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26 May 2009


I just came back from a talk by Daniel Pinchbeck here in downtown Lawrence. I actually left early because I was on my bike and neglected to bring my headlamp. In any case, I learned about Pinchbeck (and I've mentioned him before in this context) from the Shamanism class I took this past semester with Prof. Hoopes. He is an icon of the Neo-shamanism movement and the 2012 mythology that has become so popular in hippie/new age culture. Needless to say, I went into the talk with a fair bit of skepticism. Coming out of it, I feel relieved to know that he is actually a well read and knowledgeable about a lot of things besides the mythos that he is trying to promote.

He integrates some surprising figures and ideas into that mythos that could at least spark some genuinely useful activity, rather than simply reinforcing the hedonic love cult to which most of his followers subscribe. Furthermore, I saw indications in his talk that he is willing to take on new ideas, and reevaluate his old ones rather than immersing himself in a rigid dogma.

That said, there were many ideas in his talk that were simply too far out for me to accept (ten years ago, I may have, but I have a more cynical and critical eye now). For example, his belief in the extraterrestrial origins of crop circles and other similar phenomena - I can tolerate this to a degree, since I don't really care one way or the other, but I get bored of hearing about it again and again. Another is the fact that he talked about 3 spheres where change is taking place (driving us toward the 2012 transformation). These are the biosphere, the technosphere and the noosphere. What bothers me here is that he talks about them as separate entities without recognizing that they are integrated and systemic. I'm not so concerned with the noosphere, because I feel that the concept homogenizes humanity and implies a single track of culture evolution. However, the biosphere and the technosphere are somewhat more legitimate. The problem is that they are not separate entities moving to unite, as Pinchbeck suggests, rather they are already integrated and systemic phenomena. His vision is that the technosphere will continue to move forward toward a more ecologically friendly or (to use his word) thriveable state. This fails to take into account the fact that every increase in technological capability has a concomitant increase in environmental exploitation. Beyond a certain point, an increase in the one system will collapse due to the decay of the other.

My final qualm is that he talks like an anarcho-primitivist, but he couches it in terms of his neoshamanic spiritual synchretism and an underlying faith in technology. Right before I left, he even suggested that, in order to solve the global climate change issue, we might have to tap into our latent psychic abilities to control the weather and climate (as evidenced by the ability of some indigenous groups to "create" rain by dancing). He does recognized that the transformation will likely result in some extremely difficult times, however, he fails to account for the massive amounts of suffering that will be experienced - in particular, by those very indigenous peoples from whom he claims to have gained his insights. There is no sense of responsibility toward those people, or toward the billions of people living in extreme poverty.

My hope is that, by listening to him and being opened to the peppering of actually valuable ideas he incorporates, his followers, at some point, will be able to take some kind of effective action. Hopefully, they won't just wait until 2012 to see what happens.

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