But getting back on track... Two Americas: one good, one batshit crazy. Each side utterly convinced it is the good one and equally convinced of the batshit craziness of the other. How does this happen? A stupid-sounding but actually very interesting thing called "Spiral Dynamics Theory" cooked up by a psychology professor named Clare W. Graves, explains it pretty well, and as I understand it, it goes a-something, a-like a-this...
As we individual humans grow from infancy to adulthood, we change and evolve in many ways, including our levels of identification, conscious awareness, psychological development, etc. We move through various stages. But not everybody progresses at the same rate, and not everybody reaches the same stage before "leveling off".
Similarly, whole cultures exist at various stages of development, based on where a critical mass of adult individuals fall in their own personal development. Now, no matter what culture you examine, from any given time and place, you'll find individuals within it at all stages. But until there is that critical mass of people at least one level up from the overall level, the culture itself won't change. Certain individuals help their cultures evolve, and certain cultures help their individuals evolve and both are in constant flux, always playing off each other, etc. etc.
Now, just because an individual's level of development is "higher/more advanced" or "lower/less advanced" than someone else's, doesn't mean he/she is better or worse, nicer or meaner, smarter or dumber, etc. (though wherever they are completely shapes that person's entire take on reality). Similarly, less advanced cultures and more advanced cultures both have positive features and negative ones.
Individuals and cultures at the highest levels manifest the currently unusual ability to recognize that there even are different levels of being to begin with. They also see each level as an inherently necessary and valued evolutionary step, and they are able to retain the positive attributes of the less advanced stages, even as they move on to more advanced stages (very Burning Man).
On the other hand, individuals and cultures at intermediate or low levels think that their level is the only one that exists. They don't think of themselves as being on a "level" -- it's just the way it is, was and always will be -- and thus cannot consciously benefit from the attributes of other levels whether higher or lower. When a group at such a level encounters someone on any other level, they unconsciously assume the guy is on their level (as there are no distinctions to them). But since the guy's behavior is dictated by the different level he is on, he could seem a bit "off" to the group. Maybe even insane. Possibly criminally so. Or, perhaps the guy will be revered as a god. Either reaction is obviously incorrect, but probably inevitable, given the limited awareness of the group. There are many famous examples of this throughout history.
Typically, when an entire culture is nearing the shift from its current level of development to the next, as it gains the critical mass of more advanced individuals needed to hit the tipping point, the culture sort of "spasms" a bit, as it shakes off the remnants of a possibly tenacious old guard, before a new equilibrium and smooth forward momentum into the full flowering of the new paradigm is achieved. The most obvious metaphor for this would be birthing pains. Often, something drastic must occur in the culture, for the transition to take place. It could be violent. But not necessarily. Some births are smoother than others.
We are obviously in the throes of this process right now. We have been for a several decades.
The two Americas consist of:
- the people who fear change, so resist and try to prevent this transition
- typically operating at a feudal level, culturally, if not even less advanced
- those who welcome the inevitable transition and work to bring it about
- typically operating at a groovy "1960's" level, if not more advanced
So why do I say I "blame" Timothy Leary? Well, I think this transition would be going a lot smoother if he hadn't pushed so hard for it so prematurely. The advent of LSD was the most significant event of the 20th century, as far as I'm concerned. LSD has been to our culture what labor-inducing drugs are to a pregnancy. The shit is not to be taken lightly.
In the early days of LSD research, back when such a thing was legal and small amounts were freely available if you knew the right experimental psychologist, Aldous Huxley advocated spreading its conscious use slowly, gradually, starting with influential members of the intelligentsia, and letting it trickle down from there. Leary didn't like the elitist sound of that, and probably feared the creation of some new psychedelic class system, and so advocated dosing as many people as possible as fast as possible.
Now, I'm not elitist, not by any stretch, but Huxley correctly realized that society wasn't ready for a tidal wave of psychedelia. But that's exactly what Leary unleashed. And what happened... the fearless young people tried it, had their revelations and their freakouts and amazing things started to happen. But their parents were scared shitless. For probably the first time, an enormous amount of young people were doing something totally alien to their folks. And the Generation Gap was invented. Or maybe just the biggest generation gap to date.
The nation bifurcated into the people who were adventurous of spirit and wanted to see what the drugs were all about, and the ones (not just in the older generation, of course) who were afraid of all that stuff to begin with, and recoiled in horror at seeing what happened to the kids who got into it. I mean, if you've never tried it yourself, how could anyone possibly expect you to understand purple paisley?
And enough people were adventurous enough to cause society to take a big clumsy lurching step forward. But the actual critical mass hadn't yet been reached. So that step faltered. And the old guard mustered all of its strength to fight off the insane-looking, rainbow-colored, glorious mess that it couldn't understand to save its life.
And even though pop-culture has largely remained progressive (and drug-fueled), the power-structure has done everything it could think of to set the clock back to before mass use of LSD ever happened. The neo-cons knew that there were millions of people quietly shaking in fear of all the healthy changes taking place in society, so they naturally exploited that fear and formed a new basis by which mostly rural and suburban people of modest means could be convinced to vote greedy billionaires who don't give a crap about them into high office. Certainly better than seeing Wichita overrun by those gender-bending, free-loving, birth-controlling, women working, inter-racial, communal, tree-hugging, artsy, homo-jewish baby-killing liberal elite book-reading hollywood druggie pornographers! Aaaaaaiiiiiiiiiieeeeeee!!!!!!
So now we have one America desperately trying to keep its head buried in the sand even as the beach erodes away, and another America dancing its ass off, (partly to keep from crying). Still, I'm hopeful for the future. Perhaps it took the absolute abomination of Dubya to shake enough people into their own personal transitions, pushing us ever closer to that beautiful critical mass. It hasn't been gentle and steady, like Huxley wanted. But we're getting there nonetheless.