The Houseboat Summit

Featuring Timothy Leary, Gary Snyder, Alan Watts and Allen Ginsberg

Part One: Changes

Watts: ...Look the, we're going to discuss where it's going...the whole problem of whether to drop out or take over.

Leary: Or anything in between?

Watts: Or anything in between, sure.

Leary: Cop out...drop in...

Snyder: I see it as the problem about whether or not to throw all you energies to the subculture or try to maintain some communication network within the main culture.

Watts: Yes. All right. Now look...I would like to make a preliminary announcement so that it has a certain coherence.

This is Alan Watts speaking, and I'm this evening, on my ferry boat, the host to a fascinating party sponsored by the San Francisco Oracle, which is our new underground paper, far-outer than any far-out that has yet been seen. And we have here, members of the staff of the Oracle. We have Allen Ginsberg, poet, and rabbinic saddhu. We have Timothy Leary, about whom nothing needs to be said. (laughs) And Gary Snyder, also poet, Zen monk, and old friend of many years.

Ginsberg: This swami wants you to introduce him in Berkeley. He's going to have a Kirtan to sanctify the peace movement. So what I said is, he ought to invite Jerry Rubin and Mario Savio, and his cohorts. And he said: "Great, great, great!"

So I said, "Why don't you invite the Hell's Angels, too?" He said: "Great, great, great! When are we gonna get hold of them?

So I think that's one next feature...

Watts: You know, what is being said here, isn't it: To sanctify the peace movement is to take the violence out of it. Ginsberg: Well, to point attention to its root nature, which is desire for peace, which is equivalent to the goals of all the wisdom schools and all the Saddhanas.


Watts: Yes, but it isn't so until sanctified. That is to say, I have found in practice that nothing is more violent than peace movements. You know, when you get a pacifist on the rampage, nobody can be more emotionally bound and intolerant and full of hatred.

And I think this is the thing that many of us understand in common, that we are trying to take moral violence out of all those efforts that are being made to bring human beings into a harmonious relationship. Ginsberg: Now, how much of that did the peace movement people in Berkeley realize? Watts: I don't think they realize it at all. I think they're still working on the basis of moral violence, just as Gandhi was. Ginsberg: Yeah...I went last night and turned on with Mario Savio. Two nights ago...After I finished and I was talking with him, and he doesn't turn on very much...This was maybe the third or fourth time.

But he was describing his efforts in terms of the motive power for large mass movements. He felt on of the things that move large crowds was righteousness, moral outrage, and ANGER...Righteous anger.


Leary: Well, let's stop right here. The implication of that statement is: we want a mass movement. Mass movements make no sense to me, and I want no part of mass movements. I think this is the error that the leftist activists are making. I see them as young men with menopausal minds.

They are repeating the same dreary quarrels and conflicts for power of the thirties and forties, of the trade union movement, of Trotskyism and so forth. I think they should be sanctified, drop out, find their own center, turn on, and above all avoid mass movements, mass leadership, mass followers. I see that there is a great difference--I say completely incompatible difference--between the leftist activist movement and the psychedelic religious movement.

In the first place, the psychedelic movement, I think, is much more numerous. But it doesn't express itself as noisily. I think there are different goals. I think that the activists want power. They talk about student power. This shocks me, and alienates my spiritual sensitivities.

Of course, there is a great deal of difference in method. The psychedelic movement, the spiritual seeker movement, or whatever you want to call it, expresses the Haight-Ashbury group had done...with flowers and chants and pictures and beads and acts of beauty and harmony...sweeping the streets. That sort of thing.

Watts: And giving away free food.

Leary: Yes...I think this point must be made straight away, but because we are both looked upon with disfavor by the Establishment, this tendency to group the two together...I think that such confusion can only lead to disillusion and hard feelings on someone's part. So, I'd like to lay this down as a premise right at the beginning.

Ginsberg: Well, of course, that's the same premise they lay down, that there is an irreconcilable split. Only, their stereotype of the psychedelic movement is that it's just sort of the opposite...I think you're presenting a stereotype of them.

Snyder: I think that you have to look at this historically, and there's no doubt that the historical roots of the revolutionary movements and the historical roots of this spiritual movement are identical. This is something that has been going on since the Neolithic as a strain in human history, and one which has been consistently, on one level or another, opposed to the collectivism of civilization toward the rigidities of the city states and city temples. Christian utopianism is behind Marxism.

Leary: They're outs and they want in.


Snyder: ...but historically it arrives from a utopian and essentially religious drive. The early revolutionary political movements in Europe have this utopian strain to them.

Then Marxism finally becomes a separate, non-religious movement, but only very late. That utopian strain runs right through it all along. So that we do share this...

Ginsberg: What are the early utopian texts? What are the early mystical utopian political texts?

Snyder: Political?

Ginsberg: Yeah. Are you running your mind back through Bakunin or something?

Snyder: I'm running it back to earlier people. To Fourier, and stuff...

Watts: Well, it goes back to the seventeenth century and the movements in Flemish and German mysticism, which started up the whole idea of democracy in England in the seventeenth century. You have the Anabaptists, the Levellers, the Brothers of the Free Spirit...

Snyder: The Diggers!


Watts: THE DIGGERS, and all those people, and then eventually the Quakers. This was the source. It was, in a way, the secularization of mysticism.

In other words, the mystical doctrine that all men are equal in the sight of God, for the simple reason that they ARE God. They're all God's incarnations.

When that doctrine is secularized, it becomes a parody...that all men are equally inferior. And therefore may be evil-treated by the bureaucrats and the police, with no manners.

The whole tendency of this equalization of man in the nineteenth century is a result, in a way, of the work of Freud. But the absolute recipe for writing a best seller biography was to take some person who was renowned for his virtue and probity, and to show, after all, that everything was scurrilous and low down.

You see? This became the parody. Because the point that I am making--this may seem to be a little bit of a diversion, but the actual point is this;

Whenever the insights one derives from mystical vision become politically active they always create their own opposite. They create a parody.

Wouldn't you agree with that, Tim? I mean, this is the point I think you're saying: that wen we try to force a vision upon the world, and say that everybody ought to have this, and it's GOOD for you, then a parody of it is set up. As it was historically when this vision was forced upon the West, that all men are equal in the sight of God ans[sic] so on and so became bureaucratic democracy, which is that all people are equally inferior.

Snyder: Well, my answer to what Tim was saying there is that, it seems to me at least, in left-wing politics there are certain elements, and there are always going to be certain people who are motivated by the same thing that I'm motivated by.

And I don't want to reject the history, or sacrifices of the people in that movement...if they can be brought around to what I would consider a more profound vision of themselves, and amore profound vision of themselves and society...

Leary: I think we should get them to drop out, turn on, and tune in.

Ginsberg: Yeah, but they don't know what that means even.

Leary: I know it. No politician, left or right, young or old, knows what we mean by that.

Ginsberg: Don't be so angry!

Leary: I'm not angry...

Ginsberg: Yes, you are. Now, wait a minute...Everybody in Berkeley, all week long, has been bugging me...and Alpert...about what you mean by drop out, tune in, and turn on. Finally, one young kid said, "Drop out, turn on, and tune in." Meaning: get with an activity--a manifest activity--worldly activity--that's harmonious with whatever vision he has.

Everybody in Berkeley is all bugged because they think, one: drop-out thing really doesn't mean anything, that what you're gonna cultivate is a lot of freak-out hippies goofing around and throwing bottles through windows when they flip out on LSD. That's their stereotype vision. Obviously stereotype.

Leary: Sounds like bullshitting...


Ginsberg: No, like it's no different from the newspaper vision, anyway. I mean, they've got the newspaper vision.

Then, secondly, they're afraid that there'll be some sort of fascist putsch. Like, it's rumored lately that everyone' gonna be arrested. So that the lack of communicating community among hippies will lead to some concentration camp situation, or it has been in Los Angeles a dispersal of what the beginning of the community began.

Leary: These are the old, menopausal minds. There was a psychiatrist named Adler in San Francisco whose interpretation of the group Be-In was that this is the basis for a new fascism...when a leader comes along. And I sense in the activist movement the cry for a leader...the cry for organization...

Ginsberg: But they're just as intelligent as you are on this fact. They know about what happened in Russia. That's the reason they haven't got a big, active organization.

It's because they, too, are stumped by: How do you have a community, and a community movement, and cooperation within the community to make life more pleasing for everybody--including the end of the Vietnam War? How do you have such a situation organized, or disorganized, just so long as it's effective--without a fascist leadership? Because they don't want to be that either.

See, they are conscious of the fact that they don;t want to be messiahs--political messiahs. At least, Savio in particular. Yesterday, he was weeping. Saying he wanted to go out and live in nature.

Leary: Beautiful.

Ginsberg: So, I mean he's like basically where we are: stoned.


Watts: Well, I think that thus far, the genius of this kind of underground that we're talking about is that it has no leadership.

Leary: Exactly!

Watts: That everybody recognizes everybody else.

Ginsberg: Right, except that that's not really entirely so.

Watts: Isn't it so? But it is to a great extent now...

Ginsberg: There's an organized leadership, say, at such a thing as a Be-In. There is organization; there is community. There are community groups which cooperate, and those community groups are sparked by active people who don't necessarily parade their names in public, but who are capable people...who are capable of ordering sound trucks and distributing thousands of cubs of LSD and getting signs posted.

Watts: Oh yes, that's perfectly true. There are people who can organize things. But they don't assume the figurehead role.

Leary: I would prefer to call them FOCI of energy. There's no question. You start the poetry, chanting thing...

Watts: Yes.

Leary: And I come along with a celebration. Like Allen and Gary at the Be-In.


Watts: And there is nobody in charge as a ruler, and this is the absolutely vital thing. That the Western world has labored for many, many centuries under a monarchical conception of the universe where God is the boss, and political systems and all kinds of law have been based on this model of the universe...that nature is run by a boss.

Whereas, if you take the Chinese view of the world, which is organic..They would say, for example, that the human body is an organization in which there is no boss. It is a situation of order resulting from mutual interrelationship of all the parts.

And what we need to realize is that there can be, shall we say, a movement...a stirring among people...which can be ORGANICALLY designed instead of POLITICALLY designed. It has no boss. Yet all parts recognize each other in the same way as the cells of the body all cooperate together.

Snyder: Yes, it's a new social structure. It's a new social structure which follows certain kinds of historically known tribal models.

Leary: Exactly, yeah! My historical reading of the situation is that these great, monolithic empires that developed in history: Rome, Turkey and so forth...always break down when enough people (and it's always the young, the creative, and the minority groups) drop out and go back to a tribal form.

I agree with what I've heard you say in the past, Gary, that the basic unit is tribal. What I envision is thousands of small groups throughout the United States and Western Europe, and eventually the world, as dropping out. What happened when Jerusalem fell? Little groups went off together...

Ginsberg: Precisely what do you mean by drop out, then...again, for the millionth time?

Snyder: Drop out throws me a little bit, Tim. Because it's assumed that we're dropping out. The next step is, now what are we doing where we're in something else? We're in a new society. We're in the seeds of a new society.

Ginsberg: For instance, you haven't dropped out, Tim. You dropped out of your job as a psychology teacher in Harvard. Now, what you've dropped into is, one: a highly complicated series of arrangements for lecturing and for putting on the festival...

Leary: Well, I'm dropped out of that.

Ginsberg: But you're not dropped out of the very highly complicated legal constitutional appeal, which you feel a sentimental regard for, as I do. You haven't dropped out of being the financial provider for Milbrook, and you haven't dropped out of planning and conducting community organization and participating in it.

And that community organization is related to the national community, too. Either through the Supreme Court, or through the very existence of the dollar that is exchanged for you to pay your lawyers, or to take money to pay your lawyers in the theatre. So you can't drop out, like DROP OUT, 'cause you haven't.

Leary: Well, let me explain...

Ginsberg: So they think you mean like, drop out, like go live on Haight-Ashbury Street and do nothing at all. Even if you can do something like build furniture and sell it, or give it away in barter with somebody else.

Leary: You have to drop out in a group. You drop out in a small tribal group.

Snyder: Well, you drop out one by one, but...You know, you can join the sub-culture.

Ginsberg: Maybe it's: "Drop out of what?"

Watts: Gary, I think you have something to say here. Because you, to me, are one of the most fantastically capable drop-out people I have ever met. I think, at this point, you should say a word or two about your own experience of how live on nothing. How to get by in life economically.

This is the nitty-gritty. This is where it really comes down to in many people's minds. Where's the bread going to come from if everybody drops out? Now, you know expertly where it's gonna come from--living a life of integrity and not being involved in a commute-necktie-strangle scene.

Snyder: Well, this isn't news to anybody, but ten or fifteen years ago when we dropped out, there wasn't a community. There wasn't anybody who was going to take care of you at all. You were completely on your own.

What it meant was, cutting down on your desires and cutting down on your needs to an absolute minimum; and it also meant, don't be a bit fussy about how you work or what you do for a living.

That meant doing any kind of work. Strawberry picking, carpenter, laborer, longshore...Well, longshore is hard to get into. It paid very well. Shipping out...that also pays very well.


But at least in my time, it meant being willing to do any goddam kind of labor that came your way, and not being fuzzy about it.

And it meant cultivating the virtue of patience--the patience of sticking with a shitty job long enough to win the bread that you needed to have some more leisure, which meant more freedom to do more things that you wanted to do. And mastering all kinds of techniques of living really cheap...

Like getting free rice off the docks, because the loading trucks sometimes fork the rice sacks, and spill little piles of rice on the docks which are usually thrown away.

But I had it worked out with some of the guards down on the docks that they would gather 15 or 25 pounds of rice for me, and also tea...I'd pick it up once a week off the docks, and then I'd take it around and give it to friends. This was rice that was going to be thrown away, otherwise. Techniques like that.

Watts: Second day vegetables from the supermarket...

Snyder: Yeah, we used to go around at one or two in the morning, around the Safeways and Piggly Wigglies in Berkeley, with a shopping bag, and hit the garbage can out in back. We'd get Chinese cabbage, lots of broccoli and artichokes that were thrown out because they didn't look sellable any more.

So, I never bought any vegetables for the three years I was a graduate student at Berkeley. When I ate meat, it was usually horse meat from the pet store, because they don't have a law that permits them to sell horsemeat for human consumption in California like they do in Oregon.

Ginsberg: You make a delicious horse meat sukiyaki. (laughter)


Watts: Well, I want to add to this, Gary, that during the time you were living this way, I visited you on occasion, and you had a little hut way up on the hillside of Homestead Valley in Mill Valley and I want to say, for the record, that this was one of the most beautiful pads I ever saw. It was sweet and clean, and it had a very, very good smell to the whole thing. You were living what I consider to be a very noble life.

Now, then, the question that next arises, if this is the way of being a successful drop-out, which I think is true...Can you have a wife and child under such circumstances?

Snyder: Yeah, I think you can, sure.

Watts: What about when the state forces you to send the child to school?

Snyder: You send it to school.

Leary: Oh no, c'mon, I don't see this as drop-out at all.

Snyder: I want to finish what I was going to say. That's they(sic) way it was ten years ago.

Today, there is a huge community. When any kid drops out today, he's got a subculture to go fall into. He's got a place to go where there'll be friends, and people that will feed him--at least for a while--and keep feeding him indefinitely, if he moves around from pad to pad.

Leary: That's just stage one. The value of the Lower East Side, or of the district in Seattle or the Haight-Ashbury, is that it provides a first launching pad.

Everyone that's caught inside a television set of props, and made of actors...The first thing that you have to do is completely detach yourself from anything inside the plastic, robot Establishment.


The next step--for many people--could well be a place like Haight-Ashbury. There they will find spiritual teachers, there they will find friends, lovers, wives...

But that must be seen clearly as a way station. I don't think the Haight-Ashbury district--any city, for that matter--is a place where the new tribal...

Snyder: I agree with you. Not in the city.

Leary: going to live. So, I mean DROP OUT! I don't want to be misinterpreted. I'm dropping out...step by step.

Millbrook, by the way, is a tribal community. We're getting closer and closer to the landing...We're working out our way of import and export with the planet. We consider ourselves a tribe of mutants. Just like all the little tribes of Indians were. We happen to have our little area there, and we have come to terms with the white men around us.


Snyder: Now look...Your drop-out line is fine for all those other people out there, you know, that's what you've got to say to them. But, I want to hear what you're building. What are you making?

Leary: What are we building?

Snyder: Yeah, what are you building? I want to hear your views on that. Now, it's agreed we're dropping out, and there are techniques to do it. Now, what next! Where are we going now? What kind of society are we going toe in?

Leary: I'm making the prediction that thousands of groups will look just look around the fake-prop-television-set American society, and just open one of those doors. When you open the doors, they don't lead you in, they lead you OUT into the garden of Eden...which is the planet.

Then you find yourself a little tribe wandering around. As soon as enough people do this--young people do this--it'll bring about an incredible change in the consciousness of this country, and of the Western world.

Ginsberg: Well, that is happening actually...

Leary: Yeah, but...

Snyder: But that garden of Eden is full of old rubber truck tires and tin cans, right now, you know.

Leary: Parts of it are...Each group that drops out has got to use its two billion years of cellular equipment to answer those questions: :Hey, how we gonna eat? Oh, there's no paycheck, there's no more fellowship from the university! How we gonna eat? How we gonna keep warm? How we gonna defend ourselves? How we gonna eat? How we gonna keep warm?

Those are exactly the questions that cellular animals and tribal groups have been asking for thousands of years. Each group is going to have to depend upon its turned on, psychedelic creativity and each group of...

I can envision ten M.I.T. scientists, with their families, they've taken LSD...They've wondered about the insane-robot-television show of M.I.T. They drop out.

They may get a little farm out in Lexington, near Boston. They may use their creativity to make some new kinds of machines that will turn people on instead of bomb them. Every little group has to do what every little group has done throughout history.


Snyder: No, they can't do what they've done through history. What is very important here is, besides taking acid, is that people learn the techniques which have been forgotten. That they learn new structures, and new techniques. Like, you just can't go out and grow vegetables, man. You've got to learn HOW to do it. Like we've gotta learn to do a lot of things we've forgotten to do.

Leary: I agree.

Watts: That is very true, Gary. Our educational system, in its entirety, does nothing to give us any kind of material competence. In other words, we don't learn how to cook, how to make clothes, how to build houses, how to make love, or to do any of the absolutely fundamental things of life.


The whole education that we get for our children in school is entirely in terms of abstractions. It trains you to be an insurance salesman or a bureaucrat, or some kind of cerebral character.

Leary:'s exactly there that, I think, a clear-cut statement is needed. The American educational system is a narcotic, addictive process...

Watts: Right!

Leary: ...and we must have NOTHING to do with it. Drop out of school, drop out of college, don't be an activist...

Watts: But we've got to do something else.

Leary: Drop OUT of school...

Ginsberg: Where are you gonna learn engineering, or astronomy, or anything like that?

Leary: The way men have always learned the important things in life. Face to face with a teacher, with a guru. Because very little...

Ginsberg: What about calculation of star rations...things like that?

Leary: If any drop-out wants to do that, he can do it...I can tell him how to do it.

Snyder: I would suspect that within the next ten years---within the next five years probably--a modest beginning will be made in sub-culture institutions of higher learning that will informally begin to exist around the country, and will provide this kind of education without being left to the Establishment, to Big Industry, to government.

Watts: Well, it's already happening...

Snyder: I think that there will be a big extension of that, employing a lot of potentially beautiful teachers who are unemployed at the there are gurus who are just waiting to be put to use; and also drawing people, who are working in the universities with a bad conscience, off to join that...

Leary: Exactly...

Snyder: There's a whole new order of technology that is required for this. A whole new science, actually. A whole new physical science is going to emerge from this. Because the boundaries of the old physical science are within the boundaries of the Judaeo-Christian and Western imperialist boss sense of the universe that Alan was talking about.

In other words, our scientific condition is caught within the limits of that father figure, Jehovah, or Roman emperor...which limits our scientific objectivity and actually holds us back from exploring areas of science which can be explored.

Leary: Exactly, Gary. Exactly...

Watts: It's like the guy in Los Angeles who had a bad trip on LSD and turned himself into the police, and wrote: "Please help me. Signed, Jehovah." (laughter)

Leary: Beautiful! (more laughter) It's about time he caught on, huh? (more laughter)

Watts: Yes-ss (laughing) But, here though, is this thing, you see. We are really talking about all this, which is really a rather small movement of people, involved in the midst of a FANTASTIC MULTITUDE of people who can only continue to survive if automated industry feeds them, clothes them, houses them and transports them. By means of the creation of IMMENSE quantities of ersatz material: Fake bread, fake homes, fake clothes and fake autos.

In other words, this thing is going know, HUGE, FANTASTIC numbers of people...INCREASING, INCREASING, INCREASING...people think the population is something that's going to happen five years from NOW. They don't realize it's right on us NOW! People are coming out to the WALLS!

Snyder: And they're gobbling up everything on the planet to feed it.

Watts: Right.

Snyder: Well, the ecological conscience is something that has to emerge there, and that's part of what we hope for...hopefully in the subculture.

VOICE FROM AUDIENCE: Gary, doesn't Japan clearly indicate that we can go up in an order of magnitude in population and still...

Snyder: Well, who wants to? It can be very well argued by some people who have not been thinking very clearly about it, that we could support a larger number of people on this planet infinitely. But that's irresponsible and sacrilegious. It's sacrilegious for the simple reason it wipes out too many other animal species which we have no right to wipe out.

Leary: Absolutely.

Snyder: We have no moral right to upset the ecological balance.

Watts: No, that's true. We've got to admit that we belong to the mutual eating society.

Snyder: Furthermore, it simply isn't pleasant to be crowded that way. Human beings lose respect for human beings when they're crowded.

Leary: Out of my LSD experiences I have evolved a vision which makes sense to my cells...that we are already putting to work at Millbrook. And that is, that life on this planet depends upon about twelve inches of topsoil and the incredible balance of species that Gary was just talking about.

On the other hand, man and his technological, Aristotelian zeal has developed these methods of laying down miles of concrete on topsoil, polluting the waters and doing the damage that Gary was just talking about. Now, we cannot say to this society, "Go back to a simple, tribal, pastoral existence." That's romantic.


Snyder: You can say "Go FORWARD to a simple, pastoral existence."

Leary: Yeah. I have come to a very simple solution: All the technology has to go underground. Because metal belongs underground. You take a hatchet out in the forest and let it go. It goes exactly where God and the Divine Process wants it to be: underground.

Now the city of New York--the megalopolis is going to exist from Seattle to San Diego in a few years--could just as well be underground. If it goes underground it's there, where it belongs, with fire and metal and steel.

I foresee that these tribal groups that drop out--and I mean absolutely drop out--will be helping to get back in harmony with the land, and we've got to start immediately putting technology underground.

I can think of different ways we can do this symbolically. The Solstice, last April 21st (March 21st--Oracle) a group of us went out in front of the house in Millbrook and we took a sledgehammer and we spent about an hour breaking through the road. And we had this incredible piece of asphalt and rock--about four inches--and then we said: "Hey! Underneath this planet somewhere there's dirt!" It was really magical. And once you get a little piece taken out--it took about an hour to get one little piece--then you just go underneath it and it begins to crumble.

So I think we should start a movement to--one hour a day or one hour a week--take a little chisel and a little hammer and just see some earth come up, and put a little seed there. And then put a little ring--mandalic ring--of something around it.

I can see the highways and I can see the subways and I can see the patios and so forth...Suddenly the highway department comes along, and: "There's a rose growing in the middle of Highway 101!" And then...then...the robot power group will have to send a group of the highway department to kill the rose and put the asphalt down on the gentle, naked skin of the soil.

Now when they do that, we're getting to them. There'll be pictures in the paper. And consciousness is going to change. Because we've got to get to people's consciousness. We've got to let people realize what they're doing to the earth.

Ginsberg: That's the area of poetry you're dealing with there.

Leary: Here we go. I'm the poet and you're the politician. I've told you that for ten years!

Ginsberg: "There are no ideas but in things," said William Carlos Williams. How does this work out now?

Snyder: Technologically?

Voice from Audience: I wouldn't want to work underground.

Leary: Of course not. The only people that would want to work underground are people that would want to work with metal and steel. But if they're hung up that way, and they want to play with those kinds of symbols, fine. We'll have the greatest, air-conditioned, smooth, airport, tile gardens for them with all sorts of metal toys to play with.

Voice from Audience: Can I ask you for a clarification on one thing about drop out? You said that in another ten years the young men in the colleges are going to have degrees and the doctors, psychologists and so on, will all be turned-on people. But if they drop out from college now they won't have degrees and these people won't gain control of the apparatus--I mean, I know someone now at State who studies psychology and who doesn't know whether to drop out or not, and who's pulled in two directions. I think there are many people like this.

To Be Continued... Coming up >> Part Two: DROP OUT: YES OR NO?