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Evolutionary Operating Instructions

By Josh Potter

Toward 2012: Perspectives on the Next Age

Edited by Daniel Pinchbeck and Ken Jordan

Tarcher/Penguin, 351 Pages, $16.95

 

Over the past decade or so, the 2012 meme—anticipating a global paradigm shift on the winter solstice of the year 2012—has sprung from the marginal writings of Mesoamerican academics and the geodesic domes of Burning Man to infiltrate the cultural consciousness at large. This year, two feature films will be released on the subject: one, starring John Cusack, that rather predictably injects a grim reading of the event to spin an apocalyptic thriller (which generally plays to popular sentiment that 2012 will be another Y2K), and a documentary that aims to investigate the meme for its academic merits. Responsible for the latter is Daniel Pinchbeck, a journalist whose 2006 book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl brought real scholarship to 2012 theory and resultantly tipped off a post-new-age movement.

Synthesizing Western thinkers like Rilke, Nietzsche, Jung, Heidegger, Steiner, Watts and McKenna with the cosmogenetic prophesies of many world religions, Pinchbeck posited that (far from apocalypse) “2012 may represent the completion of an initiation process for the modern psyche.” Essential to this view is the idea that human evolution can be effected only on the collective level, a position that helped Pinchbeck dodge the narcissistic bullet with which most “visionary” thinkers inevitably shoot themselves. It also gave rise to Reality Sandwich, a site utilizing Web 2.0 to collectively imagine what the next age might look like. Edited by Pinchbeck and web pioneer Ken Jordan, Toward 2012: Perspectives on the Next Age is a compendium of what the site has to offer. Covering a sweeping variety of topics, the book suggests that the meme might best be addressed as “2012 theory”—an ongoing school of thought—rather than “The 2012 Theory,” an ominous occult suspicion.

In his introduction, Pinchbeck writes, “Even if you are not inclined to give credence to ancient prophesies, it is clear that humanity faces grave threats to its existence, and society must change.” Peculiarly (or properly), the term 2012 appears in the book very few times. John Major Jenkins, a scholar of Mayan cosmology, contributes a brief essay on Mayan iconography as it relates to the scientifically accepted alignment of the earth and galactic center on that fateful date. As a whole, though, most authors shy away from dogmatic zeal or paranoiac speculation. Instead, the book offers meditations on gnosis, xenolinguistics, experimental communities, the narrowing divide between science and religion, the rise of ayahuasca tourism, reevaluations of Carlos Castaneda and Stanley Kubrick, interviews with Alex Grey and Abbie Hoffman—in short, an elastic conceptual framework for a post-2012 society. Understanding, as J.F. Martel writes in his essay on Kubrick, that “to be didactic [is] to contribute to the cultural and intellectual disenfranchisement of the species,” diverse viewpoints are expressed—from the strictly scientific to the lunatic fringe—with a humility tuned to the collaborative interface.

While the book offers an interesting window into a vibrant online community and a taste of viewpoints heretofore marginalized by mainstream discourse, Pinchbeck and Jordan’s choice to produce a book is an odd one. As Antonio Lopez writes in his essay “Reality 2.0,” “Books are bound to Enlightenment thinking, that is, the concepts of nationalism, individualism, and privacy are specifically related to the rise of printing press culture.” Indeed, the form of the book here betrays much of what the Web site strives to establish: a culture in which information flows in both directions and authority is developed through the free exchange of information. When these essays appeared on the site, over the course of the last year or so, the comments thread often offered the most significant insight. Furthermore, in its truncated form, the subject matter doesn’t often get the space to make a fully cogent case, and so makes some of the same reductive mistakes that the forbearing new-age movement did.

Perhaps this is part of the point, though. Invoking Buckminster Fuller, Pinchbeck talks of effecting change by making old models obsolete (i.e. mass capitalism, extractive energy consumption, top-down politics). Like the election of mainstreamer Barack Obama, to which this community was decidedly split, the book might be viewed as a useful step in the evolutionary (not revolutionary) undoing of an outdated arena—a way to get basic ideas to a less esoteric readership and so broaden the context for discourse. By far the most useful and compelling section of the book is the final one titled “Community,” where authors, operating under the assumption that paradigm shift must be proactive and is currently underway, imagine how urban homesteading, abundance-based economics, open-source communication, and mutual aid can lead to “social transformation that is not about abandoning all aspects of familiar life.”

Like 2012 theory itself, Toward 2012 is a hall of mirrors down which a reader can casually gaze or committedly plunge. If you’re of the latter camp, though, Pinchbeck’s first book on the subject will prove more rewarding. For even the most skeptical naysayer, the meme is one that warrants attention if only for its growing place in our cultural consciousness. Pinchbeck recently wrote that “a change seems to be happening at the level of logic, which is becoming less dualistic, less ‘either-or,’ and more binary, ‘both-and’ . . . [suggesting] a shift from the modern historical perspective to a revived mythological consciousness.” As myth, the 2012 meme can be compelling and instructive, regardless of whether you “believe.”


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