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North American History

Willis W. Harman (1919-1997) stole into my life thru a back door in a book I am writing about America called Success=True. He gave me this authentically chilling film noire line,

“There’s a war going on between your side and mine. And my side is not going to lose.”

The line was delivered to Michael Rossman of the Berkley Free Speech Movement when Harman  (sometimes misknown as Harmon) was with Stanford Research Institute in the “early seventies”.

My question was which were the sides? And my temptation was to backdate it to the early sixties for my book’s narrative. I knew I would get into trouble and I did, the whole of the writing got out of gear and shuddered to a halt. I had to climb out of the wreck and try to fix it. First of all, I thought, I have to disentangle the Harman thing.

I asked myself which would have been the two sides in the early seventies and would this retroje(c)t backwards? My flash card stereotypes were ready: crew cut CIA goon stroke mad scientist up against soft flowing hippy poet revolutionary.

But it turned out to be not so simple. I read an interview with Willis Harman in 1995 by Sarah Van Guelder. Judge for your self but I couldn’t fit the gun slinger of the early seventies with the guy who was saying,

“It turns out that if you look at the assumptions underlying our economic system – especially the ones regarding the prerogatives of ownership – and then you look at the goals we humans have about how we want to live our lives, there is no compatibility. The assumptions can never lead to the goals”

Was Harman’s life arc like the American Stalinists of the 1930’s who became hard line neo-conservatives, only in reverse?

And then there was a letter Harman wrote on Stanford Research Institute paper to Al Hubbard (known as the Johnny Appleseed of LSD) in October 1968,

“Our investigations of some of the current social movements affecting education indicate that the drug usage prevalent among student members of the New Left is not entirely undesigned. Some of it appears to be present as a deliberate weapon aimed at political change.

We are concerned with assessing the significance of this as it impacts on matters of long range educational policy. In this connection it would be advantageous to have you considered in the capacity of a special investigative agent who might have access to relevant data which is not ordinarily available. If this can be arranged I believe it could help us a great deal”

Harman was turned on by Hubbard in 1956 and showed no sign of repenting use of mind-expanding drugs. Perhaps as an ex-engineer (he had been a colleague of LSD pioneer Myron Stolaroff on the board of Ampex) he instinctively opted for working within a tight set up, cleansed of the whatever and that’s the way it goes of flower child fatalism.

In a charcoal suit, even stoned, you can merge with the granite walls of the corporation which in turn merges with the universe while Michael Rossman’s side let their tiny naked soul-pieces build patterns directly from multi-colored ubermatter.

Or perhaps Harman’s “two sides” schtick was an argument between two philosophies of change. One side wedded to a psychedelically enlightened elite with ultra modern persuasive (read coercive) power to direct the unenlightened masses. The other side setting psychedelic fire to the bundle of dead wood in each citizen and changing society by ten million tiny transformations.

It is the old old story isn’t it? The struggle during the Reformation to have the Bible translated into the vernacular rather than kept in the priest’s tongue. As Claire Luce, one of the lucky few, influential in her own right and husband of Time-Life boss Henry said,

“We wouldn’t want everyone doing too much of a good thing”

Whose side are you on?

*

All of this bugged me. Harman resisted being squeezed into my text. I had to take time off, chop wood, shift sand, re-make the level of the garden pond a second time, feeling out whether to go in deeper or let the iceberg of my ignorance float unattached to maybe smash my book a month down the line.

I plunged into the Wikipedia wormholes, came out at unexpected places, resisted deep conspiracy whirlpools and wrestled together a holding statement that went something like this: the program of turning on the elite went a long way until it began to suffer from its own contradictions. Like a pincer movement where one claw doesn’t really know what the other claw is doing. You’ve got these brilliant young chemists making the stuff in pails and dishing it out to the street, then you’ve got the war medicine people slipping it into circuits they believe they control.

“So what’s the prey”

“Its the squashy center where most people loan their dreams to the powerful for life”

By this reading the contradictions flared up to a crisis in 1965, around the time they needed a hell of a lot more young men’s bodies in Vietnam. In October 1966 LBJ signed a new law banning LSD, despite ex-pharmacist Hubert Humphrey lobbying for it’s controlled use. They sealed off the pass. But by that time there was a generation moving at all levels in society who had gone thru a mind expanding experience. Not all of the trips had been good, some of the charcoal suit people came back to their offices with a hint of malevolent madness in their eyes, they were out to get someone for that. Madness in those higher echelons persists because structures and processes were established and endure that had been built in its light.

On the way to that holding statement I got some nice licks I thought I could use even if I had to drop Harman. Like the phrase the men who stare at goats At first I took this as a neat descriptive of behavioral scientists but then the information came that there was indeed a Company program to see whether by thought power humans could kill animals.

And then there was this,

We now know that the total number of possible states of the brain can be given only by a number of truly astronomical proportions- according to Anokhin (1971), one followed by a line of zeros stretching out into space twenty four times the distance from the earth to the moon!

Like a first year yeshiva student I asked,

“Yes but how big do you write your zeros?

And there was the highly suggestive results from Puthoff and Targ (1974) that appeared to show that we can have unconscious knowledge of a state of mind of another which is not available to consciousness,

If a stroboscopic light is shined in a subject’s eyes, a characteristic alpha component appears in his electroencephalogram. Some prior rapport is established between two remotely isolated subjects. The light is flashed in one subject’s eyes and the other is asked to guess whether the light is on or off. Subject is usually unable to guess better than chance but the telltale alpha component appears in his EEG. Unconsciously he knows with certainty when the light is in the other person’s eyes while he is denying such knowledge to his conscious mind.

*

The November rains had come and our trees were dropping leaves at our feet. The slope down to the bamboos was getting its clay wetted to perfect slip state. Time to get on, I took the simplest path. I put the chilling line into this piece. I knew I would never reach the early seventies with Success=True except as an epilogue, and I felt no desire to change the construction. I made a list of what I knew of Harman’s life, with a rule not to look further, and turning back to the interrupted chapter erased the line and went on,

The coaming of the pool was underlit with a cool lime green. A flashbulb caught them dancing, Willis Harmon with his eyes half shut and something scruffy about his shirt, a little drunk. And Arlene with a fixed grin just coming out of a jive twirl.

“I see it like this…”

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