Chasm Journal steals a moment with author Daniel Pinchbeck to talk a few of the many concepts in his latest book How Soon Is Now? (Watkins, 2017). Pinchbeck's other books include Breaking Open the Head (Broadway Books, 2002), 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Tarcher/Penguin, 2006), Notes from the Edge Times (Tarcher/Penguin, 2010), and he is co-founder of the web magazine, Reality Sandwich.
JC Contemporary media theorists such as McKenzie Wark suggest that perhaps we are no longer in capitalism, but something much worse. Instead of the ownership of a means of production, there is now the ownership of the "means of mediation." In your book How Soon Is Now, you suggest this also with regard to Antonio Negri and his notion of the "production of subjectivity." How do you envisage what you refer to as the stewardship instead of ownership of mediation coming about?
DP I hadn’t heard of this concept before. It seems like Wark is playing with Negri’s idea that we are in a time when “immaterial production” has become most important or “hegemonic,” and what we are producing with our networks and narratives is “subjectivity” itself. He prefers the term “mediation” - sounds good also. I think it is meaningless to wonder whether this new circumstance is “better:” or “worse” than the old one. The real problem, as I point out in my new book, is that we have unleashed a devastating ecological crisis that could lead to our own extinction in a short period of time. Because of our inherited ideologies and institutional frameworks, we have not been able to rally to deal with it successfully as of yet.
One question I raise, following thinkers from Rousseau to Murray Bookchin, is whether the whole construct of “private ownership” by an elite strata is fundamentally anti-ecological. In other words, with the current regime of private property which leads to a sharp division between “haves” and “have nots,” we may not be able to transition to a regenerative system that protects the planet’s resources. In this regard, it is really interesting that the people around the world who have fought the most heroically to protect the Earth’s natural systems are indigenous people who possess, in many cases, no inherent ideal of private property.
If a “tipping point” of humanity were to realize this, what could we do? Could we use the Internet and perhaps Blockchain to construct new social networks that would help transition from “ownership” to “stewardship” over a period of time - years or decades? Could people have an option to transition private property into cooperative forms of ownership, perhaps beginning with their close friends and community, but then extending out from there as more and people are psychologically retrained to function in this new system?
JC Rousseau's notion of the General Will is explored in Hiroki Azuma's General Will 2.0, which basically argues that the general will is a sum of differences. Azuma sees that this general will is emerging through the database, big data that is owned by private corporations. This is thus to say, the database is the general will is the collective unconscious is the shadow... You're hinting at this by proposing a new architecture for politics in your book when you talk about a post-ownership, post-monolithic currency world, to quote you from HSIN:
The alternative, then, is to engineer a peaceful transition of global civilization, superseding the current system of private property and hoarded capital by developing new infrastructures that converts property into cooperatively owned resources or trusts, over time. In order to accomplish this, we would need to establish a global network of early adaptors who have committed to making a transition into a system of open co-operativism and peer-to-peer production. If cooperation and symbiosis are evolutionary advances over competition and domination, then such a system should out-perform the old model. Within a few decades or at most a few generations, it should be possible to engineer a global conversion - a planetary reboot of our social operating system.
With this in mind, how are we to navigate around that so we are not solely operating in service of Google?
DP I think we should use databases etc, blockchain, to bring about the world described in that quote of mine.
JC Another of your sources in HSIN that addresses environmental crisis is Edward O. Wilson's Half-Earth. Some believe his views are quite dangerous in that how humans are to liberate the planet and leave half the land to regenerate itself goes largely unexplained. If protected-areas are the highest goal, who is to be displaced from their land and how? Is it a matter of forcing people into already dense urban areas?
DP I am not a big fan of Wilson’s social views. There is no doubt that what we have just seen with Miami, Houston, and Puerto Rico is going to be happening more frequently in the years ahead, and sea levels will rise faster than predicted. Ultimately, it is going to become untenable to keep rebuilding coastal cities and people will be migrating inland. We are going to have to construct new human settlements and these can be created following ecological principles - check out Richard Register’s work on Eco-Cities, for instance. My hope is that we can apply sustainable technological solutions that are exponentially scalable, as we also make a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy (what Jeremy Rifkin calls the “Third Industrial Revolution”). Unfortunately, the ossified leadership we have now is making it impossible for us to address our circumstance rationally.
JC You strike me as a panpsychist or panexperientialist, though I don't think you've ever spoken about that explicitly in this book, the idea that all biological consciousness have a degree of mentality. From panpsychism, to integrated information theory, to quantum consciousness / microtubules theories from Roger Penrose, to the notion of Christoph Koch that consciousness is fundamental to the universe; is there an idea you would subscribe to most?
DP I don’t know Christoph Koch. I agree with the Eastern ideas of Vedanta that there is ultimately one consciousness, Brahma or Atman, that separates itself into infinite separate containers in order to explore its own creative capacities. Or as William Blake might say, the Imagination is the human existence in itself.
JC I like that you link, as Alan Watts, Robert Thurman and others have done, the Buddhist and Hindu notions of Lila, divine play, and Maya, cosmic illusion, in which it seems contemporary physics is only catching up. My question is, how far does this illusion go? Do you concur with Nick Bostrom's hypothesis that we are living in a computer simulation vis-à-vis posthuman ancestor civilizations?
DP I think that Bostrom’s idea - now picked up by Elon Musk and others - is still too literal-minded. I recommend my book, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. One thing I explore in that book is the idea that the evolutionary leap of consciousness we need to make as a species involves learning how to embrace paradox - realizing that the nature of reality may be inherently paradoxical, and even our idea of a linear cause-and-effect is only an idea of the human mind. It might be utterly wrong, and the universe may actually be organized according to other principles. We may discover, at a higher octave of consciousness, that there is no dualistic split between technology and nature, or technology and consciousness.
JC Do you also believe in the multiverse, many worlds theory, as it is stipulated, as a kind of Borgesian library?
DP I don’t “believe” in it. I think it is possible. There may be branching timelines, etc. But I also think the universe is something like a gigantic artwork or symphony. If an artist is making an artwork, you don’t actually need to make every variation. It would just be repetitive and boring after a while. If we are expressions of that infinite field of consciousness, perhaps we are collectively co-creating the most magnificent artwork we can imagine, even if it doesn’t seem that way on the scale of our individual lives.
JC Do you see a link between technology and shamanistic practices as Terence McKenna once did? This is something McKenna would talk about with Rupert Sheldrake in those trialogues recordings and I always found it quite prophetic. Does technology, for you, kill the mythic? Or could it potentially expand its parameters?
DP There is definitely a weird phenomenon on high dose mushroom and DMT experiences where the visions seem hyper-technological, almost as if you are seeing futuristic multidimensional architecture or spaceships or some such. The most intense is nn-DMT where one can have the direct experience at a high dose of another reality or "dimension" that is almost impossible to bring back into our language in any meaningful way. The sense is of being inside a super advanced consciousness that is continuously changing, like a hive.
I think the distinction we make between the natural, spiritual, and technological may dissolve at these other levels of reality. Nature could be seen as a perfected technology that produces no waste. Consciousness may be directly related to technology. One could say language or writing are forms of technology. Also shamanism in itself is a spiritual technology involving a huge set of practices.
JC Do you see a bridge between pagan, esoteric practices and technology? Do you see virtual reality, for example, as a means to have mythic or transcendent experiences? Or do you feel transcendent experiences are only something that can be experienced as an embodied human?
DP I like the idea that Tom Roberts advances in The Psychedelic Future of the Mind that we could move toward a "Neuro Singularity" where we use all of our knowledge about the brain or body-mind organism to induce higher states. For instance, we know about different brain waves like Alpha and theta states. I could see that we utilize all kinds of techniques and technologies to get people into permanent flow states.
JC As you know there's microdosing in Silicon Valley and so on, do you support this transhuman movement on any level? What part of Kurzweil's mission for Singularity disturbs you the most?
DP Microdosing is interesting. We are learning from the studies of brain scans of people on LSD from the imperial college in London that LSD lights up the brain like a Christmas tree and links together different areas of the brain, which suggests that it has value for creative problem solving and innovation. What I don't like about the Singularity worldview is I feel it supports the domination paradigm of corporate globalisation in a very unreflective way. We need to interrogate the cult of progress and our naive faith in technology as we are rupturing our planet's support systems rapidly. The Singularity movement willfully ignores the enormous shadow side of new technologies. We are caught in a “progress trap” where each layer of new technology tends to have unforeseen consequences that then require more complex fixes, which don’t necessarily address the problem at its root. For instance, plastics have infiltrated every ecosystem, causing hormonal disruption. Do we really know the ultimate consequences of GMOs or of nanobots?
JC It seems to me that the "free love" movement is just as much of a construct as monogamy. In your book you write about a community in Portugal where women are more freed up because childcare is a shared, since it's a communal effort. But such communal lifestyles leave children more vulnerable to abuse. With unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and unaffordable health care, I find it hard to think this is the way forward in dense urban environments like NYC. How do you see this model as beneficial to children and women?
DP It is obvious we have a serious design flaw in our society’s operating system when it come to love and sexuality. Look at Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Trump, Cosby, Bikram, Johnny Depp, etc., not to mention many people’s personal lives and their sense of being perpetually disappointed and unsatisfied in love, wanting more, etc. It is like we have a constant return to the same nightmarish scenario of abusive men, abuse and predation. I believe we have to use our intellect and our empathy to understand and address this situation - beyond blame or even forgiveness.
The best model I have found for this is the community of Tamera in Portugal, started by German radicals who were trying to understand why the utopian and liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s had failed. They began to understand that core issues around love and sexuality - Eros - were the most deeply political questions that people were not yet able to address consciously. They built the community Zegg and then Tamera to explore a systemic redesign. They came up with a model based on non-possessive relating, rooted in trust and authentic communication, mediated by social technologies they developed, such as Forum, where the members of the community sit in circles together to speak honestly about their current relationships with other members of the community. They raise children cooperatively, which liberates the parents - in particular, the mothers - from a lot of stress and anxiety. I think the nuclear family model is a poor model for raising children compared to the tribal or communal model which was our natural state for hundreds of thousands of years.
I think we are seeing a transition in relationship models - even the NY Times Magazine is writing on open marriages. But unless we understand it systemically, it won’t create more security or happiness. I think Tamera is correct that probably a community model is necessary for this. Could we create urban communities around these ideas and practices? It would be challenging - but I don’t see why not.