A stirring, soulful overview of this crucial moment in human history.
November 5, 2012
The following article presents notes from a speech delivered on Saturday, November 3, at the TedX at the La Calaca Festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Last week I was in New York City, my home, for Hurricane Sandy. At 7 pm that night, I walked to my corner and saw the floodwaters rising toward my block. I hurried home, grabbed a few things, and set out for a friend’s house on higher ground. As I was hurrying away, I heard muffled explosions and saw eerie lights in the sky. It was the Con Edison plant blowing up.
Once-in-a-century super-storms and “Frankenstorms” are now annual events, regular occurrences, and quickly growing worse.
Sandy supports what I have been writing and saying for years about this time as one of intense transformation and planetary initiation. I wrote a book and made a ﬁlm about the Mayan calendar and the year 2012. I believe that we are seeing the fulﬁllment of prophecy — based on the precise understanding of cosmic cycles held by the ancient cultures of MesoAmerica — in the transformation of planetary culture and consciousness. At the end of the process, we will either have transformed as a species and reached a new level of consciousness, or we will be on our way toward extinction. The choice is ours to make.
In tribal cultures, initiation is the necessary ordeal that turns adolescents into adults through accessing extrasensory perception, visionary states, and by transcending or subduing the ego. Through this process, the initiate becomes a full-fledged member of the tribe and takes responsibility for it.
As we undergo our planetary initiation, we are going to transcend individual ego and local boundaries to identify ourselves with humanity as a whole, becoming one global tribe. We are on the cusp of realizing ourselves as one species organism, in symbiotic relationship with the planetary ecology as a whole. Once we make this leap, we will share resources equitably, adopt cradle to cradle and no waste manufacturing practices, and shift from competition to cooperation as our basic paradigm. We will go from acting like a parasite or a virus on the earth to becoming the earth’s immune system.
As Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman write in Spontaneous Evolution, “Science suggests the next step of human evolution will be marked by awareness that are all interdependent cells within the super-organism called humanity.”
As an analogy, we can look at the process of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. In the chrysalis, the caterpillar doesn’t just sprout wings. Its entire body melts down into a biotic goop. The code for the transmutation of the organism is held by a handful of “imaginal cells” that start to propagate as the caterpillar dissolves. Although attacked at first by the dying caterpillar’s immune system, the imaginal cells install the program that produces the butterfly. Our modern civilization is now in the process of melting down and decomposing, and we have to become the imaginal cells engaged in the process of its transmutation.
Climate change is clearly accelerating, as the vast preponderance of climate scientists warned us it would. Glaciologists found that “roughly half of the entire warming between the ice ages and the postglacial world took place in only a decade,” with a temperature increase of 9 degrees during that time. Our continued tinkering runs the risk “of producing a runaway change — the climatic equivalent of a squawk on a sound system,” writes Fred Pierce in With Speed and Violence.
In The Revenge of Gaia, James Lovelock predicts “an imminent shift of our climate towards one that could easily be described as Hell: so hot so deadly, that only a handful of the teeming billions now alive will survive.” According to Lovelock, a maximum of 150 million people will be left alive at the end of this century.
Is this true? Do we have a say in what happens? Can we cooperate to co-create a rapidly different outcome?
In nature, we see the sudden emergence of radical new forms at higher levels of complexity during junctures of crisis. According to the principle of emergence, at a certain level of complexity, entirely new forms appear that could not be predicted by the nature of their parts. Can the same thing happen to our global civilization as a whole?
. . .
Initiation is not just a marker or a rite of passage. It appears to have a biological purpose. It activates the higher function of the prefrontal cortex by forcing a “mutation of awareness” — a leap of consciousness. The prefrontal cortex is the most recent brain structure, emerging 40,000 years or so ago. It is the structure that allows us to become aware of awareness, to differentiate qualities, and to use symbols.
When the prefrontal cortex is functioning properly, it does other things as well:
- Self-Consciousness (Awareness of Awareness)
- Ethical Judgment
- Capacity to Defer Pleasures and Wants
- Responsibility for the Community
- Transcendence of the Ego (the realization that “The soul is not in the body, but the body is in the soul.”)
Western civilization rejected or lost contact with initiatory practices and disciplines some time ago. We thus failed to create a system that induces higher functioning of the prefrontal cortex. What this means in practice is that the mass of people in modern society can’t rise above their lower impulses and sexual compulsions, or their greed for material things. In fact, consumer society depends upon keeping people fixated in this state. We have made a world for “kidults,” trapped by ego-based desires.
For a human community to endure, initiation is not optional.
The initiation process has a number of stages:
- Separation from the Community
- Undergoing the Ordeal
- Integrating the Vision
- Returning to the Tribe: Celebration and Homecoming
- Sharing the Knowledge
I believe that modern humanity is unconsciously bringing about a self-willed cataclysm to force its own transformation. How else do we explain how it is possible to ignore the overwhelming data on climate change, the risk posed by genetically modified organisms, or the obvious danger of nuclear plants, and so on? As an aside, if the Indian Point nuclear reactor was in the direct path of Hurricane Sandy, I wonder if we would have fared any better than Japan. I kind of doubt it.
If enough of us undergo a conscious process of initiation, our civilization may be spared the worst. When we make this inward mutation, we can then use our intelligence, skills, and resources to awaken the others and redirect society as a whole.
Individually, we can use tools like meditation, yoga, vision quests, ayahuasca shamanism, and so on. But these can quickly become new forms of spiritual materialism. We are being called upon to push beyond our comfort zones by sharing what we learn and by sacrificing our ego-based desires for the sake of the planetary community.
Consciousness is revealed, not in words, but in deeds. Seeking to overcome the inertia of modern civilization to bring about its transmutation is a powerful initiatory path for our time.
How can we make this rapid change? We need to apply a design science approach in all areas of life and look at our society from a whole systems approach. We can work both from within and outside of the system to bring about its transformation. Some crucial areas include:
- Social Technology
The primary function of media is not to convey information but to coordinate behavior. The mass media coordinates the behavior of the global multitude. When behavior is learned, it becomes habitual and subconscious.
Mass media, today, functions as as instrument of indoctrination. Media can be used as a tool to liberate rather than dominate the mass mind, and to rapidly alter our species’ behavior patterns, instilling new habits that enhance resilience, community building, and sustainability.
The corporation is an artificial life form. The development of the corporate form was a great evolutionary advance for humanity. We created an entity out of legal code, financial data, brand insignias, and ideas and injected it into an artificial game called the stock market. The corporation is the most powerful tool for transforming matter and energy that the human mind has created.
Unfortunately, we programmed it to behave destructively because we set its single-minded goal to maximize profit for shareholders — so that is what it does, monomaniacally. By its nature it must corrupt or evade costly environmental restrictions, and keep people in a state of insatiable desire craving the products it makes, whether plastic toys or anti-depressants.
We need to change the underlying program. We see efforts in this area, such as the B Corporation, which seeks to make companies environmentally and ethically responsible. But that won’t be enough. We also need to change the financial system — the mechanism through which value is exchanged — to support sustainable behavior.
Immature ecosystems are characterized by competition, and mature ones are characterized by cooperation and symbiosis. As we realize our unity as one planetary super-organism, we can reprogram the corporation to be extremely beneficial instead of destructive. Corporations are like nascent organs in the collective body of humanity: an energy company is like the blood in the body, a media company is like the perceptual mechanisms of our collective organism. When we reprogram corporations to be consilient and to help us coexist with the biosphere, they will be a great tool for conscious evolution.
Ultimately, what is capital? Capital is a social agreement. The gigantic hyper-complex cathedral-like edifice of the financial system is designed to hide this simple fact.
The current financial system enforces competition and artificial scarcity through interest and debt. We need to disseminate new tools for exchanging value, complementary currencies, that create different beliefs and behavior patterns. For instance, the economist Bernard Lietaer proposes instituting a global trading currency with a negative interest so it loses value quickly. This would lead to sharing rather than hoarding of the resource when you have it. Local Credit Clearing Houses — consortiums of local manufacturers and service providers — can issue zero interest loans to local enterprises.
Tribal cultures were largely gift economies. Eventually we can return the gift to its centrality. We see this starting to happen on the Internet through websites like Couchsurfing.com.
4. Social Technology
Social networks are proto-political and have extraordinary implications for the future of society. We can design social networks to facilitate cooperation, resource sharing, group decision-making, and direct democracy. Clay Shirky writes, “Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society; they are a challenge to it.” Networks for voluntary participation can replace functions of a centralized government, which will soon be incapacitated by the increase of natural disasters and economic issues in any case.
The planetary emergency requires us to become conscious of what we are doing and to take responsibility for the fate of the earth. We will need to shift our belief systems and behavior patterns in order to serve the community of planetary life. Art has a new role in our changing world. Art can provide a model for recreating our society on humane, egalitarian, and regenerative principles. Art is an infinite game where there are no winners or losers. Your enjoyment of a painting or song doesn’t take away from my enjoyment – if anything, it enhances it. A society based on creative expression is the opposite of a Zero Sum game.
Two thoughts from an Imaginal Cell
“Civilization, in the very real sense of the term, consists not in the multiplication but in the deliberate and voluntary reduction of wants. This alone promotes real happiness and true contentment.” –Gandhi
In a state of Enlightened Anarchy, “each person will become his own ruler. He will conduct himself in a such a way that his behavior will not hamper the well being of his neighbors. In an ideal state there will be no political institutions and therefore no political power.” –Gandhi
We face the inevitable collapse of our current civilization. Rather than a traumatic meltdown, we can intelligently redesign our current social systems to rapidly advance global civilization toward the ideal state of enlightened anarchy — the rule of all by all. We can instill a new ethos of participation, self-sufficiency, and cooperation in the global multitude. However our time to accomplish this goal is limited.
The first thing that we need to do is think about it.