The Avengers, the Justice League, the X-Men, the Village People — everybody loves an all-star team. We can’t imagine a world without Reed, Susan, Johnny and Ben in cahoots, and it should come as no surprise that the same yearning to join forces with the best of one’s peers would find its expression in the counter-cultural as well as in comic books.
In 1967, poet and San Francisco Oracle editor Allen Cohen organized a meeting of his writing staff, but the Oracle was mundane newspaper and Cohen’s writers weren’t your average bunch of journalists. The Oracle was an underground publication that Cohen started with some money he got from a few head-shop-owning friends in the city. The paper was published 12 times between 1966 and 1968, and today it’s considered a pioneer publication of the psychedelic movement and its colorful, dynamic design continues to inspire decades later. If the paper’s cover art was eye-catching, so was its masthead which boasted a Who’s Who of counter-cultural contributors including: Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Gary Snyder and Alan Watts.
Cohen’s meeting took place on Alan Watts’ houseboat and the ensuing round table talk was recorded for posterity. The free-wheeling discussion finds four of the most important artists and thinkers of the era tearing into issues about the pacifism, drugs, revolution, utopianism and art that were at the core of their cultural experimentation and work. The long, dense, funny, provocative talk ends with a discussion of “Magical Geography.” Here’s a taste from Snyder, Leary and Watts:
Snyder: There’s three categories: wilderness, rural, and urban. Like there’s gonna be bush people, farm people and city people. Bush tribes, farm tribes, and city tribes.
Leary: Beautiful. That makes immediate sense to myself. How about beach people?
Voice from Audience: Let me throw in a word…the word is evil and technology. Somehow they come together, and when there is an increase in technology, and technological facility, there is an increase in what we usually call human evil.
Snyder: I wouldn’t agree with that…no, there’s all kinds of non-evil technologies. Like, neolithic obsidian flaking is technology.
Voice from Audience: But in its advanced state it produces evil…
Watts: Yes, but what you mean, I think, is this: When you go back to the great myths about the origin of evil, actually the Hebrew words which say good and evil as the knowledge of good and evil being the result of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge…
These words mean advantageous and disadvantageous and they’re words connected with technical skills. And the whole idea is this, which you find reflected in the Taoist philosophy, that the moment you start interfering in the course of nature with a mind that is centered and one-pointed, and analyzes everything, and breaks it down into bits…The moment you do that you lost contact with your original know-how…by means of which you now color your eyes, breathe, and beat your heart.
For thousands of years mankind has lost touch with his original intelligence, and he has been absolutely fascinated by this kind of political, godlike, controlling intelligence…where you can go ptt-ptt-ptt-ptt…and analyze things all over the place, and he has forgotten to trust his own organism.
Now the whole thing is that everything is coming to be realized today. Not only through people who take psychedelics, but also through many scientists. They’re realizing that this linear kind of intelligence cannot keep up with the course of nature. It can only solve trivial problems when the big problems happen too fast to be thought about in that way.
So, those of us who are in some way or other–through psychedelics, through meditation, through what have you–are getting back to being able to trust our original intelligence…are suggesting an entirely new course for the development of civilization.
Snyder: Well, it happens that civilization develops with the emergence of a class structure. A class structure can’t survive, or can’t put across its principle, and expect people to accept it…if they believe in themselves. If they believe, individually, one by one, that they are in some way godlike, or buddha like, or potentially illuminati.
So it’s almost ingrained in civilization, and Freud said this, you know “Civilization as a Neurosis,” that part of the nature of civilization is that it must PUT DOWN the potential of every individual development.
Listen to the whole discussion here.
If you’d prefer to read this or create your own hard copy, click here for a full transcript.