Recently I had the opportunity to meet author Daniel Pinchbeck at one of his readings for Notes from the Edge Times, his new book. Pinchbeck is an expert on 2012 Mayan prophecy and shamanic visionary states; his bestselling 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl is a must-read in many New Age communities, and his documentary film 2012: Time for Change is now in limited release in New York.
His articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Wired, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, ArtForum, and in Reality Sandwich, where he is editorial director.
Here’s my fascinating interview with him for Business Insider:
Last week there was a mass UFO sighting in New York City, not far from the financial district. If an alien race were to make itself known to us, what would they have to say about American capitalism in its current form?
I think that a star-faring alien race, based on their survey of many worlds, would recognise our form of capitalism as a transitional system. It is the type of system that develops once a species establishes rational scientific inquiry and attains limited ego-based consciousness, but before it transcends that level of development to reach a truly holistic and planetary level of consciousness. With its tremendous dynamism, capitalism has meshed the world together through trade routes and communications technology. Soon we will need to supersede it to create a regenerative planetary culture where the rights of nature are protected, where manufacturing is redesigned to become zero waste, as William McDonogue describes in Cradle to Cradle, and where maximum efficiency is used in a systemic redesign of our built environment and our social institutions. We will also develop alternative instruments to exchange value, as the economist Bernard Lietaer describes in The Future of Money, or Tom Greco explores in The End of Money and the Future of civilisation.
As I discuss in my new book, Notes from the Edge Times, capitalism in its pure form has reached the limit of its usefulness and has become a destructive force. This is because the logic of the system forces the constant creation of new markets and turns all sorts of human relations into monetary exchanges. Nature has no rights under this system, and it is to the benefit of market calculations to turn natural reserves into economic producers – for instance, a forest has little economic value in itself, but when the trees are taken out and it is converted into a parking lot or soybean farm, it creates a series of economic transactions that feed the GDP. Since we have reached the resource limits of the earth, a system that runs on the ideology of endless economic growth and infinite material progress can no longer function and will soon self-destruct. The aliens in their silver ships would know about this, and would feel great concern that in the approaching chaos, horrific and meaningless destruction may be unleashed.
Your book “2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl” is the most famous of the (now many) books on 2012 and Mayan prophecy. Is the end of the current “Great Cycle” going to begin with financial collapse? Or have you become more optimistic since penning the book that, whatever happens in December 2012, it might be a more gradual or gentle transformation?
I was careful to hedge my bets in my 2012 book. I never state that anything definitive will happen in that year, or on the date of December 21, 2012. How could I know what exactly will happen? I do believe we are in the crux of a transformation of our civilisation, and it is extraordinary that the Classical Maya, from over 1,500 years ago, pointed to our year 2012 as the hinge point of that shift. As I argue in my book, their prophetic knowledge may have been based on their precise attunement to natural and cosmic cycles and their intense pursuit of non-ordinary states of awareness using shamanic techniques.
It does seem that many indicators point toward the inevitability of a global financial collapse, and this meltdown may very well occur around 2012. The global financial system is built on a debt pyramid. As long as there were new markets to penetrate and new resources to exploit, it was possible to ignore this, but now that the planet has been fully globalized and resources are declining, it is becoming impossible. According to many geologists, we are now facing “peak oil,” the point at which the annual amount of fossil fuels we are able to extract first levels off and then begins to decline, even as global demand for oil continues to grow. Personally, I hope the collapse of the financial system leads to a mass awakening as we recognise we have been focusing on virtual abstractions and profit-driven calculations that have nothing to do with the actual health and biodiversity of the earth or the resilience of our communities, and threaten our prospects for long-term continuity as a species.
In my work since writing 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, I have explored the possible solutions available to our current intermeshed mega-crises. Many of these solutions are presented in my new book, Notes from the Edge Times, and my new documentary, 2012: Time for Change. If we are going to experience a financial and environmental crash in the next years, it is important that we have alternatives prepared and a new vision of how society could reconstitute itself, going forward. I believe we need to develop a model of a regenerative society that is based on a different set of values, such as resilience, self-sufficiency, and coherence between thought and practice. I am seeking to do this with my company, Evolver, that operates the social network Evolver.net and the web magazine, Reality Sandwich.
What if nothing happens in 2012? What if the world continues on its current path… wouldn’t it be a mistake to leave behind capitalism, acquisition of personal wealth, and the rat race if this is “all there is”? Many people also believed that 2000 was going to be the end of the world as we know it, and nothing significant happened.
As I said, I am not particularly concerned about the date. It is quite clear that we are in the crucible of a transformation, and either humanity will make a transition to a different form of civilisation and a new awareness, or we will most likely not survive, at least in anything close to our current state. According to current estimates, 25% of all mammalian species – perhaps all species in general – will be extinct in 30 years. The melting of the glaciers and ice caps will eventually lead to coastal flooding and also deprive hundreds of millions of people of fresh water. The pollution of the global environment is rebounding negatively on human health, leading to epidemics of cancers and new mysterious syndromes that affect more and more people. We are all part of an uncontrolled scientific experiment, as nobody knows how much of the web of life on earth can be torn apart by our heedless behaviour before the eco-system no longer supports the existence of large mammals such as ourselves. The collapse of bee and butterfly species that work for us as pollinators is one unambiguous warning signal.
Another subject that I explore in depth in my books, especially Breaking Open the Head and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, is the question, quite literally, of the meaning of life. For Breaking Open the Head I went on a spiritual journey, exploring psychedelic substances with tribal cultures. I went to West Africa, to Gabon, where I was initiated into the Bwiti tribe taking iboga, a plant psychedelic known in the West as ibogaine. I went to the Amazon in Ecuador to work with the Secoya tribe and drink ayahuasca, a brew made of two visionary plants. I also visited the Mazatec Indians in Mexico and took magic mushrooms. The outcome of these experiences and many more was a shift in my worldview from sceptical materialist to shamanic initiate – I had a wide range of psychic, paranormal, and visionary experiences that ultimately convinced me there were other levels or dimensions of psychic life, that it was quite probable that the soul continues after death in other worlds, and so on. From my perspective, when you encounter these other aspects of reality, the goal of acquiring personal wealth and succeeding in the rat race doesn’t really make much sense. There is so much more happening in the cosmos, and it is the evolution of your soul and spirit that is ultimately important, not the numbers in your bank account.
Where should someone interested in learning more about your work and shamanism start?
My books are good primers – plus our film, 2012: Time for Change which can now be ordered through our website. The film features Sting on his ayahuasca journeys, David Lynch on transcendental meditation, Gilberto Gil on yoga, and a range of visionaries and design scientists. Beyond that there is a huge literature in this area. Mircea Eliade wrote the textbook on shamanism. Jeremy Narby’s book The Cosmic Serpent is an excellent primer on ayahuasca and the issues it raises – Narby will also be hosting a Reality Sandwich teleseminar on shamanism, starting in a few months. Reality Sandwich has a huge backlog of essays in these areas – interested readers can use the tags to search for subjects that interest them.
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