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.