Allan Y. Cohen discusses his book "Understanding Drug Use"
BROADCAST: Jan. 29, 1971 | DURATION: 00:51:09
Psychedelic drugs are the topic covered in Allan Cohen's book, "Understanding Drug Use: An Adult's Guide to Drugs and the Young". Cohen said young people he counseled often asked, "What's my life really about?" If they were having trouble internally, is that why they were seeking something on the outside, like drugs and chemicals to enhance their lives, is what Cohen wondered.
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Allan Y. Cohen "It seems at times that for every psyche that survives another crumbles. Community and collective wisdom have vanished. And in that vacuum the young seem forced to improvise, to find their own way back to wisdom or joy. But how can they handle that? There are ways that lead back to and through the self, ways to find in oneself and others what is missing from the world. But this process takes time and privacy, and where can the young find these? Some of them seem extraordinarily beautiful, privileged, and wise, as if they had moved into a new world altogether, something softer and more free than the world their elders inhabit, a world of delight and possibility with more warmth to it, more pleasure, more touch and friendship. As if some strange internal dam had broken and released in them a wave of sensuality and imagination, but they seem at other times to be victimized by their partial liberation. What is space for a few is for others a void in which they drift without contact or warmth. There is a terror in them, an inexplicable and constant sense of bondage and isolation.
Studs Terkel That's Allan Y. Cohen reading from a book he coauthored with Peter Marin called "Understanding Drug Use", the subtitle is "An Adult's Guide to Drugs and the Young", that Harper & Row have published and quite clearly, from the paragraph you gather not just a salubrious style here in the writing, but more than that, that the subject of drugs concerns the subject of something more in our society and everything it's all about. This that you wrote, you yourself, Allan Y. Cohen, we should know about Mr. Cohen. You worked on one of the early experiments of Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, didn't you? At Yale, was
Allan Y. Cohen Yeah.
Allan Y. Cohen Right. Well, not really very young compared to the kids today really, about what they're doing. I was about 20 or 21 when I first got involved, and in a very strange way compared to nowadays. We had -- I had been working for both Alpert and tooken -- taken a course under Leary for a couple of years while I was an undergraduate there. And it was in that period where Leary had discovered the so-called magic mushrooms of Mexico one time he was down in Mexico, got very excited about the drug experience, rapidly turned on Albert his buddy in the psychology or social relations department, and then made it available to a number of graduate students to try, to experiment with. And I was one of them, and certainly had respect for both Leary and Alpert, and if they thought it was the greatest thing to hit the pike since Freud, well, it's worth trying. So that about half of our class tried it, and then about a fourth of it tried it again, became very enthused, we started doing some research in the sense that we'd fill out questionnaires before and after to see what our reactions were. Tried
Allan Y. Cohen This was psilocybin first, then mescaline and then LSD, all related subjectively psychedelic drugs. Heck, perhaps we were the first group that tried LSD before we ever smoked marijuana, which probably is not so true today. So that in the course of about six months, the controversy started to crystallize, and there was us guys, who were the experimental drug visionaries of the time, and the establishment, who was getting very upset at such things. Well, the next two or three years led me from the western shores of Mexico and an experimental community there, commuting to Boston to try to finish my Ph.D., down to Millbrook, New York which contained in a state donated to the psychedelic group, in which again we tried to do kind of a utopian things with drugs as our secret weapon, and it was around Psychedelics.
Allan Y. Cohen Yeah, Ken Kesey -- I thought I was hallucinating, because I was sleeping. It was very early one morning, I heard strange sounds. I got up and looked out of the window, and I saw what I thought seriously was a hallucination. It was a mammoth vehicle painted in stripes, polka dots, etc., with a machine gun turret on the top. Now, there hadn't been any precedents for that. I went back to bed, thinking, "Well, another flashback has struck." Then I hear sounds again, I look out and I see these, these men walking out of the bus in striped costumes playing the flute, and checking it it was real and it was Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters to pay a visit to the psychedelic community.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Allan Y. Cohen Well, our drug -- our drug reality turned out to be hallucination on a very subtle and perhaps high level, I think. And after about three or four years in and out of the scene, some of us began to see that maybe we weren't the visionaries that we talked about, and maybe there were some tremendous disadvantages to using psychedelics, and that maybe you couldn't get to expanded awareness or great psychological insight or you know, win the world over by dropping acid into the punch of John Kennedy and Khrushchev would get together back in the old days, which we plotted but never managed. And it was in a sense the, that the innocence began to wear off, and -- but it was still a time when, when that atmosphere, that kind of open-eyed wonderment at the new toys dominated, and I don't think today that's so much true today. Even the solid dopers are a little more aware that they really can't be that idealistic about their drug scene.
Studs Terkel You yourself then, because coming to the book now, that you worked with Peter Marin, your own thoughts today because you spoke of your own, I notice a couple of footnotes here, one by you and one by Marin, slight disagreements about that, you feel you have more of a dim -- what is it, more doubts about the nature of
Allan Y. Cohen Drug-induced
Allan Y. Cohen Oh, there's no question, doubts. I think that of all the things I know, and it's only my own judgment and experience, taking of chemicals to enhance one's life is in some senses disastrous and in the best senses a predominant waste of time with some very beautiful energies that could be utilized otherwise. Now, it's more of a style really than a method of any particular drug, and I think that's -- and in our book we certainly deal with the culture, with a society that has brought about the implication that one can enhance life through chemicals and that that really is the only thing one can hope for. And I certainly myself disagree with that point of view now, I think that there is immense human potentiality in very ordinary life and very ordinary things that we don't have, and that are so preferable to even the best of chemical highs that there's no comparison.
Allan Y. Cohen Right,
Allan Y. Cohen And the young people are rediscovering that challenge, though in the transition, they're still mimicking the adults and figuring that they can get to where Thoreau and Blake or Whitman or the great names of the East and Western mysticism, they can get that way by turning on, chemicals which
Allan Y. Cohen Right.
Studs Terkel Imitation of the adults. The drugs that we take. Well, alcohol, you of course -- I like the way you mention alcohol among the various drugs naturally, but also the drugs that are given by the doctors.
Allan Y. Cohen Forty percent of all American adult women over 30 and middle and income families, high-income families, 40 percent are currently under prescription for mind-altering drugs: barbiturates, amphetamines, and tranquillizers. Astounding in terms of impact.
Studs Terkel So it isn't accidental, then, that Leary and Alpert, for better or for worse, and you imply that in some instances for worse than others that came along with that, that there was a basis for it, this whole society
Allan Y. Cohen We were ripe, and I tell you that some people say Leary should have been hung, and a very angry lady talked to me the other day and said, "Why didn't you in effect shoot him back then before he could influence the young minds?" The point I tried to make with her was simply that if it hadn't been him, it would've been somebody else.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes. I think it's very important we in our advanced technological culture have taught ourselves, have tried to convince ourselves, that if one is dissatisfied internally, the answer must be external, right? Suppose you'd, you are having trouble with some friends. What's our usual thought and reaction is to move? Get new friends. But not too many examine the thing that we could overcome that would make it all right. And so drugs really fit in so well. It's -- the young, although they would get upset at the thought that they were imitating the adults, are using different drugs. But the style is the
Studs Terkel sme. The style is the same. This is an interesting -- this is a good insight here that I think by Allan Cohen and his colleague Peter Marin is that the rebellion is not really a rebellion.
Allan Y. Cohen No, no. The real rebellion would be to eschew drugs, to be a non-experimenter, a non-doper, somebody who doesn't use cigarettes or feel a need for alcohol or take all of the other over and under-the-counter drugs. That's our real deviant and rebel, because he's challenging the very basis of our value system. Or appearance
Studs Terkel Maybe the time, too. You mention here early in the book, you know, there ought to be a rule, but there is no rule wrote Pascal during the Renaissance, meaning that medieval thought institutions come to an end, that nothing had taken their place. What he meant then is true now. So we're talking about this this moment, aren't we? We live, we're living in right now.
Allan Y. Cohen What is the rule for the young particularly? And there is no necessary answer, and this may seem to adults as one of the great opportunities of mankind to have our kids so relatively affluent, except of course in our deprived areas that they can afford to think about values and beliefs and confusions and uncertainties. But boy, it hurts when you're in the middle of this void, of this ocean of uncertainty. I have, I counseled for two years at the University of California in Berkeley, and very surprised to see that the main complaint, really
Allan Y. Cohen Although they called me their drug and hippy man, I tended to get a funny proportion, but the complaints were not "My sex life is terrible," or "I'm getting bad grades," or "I have deep internal neuroses or repressions," but really it circulated around the issue of "What is my life really about? How do I, what justifies my efforts in all these different areas?" And even though I think many adults laugh at the question that the kids are bothered about, "Who am I?" they say, "Who am I, what a stupid question. Of course you know who you are. Your name is ---", and if you asked
Studs Terkel Well, you said something here, talking to Allan Cohen, this is to me very strangely thrilling I mean in a way, that you're saying the young are questioning, not asking you, those whom you've counseled, not worried about a certain personal hang-up one way or the other, but about something else outside themselves, which seems would be great!
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Studs Terkel But meantime, the father, the mother, my contemporary, whose life has been led a certain way without question, feels a threat by these questions because it's something that we have never questioned.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Allan Y. Cohen Ooh, if there's something that's big in our culture even among the minority groups for different reasons perhaps, it's the value of education, right? And now these strange kids are saying, "School, schmool. Who needs it? It's irrelevant. Maybe I don't want to go to college." And this is frightening.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] talking about that, I take this, this is here in Chicago recently or a suburb of Chicago, schools, you know, the fury of parents as well as administrators who at -- young who question schools and so there's a young teacher was fired, Nancy [Tripp?], by the parents but now rehired because the case was too strong, but another school, and 23 letters from parents opposed her re-employment anywhere, now what's Nancy [Tripp?]s'
Allan Y. Cohen Yes,
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Studs Terkel The kids -- I know her, the kids loved her. Love her. And you see, she doesn't believe in grades. Therefore, it's a violation of the very thing you're talking about, a certain way of life that's been unquestioned.
Allan Y. Cohen That's right. And school administrators have told me, "Well we're really in favor of less restrictive grading policies, but the parents don't like that kind of thing." And yet what a key thing if we're talking about drugs in society, if we're really getting to the nitty-gritty so to speak, we're really aren't we talking about the only possibilities alternatives to drugs, constructive alternatives, you can't just stomp on a symptom and expect the cause to go away by itself. And here we have more hours spent perhaps in school that we can do something about than anything else in the country. We have all these different areas that could be so exciting and a curiosity provoking and creative and intellectually interesting. And what do we do? We put grades on them, so that nobody can come out unthreatened. And I know me, now probably a lot of a lot of young adults in the audience can reflect. I was lousy at shop, art and music, right? Bad. And yet since I was I was the valedictorian in the high school, do you think I would pick those subjects as electives even though it was fun trying to make a picture frame even though it took me a year. I was a lousy drawer but now I resent the whole fact that I've never had any training. Music, my goodness! Instead of appreciating Beethoven I was trying to memorize when he was born, because of -- and I still didn't get a good grade in. WHAT A -- what a, almost a, an unconscious conspiracy to dismiss creativity in our people, to put these things under the guise of success [rates?].
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Allan Y. Cohen Exactly right. You can't get an 'F' smoking pot. Right? And that's the that's perhaps one of the ultimate advantages for the, somebody who's trying desperately to break out of a restriction that is felt inside.
Studs Terkel Now, the book deals with drugs themselves, at the same time throughout there is that -- the paragraph that you read earlier is more or less seems to be part of what the rest of the book is about. It's more than drugs, about our society and finding ourselves, and you have Lewis Mumford, who is my contemporary, older, who is quite marvelous, seeing it as an escape from necropolis, death city in
Allan Y. Cohen Well, we thought that in writing the book that we had to be as of much service as possible to the very people who -- the adults and teachers and parents who were going to be most disturbed about it, and yet we had to make the decision that we couldn't tell them just what they wanted to hear, but how the young react. And we do feel that they don't have to buy the young system, right? Because everybody should be comfortable in his own thing, but if they understand it, and they understand how they view drugs and what not to do with kids involving drugs and a little basic information about drugs themselves, that this perhaps could be helpful though somewhat disturbing.
Studs Terkel So this is it, so suppose we do it for your own, I think for your own experiences and your own life as well as your own -- the students you've advised and counseled, [believe?] this is it, and so what and, what all of us see, there's a new way. It seems. I am -- sometimes I hear young people talking and they kind of mumble like. I don't quite hear -- the other day Arlo Guthrie was here and he's talking to Dave Meggyesy, who's a football player who's [drinking?] -- and they were nice, but I -- they're both marvelous, you know, and the interviews were great, but then we started talking to each other, I didn't understand what they were talking, I want -- 'cause my hearing wasn't as good. And this deals with rock concerts, too. The younger now are capable I guess of absorbing many things at one time more than I can. Is that right? I mean, 'cause so many things are popping, like I don't get the lyrics sometimes.
Allan Y. Cohen Right.
Allan Y. Cohen I don't know. That's an interesting -- they seem to know it, and maybe it's reading the liner notes or just repetition. But there is a willingness to let in a great amount of stimuli, even if it does not go through the rational process in the mind. It's a kind of recording impressions that somehow doesn't go through a certain kind of filter. In some senses this leads to the enjoyment of direct experience. In the other, on the worst hand it can lead to absolute irrationality and nonsense.
Studs Terkel Now we come to two things. Here's your -- I take it this is Allan Cohen's feelings now, the ambivalence [that is?] here that, there are two things. One is the sensing, more and more sensing, absorbing many impressions.
Allan Y. Cohen Intuiting.
Allan Y. Cohen Oh, yes. Yes. We -- you know, we can't put the young up on a pedestal and say, "Ah, they have the answer to everything because they're acting in a lot of ways." It seems that the young have lost common sense, is almost the greatest need of a very practical kind of nature. And when you open yourself up to direct experience of anything, you also pay the price and lose judgment. And it's only the combination I think of openness and good judgment that can make the whole person.
Studs Terkel As you're talking before we went on the air. You admire Ravi Shankar, and he's been on a couple of times, the program. He spoke of his indignation at one of the concerts at which he'd appear with different pop rock artists. And here's this great sitar artist, and many of the kids there were stoned, because that's the thing to do to hear Indian music, he was
Studs Terkel Well, he's -- why they leap, they leap to the East, he wished in the first place. He doesn't get -- he has to be inner. And this is part of Indian culture itself. The ragas and the music of the sitar and of the other instruments are something that is part of a culture and a respect for it and a richness, but he says, "Why the leap to the East? First learn your own, what is your own society, what's it about? Then you pick up." This seems to me like opening what you said, some variation of what you just said. If you're open to new experiences, but you [might?] also have an equipment, too. That is
Allan Y. Cohen Exactly, and you're washed up in -- and like Timothy Leary. Got washed up in the ways of total delusion, and he opted for a certain kind of pattern. Now myself, I found the same thing. The leap to the East is very interesting to me, because I'm doing a book on Meher Baba, who's a spiritual master who lived in India who tend to be very universal, not Eastern at all, who impacted me perhaps the greatest and I do a little article on chemical versus authentic mysticism in our anthology in this book, and I teach in this area too at Kennedy University. And it's
Allan Y. Cohen That's in Martinez, California right now. We've got some land for a new campus. It's commuting distance from Berkeley, where I live. Exciting possibilities, but not much money of course.
Allan Y. Cohen The exciting part is the freedom to explore some of these areas, and it's almost as if you see the -- what the East seemed to be open to was the internal, right? They had recognized of course one wants to expand one's consciousness. Of course one wants to develop internally. They'd been in the business of this for thousands of years. Big deal. The irony is the kids would think that somehow the Indians would use drugs, which is nonsense to attain that, that the gurus would take a shortcut if it were available. Not only isn't it a shortcut, but the gurus wouldn't touch it. And Baba just came out directly and made statements in '65, '66 that uh-uh, you weren't going to get to God by LSD. You're going to delude yourself, go deeper asleep if you were trying to get awake, and it seems to me that one of the things that stuck with me in a sense following Baba now for about five years, is his emphasis on practicality, common sense, and going beyond the East-West dichotomy. People would come to India, right? To bow down at the feet of the master of a man who really had claimed to be the avatar, God incarnate, the Christ, the Messiah. And his response was, "What are you doing in India?" And I said, "Well, Baba, you're you know, God is now here." He says, "Well, where is God?" And I said, "Well, Baba, if I understand your teachings, God is everywhere." "You mean he's not in the United States?" "Well, yes, Baba." And he said, "Go back. You know, you're there for a purpose. Go back to your family, to your job, to your responsibilities. There's no place that God isn't, and to find him doesn't mean you have to be dumb about it." I gotta tell this story, 'cause my famous old Sufi story because you'll get a, some kids saying, "Well, look, if God is everywhere and in everything, how come it isn't LSD and maybe God put grass there for us to smoke." Right? Reminded of an ancient story telling about a disciple who's going to his spiritual master and the lesson for the day is in fact that God is in everything and everywhere. He's told to meditate it, he goes out in the street thinking about it, and suddenly in the distance an elephant is galloping down the street, and the driver he can barely hear from the distance, that "Get out of the way, the elephant is berserk!" The guy thinks [of it?], he immediately starts to move off the road, but says, "Now, wait. Wait. I've just learned an important spiritual lesson: that God is ever-- if God is everywhere, he must be in the elephant, too." He gets closer and closer, galloping and the driver says, "GET OUT OF THE WAY, YOU DAMN FOOL, YOU'RE GONNA GET KILLED!" "No, I'm standing on my spiritual awareness." BOM! Smashed into a ditch, right, and he gets up, confused, bewildered. Here he was, following, so he goes back to his master, tells him the story, says "Master, wasn't God in the elephant? How come I got hurt?" The master said, "Of course, my son, God was in the elephant, but he was also in the elephant driver, why didn't you listen to him?" Which is a nice way of illustrating
Studs Terkel That the elephant driver, why didn't you listen to him and so, why go out there? Why go to this distant land? Again, why something from, to the outside as well as taking something from the outside into yourself. That's what he's saying.
Allan Y. Cohen Exactly. I'm convinced that this self-development, this -- or reawakening of the real self, or of love or of all the old virtues, this even Meher Baba who is certainly controversial in his own right as a spiritual master, says the same kind of things that anybody who's purely devoted to the essence of all major religion could live with very easily. And the whole, the whole point is it is all inside, there's a fountain there, you can tap it, it does not require you doing anything but being who you really are and being very natural.
Studs Terkel Yeah, that's why I'm still curious though as to what it was, I mean I'm, there's reasons obviously why this leap to the East to such an extent, that is, the phrases, books that are used are almost catchwords now. "The Tibetan Book of the Dead", or "I Ching", you know, these books are now -- are these read by psych -- by young people on psychedelic or by all?
Allan Y. Cohen Oh, it's a major now tendency. Again listening to the lyrics of the pop music, they almost now presume a familiarity with these mystical terms. Now it turns out, that it turned out to mysticism, not in terms of weird or strange, but in terms of the possibility of direct experience of higher realities within oneself. Now, the great mystics, who have been fairly widely published have been mainly Eastern so far. Western mysticism has yet to be rediscovered in its full part. So the kids figured, "Well, you know, that's where the expertise is. It's not in the computer, it's not in our psychologists"
Studs Terkel Now we come to it. It's the mysticism then in a highly technological age in which we live, a scientific age, a computer age, automation age, all this and used toward what end, too? That's another thing. Toward what purpose. So to get away from that
Allan Y. Cohen Right.
Allan Y. Cohen Which is certainly unethical from the spiritual point of view. But I am encouraged that the sophistication that's beg-- that will probably grow in the '70s among the young, that East/West is not the dichotomy, it's what you do with what you got, and if thing -- philosophy and teaching from the East can help, fine. But also the Western tradition has also deeply a lot to give, not the technological tradition so much, but the East has no monopoly on gurus.
Studs Terkel Talking to Allan Y. Cohen, who is the co-author with Peter Marin of this book "Understanding Drug Use: An Adult's Guide to Drugs and the Young", and everything that he's been talking about is related to it, all indirectly. Not about -- not talking about drugs specifically now, and yet how come? By the, you sense, is there a trend you sense more or less, you know, now as far the young? Do you feel there's more and more awareness now among the younger young, the newer young?
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Allan Y. Cohen There's certainly awareness and I'm afraid there's a lot more usage. The real new younger young, because it seems to have taken a while for anybody in the drug cycle to come out of it, and we had the age median go down and down and down and down, and everybody is doing what their older brothers and sisters and their friends are doing, so that we have a tremendous real -- a problem with very young using drugs. Unthinkingly and not likely to be turned off by any rational information. On the other hand, we've got a newer breed of young people who have seen their older brothers and sisters go through the drug scene, and are going beyond it before getting into it. And I think it's this trend that we, we really should encourage institutionally and politically if there's any input we can make on it.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes, very clearly. You know, if everybody had written for the young, saying "Show your kid this, this'll turn him off or on," and we realized that the most desperate questions we were getting, not so much from information, but really what to do were coming from the adults, and the parents and the teachers and the community leaders.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Allan Y. Cohen That's precisely what we say in the book about drugs, it's "You don't have to be an expert. You don't have to even know more than they do. And if you have uncertainties about not knowing about effects of certain drugs, go ahead. Let yourself say that. Let the kids see you as somebody who at least is being honest, so that when you really do have something that you found to be of interest, they're going to accept it."
Studs Terkel So as a -- suppose there's an arrest. You point this, I'm just citing things that come to my mind, because this is, this would have been incomprehensible a generation ago, respectable middle-class family saying, "Suppose my kids were arrested," well suppose it is today. And suppose then your suggestion is a very simple one, isn't it? Feed him a good meal when he comes back. That's the time we think for support even though it was distressing to find out that a recent poll showed that some
Allan Y. Cohen That's the time we think for support, even though it was distressing to find out that a recent poll showed that some 60 percent of parents polled would turn their kids in if they found them using drugs.
Studs Terkel Well, then again we come -- drugs. Now, drugs, that's a general term. Now in your book, you and Marin break this down: the very nature, the variety, what does have a deleterious effect specifically and what has less, you know, you go you go into this of course.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes. Because we think that adults' reactions may have to be quite different depending on the types of substances that kids they're dealing with are using, and there are different kinds of reactions called for, really.
Allan Y. Cohen That's right. Somebody is using heroin they should be stopped anyway you can get them to stop. Even if you have to put them in jail. With marijuana, taking such strong action is not only going to alienate the young people towards whoever it does it, but it'll probably produce a situation in their lifestyle that would make it more difficult for them to get off of drugs.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes. We come out very strong for public health kind of approach, for saying let's not make it a crime for people to possess or abuse drugs. Let's have rigorous sanctions, if we need to, on suppliers and on profiteers, which where the emphasis should be, but let's be helpful to those who use drugs, not punitive, because the myth of deterrence has vanished from almost everybody's mind now.
Studs Terkel Because you include alcohol here, and that's interesting, so I guess one of the, I suppose one of the keys toward the disillusionment or the [disparagement?] of the young is this, this is almost the metaphor, isn't it, for the double standard, marijuana and a martini. I mean, that one is legal and I would guess infinitely more deleterious than marijuana. Yet one is legal, the other is not. And in the matter of drinks to martinis is arresting the kid who smokes
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Allan Y. Cohen And the generation gap. It makes it very dramatic and the young people are very sensitive about it. They're so sensitive about it that they really don't think of the other issues they should really think about. So what if the old man drinks a martini or smoke cigarettes? That's his bag and if he wants to blow his brain cells and get lung cancer, that's his trip, but I don't have to play the same game.
Studs Terkel This is the part that I find most exciting about this book. Even the title is "Understanding Drug Use", it's more about that. It's the possibilities there are here, and how the time and energy wasted on this one, on this one phenomenon. This is what
Allan Y. Cohen Yes, and how perhaps it could be transmuted. Now, there is a hidden gold in the drug epidemic. In the midst of the human tragedy that occurs in the midst of the great wastes and that is the panic that has grown out of it, and it might turn out to be creative panic. It might turn out to be just the problem which may shake up our institutional approaches and our priorities about what life's really about. It might just shake up the educational system so we, that we pay a little more attention in schools to the art of living as opposed to acquiring information, which after all if you analyze society's problems, I've never heard anybody say that society's problems are due to people's lack of intelligence, lack of knowledge, lack of technical skill. NO! Man's going to the moon maybe. Someday. Right? Our problems, racial, economic, international, political, are all human failures. And they have something to do with social relations and selfishness versus selflessness. And yet in terms of our institutions, we pay NO ATTENTION to THIS, which is the priority of solving the problems. And if the drug issue has created enough disturbance to perhaps get us off our tails institutionally, perhaps it has had a redeeming value.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Allan Y. Cohen A sense of belonging, so important. Other people. Warm relationships, feelings that you belong to a certain kind of group or that you're moving collaboratively towards a goal. It's not as much true now in the families as everybody's mobile, they're spending time out of the home. Kids are watching an average of three or four hours of television, as well as the adults, so that they're -- instead of, they're all looking at the box or maybe in different rooms and there isn't that sense of community in the family, and the neighborhood is broken down as a community. So where is community now? In the peer culture. And that's about as stable as a bowl of Jell-O. And where drugs are in in the peer culture, there you go. You turn on and you enter the initiation rite of the chosen, and YET IT'S SUCH A BARRIER to communication. How many times have the people of our audience been to pot parties? People have such superb communication, they get stoned, and they look around FEELING very communicative and yet there's almost no conversation.
Studs Terkel It
Allan Y. Cohen Yeah?
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Studs Terkel And they smoked pot before the word 'pot' was ever used. I forget, they called it another name way back then, and they thought, these were very good jazz men, sitting in some of these sessions in clubs. They thought they were great. They were lousy. As a matter of fact, they were much better without what they did, but to them
Allan Y. Cohen Right. We see that happening all the time with art and music and rock groups being stunned hearing their amazing productions done while being stoned, finding out that they're just terrible, and this is lack of judgment again, right? Lack of accurate perception is one -- psychiatrist who I give a lot of credit to at California because he was stumping for legalization of pot five years ago, and he just turned around completely in five years. He said, "The trouble with evaluating subjectively marijuana and [how it's used?] in the psychedelics is that you are damaging the instrument you need to evaluate it." Which is quite an interesting point.
Studs Terkel Yeah, I think the, what is to me very good about this book, one of the number of things good about the book is precisely this, that you're not canonizing the young, you know, for the use of drugs. You're saying there's a lot of crap involved here, too.
Studs Terkel But at the same time you're saying we have to understand why it is. And the difference between the various ones, but why it's occur-- have to come back to the nature of our society itself and what's being missed. The waste, you know, the waste of possibilities.
Allan Y. Cohen Tough time, now. Isn't it? When does your adolescence start, about 12, when does it end, about 25 now. Really. 'Cause the issues, we're getting to the place where the issues which formally established one to be an adult, iden-- job identity, marital identity, and social identity, these things are still up in the air as late as the late 20s.
Studs Terkel I suppose too since my contemporaries, as this group older people have had this things laid out for them, certain things you do not question, also been a puritanical strain here too, that's now being challenged. And as a result of so much anti-young feeling, a lot of it might be -- I hate to say this, it might be envy, too. If life has sort of passed you by to some extent, and YOU THINK there's a great deal of joy, there's far less I'm sure, but you think [there's a great deal there?]. You're sore.
Allan Y. Cohen That's right, because you didn't. You were hard-working and -- but you're quite right. For all the joy there is equal amount if not more of suffering. Although the young people tend to put on the drug users tend to put on a very good front.
Studs Terkel I was about to say, there's a great act involved here, isn't there? So this older guy thinks, "Look at them. We have to do something to stop them" out of a sense of envy of not experiencing this kind of fleshly pleasure he thinks
Allan Y. Cohen Tremendous put-on. You get a young doper talking with quotes a straight adult and the virtues of the sensuality, the sexual experiences, the pure bliss of the drug experiences and the musical and creative expression, he'll put on a tremendous rap for you, and get him alone with his friends and a lot of things come out the other end, like maybe you get stoned instead of having sex with somebody else because maybe you haven't got it together. Maybe you get stoned because you can't do music and you can't comment on it, all you can say is, "Hey man, that's groovy, that's far out." And that's a substitute.
Allan Y. Cohen That's right. And maybe what you don't say is you may feel good when you're high, but how does that feel when you come down? After all, pleasure and pain still work is a duality. And boy, the higher you get artificially, the lower you set yourself up for sooner or later, you always come down, and the kids don't talk about that face to the straights.
Studs Terkel And I'm thinking also coming back to this matter of the possibilities of a New Jerusalem of all of Blake and you spoke of a certain incident in Oakland, and then Orwell mentioning it as something similar in "Homage to Catalo--" when we always think of Orwell, we always think of "1984", you know, 'cause think of a certain moment that he thought was glorious where the anarchists in Catalonia and very similar something in Oakland, on page 12.
Studs Terkel Yeah. He just -- if -- here it is, yeah. "The gutters were empty, the students moved into them from the sidewalks, first walking then running, and finally almost dancing in the streets. One could see the idea coalesce on their faces, "The street is ours." There was not at that moment any fury in them or any vengefulness. There was instead a lightness, a delight, an exhilaration at the sudden inexplicable sense of being free. George Orwell described something similar in "Homage to Catalonia", that brief period in Barcelona when the anarchists had apparently succeeded and men shared what power there was, the habitual sense of invisible authority had vanished. The oppressive father who was not really there was gone. That feeling is familiar to all of us," it goes on then. This is quite a marvelous moment, I think this -- you're talking about this possibility.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes. The possibility is there. Not so much I think from the accomplishment of true anarchy, but the appreciation that one's consciousness is one's own, and in that sense nobody can take it away from you. It's so much different than drugs. Your stash can always be filched, but your heart can, need never have to be moved in other than the most positive way, and I think in this sense the new revolution which is the optimistic revolution is the, the revolution of the understanding of the possibility for internal freedom, because after all get a group of people together and sooner or later they organize. Right? And nowhere have I ever seen where anarchy or even quasi-anarchy has ever worked on a large scale. And I think it's unreasonable, the hippy communes are finding that out. They went in with a lot of money from their parents usually, and with perfect ideas about total group democracy and of course disaster. And they had to organize and you've got now in some of the hippie communes REALLY rigorous rules and disciplines, incredible, which is very funny, and you've got new child-rearing practices among the hippie mothers as being a hundred percent disciplined, almost a reaction to the thing that they seem to be escaping from.
Studs Terkel It's very funny. It's almost a cycle here. And so you're talking about something else, because here too was an escape from what the possibility is within man in these communes, and as a RESULT of that, face up to a certain problem they're becoming like the very thing they were escaping from.
Allan Y. Cohen Exactly. They're becoming more authoritarian. There's nothing more authoritarian than a doper. Really. He's got -- his opinions are so crystallized into fact and ritual that you don't cross him, you know, and it's anything but the loose, free-flowing business that it's made out to be. And just the very -- I can feel in my mind of all the people who are into drugs that are listening now, I just felt that surge of anger and irritation at that statement, which is exactly the mechanism. And I admit it happened to me. There was nobody more defensive than me, except -- and I used to delight at winning arguments, but if anybody put down drugs, my great philosophy which was "Live and let live," and the casualness, and let us do our thing, suddenly turned into a controlled intellectual fury. "HOW DARE YOU say anything like that about our dope which we enjoy so much?"
Studs Terkel When was it you had -- I would guess that most of the audience listening by the way are not so much your contemporaries as those who may be the parents. Well, it's a combination I think hearing the program. Well, coming back to, coming back to Allan Cohen. Yes.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes.
Studs Terkel Asking no moment of revelation, but when was it? At -- you had worked with Leary and Alpert, and you were part of the experiment, the class and you accepted it without question, when did it occur to you or come to you? It wasn't any one moment I take it.
Allan Y. Cohen But there [were?] critical incidents perhaps that are exemplary. One when one of our good friends, who was superbly prepared and anyway flipped out and never came back. That was one. Second, the moment 5 o'clock in the morning, breakfast in the kitchen, when two of the leaders of the psychedelic movement of the world after, just after a cosmic experience of universal brotherhood, were fighting over whose turn it was to do the dishes. Right? Next instance: the disaster that occurred after we gave our maid LSD. The whole house became totally disorganized because she didn't want to be the maid anymore. And then of course I think being exposed to a small pamphlet of Meher Baba who in a couple of lines summed up all the intellectual stuff we had been reading from East and West for two years in a very simple way that kind of indicated that the chemical way might well be a delusion. Meeting some people who had gone on what I [can?] now call authentic paths that were non-chemical being just tremendously impressed at their love and their common sense and their internal working and realizing that maybe, maybe they had something that that even in our most sincere efforts with pure LSD supplied from Europe we could never attain. The combination of that and perhaps a time with the Boston Symphony a year apart, the year previous when I was doing drugs screeching at my compatriots for making the stupid error of not bringing marijuana to the concert so we could hear the music better, right? A year later after I'd stopped, finding that my date offered me a joint, and me saying immediate and instantly, "Of course not. I don't want to -- I want to hear the music." I guess that was a critical flash of realization, too.
Studs Terkel All this adds up to it, then. Allan Y. Cohen is, has been guest on this program. We were just touching very lightly on the book itself, which deals with the -- is as an anthology of drugs here, too, but what we've been talking about too is what the book's primarily concerned with, the idea of our society itself and the possibilities individual, without that outside -- without that crutch. But the point you're talking about a chemically-oriented society we're in, and this drug is not accidental, and the drug culture of the young.
Allan Y. Cohen It's natural. We're going to have to wage as the establishment, we're going to have to wage guerrilla warfare against our own lifestyle to get the goals we really want. We've got to counter-propagandize the whole "solve it with drugs" notion.
Allan Y. Cohen Right.
Studs Terkel For the consumers and that involves chemical, the chemical feast that turns out to be chemical horror, you know. At the same time the young in their way. And so even WITHIN, within the culture of the young, within the world of the young, there will be this battle going on, too.
Allan Y. Cohen Yes, sure. There is for example you might -- people you would consider bedfellows, the drug users and the political militants, as a matter of fact are not, they're quite antagonistic, because the -- then the good political militants will tell you, "You can't afford to be stoned to do this work." Sure, you they don't show up to demonstrations on time. The Black Panthers, and they can't be accused of being moderate, for a long time were perhaps the only organization, one of the few who were doing powerful anti-heroin work in New York. Which illustrates that different modes of attacking dissatisfaction with the culture. They certainly may not include the efficacy of drugs and even the very people who are most anti-establishment recognize that dope is a hindrance.
Studs Terkel So where does this leave us now? What's the last -- what's a thought that comes to your mind? By the -- the book is "Understanding Drug Use", and Harper & Row the publishers and one of the co-authors Allan Y. Young [sic - Cohen] is a guest, is his other, the other, his collaborator is Peter Marin, who's with the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions as a poet, too.
Allan Y. Cohen Right. Oh, last thought is really hopeful thought. A lot of confusion about drugs, a lot of confusion about adolescents. It gets down to very simple things after a while. And on every level there are things everybody can do. To the adults listening, even if, say you read our book and you found that nothing there applied to you, there's always one thing you can do, and probably the most worthwhile thing, and that's work on yourself. And if you can produce in yourself the kinds of, of things that you know could be an example for mankind, make it a creative and living and dynamic and happy process, you're going to influence an awful lot of people. And if that's all you do, you've done a lot. Last thought.