“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck
Originally published in Arthur No. 9 (March 2004)
This Christmas day, in my annual attempt to avoid the holiday spirit, I sat in an underheated cafe in Manhattan’s East Village and reread the last chapters of Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man. Probably the most profound critique of modern industrial society ever written, One-Dimensional Man attacks the fundamental “irrational rationality” of our present system. Mechanized progress could—and logically should—have led to a reduction in labor time and the creation of a post-work and post-scarcity global society–what Marcuse calls a “pacified” existence. Since World War Two, the response to this deep threat to the ruling elite was the creation of “false needs” in the consumer; the perpetuation of the fear of nuclear war and terrorism; and the use of the mass media to enforce consensus consciousness.
Marcuse wrote: “Perhaps an accident may alter the situation, but unless the recognition of what is being done and what is being prevented subverts the consciousness and the behavior of man, not even a catastrophe will bring about the change.” This was clear after 9-11: Awareness opened for a moment, but the media and the government worked overtime to close it and reinforce the usual trance.
The last chapters of One Dimensional Man are tragic—I wept as I reread them. Marcuse realized that with the increasing power of technology, the human imagination—rather than any abstract “necessity”–had become the determining force in creating social reality. Marcuse writes: “In the light of the capabilities of advanced industrial civilization, is not all play of the imagination playing with technical possibilities, which can be tested as to their chances of realization? The romantic idea of a “science of the imagination” seems to assume an ever-more-empirical aspect.” If the imagination running a technological society is one of dominance and death and control, then you get what we now have in the world.
The global misery we are currently enduring is not a problem of reality: It represents, in fact, a failure of the human imagination and of human consciousness. The mass culture, advertising, and propaganda industries work to limit consciousness to a low vibration—a frequency of mindless fear and insatiable material greed—to construct the subjects, the workers and consumers and soldiers, who are the “biomass” or fodder needed to feed the technosphere’s doom spiral. Yet, as Marcuse puts it, “the chance of the alternative” hovers over every manifestation, every moment, of this dreary dystopia.
A post-Marxist, Marcuse could see no practical or realistic way to transform the society from its doom-orientation to a happier one. In the end, he writes, “The critical theory of society possesses no concepts which could bridge the gap between the present and its future; holding no promise and showing no success, it remains negative.”
But brilliant as he was, Marcuse was trapped in Post-Marxist materialism. He lacked crucial pieces of the puzzle–the ones that allow us, right now, to look forward to the imminent achievement of a utopian situation on the Earth, when we exert the will to create it.
It is easy for me to empathize with Marcuse, because I grew up as an East Coast intellectual, with a typical Marxist-Freudian orientation. Luckily, I stumbled upon the missing pieces when I studied shamanism–the archaic spiritual technology of many indigenous cultures worldwide. My experiences with shamanic rituals and psychedelic substances are recounted in my book, Breaking Open the Head. In that book, I also explored the literature and philosophy around psychedelics, mystical states, and, also, synchronicities–that strange arena in which real-world episodes and psychic events seem to collude, revealing an underlying psychic order to “reality.”
If our current crisis is one of human imagination, then we require a transformed imagination. We need an imagination that accepts, fearlessly, the responsibility to be happy, and therefore emanates joy rather than misery. A fully realized imagination – a happy imagination–automatically works to disperse the control mania and doom-orientation of the current collective psychosis.
The negative imagination that has not integrated its own shadow, to use a Jungian term, naturally projects war, depleted uranium, Olestra, and Botox. The material projection of a happy and generous and fully realized imagination would, naturally and automatically, create “heaven on earth.” As Marcuse writes: “Rational is the imagination which can become the a priori of the reconstruction and redirection of the productive apparatus toward a pacified existence, a life without fear. And this can never be the imagination of those who are possessed by the images of domination and death.” At a more profound level than psychoanalysis, shamanic techniques and rituals can help individuals integrate their shadows rather than projecting them.
Many of us have realized that the current American political system is broken beyond repair. It should be clear to any thinking person that the current Junta can never leave office willingly—the level of corruption and the potential for being tried as war criminals makes that an unacceptable alternative for them. The fixed voting machines that gave us a Republican Congress in 2002 will return Bush to office in 2004—if in fact there are elections at that point.
Personally, I have no more anxiety over this situation. I welcome it, because I recognize that “something else” is happening. We are experiencing the fulfillment of prophecy—including those of the Maya, the Hopi, and the Biblical Apocalypse. The Mayan civilization focused on the year “2012” as the time when human consciousness will achieve a transformation to a more intensified level. The Hopis recognize this period, right now, as the transition between two incarnations of the Earth. The Biblical Apocalypse describes chaos and devastation before the inception of the “New City” that achieves the integration of Heaven and Earth.
I suspect these prophecies describe an accelerated evolution of human consciousness to a new form of lived experience. This new consciousness recognizes other levels of being alongside the narrow, or one-dimensional, “irrational rationality” of the mainstream—it moves, simultaneously, in the mythic and shamanic realities. This new consciousness realizes a different relationship to time and space and matter. Beyond all appearances, the new consciousness recognizes the presence of origin—a creator spirit, a.k.a. God—shining through matter and winking from behind all of the myriad manifestations of what the Buddhists call Maya. This new consciousness lives from out of that presence, that origin, which is beyond time. This new consciousness—our new consciousness—is fully realized, hence it is happy. As a happy consciousness, all of the projections of its imagination will be happy ones. It does not fear the achievement of even its wildest dreams. It recoils from nothing, and transmutes reality by the clarity of its presence. I feel that I have validated the reality of this new situation through my own personal shamanic and visionary and synchronistic experiences—but of course, I might be wrong.
From this alternative perspective, we can recognize the brief flash of 5,000-plus years of recorded human history, historical time, as the medium in which human consciousness self-organizes – reaching a deeper level of being and knowing. This process is perfectly coordinated with the accelerated evolution of technology, which can be seen as the projection of human consciousness into matter, and its quickly approaching reintegration into this more intensified form of consciousness.
The Toltec and Mayan cultures focused on the year 2012 – December 21, 2012, to be exact–as the inevitable point of world transformation. They recognized this through astonishing astronomical calculations, and an intensified use of shamanic visionary technologies. On that date, the Earth and the Sun pass through the “dark rift” at the center of the Milky Way, the “Great Mother” at the center of our galaxy. John Major Jenkins, in his book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, notes that this centerpoint may well be something like a “Galactic Equator.” Just as on our Earth, magnetic currents shift above and below the Equator, it might be the case that passing through the center of the Milky Way has real effects–not just on magnetic forces, but on human consciousness itself. The entire cosmology of the Mayan and Toltec civilizations were focused on this date. The ball games played at temple cities like Palenque and Chichen Itza, for instance, were symbolic representations of 2012—the ball going through the ring symbolized the Sun passing through the dark rift at that point in time. Interestingly, it was up to the humans playing the game to make this happen properly–as it is up to us, right now, to create the necessary conditions for the imminent transformation of our global society into a truly utopian situation, based on compassion and pleasure and dharmic law, as the current paradigm continues its inevitable collapse.
That the year “2012” could be a “make or break” point for human consciousness makes perfect sense from many angles – the accelerated ecological destruction of the planetary environment, the increasing threat of chemical and nuclear holocausts, and the evolution of technology itself. Terence McKenna’s “time wave zero” continues to resonate, and Jose Arguelles’ 13 moon calendar (www.13moon.com) provides a practical tool for navigating through a different lived experience of time. The exponential evolution of technology could be approaching a “concrescence point,” as McKenna suggested. The “Stone Age” lasted many thousands of years, the “Bronze Age” lasted a few thousand years, the “Industrial Age” of mechanization was 500 years, the “Chemical Age” or “Plastic Age” has been 100 years, the “Information Age” of digital technology has been 30 years, the “Biotechnology Age” is about five years old. By this calculus, it is possible that the “Nanotechnology Age” will last all of eight minutes – and at that point, humans will have complete control over the planetary environment, on a cellular and atomic level. This will lead either to utter dystopian insanity or utopian rationality – or perhaps both will arrive at the same time.
But forget 2012: The key to approaching our current transitional situation is to concentrate ever-more deeply on what is “Here and Now,” on the immanent rather than the transcendent. Through the work of the imagination, new possibilities can be brought to consciousness and then realized–for instance, we require technologies and industries that follow the no-waste principles of natural systems. During a recent trip on the Amazonian psychedelic brew, ayahuasca, I received this strong message: “You go deeper into the physical to get to the infinite.”
Despite all appearances, the history of the human race up to this point is merely a prehistory. We are on our last self-destructive teenage bender as we approach the threshold of adulthood. I suspect the current process of consciousness intensification will lead us to an age of wonders—as well as entry into the community of galactic intelligence.
Daniel Pinchbeck is the author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books). A founding editor of Open City Magazine, he has written for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and many other outlets. He is currently at work on his second book. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org