A Crisis in Consciousness


Terence argues that a solution to our collective planetary crisis has emerged, and it lies in a commitment to shamanistic, feminized, cybernetic, and caring forms of being—to take what each of us is in our very best moments and extend it to fill whole lifetimes.



Well, let’s see, here. I think what we have to do is think in terms of the exhaustion of our own cultural forms—I mean, that’s what we’re living through; is a global dying created by the exhaustion of our cultural forms—and the vitality of the cultural forms that we see in these so-called primitive (I call them preliterate) people. As Nicole pointed out: they have nothing. But what they seem to have that we cannot seem to get a grip on is a kind of dynamic equilibrium with their environment, and peace of mind in the felt experience of the moment. These are the two things we don’t have. As a society we cannot seem to make peace with nature. As human beings, as individuals, it’s very hard for us to be at peace with ourselves. I mean, I consider my own life the search for peace of mind—forget enlightenment, forget śūnyatā, all this stuff, you know—just a little peace of mind would be a tremendous boon as far as I can see!


So I really think that there’s a confluence here of themes and possibilities. It has this richly plotted texture that always lets you know that you’re in the presence of a higher order of things. It’s that the shamans—whom we admire, who idealize—are seen to be at the center of this environment (the warm tropics) that we find it necessary to destroy. So it’s a perfect image of us being at war—not only with ourselves, but with nature itself. And you’ve heard all about how the Amazon and the Congo basin and eastern Indonesia are all being cleared and lumbered and turned into cattle ranches. This is a tragedy, obviously. We understand and can perceive the dynamics of that. But how to make sense of a situation where, as the world bank and the IMF attempt to halt this kind of destruction, on the other side of the coin, the United States State Department and the DEA and these agencies propose and are planning to carry out the defoliation of the Wijaya basin. So there’s a schizophrenia here that is not academic. I mean, are we trying to get the patient well or are we pulling the plugs one by one? We seem to be acting in both dimensions simultaneously. And I think it’s because we have not, in this culture, awakened to the depth of the crisis that surrounds us.


You know, there’s a lot of kind of self-congratulatory back-slapping going around these days over the fact that communists everywhere are in hot water and have to admit that they did it wrong, and this gives a lot of satisfaction to people who feel that that means we did it right. We didn’t do it right. They did it wrong, and now admit they did it wrong. We do it wrong and have yet to even raise the possibility of turning away from what we are doing. The internal contradictions of Marxism were based on a false definition of what people are. People do not respond to central planning, hortatory propaganda, and stereotyping—neither do people respond to an ethos of self-denial or a view of human beings that denies the fact that we have certain itches which must be scratched. So I think that the collapse of Marxism is only the collapse of the outer edge of the societal and civilizing assumptions that we have made. After all, Marxism is nothing more that the millenarian retread of Christian millenarianism. And so is modern science yet another secular retread of Christian millenarianism. So our culture is in trouble. Not “trouble,” we are at a terminal crisis; a bifurcation that can only go one of two ways: horror beyond your wildest imagination, or breakthrough to dignity, decency, community, and caring beyond your wildest imagination.


Now, where do you look for models? Where do you go? The answer is so obvious. You go to nature. Nature has been playing this game for three billion years on this planet. We have been playing the game—we, the apostles of Christian scientism—for about 2,000 years. Nature has an economy, an elegance, a style that, if we could but emulate it, we could rise out of the rubble that we are making of the planet. You know it was the geographer Carl Sauer who said: “Man found the planet a climaxed primeval forest. He”—and notice the gender here—“will leave the planet a weedy lot.” A weedy lot. Well now, this is a metaphor where you exchange climaxed rainforest for weeds, but it’s also true. By clearing land, we promote the kind of plant evolution that stresses very rapid seed production and annular cycles of growth—in other words: weeds.


And this tendency to find perfection and then to leave rubble in our wake has haunted us for the past three or four thousand years of our history. Now, with the ozone shield disappearing, with acid rain falling on the Earth that can melt blocks of marble, with the CO2 levels rising, with the levels of strontium and chlorofluorocarbons and—you know the litany—we have now one last chance to fish or cut bait, and the place where nature has provided models for how to respond to this situation is the climaxed rainforest. Only the climaxed tropical rainforest has the kind of complexity of signal transfer, movement of nutritional materials, movement of electromagnetic radiation that we find in the modern city. It is a cliché of modernity that the city is a jungle—the problem is it isn’t jungle enough. And I think it’s the task of the new shamans to take the metaphor of the jungle—which is a metaphor of tremendous wealth, tremendous variety, a tremendous outpouring of form and of energy and of potential fulfillment of various bifurcation patterns of flow—to take that and enrich our own lives with it.


And the way this is done is by empowering the presence of experience. The main thing that you get with these so-called primitive preliterate people—and with people like Nicole, who have spent time in this situation—is: they are in the moment. They know how to have fun, they know how to work, they know how to live. And the reason they understand this is because they are focused within the confines of the felt presence of experience. They do not live by abstraction. And abstraction is the knife poised at our hearts. We are so much the victims of abstraction that, with the Earth in flames, we can barley rouse ourselves to wander across the room and look at the thermostat. That’s the level of disempassioning that abstraction has laid upon us.


Well, hopefully this weekend there will be passion, there will be an effort wherever there is abstraction to drag it down into the felt presence of the moment. I think, basically, what we are, are a kind of green anarchy: an effort to revivify social forms that have been atrophied in the West at least since the destruction of Eleusis, probably in most places thousands of years before that. This is our last chance. I have done the best I could in terms of trying to sift through all these options and, as a communicator, offer the best way out. And, you know, I could only do my best, and so that’s what you get. I can’t preach scientism because I don’t believe in it. I can’t preach Buddhism because I can’t understand it. The only thing I can preach is the felt presence of immediate experience, which for me came through the psychedelics—which are not drugs, but plants. It’s a perversion of language to try and derail this thing into talk of drugs. There are spirits in the natural world that come to us in this way. And so far as I can tell, this is the only way that they come to us that is rapid enough for it to have an impact upon us as a global population.


This weekend will be different because we will be hewing close to the source. Nicole is a priceless repository of information, more even than she knows. If I could declare her a national treasure, I would. Who knows what this woman knows? Who knows how much human suffering, the alleviation of how much anxiety, lies in the hands of perhaps half a dozen people of Nicole’s caliber, who have paid their dues in these jungles. This information is flowing through our fingers and disappearing. In another thirty years it will be all gone. Every time I go to the Amazon, I can feel the way in which it’s slipping away. When my brother and I go off looking for these unusual hallucinogens, often we have the experience where, when we finally find the person who claims they know what we’re after, the line goes like this: “Well, I’ve never taken it, but as a child I remember seeing my grandfather prepare it. And I think I can do it.” If it weren’t for us standing there asking that it be done, it would never have even risen into the gentleman’s mind as a possibility.


This is the knife-edge upon which this knowledge is poised. If it can be saved, it gives me hope that we can be saved. If we can’t save this kind of knowledge, we cannot save ourselves. Because this kind of knowledge is ourselves. Culture is a garment which you put on. Medical systems are pieces of jewelry which you wrap around your throat or neck. Religious ideals are like objects which you push through pierced nostrils and earlobes. If we cannot come to terms with that which allows us to give birth with ease, to die with dignity, and to live in health, then what kind of a future do we have? No future at all!


So this is not a meeting of obscurantists or enthusiasts for some private vista of transcendence. This is a meeting of political activists, people who are socially committed to themselves, to each other, to the larger idea of community, and who understand that when you talk about Gaia, it’s only an abstraction unless you talk about plants. The division between the masculine and the feminine is only trivially a difference between men and women. It is fundamentally a division between plants and animals. Plants are the enveloping feminine matrix of control and refurbishment. Animals are something invented by plants to move seeds around; an extremely yang solution to a peculiar problem which they faced. So the archaic revival, if it means anything, it means reconnecting the Gaian mind, which is a vegetable mind, a feminine, enfolding, boundary-dissolving planetary mind that is not an abstraction, not a stereotype, not something used to create hortatory propaganda, but a living, breathing reality. A reality which is the only thing which stands between us and Armageddon.


History is a kind of horrified realization that something has been lost, that there is an itch hard to scratch in the civilized context. That we have—out of fear, really—descended into patterns of domination of each other, of the environment, of our children, of our social relations with exogamous groups. We have descended into a dominator pattern that is basically based on clutching, on fear. And I’m sure most of you have heard me argue that this is the consequence of ceasing, basically, to do enough hallucinogens in the diet. That, in fact, what human beings were flirting with over many, many tens of millennia—let’s say from 100,000 years ago to 15,000 years ago—human beings were in a flirtatious situation with a symbiotic relationship with this mind resident in vegetable nature.


Now, you all know what classic symbiosis is in biology. It’s where—let’s take the example of the little fish who lives in the sea anemone, and big fish don’t bother it, it gains protection, the sea anemone gains access to larger prey which come to investigate the little fish. That kind of symbiosis is genetically locked in. And if you take the little fish away from the anemone and put it, let us say, in an aquarium without anemones, it doesn’t die, it doesn’t go into an immediate physiological crisis. No. What happens is: it simply has a low body weight and a short lifespan. In other words, it is under stress.


And I believe—I hope I’m not deluding myself—but I believe that the lost secret of human emergence, the undefined catalyst that took a very bright monkey and turned that species into a tormented self-reflecting poet dreamer, that catalyst has to be sought in these tertiary alkaloids in the food chain that were catalyzing higher states of intellectual activity. And I’ve pointed out to you (ad nauseam, I’m sure) the reciprocal feedback relationship that was working there. In the case of the mushroom in the veldt situation in Africa it was promoting, at low doses, visually acuity, which was feeding back into the hunting and gathering process, making those animals with this increased visual acuity more adaptively successful, hence more reproductively successful, hence they’re outbreeding their competitors. At higher doses psilocybin actually causes generalized arousal, which includes sexual arousal. Again, it becomes a catalyst for increased reproductive success. More instances of copulation in a situation like that lead to more successful births of those into family structures where the alkaloid has been accepted into the food chain.


Well, this would be only an obscure topic of interest to primatologists were it not for the fact that it is a crisis in consciousness which confronts us globally. Consciousness is the commodity that, if we do not have enough of it, do not produce it fast enough, then the moment of the processes we set in motion in our ignorance is going to sterilize the planet and do us all in. So we have to have consciousness.


Well, then you look at the smörgåsbord of ethnographic possibilities and you discover this institution of shamanism. It is the institution of planner, of visionary, of manager, of large-system coordinator. That’s what it’s about. You call it magic on one level, you call it curing, you call it folk psychiatry, or weather prediction. Shamans have been involved in all of these things. But as Nicole made so eloquently the point last night: to these deep forest people it is ordinary. It is ordinary. They live in a different cultural dimension than we do. Dimensions which to us are completely value dark are to them completely transparent. And dimensions which to us are extremely rich and complex—the inner world of the nucleus of the atom, let us say—are for them totally value dark. They don’t even cognize the possibility of asking the question.


But nevertheless, the specialization in these various domains is not something where one is as good as another. Consciousness is the domain of immediate experience. How are we going to save this planet? How are we going to take the lethal cascade of toxic technological and ignorance-producing habits that are loose on this planet and channel them toward some kind of a sane and livable world? Well, the answer is emerging in culture out of the collectivity of global consciousness. It is what I call the archaic revival. It is this very large turnover in the mass mind; some people call it a paradigm shift. It’s an effort to recover the sensory ratios, the feelings, and the attitudes of 15,000 to 20,000 years ago—before fear, before ego, before male dominance, before hierarchy, hoarding, warfare, propaganda, child abuse, all of these things. And the answer lies—as was indicated last night—in integration into the dynamics of nature.


Well, so far as my analysis gives it to me, the only way you can abandon yourself to the dynamics of nature is to break through the language shell: you must cut through the aura of programming and cultural assumptions that surround us from the moment we are able to speak. The only way this can be done is by dissolving the boundaries of ego. Ego is a structure that is erected by a neurotic individual, who is a member of a neurotic culture, against the facts of the matter. And culture—which we put on like an overcoat—culture is the collectivized consensus about what sort of neurotic behaviors are acceptable.


Now, you see, what I see going on in the Amazon is a very radical psycholytic therapy where they are literally dissolving the boundaries of self, culture, and ego assumption. And then what you discover is not the white light, or what William James called a blooming, buzzing confusion—although in the first few minutes it can be like that. But what you really discover is sentient, organized, living, loving nature; that nature is a force, nature is a mind, a personality organized with intentionality, organized with feeling, humor, grace, and conviction. Conviction! And if you can get right with that conviction, then that’s the secret of dancing in the waterfall, that’s the secret of the shaman’s apparent transcendence of the rules of mundane statistics. Because that is what it is. The shaman doesn’t violate physics. He or she simply knows how to push the improbable to its greatest extent. And in Eastern philosophy this is called the Tao: you know, abandonment to the flow, a fitting of the small pattern into the larger pattern.


Well, I think these things are very important, because I think that psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis is a good idea, but it will never reach any kind of operational effectiveness until we look to these native healers all over the world and study their methods. And their methods are chemical and personal. It’s a combination of care, attention, intention, and chemistry that allows consciousness to be made malleable and then recast in other forms.


So I find myself this weekend explaining myself—that’s what I feel like I’m doing—why does someone who extols the self-transforming elf-machines of the DMT space also claim to be a conservationist, also have a mathematical dog-and-poodle show? Well, it’s because all of these things emerge out of the concrescence of consciousness; its intention towards its own transformation. Nature is the answer. It’s not enough to be like Wordsworth. It’s not enough to—this is not… you know, Mao Zedong said “the revolution is not a dinner party.” And certainly the ecological revolution is not a dinner party. Poetic sensitivity to the death of the planet is not what we’re striving for here. What we’re striving for is to halt, overturn, and back out of the impending death of the planet. It is very clear now that consciousness will decide that there are not rosy futures of suburban housing and ratatouille to be extended endlessly into the future. We are approaching a bifurcation where it is either going to become heaven or hell. One or the other.


And I think that this archaic intuition—which I see reaching clear back to the birth of the twentieth century and the nineteenth century, back to people like Alfred Jarry, and Guillaume Apollinaire, and the ’pataphysicians, the surrealists, the physicists around Einstein, Freud, modern art, modern dance, jazz—all of this stuff is an effort to reclaim the primitive, to reclaim the archaic, to reject all that powdered wig algebra that comes down through the French, English, German tradition of constipated male dominance, and instead intuit—that’s what it is in Freud and Jung and the new age—intuit our way out.


But now the intuition is rising to the surface. We no longer have to operate without the presence of the goal firmly in hand. The goal can now be stated. What this is all about is a return to archaism with the lessons learned in history. That’s where we were happy. The fall was a fall into a veil of tears, into a world of limitation and pain and suffering and infectious disease, and so forth and so on. It’s a prodigal journey into a lower dimension that can now be ended by a collective cultural decision to commit to this Taoist, shamanistic, feminized, cybernetic, caring, aware, present kind of being. It’s nothing more than what each of us is in our very best moments. But we have to extend those very best moments to fill whole lifetimes.


Think of the number of people who suffered and died that we could sit under this tree this morning. In the last million years, nine times the glaciers have ground south from the poles, freezing the world into ice and confining human populations to subtropical valleys and the warm tropics. Nine times the interglacial periods have come and human populations have spread out over the Earth. They didn’t have radio, they didn’t have antibiotics, contraception, statistical analysis, or the partial differential equation. And yet, somehow they managed to get us here. Are we then—as the heirs of that wavefront, of the inheritors of a billion-year process—are we in one generation to turn it into a mass of pottage? I think not. I certainly hope not. I would like to believe that we could make that leap to conscious awareness that would allow us to take hold.


Now, the problem—it was easy the first ten years that I sat before you, because what we were doing was getting to know each other, to verify that we in fact existed, that I wasn’t crazy, you weren’t crazy, so forth and so on. Now what looms ahead is the mess of politics. And this I’m sure you have no stomach for. I certainly don’t. I’d rather be stoned and rocked in the arms of the goddess. But, as a matter of fact, this dominator thing is not going to be unhooked and put to bed without a struggle. Everyone is going to have to be counted.


I’ve talked to you in recent months about memes—memes being the smallest potential units of ideas; they are like genes. We are the nucleus of a mutant meme: the meme of plant consciousness, hallucinogenic consciousness, shamanistic consciousness. We have to refine this meme, replicate it through repetition, and spread it through society in the same way that a plant sheds seeds into an ecosystem. The idea will compete. The idea is a good one. It’s adaptive, it’s clever, it’s tough, it’s invasive, it can make use of many contexts to promote its own existence. But it can’t do any of that if we don’t replicate it and get it out.


So I see these kinds of meetings as an opportunity for building community, as an opportunity for people to look around themselves and connect with the other people who are here. We cannot be told from the rest of the population unless we self-select and gather together at a single point in space and time. When we do that, we recognize each other. When this meeting is concluded, we will merge back into the larger stream of the body politic—but carrying this meme of the Gaian resurgence, the Gailanic wave, that must come. I mean, people say it’s so wonderful that articulate these feminist ideas, and so fort—I do it because I don’t want to be dead! I do it because I don’t want my children to have no world to live in. There is no choice. The walls are high and the current is moving very fast. What we need to do is merely keep our spirits high and learn to sing the song.


My friend Ralph Abraham is a proponent of this school of mathematics called chaotic attractors, or dynamics, and this is the notion that many processes are not pushed from behind by the momentum of casuistry (as in the ordinary Newtonian model of process), but that there are what he calls attractors, or basins of attraction, and these are things which lead processes forward. For instance, a somewhat trivial example would be: if we had a large bowl and a marble, and every time we released the marble up near the rim of the bowl we would notice that it unfailingly rolled to the bottom of the bowl and located itself somewhere near the center of the bottom of the bowl, we could say that the bottom of the bowl acts as a basin of attraction for the marble. In other words, the marble finds that its energy state is most at equilibrium when it locates itself in the trough of the bowl. So there is a way of analyzing processes to see them as though they were led rather than pushed. And I think it’s fruitful to see human history this way.


You see, what we deny as a culture of materialists, positivists, reductionists, is the presence of spirit in the world, in ourselves, or in nature. And so Western science is very concerned to deny what is called télos. Télos is a Greek term for “purpose.” The same idea of the attractor that I was talking about. If you have a target, if you're driving a car towards a goal, the goal is your télos. It decides how you will steer the car. Well, it has been for the past 150 years extremely fashionable in sociology and biology—because of Darwin—to deny télos in nature; to say that any apparent order in nature is made up of the disorder of random mutation meeting the disorder of natural selective processes, and these two streams of converging disorder create a kind of apparent, or virtual, order which is an illusion. This is the orthodox theory. And when you take this Darwinism and put it into historical theory of human processes in time, you get the modern position in academic philosophy about history, which is (and the official phrase is) “trendlessly fluctuating.” That’s what we're asked to believe we are embedded in: a 10,000-year-old process of trendless fluctuation. In mathematics this is called a random walk. It means you just go over here a few steps, and then you go this way, and then you go that. You’re like a drunk lurching around in this phase space. And this is the highest vision of human purpose that the reductionist vision can offer.


Well, what the intuition of religion is, especially Western religion—and I wouldn’t even bother to mention it, except that it also is the strong intuition of a lot of psychedelic experience—that there is some kind of attractor in the historical phase space. There is something which is drawing everything toward it. It’s like a higher-dimensional entity that casts an enormous shadow over the human landscape. So that, sitting around campfires 50,000 years ago, people felt this vague tug toward organization, order, cognitive activity, epigenetic activity. Epigenetic activity means coding stuff not in your genes, but in dance, gesture, ritual, and ultimately in clay and on paper and in electronic storage methods. This proliferation of complexity is a response to and an anticipation of this transcendental object at the end of historical process.


You see, if it weren’t for our presence on this planet, even modern science at its present primitive state could give a fairly good accounting of what’s going on. That out of complex polymers arose super-complex polymers, which were self-replicating, and that was life. And then you have an animal population. But the fly in the ointment in this rational model of reality is ourselves. We are clearly imbued with a higher dimension (which we call spirit) in a way that ordinary matter, when imbued with a higher dimension, is called life. In other words, we represent a different ontological level in the career of organization. Because we hope, we despair, we plan, we remember—and we misremember, you know? We lie, we fabricate, we delude ourselves and other people. All of these things are uniquely human functions.


Well, I think that shamanism—which is the focus of our concern here—is a kind of anticipating of the whole pattern, and that this is really the way to think about shamanism when thinking of it as a force that can steady and complete an individual human life. The shamans are not in history in the same way that we are. By having access to this higher dimension that they go to in their trance states and their states of intoxication, they gain a fractal overview on process, on life. I mean, after all, isn’t that we mean by wisdom? Wisdom is understanding how things really work. How they really work—love affairs, the raising of children, the managing of corporations, the prosecution of wars. How do these things really work? Not the deluded and fumbling attempts of the proponents of this or that school, but a Taoistic insight into the actual appropriate dynamics of everything. Well, how do you gain that kind of an insight? The answer is: you must have a superior model.


Now, if you believe that the world is composed of three levels, and they are held up on the back of a woman who sits on a giant tortoise who floats in space, this is a model of the universe. It can take you a certain distance. But what model of the universe can actually offer reassurance in all kinds of situations? Well, strangely enough, I think that these models come from the frontiers of mathematics; that it is not mere coincidence that the storms of visionary hallucination that the shaman encounters are very much like the storms of form and color that are spewed out of a Cray-3 supercomputer when it conducts a thousand iterations per second inside the Julia set or the Mandelbrot set, or one of these other compound complex mathematical objects that we are beginning to see.


You see, mathematics up to this point has been a computational science because mathematicians used pencils and blackboards and chalk to describe their objects, and consequently, an excruciatingly difficult vocabulary kept most people from appreciating what mathematics was about. Now the computer is to modern mathematics like the telescope was to sixteenth-century astronomy: the computer becomes a window into domains of hyper-complex computability that previously could barely even be conceived, but that now, at a rate of millions (approaching billions) of iterations per second—Ralph works on the MMPP machine, the multiple parallel processing machine at Goddard Space Flight Center, it does 800 megaflops per second. 800 million floating-point decimal calculations per second. Well, you can dream dreams with a machine like that. And strangely enough, at the edge of the super-technology of the dominator culture at Goddard Space Flight Center—with high priests standing around in white coats—when you get it up and running, what you see is what an ayahuasca shaman sees on a Saturday night in the Amazon. You see that you are navigating through a complex higher-dimensional phase space where, by varying the inputs of amplitude and frequency—in one case using an electronic box, in the other case using the human voice—you sing your way through a mathematical domain which is a higher resonance of reality. And you learn how the world really works; how things happen.


Well, how the hell do they happen? Well, on the simplest level they happen like this. They have a beginning, they have a middle, and then they die away as an oscillation; a damped oscillation. Now, this simple truth to which we all nod ascent is in fact the hardest thing, the hardest swallow, there is for the dominator ego and the dominator personality. Because what this simple truth says—things comes into being, they achieve their inflorescence, and they fade away—is, as Heraclitus put it, panta rhei: “all flows.” Nothing lasts. Nothing is saved. And this is our glory and our agony. That the people we love and the people we hate are swept away by time. Empires, dynasties, continents are swept away by time. And yet, our search for security is cast in the dominator culture as a search for permanence, you know? “I wanna buy a house.” “I’d like to get my trust fund functioning a little better.” “I’d like to pay off X, Y, and Z.” A search for permanence.


So what you do when you do that is: you set yourself at war against the cosmos—which is a heroic stance if you’re trying to produce Melvillean opera out of your life. You know, Ahab says in Moby Dick—he’s talking to his first mate Starbuck, who signifies Christian-right reason, and he’s raving about going after the whale, and he says: “We’ll chase it over both sides of Earth and round perdition’s flame.” And Starbuck says, “To seek revenge on a dumb brute seems blasphemy.” And he says, “Blasphemy, Starbuck? Speak not to me of blasphemy. I would strike out the sun if it insulted me. For could it do that, then could I do the other, since there is ever a sort of fair play?” Well, this is locker room talk. The notion that there is fair play between a man and a nearby star is the finest expression of the dominator ego I can imagine. And, of course, the story of Moby Dick can be read on many levels, but finally it is the story of the submersion of the male ego in the oceans of the unconsciousness, borne to its destruction and transformation by an encounter with the maternal matrix in the form of the vagina dentata of the sperm whale and everything that it symbolized.


So I don’t think we want to go that way. I don’t think we want to set ourselves up as the crusaders for permanence. But that means softening to the fact of the flow, and of the impermanence. Nicole has made the point very eloquently that these people in the Amazon have nothing. The wonderful thing about the Amazon is that nothing lasts. Nothing is worth having. I mean, a book? Forget it! Clothing, houses? Everything is just swept away by the incessant recycling of material. So all that is permanent are values, personality, strength, honesty, decency, dignity. These are things which can be erected against the flow and have some hope of permanence.


So I think shamanism is permission to transcend anxiety by accepting the transience of all form. And this is a truth of the universe that cannot be ignored. So once it is integrated, then it’s as though resistance in the electrical circuits that surround your integration into the world begins to fall. You accept that the present moment is the richest apex of being. That, on the downside back into the past, it shades of into memory and its vagaries. In the future it shades off into a series of adumbrations and anticipations. I think that the shaman’s gain this tremendous authenticity that you feel in their presence—the good ones—because they have seen the end. They have a model of how process happens, and so they don’t push, and they don’t clutch. And then energy flows through them. And our civilization has to learn this.


I think I said at one point in this weekend only Gorbachev is taking the position that we did it wrong, and that we need to deconstruct. And yet, every society did it wrong. We all did it wrong. Capitalism—it’s wonderful that you can get a safety pin at 4:00 a.m. within a half mile of anywhere in the United States (and I’m sure the Russians wish they had it so good), but is that the be-all and the end-all of cultural values? That you can walk the fluorescent-lit aisles of K-Mart and congratulate yourself that, whether it be gas can, sanitary napkin, or whatever, it’s there waiting for you? I don’t think so. I think that we have built in the termination of our world just as surely as the Marxist world built in a tripwire into its social mechanism. It’s just that we’re going to have to pay the piper more downstream.


If we descend into the dominator metaphor and play its game, we’re probably going to be snookered. Because they’ve had a long, long time to figure out all the angles. What I find myself more and more leaning to is sharing the meme of the irrelevance of conservative institutions. History is not a process for which you ask permission. History is just something you make, and then other people pick up the pieces. Henry David Thoreau understood this very well when he wrote his famous treatise on civil disobedience.


The growth of culture is something that comes out of the animal body. Rousseau called it the general will: “Man proposes and god disposes. But in the realm of civil polity the people dispose and government is allowed to propose.” But that’s all. Now what we are involved in, really, is a debate about human nature. Who are we? What are we? The French cartoonists Mœbius put it very well in his book, where he asked the question, “Is man good?” This is what we are going to find out. And my feeling is that it isn’t decided yet. H. G. Wells called history a race between education and disaster. Well, they’re in the home stretch; neck and neck. It’s clearly going to be a photo finish. But there is a responsibility on everyone who sees this to communicate it to other people, and to act upon it.

Terence McKenna


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