The following interview was conducted for and published in the UK print magazine Under the Influence.
Click here for a list of upcoming radio interviews, talks, signings and workshops in support Daniel’s new book, How Soon is Now?
Susan Connie Marsh: How Soon is Now? is the title of your new book. You talk about reaching a critical threshold as a species and needing to bring about an evolutionary leap in order to overcome the imminent threat of climate change, mass extinction, ecocide and even the extinction of humankind. How do you go about tackling such critical subjects in the book?
Daniel Pinchbeck: First of all, I believe we need a new, more coherent story – or myth – about who we are as a species and how we reached this precipice. I propose we are on the cusp of realizing ourselves, humanity, to be a planetary super-organism that is in a symbiotic relationship with Earth’s ecology as a whole system. From that vantage point, I then seek to offer a ‘blueprint for the future’, reviewing our technical and social systems – how they function now and how we would have to redesign and reprogram them to create what I call a ‘regenerative society’. This includes areas such as energy, agriculture, industry, and also government and finance. We need to conceive a new operating system for human society that overcomes the current ideology of hyper-individualism and consumerism and works for the collective good, while repairing, as much as we can, the damage to our ecosystems and also removing excess greenhouse gasses through every means possible.
In your documentary, “2012: Time for Change” you state that we’re facing ‘a multidimensional crisis on Earth’ – that we’re running out of fresh water, food supplies and the fossil fuels upon which our current system relies. You refer to the ecological crisis facing us as a sort of ‘initiation for humanity’. Can you explain what you mean by that? How immediate is this crisis and what will it take to persuade people to act now?
The crisis is very immediate. The Syrian refugee nightmare, which has destabilised Europe and was partially responsible for Brexit, is due to climate change. In particular, a long drought, exacerbated by destructive government policies, forced many Syrians from their homes. We will see many more such disasters in the next decades. We don’t know how fast sea levels will rise – James Hansen, formerly the chief climate scientist at NASA, believes we may see a rise of several meters by mid-century. That would make many coastal cities uninhabitable. We are already seeing massive increases in forest fires, which release excess CO2 and stop helping us as ‘carbon sinks’ once they are gone. There are many dangerous feedback loops in the climate system that are already being engaged decades before they were predicted. We are already in deep trouble, in other words. The biggest threat is methane eruption – vast deposits of methane are frozen in the Siberian permafrost and beneath the oceans. Ocean acidification is another major danger – it is estimated that the world’s coral reefs will disintegrate by mid-century because we are changing the PH balance of the oceans.
In How Soon Is Now?, I propose we can see the situation as a collective initiation or rite of passage which will force a transition in human consciousness from adolescence as a species to adulthood – a shift from self-centered greed to collective altruism. For those of us in the wealthier developed world, we need to understand the necessity of accepting this as our initiation – as the challenge we need to actually embody the ideals of the world’s ancient spiritual traditions. I believe that is the only choice for us if we want to avert mega-catastrophe.
Experts have now declared that the last 12,000 years of the Holocene epoch is to be replaced by a new geological epoch — called the Anthropocene — that is defined by humankind’s profound impact on shaping the planet. How does this declaration of a new geological epoch frame your concerns in the book?
It is extraordinary to step back and consider how fast this has occurred. A few centuries ago, humanity had no idea that we could become a geological force, reshaping the evolutionary destiny of Earth as a whole. Even a few decades ago, the idea that we could fish out the oceans – which are now more than 90% empty of large fish – seemed preposterous. The dams we have built on rivers around the planet have actually shifted Earth’s rotation. We must come into a new awareness of our impact on Earth as a whole system and realise that, until now, we have been swept up in the unconscious inertia of our historical processes and, most recently, hypnotised by our technological capacities. We can now make a rapid shift from an unconscious to a conscious evolution, and seek to restore balance while we reduce our negative impacts on the ecosystems. This needs to become our focus in the decades ahead.
Does the declaration of the Anthropocene bear any relation, in your opinion, to the Mayan prediction of 2012 as the end of a calendar cycle of over 5,000 years?
You are referencing my previous book, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, which took seriously the knowledge systems of traditional cultures like the Maya in the Yucatan and the Hopi in Arizona. I do believe it is not an accident that these cultures, with their deep connection to nature and the Cosmos, and their understanding of time as cyclical and rhythmic, were aware of this time we are in now as a transformative epoch. The Aztecs called it the transition from the Age of the Fifth Sun to the Sixth Sun, while the Hopi saw it as a shift into the Fourth World, which would be accompanied by ecological catastrophe and end with a unification of global consciousness. I continue to believe we have a great deal to learn from indigenous people around the world – which doesn’t mean accepting everything they say as ‘Holy Writ’, but means recognizing there are other ways to approach the nature of reality that are more holistic than our reductively scientific, too-left-brain, techno-culture.
You view the ecological crisis as a kind of ‘positive destruction’ to enable us to see the crisis and mobilize. Do you believe that this mobilization is working on a vast enough scale? Is enough being done to educate people about the seriousness and immediacy of the situation?
I tend to believe that we are in an evolutionary crucible and what is happening, on the level of our planetary civilization, is akin to what happens on the level of an individual organism as it undergoes the process of gestation and birth – or, as with the caterpillar to butterfly transition, metamorphosis. The simultaneous development of the internet with the unfolding of the ecological crisis does not seem accidental to me – and there are many other pieces of this puzzle. It is only our arrogance that allows us to think we are separate from nature just because we possess individuated consciousness and the capacity to process abstract signals and build machines. In fact, much of what we do with technology on a macro-scale, nature already does on other levels. For instance, viruses transfer genetic material around the planet, like an information system.
It definitely doesn’t seem that enough is being done yet – at the same time we see many positive developments like the rapid evolution of solar energy and storage systems which could allow for a ‘solar singularity’ where we can make a complete transition to renewables within a few decades. Most likely, the transformation we need to ensure our survival can’t and won’t happen incrementally. It will have to happen exponentially, as solutions are discovered and then scaled globally. The interactive communications network of the internet and new tools like 3-D printers may help to accelerate the distribution of solutions, such as sustainable technologies or modular villages able to produce food, energy, fresh water, and compost waste without needing centralised power structures.
You talk about ‘now’ being a crucial time of transformation on the Earth. Last year, the US and China ratified the Paris climate deal, although the US under Trump may pull out of it. How far away is this commitment from the actual mass transformation that needs to take place to make a meaningful change?
Scientists have criticized the Paris climate accord because it did not mandate rapid, or immediate, reductions in CO2 emissions. Instead it ‘kicked the can down the road’. The big obstacle right now is that the kinds of severe reductions we need to make in our industrial output will have a visceral impact on our postmodern lifestyles – and it seems political suicide for any government to mandate them. Instead, with Trump’s election, we are going totally in the wrong direction. I believe that we must use social networks and social technologies to educate people in a hurry while providing them with tangible ways to make change on local and bioregional levels. For instance, social networks such as Facebook and Google could help people share resources and provide tools and even programs for retraining people to be connected to the Earth’s ecosystems. Through the internet, people can be retrained to be stewards of their local ecology, if this is accompanied by a global media campaign that explains what is happening and what needs to take place.
We have to make serious changes, what are these?
The easiest ‘low hanging fruit’ is a global moratorium or massive reduction in the consumption of meat and fish. Animal agriculture produces a surprising amount of CO2 and methane. Also, 30% of the Earth’s surface is currently animal grazing land, which could be reforested or replanted. Other low-hanging fruit would include a transition away from private car ownership, mandating ride-shares, and a severe reduction in the amount of air travel for the time being. I know this sounds difficult if not impossible – but there are other thresholds where humanity came together, such as what happened in the United States after the Pearl Harbor attack, when we shifted all of our manufacturing and taxed the wealthy at 94%, and this happened in just a few months. We could see this as a huge opportunity to come together as one human family, to share the burden, and instead of sacrifices we could collectively undertake this as a path toward global peace, harmony, and individual self-actualization. This is the radical potential that I explore in my new book.
Much of our activity as a species currently has no relationship to the Earth’s ecology and in fact subtracts from the natural resources. For instance, people drive to work in offices where they use Styrofoam cups, toner cartridges, etc. As Buckminster Fuller realized in the 1960s, it would be much ‘cheaper’ from the perspective of the Earth, to subsidize people to live in communities where they grew their own food and produced their own energy. We will also have to begin the construction of ‘eco-cities’ at higher elevations where large populations can move as sea levels rise. There are all sorts of massive issues but there are also tools and technologies we know can be applied already – it is a question of mobilizing and inspiring people to want to change, and also raising awareness of what needs to happen over the next few years.
If 30% of the world’s land surface is used for animal grazing and animal agriculture is a major source of CO2 and Methane emissions, then with a growing population, how can this be sustainable and what is the solution?
Population growth is a problem but it is not the main problem. Billions of people around the world still possess a minimal ecological footprint. The problem is really the resource-consuming lifestyles of the developed and wealthy world. It is estimated that 1% of the population consumes more than 50% of the Earth’s resources. We need to transition to a lifestyle that is regenerative rather than consumptive. In theory, this can be done – William McDonogue explores this territory in Cradle to Cradle, as did Buckminster Fuller, of course.
There are all sorts of practical solutions from reducing animal farming and mandating vegetarianism, to vertical farms in skyscrapers, or building farms on floating islands on the ocean. Aquaponics seems very helpful also. Apparently 80% of the food required by a city like New York could be grown on its rooftops, using aquaponics. Ultimately we probably do want to reduce the human population but we don’t want to do this through catastrophe or war. It would happen naturally if we equalized the power of women and gave them equal access to education and financial independence. In societies where women’s opportunity grows, the birth rate quickly goes down to below replacement levels.
The change that you are proposing seems to require cooperation on a global scale — a collective change rather than nations competing against one another. Is your vision possible within the existing power structures?
When we review human history, we discover that every time we have a profound shift in our media technology, it leads to a thorough transformation of our social, political, and economic systems. For instance, we could never have had far-flung empires like Rome and Egypt until we had a written code of laws that allowed a basic system to be conveyed universally. The modern liberal democratic nation-state was inconceivable before the printing press: people have to understand current events and issues to a certain extent before they can vote on them. The new communications revolution has given us a continuously interactive media which can encompass everyone on Earth.
For instance, an entirely direct, participatory democracy is now feasible on a planetary scale. It wouldn’t even be much of a technical feat. Instead of officials elected for many years, the people could constantly transfer their votes depending on the behaviour of their representatives. One platform developing such a potential infrastructure is called DemocracyOS. Similarly, there is great potential with the Blockchain – the technology that underlies Bitcoin – which offers a transparent, trackable, ledger system that can be used to create new currencies or ‘distributed’ and ‘autonomous’ organizations.
It may be that these new orchestrations will develop and peacefully supersede the current governing systems. We just don’t know yet.
In 2012: Time for Change, you quote Bernard Lietaer, who states: ‘You will not be able to solve climate change with the current money system, you will not be able to address unemployment within the current money system.’ How, then, do we begin to address these issues? It calls for systemic change but how feasible is that?
As noted above, a structural or systemic change is necessary for our survival. We have to realize or remember that all of the systems shaping our field of interactions are human constructs and we can change them if we choose. Seemingly impossible changes can happen, quite quickly – consider, for instance, the mass adaption of Smart Phones or the global spread of social networks over the last decade. Lietaer is an economist who consults with many banks. Banks are interested in Blockchain, as are governments. They are also exploring time-shares and other alternative currencies.
Blockchain could be used to remove middle men from all sorts of transactions – the technical term is ‘disintermediate.’ For instance the musician Imogen Heap is constructing a version of a music-sharing service like Spotify where all of the profits go back directly to the artists who create the music. We can imagine a driver-owned Uber – as one example – quite easily. I think from there it is possible to conceive of how we might develop new forms of currency that reinforce different patterns of behaviour and values.
How do you incentivize people to care about this crisis when often there seems to be a narrative of sacrifice — either lifestyle or financial — involved in making positive changes?
I think we have to use media to give people a new sense of their role in the world and their responsibility to the future. In actual fact, times of disaster when people have to make sacrifices to survive or to support a greater cause are often remembered in retrospect as the most wonderful times in their lives. Rebecca Solnit documents this phenomenon in her book, A Paradise Built in Hell. I actually think people are longing to have a greater role and a mission that can give their lives coherence and meaning and even a sense of personal greatness. It would definitely be more interesting than hunting for Pokemon or hooking up on Tinder.
Having said that, I do feel – and write about in my book – that one area in which we might see a profound transformation is the arena of love and sexuality. The repression of sexuality and its ‘repressive desublimation’ was used to create a patriarchal, centralised and hierarchical civilisation. As the book Sex at Dawn [by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá] reveals, humans’ natural state in our nomadic past was more polyamorous and relaxed about sexual expression. If we are going to have to sacrifice certain luxuries for the greater good, this could be more than compensated for by a new revelatory eroticism and also by a new focus on the exploration of the deeper dimensions of consciousness using tools like meditation, lucid dreaming and shamanic plants. We may gain a lot more than we give up – and people would be far happier, I believe, in a world that has transcended the crude and vacuous materialism we see today.
If our consciousness is controlled by capitalism, how can we break free from this?
I agree with the political philosopher Antonio Negri that we have transitioned from a time when ‘material production’ – umbrellas, typewriters, etc. – was the main or ‘hegemonic’ form of production, to a time when ‘immaterial production’ is the most important part of our post-industrial society. We produce new social tools, images, memes, narratives, networks. For example, Uber is the world’s biggest taxi company but owns no vehicles. AirBnB is the biggest company for accommodation but owns no hotels, etc. These companies orchestrate and mediate chains of commercial relationships without producing anything material. In a time when ‘immaterial production’ is most essential, what is being produced above all else is ‘subjectivity’ or consciousness. The mass media and our current social networks constantly produce and reproduce a certain frequency of consciousness or level of subjectivity.
This is actually quite exciting as it means that a new level of consciousness or subjectivity could also be mass-produced and imprinted – perhaps one that sees each individual as precious and all of us as responsible for the health and well-being of our brothers and sisters across the world and the nonhuman beings who also share this world with us. If we can break through the obstructions of our current media system, this new consciousness could emerge quite quickly. We saw a similar phenomenon in the 1960s when new ideas of civil rights, sexual freedom, social justice, ecology and an interest in different states of consciousness suddenly went from the margins to the mainstream in under five years.
You mention that we’re on the cusp of another revolution of human culture and consciousness, could you elaborate?
One way or another – whether 7 billion or 7,000,000 or 700 people survive this transition – we will have to shift from competition to cooperation as a paradigm, with a new realization of our interdependence and embeddedness in the web of life. I believe we will see a liberalization in relationship patterns and a new focus on psychic experience – experience in general, over the acquisition and possession of tangible objects, which ultimately don’t help us to evolve. I see science and mysticism coming together to establish a secure foundation for a pan-religious worldview. I am tickled, right now, by the ideas of Syntheism as developed by the Danish philosopher Alexander Bard, who proposes we will recover God not as something that exists or does not exist, but as something we create – something that we are creating in the future, together.
Do you take the view that war is being exploited as a tool to stand in the way of a collaborative outlook?
Yes, I think that is the case – war and especially terrorism. In many ways, what has happened with Islamic terrorism was easy to predict a number of years ago, when we decimated Iraq and intervened in other ways in the Middle East that left desperate populations infuriated at US actions. It is almost as if the western powers needed a threat to replace the threat previously posed by the Soviet Union. The US government needed to justify an unbelievably expensive military budget, which is impossible to do without a nemesis. This whole approach to military affairs has revealed itself to be a severe threat to global security. I don’t pretend to be an expert in this area, but it seems that a new approach is needed.
Even if the individual is willing to sacrifice, are corporations going to follow suit even if it means profit sacrifice? Or, is it down to innovators, individuals and collectives to offer solutions to replace existing systems with financially and ecologically sustainable ones?
In the current framework, most corporations will not be able to change their behavior sufficiently. I look at corporations as artificial life-forms constructed of legal code, mission and vision statements, branding, financial data, etc. We designed these artificial life-forms to compete against each other in a game we constructed called the stock market. We programmed the corporation so it must maximise profit and shareholder value in order to survive – so that is what they do, like robots. If you are forced to maximize shareholder value, then of course you must do things like evade, undermine or undo expensive environmental restrictions, and pay your workers as little as possible. We therefore require a system transformation of how the stock market and the underlying economic system functions. We must make stewardship of the Earth’s ecosystems and the elevation of collective humanity into principles that are ‘baked into’ the game mechanics. Then the corporations will do that. How do we do that? There are many ideas – I discuss some in my book – but I think we will need a series of referendums and intensive think tank efforts to propose a comprehensive redesign.
In the meantime, I am intrigued by the prospect that we could establish a platform that supports collective ‘social contracts’ which will make us, as individuals, see the value in changing our behaviour. For instance, someone may not go vegetarian alone, because they don’t see the point. But they might sign a contract to become vegetarian when one million people have all made the same pledge, perhaps putting money in escrow which they forfeit if they violate the terms of their agreement. This platform could show the benefits of 1 million vegetarians on the amount of CO2 and methane and deforestation it reduces, and so on.
The main barrier, it seems, to the idea of investing in renewables is that it runs in opposition to the machinery of capitalism, which is about profit. Can renewables mitigate the impacts of climate change without damaging economic growth? Or will we have to make the decision to forgo growth in order to reduce emissions? Taking solar singularity as an example of this mitigation, could you elaborate on this?
We also need to interrogate and overturn the current model of economic growth if we want to survive as a species. I think we will see capitalism, which compels constant growth, as an immature or adolescent system in retrospect. It meshed the world together into one unified market and built the infrastructure that now connects us all across the world. Now its job is done and we need to transition to a new hybrid system that integrates elements of socialism and anarchism. We can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet – our ecosystems are buckling right now. In some areas, we need ‘degrowth’ (a movement in France), while we also must assure that the people in the developing world are able to reach a decent way of life. So yes, we must forego growth – this is going to be difficult to accomplish as the current financial system depends on it. But around the world, debt is growing 7% a year while ‘GDP’ (a horrible metric in any case) is only growing 2%, so something has to give.
The ”solar singularity,” a term coined by energy expert Tam Hunt, is not another nice idea – it is imperative if we want to survive and if we want our children to have good lives. Hence, we probably need something like mandated massive public works where we create a volunteer corps who accelerate the transition in every possible way. We will have millions of temporary new ‘jobs’ if we do this. In the interim, there are many tech companies seeking to make it work within the current system – for instance, the mobile app Domino can help individuals convert to solar. Mosaic allows people to invest in renewable infrastructure for institutions like public schools and then reap a return on their investment over time.
You say you had a spiritual and existential crisis in your late 20’s. Can you elaborate? Do we all need this kind of ‘awakening’ in order to collectively change?
I discuss my own spiritual crisis and awakening in all three of my books, including How Soon Is Now? I do think more and more people are experiencing this and it is a crucial part of the transition underway. Traditionally, in indigenous cultures, initiations were forced awakenings which may have a neurological impact on the brain, as visionary or transpersonal experience is needed to overcome the ego-centric worldview and transition to a more universal perspective.
Indigenous people are often referred to as the ‘first environmentalists’. What models of indigenous and tribal societies can be adapted by westernized society?
I think they are different from ‘environmentalists’, as that already implies a split they didn’t experience. For indigenous people like the Kogi, the natural and supernatural worlds form a continuum. The Kogi, as I write in my new book, believe that the world around us reflects our state of spiritual development or consciousness, so as we develop ourselves the world we perceive around us also shifts. They live as if every moment is a ceremony. I explore many lessons we can learn from indigenous people in the new book.
How important is a connection to a ‘spiritual reality’ for you and do you believe this is necessary in order to initiate change? You were inspired by the work and research of Terence McKenna which, in a way, led to your own experience with psychedelics. What did you take from these experiences and, in your opinion, what role do psychedelics play in the idea of a ‘new consciousness’?
Connection to ‘spiritual reality’ is an individual thing. There are many people who are staunch ecologists and social justice advocates who don’t identify themselves as ‘spiritual’. Personally, I don’t think I would have made much progress until I explored shamanism and learned that there were other dimensions of consciousness and perhaps ways that the soul or spirit continue on after death. I also found that psychedelics helped me to reestablish a phenomenological connection between my life and the natural world – ayahuasca was particularly helpful for this, also mushrooms. I find that many people who explore shamanic plants like ayahuasca find their worldview shifts and they seek to contribute to more beneficial ecological initiatives and causes. It can help break the self-centeredness of our society – though psychedelic use can also have negative impacts, as they are extremely powerful tools and should be used carefully.
Some scientists say that the damage already done to the planet is irreversible. Your books and documentary put forward an optimistic view of how change is still possible. What reasons do you have to support this position?
We certainly don’t have an answer yet for ocean acidification, or for the possibility of a fairly sudden and catastrophic methane eruption which could raise temperatures more than four degrees celsius within a decade or two. However we are very creative as a species and perhaps we will find ways to deal with these dangers once our collective focus shifts in this direction. I definitely don’t agree with many of the solutions currently being proposed by engineers, such as geo-engineering the climate by spraying sulphur particles into the atmosphere. That could cause even more terrible problems.
My reasons for “optimism” are extremely complex. Some are due to the incredible synchronicities I have experienced in my own life which have led me to believe that there is a deeper order or orchestration which is expressing itself through us. Gaia – the Earth as living being – did a tremendous amount of work to give birth to humanity and give us this precious opportunity to build a global civilization. As I noted earlier, my sense is this is a directed evolutionary process, like the metamorphosis of a butterfly or the blossoming of a flower. It could be, for instance, that the processes we have unleashed are unstoppable, but at the last moment we master psychic technologies that allow us to phase-shift out of physical form into different, subtler dimensions. We just don’t know yet – things have been changing incredibly quickly, and the pace of change is only picking up. I also think we have a responsibility to envision the best possible outcome and to advocate for that, rather than letting ourselves get mired in negativity.
Do you believe that as a society we hold contradictory beliefs about the imminent crisis facing mankind? And, that perhaps the pessimistic outlook tends to win because we are repressed by the idea that we, as individuals, can do little to change the current situation? If we were to choose one collective belief system in regard to our evolution as a species, to realise our own agency as individuals to bring about change, how drastic an effect do you think this could have?
It is strange because I actually believe that our ability to accept both sides of a paradox (such as free will versus determinism), instead of getting trapped in duality, is actually a sign of our evolution to the next level of species consciousness.
Essentially, we know that all real change begins on the individual level and then spreads outward. The more we can realize and accept our own agency, the more likelihood we will have of bringing about the greater transformation we need to make as a species.
I’d like to refer to a quote from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: ‘He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.’ This concept was echoed in 2012: Time for Change, in particular, by Mayan scholar Michael D. Coe and Mayan activist Policarpo Chaj, who talk about the Mayan belief in cycles. It is also reflected by First Voices Indigenous Radio host Tiokasin Ghosthorse when he states, ‘prophesy is already happening, it’s not a time line. If we’re present we can already see the future, we know what’s happening because of our experience with the past.’ What is the significance of this cyclical way of thinking about the past and future, and how can it be implemented as a tool for changing the cycle?
The classic Maya had a very intricate understanding of the nature of time, and a beautiful philosophy around it. They perceived different cycles, from 260 day cycles to 52 year cycles to 5,125 year cycles, and longer. Time was organised like an orchestral composition with sequences that repeat in different ‘octaves’, so by learning about what happened in a past time you could gain insight into the present and future. We don’t know exactly what they thought would occur after the completion of the Long Count in 2012. They definitely thought we would enter a period of deepening change and transformation. In my 2012 book, I equated the cycle ending with the ecological crisis, the rapid evolution of technology, and the internet – meshing us together into one ‘global brain’, the noosphere – and also the integration of mysticism and western science through the discoveries of quantum physics and the investigation of brainwaves and consciousness, which continues today. From my current perspective, I believe that the new epoch after the end of the Long Count is one where humanity has to write a new myth for itself, renewing its sacred connection to the Cosmos.
I think we are in a time of many different mythic and religious structures, most of which seem to be fading. These include the traditional monotheisms and the postmodern faith in technology via a Singularity – a melding of human consciousness and the machine realm. I am most interested in the idea that Jose Arguelles proposed of a ‘post-technological’ or ‘psycho-technical’ civilisation where we turn our attention away from material technologies and toward the enhancement of our innate psychic capacities. Tom Roberts develops a similar idea in The Psychedelic Future of the Mind, suggesting that instead of a Singularity that is purely technological, we should aim for a ‘Neuro-Singularity’ where we apply our technical tools to the investigation and exploration of consciousness.
There’s the idea that technological advances always contain the seed of their own destruction. How can we ensure that technology is used for positive progress rather than creating new problems?
That’s a tough question. I don’t think we can ever see all of the consequences of our actions. For instance, Socrates wouldn’t write (a crucial early technology) because he believed writing destroyed memory – and in fact he was right! Before writing, people would have to memorize tremendous categories of information as well as long poems, otherwise they would all disappear. Each new technology creates new abilities while it destroys old ones. We definitely now live in a culture that has become a vast ‘forget-ory’ due to the immediacy of laptops and Smart Phones. As we have become increasingly networked together and addicted to instantaneous communication, we have also lost some depth of inner reflection, at least for the time being.
I think a big emphasis should be on scalable technologies and techniques that are sustainable and somewhat low-tech. For instance, rainwater harvesters, solar, Biochar, mycelium that can leech out toxic effluents, and so on. People are fascinated by futuristic technologies like nanotech and biotech that may have many unforeseen consequences and dangers. But nature herself provides many of the true solutions that will heal our planet and our relationships to each other.
Who do you most want your new book to reach?
I am particularly interested in reaching Millennials, who I consider a great generation but one that needs guidance, particularly when it comes to the ecological mega-crisis. Unfortunately, they have been misinformed by media and learning institutions. Recently I spoke at a program called Design for Social Innovation at School of Visual Arts [NYC]. I was surprised that even those students had no knowledge of the basic statistics around species extinction, ocean acidification, temperature rise, and so on. Sadly, they have been indoctrinated to not pay attention to these areas of knowledge, even though they directly impact their future.
Indigenous people considered their ‘environment’ as something to which they belonged – not something separate from them. They didn’t see themselves as cut off or alienated from nature, in fact. As modern people, we have been trained to consider media, politics and other distractions as somehow more important or meaningful than our connection to the ecosystems which sustain us.
I am hoping that the Millennial generation will break free of their virtual distractions and realize they need to understand the world differently, and cooperate to make the changes I discuss in the book. I don’t think, for the most part, they understand as of yet the real urgency of what we are dealing with, as well as the ever-shrinking timeframe. If people won’t take the time to learn about what is happening and redirect their energy toward bringing about a systemic change, we will probably see a collapse of this civilization and a vast reduction in global population over the next decades. If we don’t wake up quickly, accept our responsibility, and redirect our productive forces, we may see this through a grim procession of wars, famines, and natural disasters. That is the choice we face.
What do you hope to do next?
I plan to write a book on ayahuasca, chronicling its growth in popularity as well as its global spread. In the book, I will seek to explore the value and healing power of this Amazonian visionary medicine, and also take a look at how it is being manipulated for gain. There are now shamans in Taiwan, London, Ibiza, Tokyo, and so on. What is driving this ever-increasing curiosity? On her part, the ayahuasca vine seems to be enjoying snaking its way across the continents, reaching different social sectors and communities. Why is ayahuasca such an important tool for this time? Does it have a destiny or purpose in our world?
I also hope to launch another media company, tentatively titled the Woke Network. Ideally I feel we need a network that is very solution-oriented and actually can compete with Fox and CNN for attention. I do think Vice is doing some great work on reporting about what’s happening, but I feel the focus needs to be more on visionary solutions and also consciousness and spirituality as aspects of our being. I would love to help create something like an eco-conscious, neo-shamanic video network that combines user-generated content with professionally produced episodes. Hopefully we will make some progress on this over the course of this year.