Utopianism acquired a “eupsychian” cast up and down the West Coast of 1950s and 1960s California. Pursuit of the good society became bound up with alchemical transformation, design of new anthropotechnics, and experiments with human potential. Abraham Maslow created a mailing list to connect organizations and individuals participating in these experiments, thus forming what he called the “Eupsychian Network.” The members of this network, he said, shared a “humanistic and transhumanistic outlook on life” (Toward a Psychology of Being, p. 237), by which he meant an orientation that sought to help “the individual grow toward fuller humanness, the society grow toward synergy and health, and all societies and all peoples move toward becoming one world and one species” (237). Already in Maslow, there were hints that the humanistic orientation in the social sciences and the “human potential” movement that arose alongside it might contain a dark side — or at the very least, a potential for misuse. Maslow prepared the manuscript for Toward a Psychology of Being while visiting La Jolla, California, in summer 1961, supported by a financially generous fellowship from the newly founded “Western Behavioral Sciences Institute.” The fellowship was funded by engineer-entrepreneur Andy Kay, who invited Maslow to return the following summer to observe operations at Kay’s company, Non-Linear Systems (Hoffman, The Right to Be Human, p. 246). This collaboration with Kay culminated in Eupsychian Management, a book completed in 1962 and published in 1965. Non-Linear Systems was an electronics manufacturing company. Before founding it in 1952, Kay spent two years working at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. By the early 1980s Non-Linear Systems evolved into Kaypro, manufacturer of an early personal computer. The concept of Eupsychia never fully shed this marriage of convenience with management theory and West Coast tech, though other members of the Eupsychian Network helped to temper these tendencies.
Maslow’s prose is dry and scientific. I keep having to take breaks while reading his book Toward a Psychology of Being. Parts of it seem wrong-headed, presumptuous; I’d rather be reading the poet Robert Duncan. Works of Duncan’s like “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” evoke Neoplatonic realms, scenes made up by powers of consciousness. A force of gravity pulls us near. Duncan calls this force the “Queen Under the Hill.” Her binding us to her in loving embrace allows us to be both one and other. Being self-divides into temporary autonomous zones so as to become that way, consciousness rising up into matter, probing itself with language before returning from which it came. Each being bears witness, Duncan says, before itself standing in judgment. But why judgment, I wonder. Let us resolve to live well, thanking the world for providing us a loving home by providing one in return. Let these trance-scripts be ways of advancing that cause. Let them be merciful rather than cruel. Let us not condemn in our attempt to improve.
I lived in a world of imaginary friends when I was a kid. Yet when I try to visualize these friends, especially the ones I called Mr. Spaso and Goo Goo, nothing comes to mind. What I recall instead is a frightening encounter I once had with a life-sized stuffed scarecrow that I mistook for my grandfather. The scarecrow sat in a wooden chair in my grandmother’s doll room. The room was dimly lit, tucked away in a part of the house rarely frequented by others. Happening upon it one afternoon, I peppered the scarecrow with questions, addressing it as if it were my grandfather. There was something about the creature’s nose that reminded me of his. When the figure didn’t respond, understanding dawned and I freaked. Why did this realization, the discovery that I’d been speaking with an inanimate object, fill me with shock and horror? Why do I remember that and not Spaso and Goo Goo? (What’s the best way of trance-scribing that name, by the way? Spaso? Spotso?) What was the story there? Why do kids sometimes go through an “imaginary friends” phase? Western societies demand that a distinction be drawn. They teach us to shape attention, fixing it for the most part upon socially shared, spatiotemporal objects, entities, and beings. Boundaries are established, perceptions and preferences trained to what others teach us to recognize as “actuality,” responsive presence, a multiple, additive-and-subtractive, evolving, de-concealing, totality-containing, self-consistent Big Other, from which can be recognized and distinguished other possible and impossible worlds. With my imaginary friends, I remember only conversing about them with others, requesting that my parents allow seats for them at the kitchen table. Was there ever a phantasmatic side to these friends? Did I ever imagine them possessing form beyond language, form that I’ve since forgotten? Or did I think of them exclusively as inventions, made only for the sake of a game? Case shelved for the time being, pending further inquiry.
I sit beside Sarah at a town pool, the two of us drying in the air after a swim. A small green insect lands on my leg. We consider each other for a few moments, each one absorbing the other’s fear, processing it internally, transmuting it, releasing it back as love. I’m reminded of Maslow’s claim that each of us contains two sets of forces. “One set,” he writes, “clings to safety and defensiveness out of fear, tending to regress backward, hanging on to the past, afraid to grow away from the primitive communication with the mother’s uterus and breast, afraid to take chances, afraid to jeopardize what [one] already has, afraid of independence, freedom and separateness. The other set of forces impels [us] forward toward wholeness of Self and uniqueness of Self, toward full functioning of all [one’s] capacities, toward confidence in the face of the external world at the same time that [one] can accept [one’s] deepest, real, unconscious Self” (Toward a Psychology of Being, p. 46). Pool days are delightful. Look at us, sun-soaked, unfolding outward, discovering new capacities, refining old ones, becoming. The metamorphosis has begun.
Re-reading humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow, I find much to like: his re-imagining of well-being in terms of individual and collective “self-actualization,” fulfillment occurring in and through a eupsychian network of co-evolving communities, including communes and growth centers like Esalen. But there are also some terrifying, instrumentalist defenses of “Science,” as when, in the preface to the first edition of Toward a Psychology of Being, he writes, “Science is the only way we have of shoving truth down the reluctant throat. Only science can overcome characterological differences in seeing and believing. Only science can progress” (viii). There’s a lot of genuflecting before terms like “empirical” and “raw facts.” Yet there remains a saving desire for integrated knowledge, knowledge that admits humanity’s creaturely actuality, as well as its god-like potential. Maslow characterizes this latter, “vertical” facet of human personality as a future dynamically active in the present, an absent cause prompting our becoming in a serendipitous manner, as if unplanned. We and the reality around us change subtly day by day.
Out comes Oneida’s Anthem of the Moon, released again into consciousness by the appearance of the band’s logo on an old t-shirt I pull from my dresser and refold while trying to de-clutter my house using the “KonMari Method.” The moon appears again later in the day in the lyrics to a Silver Apples song called “I Have Known Love.” The song is sad and tragic, as if sung by a psychedelic fallen angel, an Icarus or a Prometheus, chastened, having burned his fingers on the sun.
Tools remain for me things that make me a bit wary. They trouble categories. They implement will. When we use them (as, in our current state, we must), we invoke them, we grant them a daemonic energy. It’s like the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Disney’s Fantasia. Marx envisioned something similar seventy years earlier with his famous image of the dancing table from the chapter on the commodity-form in Capital. Questions arise for me, then, any time I encounter “Access to Tools,” a saying that appears on covers of the Whole Earth Catalog. The script runs as follows: If capital’s mythic origin was a magical act, a medieval summoning of a Moloch-like entity, might magic have something to say about how to counteract that act so as to save the planet? Or is magic itself the problem, its alchemical experiments—its rituals, its instruments, its techniques—already in some sense a disruption of oikos, a breaking of cosmic rules, leading inevitably toward Solid State scientific manipulation of matter and consciousness? Were the Whole Earth Catalogs and the various other guidebooks of the 1960s and 1970s a bunch of counterculture spellbooks, part of an entheogenic revival of magic, and thus occult in their own right? I say, if we’re going to allow that the cosmos is magical, then let’s be dialectical about it. Let’s assume that we ourselves contain both active and passive roles. This is part of what was meant by the perennial teaching, “AS ABOVE, SO BELOW.” We, too, are made of stardust. Let’s assume, then, that we, too, are magical. That’s the sense, I think, in which Stewart Brand was right: “We are as gods, so we might as well get good at it.” This seems a far more optimistic and hopeful approach than the passive defeatism of the left-melancholic path. I’ve explored the latter path; the paralyzing guilt it induces can be just as dangerous, just as apocalyptic as the instrumentalism it shuns, amounting in practice to little more than a sad-faced laissez-faire shoulder-shrug. Wands, crystals, Tarot cards, spellbooks, all of the various anthropotechnic implements of magic as a Craft: these are to be tested through practice, in service of the Good.
A bout of insomnia lands me in my office armchair an hour or two before dawn. I read a chapter from Through the Looking Glass while pausing now and then to check in with myself, noting how much I’ve surrounded myself, occupied my living space, with books. Should I let go of some of them? Does their presence aid or hinder me? Do I gain future life from these mementos? Do I use them symbolically? Do I read them? Is my relationship to them practical, instrumental? How many of them open outward into communication again with others? Rehearsing that last question, sitting with it, mulling its implications, I start to imagine mycelia of letters, heads linking up for stoned exchange, psychedelic epistles traded among friends. I concentrate on prana, inhaling and exhaling. Next thing I know, I’m up on my feet, dancing around the room. The rest of the day proceeds in much the same fashion.