Recently, a $250 million film linked 2012 with a mass wipeout of humanity from earth crust displacement and super-volcano spew. The spectacle seemed designed to curtail any deeper thought or discussion of the subject by making it appear ridiculous. Apparently, I was parodied in the film, as The New York Times noted: "Though not much is made of the Mayan angle, the most amusing character, a doomsday prophet and radio broadcaster played by Woody Harrelson, seems in hair, beard and interests to have been drawn along the predictive lines of the real author Daniel Pinchbeck (2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl)."

Although my ideas run counter to what the filmmakers propose, I was also incorporated into their marketing and promotion machine. I was one of three "2012 experts" flown to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to address the global press, and then to Los Angeles for the appropriately black-carpeted premiere. I accepted the invitations because I hoped to use the opportunity to convey a different message. As the media reduced my ideas to sound bites or hopelessly distorted them, I felt as if a mask of cultural fears and misconceptions was being projected onto my face. This was not surprising, but it was still unsettling.

I don't pretend to be a "2012 expert" or a "doomsday prophet." I am not a specialist or scholar, but a generalist, journalist, and freelance philosopher. In my last book, I described, as truthfully as I could, my exploration of subjects including psychedelic shamanism and indigenous prophecy. While a number of visionaries propose that something radical, absolutely astonishing, and unprecedented is going to happen as we pass through the 2012 portal — galactic synchronization, mass DMT activation, sudden ascension, huge solar storm, galactic superwave — I have never pretended to have an answer. I don't know what the Classic Maya understood exactly or what means they used to codify their knowledge. While a Long Count cycle of over five thousand years ends in 2012, there is scant evidence they thought any particular event would occur at that precise time.

Despite all of the question marks around the subject, "2012" can be useful as a focusing lens or "a litmus test for consciousness," as author Mark Heley proposes. Instead of fixating on any future event, we need to realize that any positive transformation, whether in 2012 or after, will only be the result of deliberate actions and conscious choices made by human beings in the present. Despite the intensifying evolutionary pressures we face and the telescoped timeframe in which progress and change now occurs, we remain a half-awake, half-conscious species. As individuals, we tend to be vain, fragile, self-serving, ego-centered. The organizations and institutions we create reflect our individual flaws.

This much is inarguable: We find ourselves in a window of opportunity where we either radically change our direction as a species or face devastating consequences. We are at that threshold where, as the social ecologist Murray Bookchin put it, our world "will either undergo revolutionary changes, so far-reaching in character that humanity will totally transform its social relations and its very conception of life, or it will suffer an apocalypse that may well end humanity's tenure on the planet."  Examining trends in climate change and species extinction, the esteemed scientist James Lovelock, who developed the Gaia Hypothesis, now thinks there could be 150 million people left alive at the end of this century. Other scientists share his ominous outlook. As resources such as fuel and fresh water become scarce, it is quite likely we will see even more horrific wars, masses of refugees, famines, droughts, pandemics, and revolutions.

If the outlook from a purely empirical perspective looks bleak, the good news is that science has ignored some crucial factors. One is the possibility that human beings, through an evolution of consciousness, could develop a regenerative culture that contributes to the health of the biosphere. In the 1960s, the design scientist Buckminster Fuller proposed that society could be redesigned to be "comprehensively successful" for everyone on earth. In the short term, we could become far more flexible and resilient, instituting a global program that re-localizes basic essentials, such as growing food, producing energy, making clothes and shelter, while liberating knowledge as a free resource and commonwealth. We could institute "cradle to cradle" manufacturing practices, and use satyagraha techniques to stop the spread of GMOs. We could replace money, as a basic instrument, by new systems for exchanging value that support collaboration and trust over competition and self-interest. Despite the system's inertia, we have the capacity to restore the natural systems we have corrupted, and create a new planetary culture based on communality of interest.

Another factor ignored by science and the mainstream is the reality of paranormal phenomena, psychic energy, or what Carl Jung called "the reality of the Psyche." There is much evidence for the existence of all sorts of extraordinary psychic effects, and many people have direct experience of such phenomena. As an analogy, we can consider the recent discovery and application of electricity. Once engineers learned how to conduct and store electricity in the 19th Century, we transformed the entire earth in a blink of evolutionary time. If we discovered reliable means to access, utilize, and channel psychic energy, we might participate in an extremely rapid evolution of consciousness and society. Jose Arguelles has proposed that our future culture would be "psycho-technic," applying our modern technical capacities to the realms of the psyche that modern society lost contact with in the last centuries.

The possibility for a rapid regeneration of human culture is predicated on a great awakening happening quickly — before ecological meltdown leads to systemic breakdown. People need to awaken spiritually, to realize the many dimensions of psychic life beyond those accepted by modern society, and at the same time, bring those realizations down into the daily lives and social practices. Spiritual realization needs to be integrated with social commitment and direct action. Since the biosphere is now directly threatened by our post-industrial civilization, retreat from society is no longer possible or desirable. No matter whether we like it or not, each of is, inevitably, a social and political agent whose smallest actions have a direct influence on other people and the world around us. Our current culture enshrines irresponsibility, greed, and waste. If the human species wants to survive, the civilization that replaces this one is going to have a different set of values and a revamped operating system.

While it is conceivable that 2012 may see some sudden quantum shift in human consciousness or an alien landing on the White House lawn, it is also possible that we have a much longer struggle ahead of us. In that case, the end of the Long Count may still be significant as the hinge of a transition in our species' awareness. An ever-growing segment of humanity is becoming conscious of the culture of domination that has degraded the biosphere, annihilated local cultures, and locked us in a prison of constricted awareness. As more and more of us realize this, we will unify our intention to undertake the difficult work of superseding it. 


Image by hughrocks, courtesy of Creativ Common license.