You had to be there, I thought, as I read a (brilliant!) critical essay by Richard Taruskin in the Times Literary Supplement on the culture wars of the 50s and 60s that the CCF and CIA waged with the cooperation of liberal dupes. It's just what I thought was going on at the time. But who was I? A total nobody, a position in life I still enjoy. I understood intuitively even when I was 18 that "our society" was a pack of lies. That, in fact, lies were what society was about. It really was the case, then. I would have been better off just sticking with the program and playing dumb.
That was a time when everyone who could work the system was cashing in. Bright eyed and bushy-tailed opportunists and fools were touting "open societies," "artistic freedom," "spreading democracy through American generosity" and such hogwash, as against "evil totalitarianism." So many were eager to play:
The CCF [Congress for Cultural Freedom] was not a liberal conspiracy. It was a co-option of liberals. As Noam Chomsky never tires of pointing out, if you appoint the right people to do your dirty work you do not have to conspire with them.
CCF funded journals and magazines like Encounter, a "prestige" publication designed to elevate America as a culturally serious country. Lots of well known men of letters and artists and musicians were on the take. Why this had to be done covertly is what strikes me as loony. Couldn't the government just have subsidized artists up front? But in those days it was all about the Commies, who had to be stopped. And of course American peasants were not going to read fine literature, look at modern art and attend the ballet!
Serious Americans were retreating into their own worlds, disappearing from view, accepting their status as failures. Those who emerged later as successful "outsiders" were quickly co-opted. Dylan contracted with Columbia Records. Ever wondered why his private life is so unknown? He was totally protected by his handlers. Years ago a woman told me that he was a heroin addict. It's only in 2011 that Dylan admitted this.
There were so many casualties of the CIA funded drug experiments. My mother took LSD as participant in a study at SF State in the 50s. I did not find out about this until years later. I don't care what anyone says about the mind freeing properties of LSD. She went nuts and was never, ever the same, and we did not know what was wrong with her. She became a late in life alcoholic, too. How many more of these damaged people are around, trying to lead their lives in a permanent state of mental uproar? Some of them made art out if it, yes; many have merely struggled. They were dispensable guinea pigs.
It has now been documented that millions of doses of LSD were produced and disseminated under the aegis of the CIA's Operation MK-ULTRA. LSD became the drug of choice within the agency itself, and was passed out freely to friends of the family including a substantial number of OSS [Office of Strategic Service] veterans.
For instance, it was OSS Research and Analysis Branch veteran Gregory Bateson who "turned on" the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg to a U.S. Navy LSD experiment in Palo Alto, California. Not only Ginsberg but also novelist Ken Kesey and the original members of the Grateful Dead rock group opened the doors of perception courtesy of the Navy.
The guru of the 'psychedelic revolution' - Timothy Leary - first heard about hallucinogens in 1957 from Life magazine (whose publisher Henry Luce was often given Government acid like many other opinion shapers), and began his career as a CIA contract employee.
At a 1977 "reunion" of acid pioneers, Leary openly admitted, "everything I am, I owe to the foresight of the CIA.'' [Michael J. Minnicino, "The New Dark Age, The Frankfurt School, and 'Political Correctness'", Fidelio, v1 #1]
So that's the Counterculture, invention of the CIA. And all those eminent establishment types and professors and spooks running around hallucinating! What, as they say, could possibly go wrong?*
"But why," Taruskin says, questioning his own motives, "go on demonizing them," these Cold Warriors? "We all know the phrase from John Maynard Keanes's Tract on Monetary Reform which reminds us that 'In the long run we are all dead.' "
The fact is, as he says, that "All sides of the cultural cold war are wrong by now. Their positions have all been superseded." No one really cares any more about high minded art, music and literature as important weapons in propaganda wars. In fact, that is a laughable notion today. And the drug stuff? Stale as yesterday's coffee.
I would add that historians may attempt to reconstruct those times, but the elusive, "being there" part is lost forever. Thank goodness!
We have recommenced watching Bloodline, that Netflix series about a family in Florida. These are goobers, low-rent contemporary covert entrepreneurs, now into drug running. They don't work on the grand scale of CIA spooks, but the principle is the same. They set up some sort of facade that they spend enormous amounts of energy maintaining, recruiting dupes to keep themselves going. As long as they can maintain something that looks OK on the surface, they can get by. No one wants to look too closely at what's going on for fear of bringing everything down. The dupes enable, and those who have some sense run away.
*It did not help that Aldous Huxley became a big fan of LSD and wrote The Doors of Perception. I heard him at a lecture in Berkeley in '57. Luckily he did not convince me to try the stuff. I think he was on the level, though. He had no ulterior motives. For anyone who touts LSD, I say if taking a drug was the peak experience of your lifetime, well, that's pretty sad.
Paul Krassner loved LSD but never did any serious work once he took it but just ran around doing dumb things. And he was brilliant.
Who can take the sugar from its sack
Pour in LSD and put it back?
At that time, such language was considered unacceptable and had a lot of shock value. These days it's everyday discourse.
The Fugs put on a good show. We saw them in Madison in the late 60s. Member Ed Sanders wrote a mea culpa of sorts about the Manson Family, who embodied the excesses of revolutionary hippiedom. I don't think Tuli Kupferberg ever dropped back in. There is lots of info about them on the Internet.