The 60's in Perspective
What we are remembering this weekend is a controversy in the history of Harvard which filled the pages of The Crimson and preoccupied the national news media for months 20 years ago Drs. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, both psychologist and members of the Harvard. Faculty, had discovered psilocybin, a consciousness altering substance in the "magic mushroom," and were busy persuading graduates and un dergraduates to take it--in some in stances as part of a course for credit They arranged sessions--called "drug trips" by their opposition--for groups as diverse as prisoners in the Concord Reformatory and worshippers at an Easter Service to take psilocybin (and its more potent relative LSD). They reported nearly everyone had had ecstatic experiences which put them in touch with the marvelous powers of the mind, with God, and with a whole new way of living more joyfully and meaningfully. Be cause of the strong value Harvard places on academic freedom, the Administration did not initially interfere with these activities. However, it became increasingly concerned to control what was going on as it became evident that the mind altering sessions were ends in themselves rather than part of research in the usual sense of the term Eventually Leary and Alpert left Harvard amidst charges on the one side that academic freedom had been violated and on the other that Harvard had been much too lax in not attempting to control the actions of obviously irresponsible faculty members sooner.
'I find it useful to view the self-fulfillment movement in terms of 'stage theory', as a reaction to stages in American life that had preceded it.'
What does the controversy look like today with the benefit of hindsight? Certainly LSD did not bring about heaven on earth or create especially enlightened beings as its advocates contended it would, nor did it destroy the mind or create addiction as its opponents feared. So was the controversy a tempest in a teapot or does it have a wider significance? Leary and Alpert are back at Harvard to give their perspective on what it has all meant. I was involved in the controversy throughout because I had encouraged bringing both of them to Harvard (before they got involved with LSD), because I initially thought that research into mind altering substances was legitimate (I was working on the effect of another mind-altering substance at the time--namely, alcohol). As chairman of the Department of Social Relations where this was happening. I had to take part in considering what should be done about it.
As I look back it seems clear to men that this event was a part of--and perhaps even a moving force in--the intense search for self-fulfillment that gathered momentum throughout the siestas, produced major changes in values and culminated in student riots and rebellion all over the country Daniel Yankelovich using survey data has make the most sense of these changes for me in his book, New Rules Searching for Self-fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down. He points out that many psychologists like Carl Rogers had been arguing for a long time that people were bundles of "needs" that had to be satisfied or expressed to insure personal growth and satisfaction. Another psychologist, Abraham Maslow, had developed a persuasive case for the fact that higher needs could be fulfilled only after basic economic and security needs had been met. And in the sixties, among relatively affluent college students, it did indeed seem to be a time when economic needs had been met and one could safely "tune in turn on and drop out" to use the catch phrase that I eary popularized Students began experimenting in a variety of ways to fulfill themselves through more, and more varied types of yoga, meditation, jogging, or sex, through drugs, through living in cabins in the woods, through joining spiritual movements, through giving up family and career, and above all through attempting to destroy any institutional attempts to limit personal choice.
I find it useful to view the self-fulfillment movement in terms of "stage theory", as a reaction to stages in American life that had preceded it. At the first stage, as when a family first migrates to the U. S. people seem governed by what might be called the "ethic of compliance" or "conformity" they do whatever they do because that is the way it is done here. They work because everyone is expected to work. But then, perhaps in the next generation, they move to the next stage in which they assume more control over their lives. This stage is characterized by what Yankelovich calls the "ethic of self dental" People believe that if they control their impulses, work and save, they will benefit when they get old or at least their children will benefit from their sacrifices. In the sixties it was becoming apparent to the children of these people that this ethic was not working very well their parents seemed to have gone without satisfactions in marriage, in work, in leisure all their lives with little to show for it. They were too old to enjoy life or had found their savings eaten away by in flatiron. And they hadn't had any fun. Their children were going to see to it that that did not happen to them. They were not going to stay stuck in unhappy marriages or boring jobs. They had moved on to a third stage "ethic of self-actualization."
They succeeded in changing values in some respects. While 85 percent of Americans viewed premarital sex as wrong in 1938, only 37 percent thought so in 1978. Thirty-four percent saw work as the center of life in 1938, but only 13 percent 40 years later. And many fewer people in later than earlier surveys felt disappointed with their lives because they had learned to get satisfactions in many ways in life other than rising to the top in their work. But in other respects the self-actualization movement was self-limiting. People discovered that they could not have everything they wanted--not marriage and children and sexual freedom, not freedom from a career and plenty of white wine, not living as they chose without taking any responsibility for running the show. Above all, according to Yankelovich's survey results, they tried of pursuing selfish goals, felt increasingly lonely and began to seek community and commitment. Has the stage three "ethic of rebellion and self-fulfillment" given way to the stage four "ethic of commitment"? I hope so, because it certainly represents greater maturity to be committed to something beyond the self, to some reality that transcends the self and tests one's freely given loyalty and commitment. Such a perspective also gives a greater meaning to the unhappy events at Harvard 20 years ago. These events can be seen as part of a necessary stage in the progress toward maturity in American life.
David McClelland is currently professor of Psychology and was chairman of the Social Relations Department in 1963.