Image: Public domain, thanks to the Powerhouse Museum Collection.

…and I feel fine.

So I wrote a drive-by critique, for H+ magazine, of the prevailing New Age fixation on 2012 as the zero hour for the Coming Singularity, allegedly predicted by the ancient Maya, when Time Shall be No More or we’ll bear witness to a Global Shift in Human Consciousness, or the sight of the firmament rolling up like a scroll and the moon turning blood-red and frogs raining from the heavens, or…or…or…


Necessarily, it was severely constrained by the ADD wordlength that straitjackets most online publications, and by pop journalism’s insistence on hanging ideas on a topical peg. That said, it was as substantive as space permitted, I thought, cutting to the quick of the issues at hand and zeroing in on the self-appointed spokesman of the 2012 movement, Daniel Pinchbeck, who (by my lights) is the poster child for all that’s regrettable about the 2012 phenomenon and, by extension, the scientific and historical illiteracy of our times, part of a larger hostility toward critical thought and empirical evidence decried by Susan Jacoby in The Age of American Unreason.

Nut graph:

Much of the 2012 shtick is a light-fingered (if leaden-humored) rip-off of the late rave-culture philosopher Terence McKenn’s stand-up routine, without McKenna’s prodigious erudition, effortless eloquence, or arch wit, and Pinchbeck is no exception. For Quetzalcoatl’s sake, if you’re going to start a religion, at least invent your own cosmology. Even L. Ron Hubbard was canny enough to concoct a pulp theology for ham-radio enthusiasts out of leftover SF plots. But every time I see Pinchbeck’s glum mug, regarding the world with a sort of forced bliss, I think: Would you buy a used eschaton from this man? (McKenna, by the way, knew which side his ectoplasm was buttered on. When I asked him, over dinner, why a man of his obvious intellectual nimbleness endured the saucer abductees and trance-channelers who plucked at his sleeve at New Age seminars, he rolled a knowing eye and replied, I thought wearily, that he owed his daily crust to “menopausal mystics” and thus had to suffer them, if not gladly.) But the worst of the 2012 bandwagon, epitomized by Pinchbeck’s lectures and writings, is the blithe cultural arrogance and staggering anthropological ignorance evident in the movement’s appropriation of Mayan beliefs and history.

Of course, no sooner did the piece go live than the tie-dyed Trolls of Unreason massed at the gates, pitchforks in hand, howling for my head, insistent that I was a Tool of the Hegemony, part of the vast media conspiracy to suppress the truth about 2012, or maybe just a mean-spirited hater who gets LULZ out of not braking for unicorns.

Feel the love in the H+ comment thread, and among the Boing Boing comments.

Of course, a stalwart few representatives of that endangered species, the secular-humanist freethinker, rallied ’round the Enlightenment standard. (See both comment threads)

Then, Pinchbeck himself joined the fray.

And I returned the favor.

What fascinates me, in the comment threads, is the a priori assumption, among defenders of New Age hypotheses about 2012 and knee-jerk Pinchbeck-istas, that a bunch of paleolithic priests could foretell a paradigm shift in global consciousness. Of course, this presumes the existence of precognition, the evidence for which could dance on the head of a single Burning Man zippie’s amphallang. If that. The Bronze-Age credulity evident in this presumption staggers the mind. It reminds me of this video of Christopher Hitchens handing a panel of Christian-college faculty their heads. At the end, the home-schooled, flat-earth fundies in the crowd have their say, a Q&A that makes you want to weep tears of blood into your copy of Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason. Time and again, members of the bewildered herd cite scripture in support of their views, seemingly unable to parse the notion that Hitchens. Doesn’t. Accept. Scriptural. Authority. That’s why they call him an atheist, for Christ’s sake. Incredible. In my admittedly limited experience, 2012-ers evince a similar ability to think outside the epistemological thought-bubble of their own, no less magical thinking.

Back to 2012: What, exactly—the devil is always in the details—is this global shift in consciousness the New Age is always maundering on about? Even the psychotropic philosopher Terence McKenna (a kinder, gentler 2012-er, but at least a highly entertaining one, vastly more erudite than most) hedged his bets, telling me in an interview I did with him that one possible scenario for the coming eschaton was that it would be invisible to us, all-pervasive yet undetectable, like some sort of noetic radioactive fallout.

But if the Global Shift(TM) does happen, how would we detect it? As I note in the Boing Boing comment thread, Pinchbeck hypothesizes that 2012 will witness a transformation in global consciousness, which will, of course, be registered in “only one medium”: consciousness itself, naturally, “the mercurial domain of our subjective and personal experience”—a concept of such vaporousness as to be unfalsifiable. Isn’t that just a little too convenient? It reminds me of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, which asserts that, while the essence of the communion wafer is transformed into the flesh of a 2100-year-old Jewish rabbi, those aspects of the sacrament that are apprehensible to the senses and, not incidentally, susceptible to scientific verification (“the accidents”) remain unchanged, thus ensuring that the doctrine cannot, by definition, be disproven on the basis of material evidence (common sense is another matter)—a bit of theological footwork that dodges, or at least attempts to dodge, the bullet of atheist mockery, not to mention skeptical inquiry, however awkwardly. Pinchbeck’s New Age waffle about a Plate-Tectonic Shift in Global Consciousness that will, uh, be measurable only in the luminiferous ether of the Global Consciousness (with what? A dream-catcher the size of the Very Large Array?) is a laughably transparent piece of rhetorical ass-covering.

In any event, it’s your turn, now, if these things interest you in the least. (One doesn’t assume…)

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    1. Wow. I guess this debate is going to rage against the time machine until December 21, 2012, right? At least there’s an end date. To the debate, I mean.
      I don’t really have an opinion. I hope something happens, but I always hope /something/ happens as opposed to nothing. Just say nay to Y2K.
      Oh, as always, I’m obliged to post this link to Mark’s interview with Terence McKenna. It’s good (Thanks, Mark).

      • M. Dery

      • 14 years ago

      I think we can rest assured that *something* will happen, Roy. At the very least.

    2. Love the Hitchens-Biola link. As you know, I have no truck with the Judeo-Christian prophetic shenanigans, but it was a stroke to link the dim credulity in the prescience of illiterate Mayan shamans with the similarly dim credulity in Bronze Age and first-century Christian shamans. A culture that has fostered the latter for two millennia must be held responsible for the silliness of the former in our moment.

      • Tristan Eldtritch

      • 14 years ago

      Tim Pagaard – couldn’t agree more. Those cave men were a bunch of animals as well – why couldn’t they just get their act together, and invent the whole rational/empirical/scienfific edifice? Just like we did? Because, we could hardly afford to regard our ancestors with such lofty and smug contempt if we hadn’t invented it, right? If we actually happened to possess all that knowlegde merely by virtue by being born at a certain point in history, where most of the really difficult spade-work had already been put in by our illerate ancestors, many of whom believed in “Judeo Christian prophetic shenanigans”, it would seem a little childish, no?

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