Very enjoy­ing being here and get­ting lots of new ideas and tid­bits, and you know, streams of thought hap­pen­ing, which is very excit­ing. So yes, very briefly my work has involved an explo­ration of shaman­ism. I’m sort of an out­line, I guess, at this event. But my first book, Breaking Open the Head was about psy­che­del­ic drugs, psy­che­del­ic plants, vision­ary plants, par­tic­u­lar­ly as used in indige­nous soci­eties, trib­al soci­eties. I vis­it­ed West Africa to work with a tribe called the Bwiti, who use a sub­stance called ibo­ga. I was in the Amazon in Ecuador, work­ing with ayahuas­ca with a tribe called the Secoya. Visited the Mazatec Indians in Mexico. 

This led me to a sec­ond book, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, where I was look­ing at prophe­cies that many indige­nous cul­tures pos­sess around this time. I guess in a way I start­ed as a skep­tic and a sci­en­tif­ic mate­ri­al­ist. Through under­go­ing all sorts of shaman­ic expe­ri­ences in dif­fer­ent con­texts, my world­view shift­ed to embrace more of a mys­ti­cal spir­i­tu­al per­spec­tive, which was very sur­pris­ing to me and some­thing that I think we real­ly can only access on an indi­vid­ual lev­el if we under­go our own jour­ney of trans­for­ma­tion and inquiry.

And yes, as she men­tioned, the book that I’m fin­ish­ing now is called How Soon is Now?, and essen­tial­ly it’s about look­ing at the eco­log­i­cal cri­sis that human­i­ty now faces as a col­lec­tive rite of pas­sage, or ini­ti­a­tion, much like shaman­ic ini­ti­a­tion. And I think the German Jewish crit­ic Walter Benjamin, writ­ing in the 1920s, look­ing at the first World War, not­ed his belief that human­i­ty has an innate need, a kind of impul­sion, to com­mune with the cos­mic pow­ers, he called them. And that we are always going to either sat­is­fy this innate need through rit­u­al, through cer­e­mo­ny, through some type of ecsta­t­ic cel­e­bra­to­ry event, or if that is blocked to us it may hap­pen that we end up releas­ing the same ener­gies destructively. 

You know, obvi­ous­ly human­i­ty has known for about a half cen­tu­ry or more…well, real­ly even since the 19th cen­tu­ry that the path of indus­tri­al civ­i­liza­tion was com­ing into con­flict with the eco­log­i­cal sup­port sys­tems of the plan­et. And I think we now know that we’ve reached a crit­i­cal thresh­old that we only have maybe a short peri­od of time—five, ten, twen­ty years—to real­ly some­how redi­rect our activ­i­ty as a species on the planet.

Obviously what’s hap­pen­ing— We share, and— In oth­er types of engage­ments around the fore­front of dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy, there’s this prospect that we could kind of trans­form our social sys­tem so that it is more in har­mo­ny with the plan­et. So, peo­ple are col­lab­o­rat­ing more, con­serv­ing resources, shar­ing resources, and so on.

So, here Walter Benjamin in the 20s, look­ing at the first World War in that sense. An idea that’s been explored a lot is that what makes us dis­tinct­ly human is the pre­frontal cor­tex, which only devel­oped in the last hun­dred thou­sand years. That’s what allows us to process abstract sym­bols, to plan for the future, and so on. 

An idea that the thinker Joseph Chilton Pearce devel­oped in his book, The Biology of Transcendence is that although the pre­frontal cor­tex devel­ops through ado­les­cence, it actu­al­ly requires a sec­ond kind of arti­fi­cial shock to reach its full func­tion­ing. And that’s why all these indige­nous and tra­di­tion­al cul­tures around the world have ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies that are often very dif­fi­cult. They could involve the psy­che­del­ic expe­ri­ence through ayahuas­ca or pey­ote. Or they might involve in Australian Aboriginal cul­ture the walk­a­bout, where peo­ple have to fast and go on vision quests in the wilder­ness and so on.

Modern civ­i­liza­tion was the first one that did away with these types of ini­ti­a­tion events, and there­fore peo­ple devel­op with­out that sec­ond shock which poten­tial­ly leads them to shift from a pure­ly egoic sense of iden­ti­ty to a more kind of transper­son­al state of con­scious­ness. Which even if you only have that expe­ri­ence a few times can act as a kind of per­ma­nent ref­er­ence point, where you’re aware that on some lev­el there’s a uni­ty of con­scious­ness under­ly­ing your your sep­a­rate identity.

So I think that Western mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion end­ed up kind of caught in a trap locked in its egoic struc­ture, and based our whole trip on kind of hyper­indi­vid­u­al­ism, accu­mu­la­tion of resources, and so on. And we’ve now reached a point where we can’t go fur­ther than that. And in a sense we could look at the idea that we’ve sub­con­scious­ly, uncon­scious­ly, some­how self-willed this eco­log­i­cal cri­sis to bring about our own trans­for­ma­tion, our own transcendence.

There’s an idea that when dis­as­ters strike, peo­ple become destruc­tive. But actu­al­ly a lot of peo­ple have not­ed that extreme cir­cum­stances, whether it’s Katrina or so on, peo­ple actu­al­ly shift out of that egoic struc­ture and go into a state of com­pas­sion and altru­ism and shar­ing, and so on. Now, obvi­ous­ly we don’t need to go through this kind of dis­as­ter as a species to access that oth­er capac­i­ty, but that seems to be the way we’re head­ing now, and unfor­tu­nate­ly our soci­ety is basi­cal­ly pro­gram­ming peo­ple through media, through sys­tems of edu­ca­tion and indoc­tri­na­tion, to main­tain kind of dis­em­pow­ered mem­bers of a con­sumer society. 

So yes, that’s basic the­sis of the book. It’s not that I think that every­body needs to take psy­che­delics, or what­ev­er. But I do think that under­stand­ing that we’re in a species-wide cri­sis where our hyper­indi­vid­u­al­ism is kind of keep­ing us from our next evo­lu­tion­ary kind of jump as a species is very crucial.

And once again, when I think about what this con­fer­ence is real­ly about, it’s real­ly about this poten­tial— There’s almost this ques­tion of whether the cut­ting edge of this tech­nol­o­gy is going to allow us— I mean, is it some­thing that the cor­po­rate sys­tem, the busi­ness sys­tem, the gov­ern­ments, are going to kind of assim­i­late into busi­ness as usu­al, or is there the capac­i­ty for it to lead to a deep­er trans­for­ma­tion? And I real­ly liked what Vinay was talk­ing about the oth­er day about, for instance through the blockchain the poten­tial to actu­al­ly have a glob­al democ­ra­cy. And I guess I’ve been brood­ing on his speech ever since he spoke and think­ing about how he was talk­ing about the West would real­ly have to be will­ing to kind of reduce our lifestyle sig­nif­i­cant­ly and almost go into a state of being will­ing to make repa­ra­tions for the excess­es of colonialism.

And we’re see­ing in a lot of thinkers right now, I mean it’s amaz­ing. You read all these dif­fer­ent futur­ists and there’s such a bifur­ca­tion. You have peo­ple like Roy Scranton, who wrote Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, who basi­cal­ly argues that it’s too late to deal with the thrust of our civ­i­liza­tion towards destruc­tion, and we have to just sort of sur­ren­der into that.

And then you have peo­ple like the peo­ple that wrote Abundance, Peter Diamandis, who see tech­nol­o­gy evolv­ing expo­nen­tial­ly with the capac­i­ty to ful­fill human needs on a glob­al scale. We see a book called PostCapitalism by Paul Mason, the work of Jeremy Rifkin, who are point­ing to this once again, this idea of poten­tial for an expo­nen­tial scal­ing of sus­tain­able tech­nolo­gies, decen­tral­iza­tion, resilience, and how we could actu­al­ly avert a mega­cat­a­stro­phe. But by shift­ing into this mode of dis­trib­uted resource, par­tic­i­pa­to­ry democ­ra­cy, relo­cal­iza­tion with­in a tru­ly plan­e­tary frame­work, we have this pre­cious oppor­tu­ni­ty over the next few years (we don’t real­ly know how many) to deal with this cri­sis. Does this res­onate with peo­ple in terms of how they’re feel­ing about what’s happening? 

You look at cli­mate change, species extinc­tion, ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, the plan­e­tary bound­aries mod­el from the Stockholm Resilience group. We’re real­ly at that crit­i­cal junc­ture where it’s kind of make or break. And to get through that kind of ini­tia­to­ry jour­ney that we have to make as a cul­ture, maybe we could look at the 60s as a first stage of a voy­age of col­lec­tive ini­ti­a­tion, where peo­ple accessed mys­ti­cism, move­ments of civ­il soci­ety, social lib­er­a­tion, sex­u­al lib­er­a­tion, racial lib­er­a­tion, equal­i­ty, and so on. But that only reached a cer­tain thresh­old in that time, then it got kind of reas­sim­i­lat­ed or rein­te­grat­ed into the cor­po­rate megamachine.

So now we’re at this next lev­el of this thresh­old of trans­for­ma­tion, where you could look at it almost like a birthing process, almost like con­trac­tions of a birth. And the ques­tion is whether we are going to push through into a dif­fer­ent social mod­el. And in fact anoth­er major theme of my book, which oth­er peo­ple have also looked at, is this idea that what’s emerg­ing is this poten­tial for human­i­ty to real­ize itself as a plan­e­tary super­or­gan­ism. A super­or­gan­ism that’s in a sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tion­ship with the Earth’s ecol­o­gy as a whole system. 

So, if we think about that, if we see our­selves as like a giant hive, we can see that that’s also a tra­jec­to­ry of evo­lu­tion. Biological evo­lu­tion is often mak­ing this shift from com­pe­ti­tion, aggres­sion, dom­i­na­tion, to coop­er­a­tion and sym­bio­sis. And we see a tremen­dous exam­ple of that in our own bod­ies. Our bod­ies were once, mil­lions of years ago, colonies of microor­gan­isms that were com­pet­ing in an envi­ron­ment for scarce resources, try­ing to eat each oth­er, try­ing to con­sume each oth­er, as Lynn Margulis talks about in Microcosmos. And then some­how in the midst of cri­sis, these colonies of microor­gan­isms start­ed to learn how to con­struct more com­plex struc­tures togeth­er, such as skin and eye and bones and so on. 

And we can see that every­thing that we’re actu­al­ly doing tech­no­log­i­cal­ly is kind of repli­cat­ing stuff we already find in the microor­gan­is­mic world. Like virus­es are able to trans­fer genet­ic infor­ma­tion around the plan­et. Like the Earth has a kind of Internet through the viral and bac­te­r­i­al world, through the mycelial world, which is able to learn how to break down dif­fer­ent tox­ins and trans­mute them into nour­ish­ment, and so on.

So essen­tial­ly, it’s quite pos­si­ble that human­i­ty itself is actu­al­ly in, still, even though we think we’ve sep­a­rat­ed from nature, we’re actu­al­ly in a kind of evo­lu­tion­ary bio­log­i­cal process where we’re mov­ing towards our next lev­el of emer­gence. Becoming aware of our­selves as a plan­e­tary super­or­gan­ism, and then act­ing from that per­spec­tive. In a way, we would have to kind of reverse engi­neer where we would want to get to from where we are now. Much the way Steve Jobs and Apple had to prob­a­bly plan ten or fif­teen years ahead for the smart­phone, and think about every­thing that they would have to learn and accom­plish to get there, we can begin to think about how we would learn and plan ahead for resilient, decen­tral­ized, zero car­bon, neg­a­tive car­bon soci­ety that we could poten­tial­ly recre­ate in ten or fif­teen years, twen­ty years, thir­ty years. And we know a lot of the tech­nol­o­gy is already available.

So that’s kind of the basic the­sis that I’m work­ing with. Sort of see­ing if we can use the cri­sis as an oppor­tu­ni­ty for human­i­ty to make a shift from a destruc­tive path to a regen­er­a­tive one. And I real­ly love the idea of a regen­er­a­tive cul­ture, regen­er­a­tive soci­ety, as a deep­er way of think­ing about it than sim­ply sus­tain­abil­i­ty, which sug­gests the idea that we’re going to sus­tain the old sys­tem, when actu­al­ly that old sys­tem is exact­ly what can’t be sus­tained anymore.

From this mod­el, this par­a­digm, I think it’s also inter­est­ing to think about, well if human­i­ty is emerg­ing into the state of being a super­or­gan­ism, then what are the the nascent organs of that col­lec­tive body? And I think strange­ly enough they’re actu­al­ly multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions. Like, an ener­gy com­pa­ny is kind of like the the blood cir­cu­lat­ing through the body. A san­i­ta­tion com­pa­ny is like the liv­er or the kid­ney that’s break­ing down tox­ins. Media com­pa­nies, social tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies, are very much like the per­cep­tu­al mech­a­nisms which are con­vert­ing the raw data of sense per­cep­tion into memes, into usable chunks for the for the col­lec­tive body. 

But unfor­tu­nate­ly, where we are now, it’s all hap­pen­ing in this par­a­digm of fear, inse­cu­ri­ty, neg­a­tiv­i­ty. The medi­a’s basi­cal­ly pro­gram­ming the col­lec­tive body of human­i­ty to not be aware of what’s hap­pen­ing and what’s fac­ing us, and how we need to change. So we have that oppor­tu­ni­ty to make that shift. And I think if we think about the pos­si­bil­i­ty that cor­po­ra­tions are these kind of nascent organs that are still in this kind of imma­ture stage of com­pe­ti­tion, we can begin to think about what would be the next iter­a­tion of those struc­tures. They would almost become some­thing like trans­par­ent infra­struc­tures that would be shar­ing knowl­edge and ideas freely, that would be sup­port­ing the health of the entire organ­ism, just as the organs of our body [are] able to do.

So, that’s my time. It was­n’t very much. And it was very won­der­ful to talk to you. And come next door. I’ll answer any ques­tions. We can chat. Thank you so much.

Further Reference

The OuiShare Fest 2016 site.