The late Sixties were a time of almost transcendental self-indulgence, with sex, drugs, and rock and roll converted into a righteous duty. Most of us Baby Boomers who lived through that bizarre time were young, and moved in hordes like the barbarians of old. Our self-indulgence was natural to our time of life. Our insufferable smugness, it may be, was a result of our vast numbers: everyone catered to us. We imagined it was because of our liberated charm, but in fact we were just a kind of ATM for those who wanted to profit from our passionate love of ourselves.
In the end, most of us grew up. That can’t be said of Timothy Leary, a pathetic man who blew his mind out on LSD while he was a professor at Harvard, then spent the rest of his life trying to persuade others to do the same.
He succeeded beyond his wildest hopes. Every gathering of the hordes in the Sixties had a freakout tent, from which could be heard the shrieking and babbling of young people who had lost their minds. Some snapped back to normality in a few hours; others, not. Timothy Leary was the patron saint of the bad trip and the premature burial of the mind.
Leary wasn’t young. He wasn’t even hip. This review of a new biography, by the editor in chief of Reason, works hard to portray him as a figure of consequence — a harbinger of the “transhumanist” and “extropian” future. I don’t know what those words mean. I do know that Leary lived down to the lowest expectations one might have had for a gifted man, demanding pretty much nothing from himself that didn’t involve a bodily urge. That might well have described the future of the human race imagined in the Sixties, which now seems as quaint and dated as the monorail that circles Disney World.