlled.” They don’t know what to do. No wonder they’re confused. No wonder they’re acting crazy. But you’ve got to get behind these people and help them! Really!

51:45

So then, basically, young people have become interested in these so-called drugs because young people—it’s not that they’re just out for kicks. It’s so easy to dismiss the adventures of the young by saying they’re out for kicks, they’re just goofing off. Alright, if young people are just the kind of people who are irresponsible and are just goofing off and are out for kicks, why assign them with the terrifying responsibility of fighting with the armed forces? If you can say they are responsible enough to do that, you must not dismiss them as immature little kids. If you think they are, as adults you fight your own battles. So the position is not that young people today are just looking for kicks. They are out for trying to find out what the hell this universe is about. And they’re very confused. Because the answers of the old standard brand religions—while they are, in a way, respected—they’re not plausible.



Turning the Head, or Turning On

Alan Watts

https://www.organism.earth/library/docs/alan-watts/headshot-square.webp

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