Turn On meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs are one way to accomplish this end. Tune In meant interact harmoniously with the world around you – externalise, materialise, express your new internal perspectives. Drop Out suggested an active, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary and unconscious commitments. Drop Out meant self-reliance, a discovery of one’s singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean “Get stoned and abandon all constructive reality.”
From Timothy Leary’s 1983 auto-biography Flashbacks.
As of late, I appear to have developed a taste for direct quotes. This new fancy stems from the fact that ideas that have been quietly incubating in my mind have often been thought of by others. Others who have verbalised them beautifully, capturing considerations that have yet to materialise within my own process. The excerpt above is one such example, as Timothy Leary sharply and succinctly discerns key concepts in the universe of what I call agency. He preaches mindfulness of the various states in which the ‘I’ can exist, the perpetual interaction between the ‘I’ and the external realm and the ultimate power we have to craft their manifestation into reality. A summary of ancient teachings that aims to prompt action, responsibility and growth, all driven by our ability to observe ourselves and thereby recognise our capacity for influencing the reality within and around us. A call to action so desperately needed by this generation paralysed by impending disaster, lost in the convenient conviction of our impotence.
The road to hell is paved with apathetic conviction in one’s impotence is the ode of a generation whose tools of resistance – those of direct standoff in public spaces – are rendered ineffectual in dealing with the invisible threats of climate change and corporate domination, both of which exist in a realm uninfluenced by nation and organised revolt. The classic concept of revolution, which is by sheer definition spatially bounded, cannot hope to overturn contributing industries at geographical distance. Neither can national legislation, the traditional tool for fighting consumer and worker exploitation, deal with transnational monoliths fluid in their choice of host. The amorphous nature of our issues clashes with the physical nature of our remedies, all too easily lending the erroneous conclusion that action and opposition are no longer potent in sculpting a better tomorrow. The ensuing bitterness and cynicism become evident as vocalising such aspirations is met with sneers and patronising pity for the young heart’s naivety. A world of no hope inhabited by a generation of hedonists who revoke their memories and anaesthetise their minds into a temporary presence which may appear to be emulating mindfulness, but in truth is nothing but a padded cell to protect from the impending tomorrow when the self-imposed gilded cage dissolves, leaving little of substance behind.
Though this rationalisation may tempt the defeatist visionaries amongst us, escaping the feeling of inadequacy is merely a question of altered strategy. Traditional macro structures of organised resistance must give way to the micro actions of the individual, creating a collection of independent efforts which in aggregate shift both behavior and outcomes by employing market forces. A concrete example pertains to dietary choices, whereby a shift to a predominantly plant-based diet of organic produce not only drastically reduces the carbon footprint of each meal but additionally internalises some of the unaccounted costs of industrial farming, such as depletion, erosion and loss of biodiversity to name but a few.
I do not intend to be an evangelist of veganism. Rather, what I wish to prompt is the view that each action we take, either implicitly or explicitly, is the product of decision-making processes. Understanding that we have control over even those decisions that may appear implicit equips us with agency which through its power carries the responsibilities of continuous reevaluation and openness to change. Yes, it is easier to curl over and play dead, intoxicated and unable to conceive a future, but exercising authority over our micro actions is the only way to resist that which scares so many of us.
Do not be afraid. Turn on, tune in, drop out.