A counterculture movement is characterized by the opposition of its members to the current behavioral norms and usually emerges during moments of political tension. The Merry Pranksters, as read in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, was a group led by Ken Kesey in the 60’s. It represented the beginning of a new counterculture in America, as the Pranksters started a trip on a bus named Furthur, experimenting LSD as a way of transcendence. The objective of their leader is to spread his idea to the whole nation. However, basic features of the Pranksters’ ideas and organizations make their goals unfeasible. Their negligence towards racial and gender issues and the obsession with power of Kesey are two factors that would lead to chaos and tyranny should the movement expand. The following paragraphs are dedicated to support this idea by analyzing an LSD Nation based on the Pranksters’ principles.
One of the main premises of this group is doing your thing, whatever you feel you are meant to in life, which leaves little room for sustainability and stability of the LSD Nation. “If somebody is an ass-kicker, then that’s what he’s going to do on this trip, kick asses . . . He can just say, ‘I’m sorry I kicked you in the ass, but I’m not sorry I’m an ass-kicker. That’s what I do, I kick people in the ass’” (pg. 73). This leads us to a big question: Would our concept of justice (our moral rightness based on ethics and our system of keeping this correctness by reward and punishment) be substituted by another concept of justice or would it simply disappear? The establishment of a fair and reasoning society is not possible if everything is accepted under the excuse of nature, and this is the first of their contradictions. Another aspect of doing your thing is the sacrifice of the production power of a nation. This would force a big scale parasitic communal system where an unstable and maybe minimal fraction of the people would actually provide money and services. Such society would eventually break down due to individualistic desires inherent to human beings, and individuals would be forced back to finding sources of survival outside their thing.
Counterculture currents reacted to World War II and the Cold War and social issues, such as discrimination for race, gender and sexual orientation. However, The Pranksters pose intersubjectivity (merging with other people, objects and beings by the use of LSD) as an answer, while completely ignoring the situation and needs of the victims of these problems. This is exemplified by the episode where the Pranksters go into a Negroes beach and therefore cause the irritation of the people there. Even though everything ends up in an integrated party, this result is not replicable in other situations or at other levels. Deep cut beliefs, such as racism, cannot be changed in short terms and they would arise at any moment, specially during bad trips, or disturbing experiences, from both sides. Another case is their alignment with the Hell’s Angels gang simply because of the outlaw condition. Put all these pieces together, we find but potentially increased violence at a psychedelic level.
Something probably more important than the features of the group is the methods of leadership by Ken Kesey, which is packed with such manipulation and control appetite that changes the original course of the voyage. Evidently, Kesey is the master mind and provider of the resources and therefore exercises coercion methods on the group. As consciousness of power arises, he tries to expand his mass psychology abilities. At this level, what the purpose of this movement is becomes arguable. No member of the Pranksters really is in power. They follow a charismatic, prophet-like man who has promised the road of self-divinity but who would become a tyrant in case of a successful expansion of the movement. It is certain that founding a complete new regime involves a hard fist and tight constraints, but the intentions behind the beautiful people alter the complete panorama. Kesey’s behavior goes along with the nurse character in his book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, for he would command the LSD nation. This mere exchange of the predominant system does not eliminate the fact that any society shapes and controls its branches. This system too would yield societal wastes: people who would be manipulated like Billy, fight like McMurphy or disguise themselves like the Chief. Furthermore, this would occur at a higher rate, as a consequence of abuse and addiction to drugs.
It is attributed to LSD the ability to regain sensorial and creative faculties that were lost throught time under the imposition of rules of society. “We are shut off from our own world. Aand these drugs seem to be the key to open these locked doors” (pg. 44). This power of thinking beyond common sense and accessing the absoluteness of the mind could possibly trigger major changes in current reasoning and technology. An example of this is the work of Steve Jobs, a very creative and smart man who left school because of the ideas of Timothy Leary of achieving a higher spiritual level by using LSD. Jobs stated that “definitely taking LSD is one of the most important things in my life”. 1 The use of psychedelic drugs does not necessarily lead to destructive trends and it could be the beginning of a big wave of invention and revolution.
The case of Jobs, however, is exceptional. The use of LSD just coincided with an ambitious and accurate person. If psychedelic methods had as general consequences certain types of novelties, the latter would be substantial (and the amount of authors would also be exponentially higher). Moreover, it would be questionable to sacrifice the welfare and security of a big mass of people for attaining any type of ideas or objects. We are hence redirected to challenging the objective of converting the whole United States of America to an LSD Nation. It is not worth to forgo moral values to achieve an apparently less demanding society. Our actual regulated society is preferable, in spite of its flaws and inequalities. An LSD Nation would not really be able to survive with its chaos and maintain a goal of freedom.
1CBS News. 60 Minutes: Steve Jobs. 2011. Minutes 5:03-5:30. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51J5K7VMsg4