Ten years ago — 2002 — right about now: 70,000 free copies of the 56-page Arthur Magazine No. 1 somehow hit the streets across North America.
Thank you to everyone who helped get this train rolling.
Thank you, publisher Laris Kreslins and art director W.T. Nelson. Thank you, adfellow Jamie Fraser.
Thank you, senior advisors Mark Lewman, Paul Cullum and Shawn Mortensen (RIP).
Thank you, contributors Paul Moody, Byron Coley and Thurston Moore, Geoff Mcfetridge, Spike Jonze, Neil Hamburger, David Berman, Ian Svenonius, Dame Darcy, Eddie Dean, Joe Carducci, Camille Rose Garcia, Jason Amos, Joseph Durwin, Daniel Pinchbeck, Alan Moore, Pat Graham, Dave Brooks, Steve Giberson, Mike Castillo and John Henry Childs.
Thank you, all the agents in our improvised guerrilla distribution network across the continent.
Thank you, all the entities that spent money to advertise in our untested pages.
Thank you to everyone thanked on Page 3 of the mag: Brendan Newman, Kreslins Family, Oma, Kristaps, Gary Hustwit, Chris Ronis, Kate Sawai, Janis Sils, Bernadette Napoleon, Vineta Plume, Fred Cisterna, Richard Grijalva, Ned Milligan, Lizzy Klein, Robin Adams, Jack Mendelsohn, John Shimkonis, Prolific, Chris Young, Ed Halter, Mike Galinsky, Jim Higgins, Plexifilm Family, Alie Robotos, Domainistudios, Fistfulayen, Natalie and Zach, Janitor Sunny Side Up, Yasmin Khan, Rachel Stratton, Lady Montford, John Coulthart, Henry Childs and Joshua Sindell.
Thank you, Sue Carpenter.
Thank you, Darcey Leonard.
Thank you, John Payne and Andrew Male.
Thank you, Robin Turner.
Thank you to the bands that played Arthur’s launch party at Spaceland in Silver Lake (thank you, Jennifer Tefft): Fatso Jetson, Chuck Dukowski Sextet… I’m not sure who else.
Thank you, Matt Luem.
Thank you, Steve Appleford, for being a real journalist.
Thank you to everyone who played a role who I’ve forgotten or neglected to post here. (Please be in touch!)
And thank you to everyone who found the magazine, picked it and read it.
The recent appearance of a sizable excerpt from James Kunstler’s new book in the glossy pages of Rolling Stone may well represent the beginning of a cultural sea change. It is not that the argument presented in The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century is particularly new—in fact, the bulk of it was offered by Thom Hartmann’s The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight (1999), as well as World Watch editor Ed Ayre’s God’s Last Offer (1999), among others. The significance is that the mainstream finally finds itself compelled to pay attention to it. What these authors have been telling us is stark and simple: Our current form of mass post-industrial civilization based on fossil fuel consumption and over-use of natural resources is about to end. There is no way to prevent a collapse that may be more or less sudden, and more or less cataclysmic. All we can do is decide what to do in the time that remains to prepare for it.
The reason for this radical and imminent shift is the exhaustion of cheap fuel, causing a continual and irreversible rise in energy prices. In Hubbert’s Peak, Kenneth Duffeyes, a former geologist for the oil corporations, made a convincing argument that we are passing the point of “peak oil,” and the oil that remains underground is exponentially more difficult and expensive to extract. As Kunstler—and Hartmann, and others—report, there is no real replacement for fossil fuels in running our current sprawling, suburbs-based, energy-wasting civilization. The end of cheap oil (accompanied by the almost more worrisome depletion of clean water reserves the world over, as well as the various side effects of accelerated global warming) will cause extraordinarily far-reaching changes in the way life will be lived by all of us, in the near future.
In The Long Emergency, Kunstler takes a hard-nosed look at the consequences of our profligate ways in the last decades. “Suburbia will come to be regarded as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. It has a tragic destiny. The psychology of previous investment suggests that we will defend our drive-in utopia long after it has become a terrible liability.” He offers a cogent regional analysis of what America may become in an energy-scarce future, in which social inequity increases, paramilitary activity escalates, and desperate urban ghettos riot at a level exceeding all previous phases of unrest. As sea levels rise by several feet in this century, low-lying cities such as New Orleans may disappear underwater. At the same time, water-scarce regions like the Southwest—and cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas—should become essentially uninhabitable. Along with forced mass-migrations out of unsupportable areas, Kunstler foresees the “end of industrial growth, falling standards of living, economic desperation, declining food production, and domestic political strife,” as well as a probable increase in terrorism.
And yet, as severe as Kunstler’s diagnosis is, his prognosis is not all bad. The massive changes caused by our energy emergency will force community building, re-localization of industry and an ethical revaluing of life, as well as a careful attention to all living processes. The passive consumer-trance of our current age will no longer be possible, as people who want to survive in this new world will have to be fully participatory as well as fluidly adjustable to continual changes in social structure and environment. In the end, Kunstler’s perspective is similar to Hartmann’s, who foresees, in the collapse of the steroid-pumped values of the current dominator culture, a return to the consilient and collaborative life-patterns of indigenous tribal societies. Prolonged, long-distance war such as the current Iraq conflict will, also, soon be a thing of the past: “A point will be reached when the great powers no longer have the means to project their power at a distance,” Kunstler notes. All of our institutions—from schools to government—will have to be reconfigured, downscaled and re-localized to mesh with our new realities. “Social responsibility to the community will be hard to evade,” he writes. “The pervasive and corrosive idea of just being another wage-earning ‘unit’ in a consumer society will be dead.”
Although Kunstler considers this approaching crisis to be a “long emergency,” reaching full-blown form by the middle of the 21st century, there is another possibility. According to this vision, the long emergency may actually turn out to be a short emergency of a year or two, followed by a movement into a vastly different—and far superior—way of thought and action for humanity as a whole. By this alternative perspective, humanity is currently going through an accelerated evolution in consciousness that will culminate in the creation of new social systems and new spiritual possibilities. My own thinking on this subject led me to the study of the outsider hypothesis that considers the Mayan Calendar to be a model of the evolution of consciousness, culminating in the establishment of a harmonic and compassion-based global civilization before the end-date of the Mayan Calendar on December 21, 2012. An excellent video presentation of this point of view, by the artist Ian Lungold, is available at http://www.mayanmajix.com; Carl Johan Calleman’s book The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness is another useful tool for exploring this radical vision. According to their meticulous study of the fractal model of time apparently presented by the Classical Mayans, Lungold and Calleman propose the year 2008 as the point of collapse for the current socioeconomic paradigm, to be superseded by a new form of consciousness and a unified planetary culture in the following years.
A “new form of consciousness” may sound like a specious concept, but it is one that many philosophers and visionaries have proposed, and tried to define, from Ken Wilber to Sri Aurobindo, Carl Jung to Jean Gebser. My perspective is that, as part of this 2012 transition, we are witnessing an integration of the modern rational mindset with the archaic shamanic or esoteric worldview—many people I know seem to be paying closer and closer attention to synchronicities and psychic events that appear in their lives, not in a naive or fuzzily “New Age” way but in a very sophisticated and careful manner. Such a shift is almost impossible to quantify—though the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton University is giving it a good shot, placing random number generators in cities around the Earth and noting significant statistical deviation from normal patterns of randomness after—and even hours before—major world events such as 9/11 or the massive tsunami.
The subjective, psychic, or shamanic aspect of being is only barely alluded to in Kunstler’s analysis of a potentially spooky, Road Warrior-like future (he does propose religion will become more essential to many people, with the melting-down of our current support systems), but it is one that needs to be considered. Dean Radin, Director of the Consciousness Research Laboratory at the University of Nevada, has compiled and analyzed the statistical evidence for “psi” phenomena, presenting the data in his book, The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena (1997). According to his meticulous study, thousands of experiments in telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance have fulfilled the scientific requirements of verifiability and repeatability, indicating that these phenomena do, in fact, exist, and can be measured. In our current understanding of psychic phenomena, we may be in a similar place as the West was in the 1750s in regards to electricity—the scientists of that time had noticed lightning and static shocks, but had no conception of how to convert this energy into a transformative force for their world. It may be that the transfer to a harmonic world will be accompanied by global psychic experiments focused on planetary healing.
Rather than thinking of a retraction or destruction of human possibilities in an approaching economic collapse, it might be that such an episode would be bracing as well as clarifying, leading to a sudden switch-over of the elites who run our crudely globalized and inequitable world-system. It is worth considering previous epochs of revolutionary change, such as the French Revolution. Before the French Revolution, the Enlightenment philosophers, pamphleteers, and cafe intellectuals of the ancien regime had little clue that they might end up the vanguard of a new social order. Revolutionary moments are mythological and archetypal situations—and we may be closer to such an episode than most of us currently dare to imagine. After all, before 1989, how many people managed to predict or even imagine the sudden and astonishingly peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall? Would the collapse of Wall Street—symbolizing a system of abstract monetary value that is a bit like a parasitical artificial life form feeding on the natural capital of the planet—be any more surprising?
If this alternative hypothesis is correct, the time between now and the approaching change-over represents our singular opportunity to develop alternative paradigms and basic support systems—of food production, alternative energy, new currencies, and so on —that could be applied on increasingly large scales as the mainstream socioeconomic system continues its inevitable entropic decline. The macroscopic utopianism of someone like Buckminster Fuller—who believed humans were fated to succeed on the Earth, designing societies of abundance rather than scarcity—may deserve more of our current attention than the dystopian visions that have become so prevalent, and so popular. At the same time, the pursuit of spirituality may come to seem increasingly less fuzzy and more pragmatically necessary and straightforward. When Yogi Bhaijan —the master of kundalini yoga who died last year—was asked by his disciples to define the true meaning of the long-awaited “Age of Aquarius,” he replied bluntly: “No more bullshit.” His answer may be a mantra for our time.
I first encountered the idea that we are quickly approaching a “Technological Singularity” in the works of Terence McKenna. In McKenna’s great essay, “New Maps of Hyperspace,” published in The Archaic Revival, he wrote, “We are like coral animals embedded in a technological reef of extruded psychic objects. All our tool making implies our belief in an ultimate tool.” He saw the archetypal apparition of the UFO or Flying Saucer as a foreshadowing of this tool awaiting us at the end of history. For him, this ultimate tool would exteriorize the human soul and interiorize the body, releasing the psyche into the infinite realm of the Imagination—”a kind of Islamic paradise in which one is free to experience all the pleasures of the flesh provided one realizes that one is a projection of a holographic solid-state matrix.”
McKenna was writing in the first flush of technological euphoria that accompanied the “dot-com” boom, and his perspective reflects a certain amount of that decades-long bedazzlement with the new forces unleashed by the extraordinary evolution of the Internet. Ultimately, however, his perspective was Gnostic, as well as Apocalyptic, informed by his psychedelic journeys into psilocybin and DMT-space. McKenna was a brilliant man. However, his euphoric focus on the self-organization of this technological event—which he often correlated with the 2012 end-date of the Mayan Calendar—left in its wake a certain passivity. The hipster counterculture that has beamed into this meme is too quick to celebrate the upcoming Eschaton, without doing the hard work required to bring it into being. From my perspective, what we need to consider now is not technology, but technique.
Before elaborating on that idea, let’s take a brief look at the “Technological Singularity” meme as it is currently propounded on the Internet by John Smart, of Singularity Watch, and Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines and operator of the KurzweilAI.net website. Kurzweil and Smart are “transhumanists,” who promote the prospect of an imminent super-technological future in which humans have merged with machines in order to transcend our biological limits. In his essay “The Law of Accelerating Returns,” Kurzweil looks at the exponential evolution of technology, and argues that this mathematical growth-curve eventually reaches a point where it accelerates to a level that is close to infinite. He believes that this will most likely occur sometime in this century: “Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity—technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.”
Smart shares Kurzweil’s euphoria: “Technology is the next organic extension of ourselves, growing with a speed, efficiency, and resiliency that must eventually make our DNA-based technology obsolete, even as it preserves and extends all that we value most in ourselves,” he noted in a 2003 interview. Unlike Kurzweil, who sees humans evolving technologies that expand out to fill up the universe, Smart sees the eventual destiny of the species in what he calls “transcension,” essentially escaping this universe in the other direction, by creating simulations or virtual realities that will be like new universes—or, in fact, new universes, as we draw all local information into the black hole of our information-processing and technology-generating engines.
The transhumanists begin with the idea that our biological limitations should be overcome through mechanical augmentation. We are too slow, too cumbersome in our inherited meatsuits, and therefore trapped in what John Smart calls “slowspace.” Through immersion in virtual realities or direct fusion with cerebrally accelerating artificial intelligence agents—or some other technological genie—we will leap beyond our current imprisonment in the organic realm, and attain a higher, faster, snazzier state of being. Kurzweil notes: “Biological thinking is stuck at 1026 calculations per second (for all biological human brains), and that figure will not appreciably change, even with bioengineering changes to our genome. Nonbiological intelligence, on the other hand, is growing at a double exponential rate and will vastly exceed biological intelligence well before the middle of this century.” By inserting “nanobots” into our brains or ultimately perhaps downloading our psyches into immortal silicon-based supercomputers, humans will be able to contribute our pitiful little brain-wattage and antiquated personalities to the evolution of A.I.’s higher, faster levels of functioning.
We can, in fact, according to Smart, even feel some compassion for the next level of machine consciousness we are currently gestating to succeed us. He writes, “Consider that once we arrive at the singularity it seems highly likely that the A.I.s will be just as much on a spiritual quest, just as concerned with living good lives and figuring out the unknown, just as angst-ridden as we are today.” Even if, during some hyper-insectile phase of Terminator-style behavior, the A.I,’s accidentally destroy the human species, Smart reassures us, they would no doubt want to recreate us eventually – just as we build museums to understand the history of our planet and how we arose out of earlier life-forms, as well as documenting indigenous cultures that we too have accidentally destroyed.
It is instructive to consider—and to dismiss—the transhumanist perspective, as it reflects our cultural fantasies about technology and about transcendence, as well as our deep anxiety and deeper misconceptions about the essence of time, space, consciousness, and being. It may be the case—I would propose—that our future lies in an entirely different direction. To begin to conceptualize that direction—to draw in an imprint of what a truly human future might look like—we first have to give some thought to the essential nature of technology. Continue reading →
Last summer, I visited the Hopi on their tribal lands in Arizona. The Hopi are thought to be the original inhabitants of the North American continent–this is what their own legends tell us, and archaeologists agree. My initial interest in the Hopi came from reading about their oral prophecies and their “Emergence Myth.” According to the Hopi, we are currently living in the Fourth World, on the verge of transitioning, or emerging, into the Fifth World. In each of the three previous worlds, humanity eventually went berserk, tearing apart the fabric of the world through destructive practices, wars, and ruinous technologies. As the end of one world approaches a small tunnel or inter-dimensional passage —the sipapu—appears, leading the Hopi and other decent people into the next phase, or incarnation, of the Earth.
Of course, most modern people would consider this story to be an interesting folktale or fantasy with no particular relevance to our current lives. Even five years ago, I probably would have agreed with them. However, my personal experiences with indigenous cultures and shamanism convinced me, in the interim, that there is more to traditional wisdom than our modern mindset can easily accept. The Hopi themselves say that almost all of the signs have been fulfilled that precede our transition to the Fifth World. These include a “gourd of ashes falling from the sky,” destroying a city, enacted in the atomic blasts obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a spider web across the Earth, which they associate with our power grid and telephone lines. According to Frank Waters, who compiled accounts from 30 Hopi elders in his Book of the Hopi (1963), the current Fourth World will end in a war that will be “a spiritual conflict” fought with material means, leading to the destruction of the United States through radiation. Those who survive this conflict will institute a new united world without racial or ideological divisions “under one power, that of the Creator.”
The 12,000 Hopi live in a dry and dramatic landscape strewn with enormous boulders, resembling the surface of an alien planet. Their towns are clustered on three mesas—high, flat cliffs overlooking vast swathes of desert. Traditionally, the Hopi are subsistence farmers; they work with ancient strains of corn and beans that are, almost miraculously, able to grow in that arid environment. For obvious reasons, water is sacred to their culture—many of their rituals are aimed at bringing rain. Each spring, each well, is precious to the Hopi. While I was visiting Hopiland I attended a raindance in the town of Walpi, on First Mesa. Perhaps 50 men of the town—wearing masks and costumes and feathered headdresses —participated in the dance, which was held in the town’s center. The dancers are dressed as katsinas, the spiritual beings that are thought to control elemental forces. The ceremony is a form of possession trance—the goal is to summon the katsinas to temporarily inhabit the bodies of the dancers. The Hopi believe that their culture can only prosper if they maintain direct contact with the supernatural powers that manifest directly through the natural world.
In his book Rethinking Hopi Anthropology, the Cambridge anthropologist Peter Whitely recalls, with an almost embarrassed reluctance, that during his time with the Hopi in the 1980s, he witnessed repeated demonstrations of their precognitive abilities and their ability to influence natural forces through ritual. He was transfixed by his first visit to a Snake Dance in 1980: “This was no commodified spectacle of the exotic … its profound religiosity was tangible, sensible. Within half an hour of the dance (which lasts about 45 minutes), a soft rain began to fall from a sky that had been burningly cloudless throughout the day.” When he went to see one of his informants, Harry Kewanimptewa, a septuagenarian member of the Spider clan, he would often find that the elder would answer the questions he had intended to ask before he could vocalize them: “I have no desire to fetishize or exoticize here, but this was something about him and some other, particularly older, Hopis that I have experienced repeatedly and am unable to explain rationally.”
I can sympathize with Whiteley’s plight. Since I started exploring shamanism almost a decade ago, I have found myself living in two worlds simultaneously—the world of Western rationalist discourse with its empirical and materialist emphasis, and the shamanic realm of magical correspondences, supernatural forces, dream messages, and synchronicities. The shamanic realm is one in which human consciousness is not an epiphenomenon or dualistic byproduct of a purely physical evolution, but an inseparable aspect of the world, intertwined with reality at every level. It seems that quantum physics has attained a perspective that is similar to the shamanic view, acknowledging a direct relation between the observer and observed.
A few weeks ago, I attended the annual Burning Man festival, in the Black Rock desert of Nevada, for the fifth year in a row. Burning Man has been called the world’s biggest party, but I don’t even know if I have “fun” at Burning Man in any ordinary sense—being there is incredibly intense, a kind of psychophysical endurance test. Despite the difficulties, I will continue to return as long as it is possible to do so. The gathering acts as an enormous shamanic transformer, constellating new insights and clearing away old junk.
I chose to go to Burning Man instead of staying in New York for the protests surrounding the Republican Convention. My increasing suspicion is that traditional forms of protest, at this point, are only playing into the hands of the security apparatus. The police and military get the opportunity to test out their latest tactics and shiniest gadgets, while the corporate media finds the most incendiary images to broadcast across the US, amping up the anxiety. The catharsis that protesters get from yelling slogans across barbed wire barriers and out of “free speech pens” might be energy that could be more creatively invested in other ways.
As the corporate and governmental superstructure continue a lockstep march towards their own self-destruction, their attempts to pulverize the collective psyche into submission becomes more transparent and overt. Electrical currents of spite and anxiety ripple across our public discourse and private lives. The individual’s refusal to fall into these traps or accept this negative conditioning can be a great liberation. At Burning Man, I kept thinking that the most meaningful political act, right now, is to continue cultivating fearlessness in pursuit of joy. To be fearless, calm, and joyful is to jam a wrench into the “Brave New 1984” technodystopic machinery that is seeking to impose itself on our world.
I consider the current sociopolitical abyss to be a kind of evolutionary tool. The control apparatus of modern society may be functioning as a training ground for a new level of consciousness. Many different thinkers of the 20th century, as well as the prophecies of archaic and indigenous spiritual traditions, have proposed that a major change in human consciousness is imminent. This has been articulated in various ways. Before his death in 1961, the psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw that the “reality of the psyche,” repressed by the modern mentality, would soon become unavoidable. Mankind was being forced to climb “to a higher moral level, to a higher plane of consciousness,” to handle “the superhuman powers which the fallen angels” had dropped into our hands.
The Austrian visionary Rudolf Steiner (founder of Anthroposophy and Waldorf education) claimed that the mission of his life on Earth was to return the knowledge of reincarnation to the West. According to Steiner, individual human beings reincarnate again and again, and the Earth itself passes through successive incarnations. He considered this phase to be the fourth incarnation of the Earth. Steiner thought we are approaching a fifth incarnation, the “Jupiter state,” where humanity would evolve new capacities and reach a new level of wisdom. Actually, it’s not just humanity: according to Steiner, the plant and mineral kingdom would reach a higher level of consciousness during this next incarnation, while humanity would split into several different “human kingdoms,” undergoing different forms of evolution.
The Indian philosopher Sri Auribindo also felt that we were moving towards a new level or intensity of consciousness. In one of his last essays, “The Mind of Light,” he defined this as the “supramental” state. Just as life had self-organized out of matter, and mind had self-organized out of life, consciousness would evolve beyond the obscurations and ignorance of our current condition to attain a level of truth-consciousness, and spiritual awareness, that could not be manipulated or fooled. Aurobindo speculated that our evolution would accelerate exponentially from that point. Once we had reached this supramental state, this truth-consciousness, we would be able to transform our physical reality and our bodies. “Man,” Aurobindo wrote, “is a transitional being.” The powers unleashed by technology might be reintegrated into the psyche, at a higher level of development.
As counterintuitive as it may seem at first, I propose that our current environment, saturated with noise and chaos and fear-mongering, is the necessary background for attaining this supramental condition, for accepting and mastering the reality of the psyche. The new mindset stems from a fearless curiosity and hunger for truth, and a rejection of the cynicism and negative programming foisted upon it by the corporate-controlled media and current power structure. The new intensity of consciousness accepts the reality of psychic and occult levels of reality, denied by modern materialism, but integrates this understanding with a scientific, pragmatic, and empirical approach to existence. As a speaker at Burning Man pointed out, it is not “New Age,” but “New Edge.”
My hypothesis is that at least a portion of humanity attains this level of “supramental” mind – including, as Aurobindo proposes, an accelerated evolution —as we approach the year 2012, prophesied by the Mayans as the end of the 5,125-year “Great Cycle” of human history. Despite current appearances, we are on the verge of a transition into a new intensity of human consciousness that will institute an harmonic and utopian situation on the Earth. This thesis is not mine alone—it is carefully elaborated by Carl Johann Calleman, among others, in his new book, The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness (Bear & Co.). This book supports the basic ideas of the writers Jose Arguelles and John Major Jenkins—a new outsider paradigm is crystallizing.
Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sept. 2004)
Illustration by Arik Roper
“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck
“Regarding Crop Circles…”
By the time you read this, the 2004 crop circle season will be over. Harvesters will have scooped up the fallen wheat and canola, as it lay swirled into inscrutable patterns. The symbols that attracted thousands to the verdant countryside of Wessex, in Southern England, will only exist as a set of astonishing images (to see this year’s patterns, visit http://www.cropcircleconnector.com, http://www.temporarytemples.co.uk and http://www.cropcircleresearch.com). The pictures will go into the archives and databases kept by the “croppies,” those devoted students of a phenomenon that has been resoundingly ridiculed by journalists and ignored by the masses. After all, the prevailing judgment offered by the media and the public is that the crop circles are a hoax, made by drunken farmers, bored teenagers, or unemployed artists. If this is the prevailing belief, then surely it must be the case. When is the mainstream media or mass popular opinion ever wrong?
Crop circles have appeared annually, in the UK and around the world, since the late 1970s. The patterns began as simple circles, but quickly started to complexify into formations such as “quintuplets,” four smaller circles arrayed around a single larger one. In the early 1990s, the crop circles moved to a new level, as hundreds of designs appeared each summer. One type of formation seemed to display a kind of abstract sign system unscrolling across hundreds of yards. In 1991, crop circles started to depict recognizable symbols from alchemy, fractal geometry, and various mystical traditions. Beginning at that time, hoaxers stepped forward declaring that they were the perpetrators of the phenomenon. Some of these groups—such as http://www.circlemakers.com—continue to claim responsibility, parlaying their skills in simulating formations into lucrative contracts with corporations and music video producers.
Through the rest of the 1990s and until today, the crop circles continued to evolve—and this took place in relative quiet. Much of the media coverage and popular attention dispersed after the phenomenon was officially labeled a con job. However, those who continued to follow the patterns were treated to ever-more elaborate and extraordinary configurations, using increasingly complex geometry. Averaging perhaps 100 configurations a year, the formations branched into Moebius Strips, toroids, DNA spirals, sunflower bursts, astronomical configurations indicating certain dates in the future, “Trees of Life,” futuristic iterations of the Yin-Yang symbol, various complex fractals, and “strange attractors.” The execution of these patterns—except for the obvious human-made attempts—has been persistently virtuosic.
The intellectual profile of the circlemakers was raised considerably by Gerald Hawkins, former chair of the astronomy department at Boston University and author of the influential book, Stonehenge Decoded. Hawkins began to study the geometry of the crop circles in 1990. He found that even seemingly simple formations contained hidden layers of intention and geometrical complexity. He analyzed a triplet of circles, in a pyramid shape, discovered on June 4, 1988, at Cheesefoot Head. He was able to draw three tangent lines that touched all three circles. These three lines formed an equilateral triangle. He drew a circle at the center of this triangle, and found that the ratio of the diameter of this central circle to the diameter of the three original circles was 4:3. He tested this out with circles of different sizes that allowed tangent lines to be drawn in the same way, and he found that the ratio remained constant. The formation had yielded a geometrical paradigm. Since Hawkins was well-schooled in Euclidean geometry, he went looking for this theorem in the pages of Euclid, and other later texts. It did not exist. The formation was displaying a new Euclidean paradigm that no other geometer had found.
Hawkins found three other original Euclidean paradigms in different crop circle patterns. From these four paradigms, he was able to generate a fifth Euclidean theorem that Euclid, and all later authors, had missed. This theorem involved concentric circles placed inside different types of triangles. Circles drawn within three isosceles triangles generated one typical formation; circles drawn within equilateral triangles generated the other. In one science journal and one magazine for math teachers, Hawkins offered a contest to see if anyone could derive the fifth general theorem from the four earlier ones. Nobody could. “One has to admire this sort of mind, let alone how it’s done or why it’s done,” remarked Hawkins, who also found diatonic ratios in many formations, suggesting the circlemakers take an interest in the musical scale.
Biophysicists have studied the biochemical effects on plants within the formations, discovering that the bent “nodes” on stalks of wheat and canola are elongated towards the center of a crop circle, as if by heat. Many observers have seen “balls of light” hovering over fields in which crop circles have appeared; some have witnessed the extraordinarily fast creation of patterns—within a few seconds—seemingly orchestrated by these “balls of light.” Eltjo Haselhoff, a Dutch physicist and laser engineer, collated data supporting the hypothesis that crop circles are created by single-point sources of electromagnetic radiation. He published the results of his investigations in Physiologia Plantarum, a peer-reviewed scientific journal on plant physiology and biophysics. In his excellent and levelheaded book The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles, Haselhoff writes:
This publication has an important consequence. It means that the hypothesis that “balls of light” are directly involved in the creation of (at least some of the) crop formations is no longer a hypothesis, but a scientifically proven and accepted fact. Moreover, it will remain such a fact until someone comes forward with an alternative explanation for the circularly symmetric node lengthening, or proofs that the analysis was erroneous. However, such a proof will not be an article in some daily newspaper or on the Internet. The discussions about node-lengthening effects in crop circles have clearly outgrown the level of the tabloids and entered the era of scientific communication by means of scientific literature. Consequently, the only comment that can be taken seriously at this point will have to be another publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
The Wessex area of Southern England is the epicenter of the crop circle phenomenon. It has attracted a group of thinkers and researchers over the last decades, who have studied the formations and contemplated them over a considerable period of time. Their perspective is that the phenomenon may be intentional, orchestrated by levels of nonterrestrial consciousness considerably more advanced than our own.
John Martineau is the Glastonbury-based publisher of Wooden Books, a wonderful series of slim volumes on astronomy, physics, Neolithic monuments, and other subjects. Martineau’s A Little Book of Coincidence illustrates the beautifully harmonic set of relations between planets orbiting our solar system—Earth and Venus, for instance, create perfect pentagonal geometry. Martineau became fascinated with cosmology and Neolithic stone circles while researching the crop formations in the early 1990s. He describes the crop circles as a “coincidence nexus.” He considers the crop formations to be great works of art: “If they are made by people, I want to study under them.”
Michael Glickman, a retired architect and industrial designer, is one of the most entertaining and articulate of the crop circle researchers. Glickman considers the glyphs to be “a series of profound, diverse, and complex communications of a substantial lightness and subtlety. They are using shape and geometry, number and form, to access fundamental parts of our being which have become culturally deactivated over centuries.”
The crop circle symbols point towards the possibility of reconciling modern scientific knowledge with esoteric wisdom traditions. In recent decades, a bridge has been built between these two modes of understanding—reflected in popular books such as The Tao of Physics, The Dancing Wu-Lei Masters, The Cosmic Serpent, Godel Escher Bach, Earth Ascending and so forth. Quantum physics seems to be a continuation of mysticism by other means. The crop circles repeatedly focus attention on astonishing correspondences between the fractals of modern chaos science and hermetic symbolism. To take one example, variations on the “Koch fractal” have appeared several times. The Koch fractal is the Star of David, with an endless series of triangles added on to each edge to create mini-stars in a self-recursive pattern with an infinitely expansive perimeter, resembling a snowflake. Although the perimeter of the Koch Fractal is infinite, the icon can be contained within a circle, demonstrating the esoteric principle that the infinite is contained within the finite. An extremely beautiful series of crop patterns have presented previously unknown variations on the yin-yang symbol, as a self-recursive shape in which negative and positive are held in dynamic balance.
I began to study the crop circles a few years ago, spending the last two summers in the region of England where most of them appear, tromping around fields and talking to farmers, croppie philosophers, and self-proclaimed hoaxers. My perspective on the crop circles is that they are a teaching on the nature of reality, geared specifically for the Western mind. This teaching is multi-levelled. Some of the formations are made by human hoaxers—although probably considerably fewer than one would think. However, you can never be certain – and this seems to be an intentional part of the teaching. If you take them seriously, the crop circles force you to confront indeterminacy and paradox, without rushing to make some deterministic judgement. In this way, they undermine the dualistic habits of the modern mind, which wants something to be “real” or “fake,” “true” or “false,” right away. Overcoming dualism is essential to the teaching of the Dzogchen tradition from Tibet. Chogyai Namkai Norbu writes in Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State:
Duality is the real root of our suffering and of all our conflicts. All our concepts and beliefs, no matter how profound they may seem, are like nets which trap us in dualism. When we discover our limits we have to try to overcome them, untying ourselves from whatever type of religious, political, or social conviction may condition us. We have to abandon such concepts as “enlightenment,” “the nature of the mind,” and so on, until we no longer neglect to integrate our knowledge with our actual existence.
It may be that the circlemakers are guiding us, gently but persistently, to achieve a new understanding of our world—if we could only be bothered to pay attention.
* * *
“Here and Now” columnist Daniel Pinchbeck is a founding editor of Open City Magazine and author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey Into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books). http://www.breakingopenthehead.com
Arik Moonhawk Roper lives in New York City with his cat and two roommates. He’s currently producing a book of graven images and psychonautical roadmaps designed to create true hallucinations through visual stimulation. http://www.arikroper.com
Best caption for this promotional photo starring author/once-upon-a-time Arthur columnist Daniel Pinchbeck and bassist Gordon “Sting” Sumner wins something TBD. Submissions are welcome in the “Comments” section below.
WE HAVE A CAPTION CONTEST WINNER:
“See Daniel, if we go by the Mayan long count, I can actually maintain an erection for 26 hours…”
ARTHUR NO. 5 (with David Cross on the cover as crazed jingoist god-blessed S.U.V.-driving soccer mom) IS SOLD OUT.
This was the issue we published back in June 2003 when 90% of the USA was in favor of invading Iraq.
Well Arthur No. 5 is now gone forever, peacenik fanboy.
BUT! you can download the entire issue in PDF (11mb) here:
FILE GONE MISSING
Photographer Lauren Klain captures DAVID CROSS on his way to a Clear Channel war rally…
KRISTINE MCKENNA on the Tower of Protest, a Vietnam-era action on Sunset Blvd by celebrated artists. With photos by CHARLES BRITTIN…
Jonathan Shainin speaks with CHRIS HEDGES about the truths not being told about war…
ALAN MOORE comments on what the US and UK governments have been up to lately….
DAVID BYRNE writes about his life during wartime.
Righteous poetry by MICHAEL BROWNSTEIN, CHARLES POTTS and AMY TRUSSELL…
Art and comics by Steve Andersen, Tauno Blisted & Mac McGill, Robbie Conal, John Coulthart, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Bill Griffith, Megan Kelso with Ron Rege, Peter Kuper, David Lasky, Sharon Rudahl, Patti Smith & Jem Cohen, art spiegelman and Carol Swain.
MICHAEL MOORCOCK on the fate of empires
DANIEL PINCHBECK on why he’s glad George Bush is president
Arthur film columnist PAUL CULLUM asks “Is George Bush addicted to cocaine?” as he examines “Horns and Halos,” “Journeys with George,” “Uncle Saddam,” “What I’ve Learned About U.S. Foreign Policy: The War Against the Third World” and “Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election.”
And — the fabulous GLAMericans are spotlit by Steffie Nelson…
Arik Moonhawk Roper (a longtime Arthur contributing artist) will be celebrating the launch of his new book Mushroom Magick this Friday in New York. In creating this book, Roper has added his own indelible mark to the long history of mushroom art, presenting over 90 of his original portraits of hallucinogenic species of mushroom alongside educational writings by friends and scholars Erik Davis, Daniel Pinchbeck and Gary Lincoff. Learn more about and see images of Roper’s richly water-colored illustrations of these mysterious fungi in this blog post.
Be warned: If you are not wary of the importance of the mushroom’s existence on earth, after reading this book you will no doubt be conscious of the fact that fungi are communicating with our world in ways that are nothing less than mind-blowing…
Friday, May 15th, 6-8pm (on view through May 30th) Gavin Brown’s enterprise
620 Greenwich St. / New York, NY 10014 Free admission
The movement pulls away from the mainstream and gets apocalyptic
By: JAMES PARKER
“In the United States,” wrote novelist and poet Jim Harrison in 1976, “it is a curious habit of ours to wait for the future when it has happened already.” Thirty years on, how much deeper is that swoon of postponement, and how much more pressing the crisis. In weather systems, in belief systems, the planet condenses with rage; the blandest recital of the facts can shake the air like a Yeatsian prophecy. Faces averted, we peck out text messages. At the political level the most complex issues are debated in the style of barking dogs, while at the counter of your local Starbucks a man is placing an order as nuanced and sophisticated as a 17th-century sonnet. And on the street the Hummers roll, driven by small, blond college girls, as if America had invaded itself.
But if the future won’t stop happening, neither will the past. Because here’s both the good news and the bad: the ’60s never ended. That decade’s chaotic drive toward collective rebirth — stalled, dissipated, betrayed, backlashed, and broken down — was not (it turns out) the endpoint, but the augury. “The Sixties,” says Daniel Pinchbeck, author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Tarcher/Penguin), by phone from New York City, “were an attempted voyage of initiation on a mass-cultural level, but at that point it couldn’t be completed. The maps weren’t there, there were no guides, and a lot of people kind of lost it.” Pinchbeck, a thirtysomething former journalist who has transformed himself — with the help of mind-ripping pharmaceuticals and organic hallucinogens like iboga and ayahuasca — into a multi-disciplinary critic of the “design problems” in Western civilization, is standing by for the next stage. “There’s some kind of process of assimilation that required those currents which came out so powerfully in the ’60s then to go underground and become subliminal,” he says. “But they’ve had a major effect on people in the West, whether through access to indigenous shamanism or in the extraordinary growth of yoga, and in a way they’ve been preparing the container so that if we were to go through another kind of initiatory level, there would be people ready to hold it together.”
Shamanism? Yoga? Welcome to the New New Age — the just-in-time resurgence of the holistic, anti-materialist worldview, garbed in esoterica, brandishing its own style of drugs and music. And brace yourself for a major paradigm shift: at the vanguard of the armies of transformation is … Sting! “Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012,” he blurbs on the book jacket, “is a dazzling kaleidoscopic journey through the quixotic hinterlands of consciousness.” Yes indeed, someone got his message in a bottle. “I became friends with Sting after my last book [Breaking Open the Head],” says Pinchbeck. “He got in touch with me and I actually stayed with him in his house in Italy.
“He’s had contact with indigenous shamanism, and he’s aware of the importance of the material. He’s kind of like an elder statesman, and he’s been giving me a lot of support.”
The sins of the old New Age, of course, are still with us: Celtic muzak, little polished rune-rocks, bumper stickers that say THE GODDESS IS ALIVE AND MAGIC IS IN THE AIR! Seeking balm for the psychic wounds they had sustained in the ’60s, ex-hippies opted en masse for a sort of consoling and watered-down paganism: ancient energies were domesticated, to the point where almost anyone could have a print from the Mahbarata on their kitchen wall, or an Odinist living downstairs. “The original New Age was a little bit on the flimsy side,” says Pinchbeck. “Channelling, UFOs … all that stuff was kind of floating out there. What I’m trying to do with the new book is to show that it’s possible for someone with a rational modern intellect to go through this material in a reasonable way, and to integrate Western philosophy with this shamanic/psychedelic worldview.”
What most viscerally separates the New New Agers from the old is their crisp and eager apprehension of imminent system crash — what our inheritors, stumping for food in the poisoned mud flats, may well call The Great Unraveling. Take, for example, the words of eco-philosopher Derrick Jensen, author of Endgame, in a recent interview. Asked if he truly wants civilization as we know it to fall, Jensen responds: “If civilization had come down 200 years ago, the people who live here would still be able to support themselves. But if it comes down in another 30 years, 50 years, 60 years … So even from the purely selfish human perspective, yeah, it would be good for civilization to end. The sooner this civilization goes, the better, because there’ll be MORE LEFT.”
Jensen gave this interview to Arthur magazine, a lavishly appointed free bimonthly out of LA whose columnists include Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff. Since October 2002, Arthur’s editing/publishing team of Jay Babcock and Laris Kreslins has been busy streaming the revelations and imperatives of the New New Age into pop culture, where the kids can get at it. Arthur, called “the American counterculture’s answer to the New Yorker” by the London Guardian, has become the place where the ideas meet the music; where Jensen’s freefall apocalyptics can sit with total aptness beside a piece on nouveau hippie swooners Brightblack Morninglight. The same issue begins with a column about mint tea and ends with a list of “sensitive weapons” (e.g., shotgun shells taped to the end of a BB-gun barrel) for use when the grid collapses and Devendra Banhart fans are called upon to defend their homes and woolly hats.
Arthur has saturated itself in the ’60s, via features on the Weather Underground, the MC5, the 1967 March on the Pentagon, and also in the post-psychedelic slant of the music coverage. But there’s nothing regressive here. From the freaky folkers to the acid rockers, Arthur bands have their eyes on the advancing historical horizon: the same rumble of tribal disturbance is heard beneath the dragon-groan of SunnO))) and the fey, brilliant stylings of harpist/singer Joanna Newsom. A tastemaker and an advocate, Babcock has probably done more to promote and consolidate this intangible consensus than anybody else. He calls it “naturalismo.” [That’s a term coined by Devendra Banhart, actually. -JB]
Daniel Pinchbeck used to write for Arthur, as (full disclosure) did I. I stopped because I could no longer afford to write for free; he — rather more nobly — was fired, after submitting a post-Katrina column in which various apocalyptic scenarios of military clampdown were hypothesized.
Babcock smelled “Art Bell–style” paranoia (referring to the conspiracy-mongering host of radio’s Coast to Coast AM), and wouldn’t print it; Pinchbeck recoiled, hurt. “I think Jay’s aiming more at the mainstream,” he says. “He wants his magazine to be the new Rolling Stone.”
What is beyond dispute is Babcock’s commitment to reaching “every generation of bohemian currently living.” “When we run a piece about the MC5,” he says by phone from LA, “it’s not just to educate the youth or to remind ourselves of something. It’s also to say to the original people: your work wasn’t forgotten, and maybe you should pay attention to the kids who are interested in what you did. I think they’re going to start to come back, the ones that went back to the land and just disconnected from contemporary culture for the last twenty years — and they’re gonna find that they have more in common with these kids in their teens and twenties than they do with their fellow retirees at this point. And I don’t even KNOW where that could lead.”
Babcock’s most recent and widely-broadcast prank was an interview showdown with Sully Erna, over the use of Godsmack music in Army-recruitment ads. Unimpressed with his own generation’s efforts at protest, he is trusting to demographics to get the job done: “By 2010 we’ll have a youth bubble, a huge population under 25. And they’ll be stronger, more willing to take risks, to cope with transformation — even to demand it. Who will be their leaders? What kind of culture are they going to inherit? So that’s part of what we’re doing — to try and preserve, elevate, incubate if you like, these ideas.”
The imminent crisis, the next initiatory level — Pinchbeck’s “prepared containers” and Babcock’s wised-up and transformation-ready youngsters. What the New New Agers all agree on is that change is not over there, but here: vast, cruelly accelerated, streaming with possibility. “I’m trying to define this transformative process,” says Pinchbeck, “but it’s already under way.” “Right now,” says Babcock, “we’re like the Beatniks of the Fifties — a little isolated, a little dispersed, driven a little crazy by the culture.
“But different, too. Because unlike the Beats, we have the benefit of knowing that the hippies are coming.”