An extended conversation between Tim Leary, Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg & Gary Snyder on the problem of whether to “drop out or take over” conducted on Alan Watts’ houseboat, the S.S. Vallejo, 50 years ago, in 1967…
Alan Watts: This is Alan Watts speaking, and I’m this evening, on my ferry boat, the host to a fascinating party sponsored by the San Francisco Oracle, which is our new underground paper, far-outer than any far-out that has yet been seen. And we have here, Alan Cohen, representing the Oracle.
We have Allen Ginsberg, poet, and rabbinic saddhu. We have Timothy Leary (laughs) about whom nothing needs to be said. And Gary Snyder, also poet, Zen monk, and old friend of many years.
Ginsberg: Everybody in Berkeley is all bugged because they think, one: drop-out thing really doesn’t mean anything, that what you’re gonna cultivate is a lot of freak-out hippies goofing around and throwing bottles through windows when they flip out on LSD. That’s their stereotype vision. Obviously stereotype.
Leary: Sounds like bullshitting…
Ginsberg: No, like it’s no different from the newspaper vision, anyway. I mean, they’ve got the newspaper vision.
Then, secondly, they’re afraid that there’ll be some sort of fascist putsch. Like, it’s rumored lately that everyone’ gonna be arrested. So that the lack of communicating community among hippies will lead to some concentration camp situation, or lead… as it has been in Los Angeles recently… to a dispersal of what the beginning of the community began.
Leary: These are the old, menopausal minds. There was a psychiatrist named Adler in San Francisco whose interpretation of the group Be-In was that this is the basis for a new fascism…when a leader comes along. And I sense in the activist movement the cry for a leader… the cry for organization…
Ginsberg: But they’re just as intelligent as you are on this fact. They know about what happened in Russia. That’s the reason they haven’t got a big, active organization.
It’s because they, too, are stumped by: How do you have a community, and a community movement, and cooperation within the community to make life more pleasing for everybody–including the end of the Vietnam War? How do you have such a situation organized, or disorganized, just so long as it’s effective–without a fascist leadership? Because they don’t want to be that either.
See, they are conscious of the fact that they don;t want to be messiahs– political messiahs. At least, Savio in particular. Yesterday, he was weeping. Saying he wanted to go out and live in nature.
Ginsberg: So, I mean he’s like basically where we are: stoned.
Watts: Well, I think that thus far, the genius of this kind of underground that we’re talking about is that it has no leadership. The Western world has labored for many, many centuries under a monarchical conception of the universe where God is the boss, and political systems and all kinds of law have been based on this model of the universe… that nature is run by a boss.
Whereas, if you take the Chinese view of the world, which is organic..They would say, for example, that the human body is an organization in which there is no boss. It is a situation of order resulting from mutual interrelationship of all the parts.
And what we need to realize is that there can be, shall we say, a movement… a stirring among people… which can be ORGANICALLY designed instead of POLITICALLY designed. It has no boss. Yet all parts recognize each other in the same way as the cells of the body all cooperate together.
Snyder: Yes, it’s a new social structure. It’s a new social structure which follows certain kinds of historically known tribal models.
Leary: Exactly, yeah! My historical reading of the situation is that these great, monolithic empires that developed in history: Rome, Turkey and so forth… always break down when enough people, and it’s always the young, the creative, and the minority groups drop out and go back to a tribal form.
I agree with what I’ve heard you say in the past, Gary, that the basic unit is tribal. What I envision is thousands of small groups throughout the United States and Western Europe, and eventually the world, as dropping out. What happened when Rome fell, Jerusalem fell? Little groups went off together…
Ginsberg: Precisely what do you mean by drop out, then? You haven’t dropped out, Tim. You dropped out of your job as a psychology teacher in Harvard. Now, what you’ve dropped into is, one: a highly complicated series of arrangements for lecturing and for putting on the festival…
Leary: Well, I’m dropped out of that.
Ginsberg: But you’re not dropped out of the very highly complicated legal constitutional appeal, which you feel a sentimental regard for, as I do. You haven’t dropped out of being the financial provider for Milbrook, and you haven’t dropped out of planning and conducting community organization and participating in it.
And that community organization is related to the national community, too. Either through the Supreme Court, or through the very existence of the dollar that is exchanged for you to pay your lawyers, or to take money to pay your lawyers in the theatre. So you can’t drop out, like DROP OUT, ’cause you haven’t.
Leary: Well, let me explain…
Ginsberg: So they think you mean like, drop out, like go live on Haight-Ashbury Street and do nothing at all. Even if you can do something like build furniture and sell it, or give it away in barter with somebody else.
Leary: You have to drop out in a group. You drop out in a small tribal group.
Snyder: Well, you drop out one by one, but… You know, you can join the sub-culture.
Ginsberg: Maybe it’s: “Drop out of what?”
Watts: Gary, I think you have something to say here. Because you, to me, are one of the most fantastically capable drop-out people I have ever met. I think, at this point, you should say a word or two about your own experience of how live on nothing. How to get by in life economically.
This is the nitty-gritty. This is where it really comes down to in many people’s minds. Where’s the bread going to come from if everybody drops out? Now, you know expertly where it’s gonna come from– living a life of integrity and not being involved in a commute-necktie-strangle-noose scene.
Snyder: Well, this isn’t news to anybody, but ten or fifteen years ago when we dropped out, there wasn’t a community. There wasn’t anybody who was going to take care of you at all. You were completely on your own.
What it meant was, cutting down on your desires and cutting down on your needs to an absolute minimum; and it also meant, don’t be a bit fussy about how you work or what you do for a living.
That meant doing any kind of work. Strawberry picking, carpenter, laborer, longshore… Well, longshore is hard to get into. It paid very well. Shipping out… that also pays very well…
Conversation transcript continues here.