Editor’s note: This conversation is a back-and-forth with a dear friend of mine, Michael Brownstein, a poet (Let’s Burn the Flags of All Nations) and novelist (Self-Reliance). I believe that Liminal readers will appreciate it!
Michael: The last few centuries of out of control individualism have cost us our health, our sanity and our well-being. What was lost? The “conscience collective” of so-called archaic peoples. But “original people” is a better term. As in original everything: people, consciousness, planet. What that really meant was connection to all of life, and I don’t use the word connection in an abstract sense but like this:
“When Gluskap, the culture hero of the Abenaki said goodbye to his children, to the people and the animals, and rowed in his boat toward the setting sun, all beings fell silent. And then they became aware that they, who formerly had ONE language, could no longer understand each other.”
To get to the point of origin, to be able, for instance, to speak with plants, a person needs what the Indians call “reverence.” Humans must become unimportant before the other beings of nature. As a healer says,
“It does not make any difference what you say to a plant. You might as well invent words. What matters is the feeling that you like them and you consider then your equal. You must apologize to them as you pick them and assure them that someday you will also be food for them. All in all, we and the plants are equal. Neither we nor they are either more or less important.”
And how far away are we from that, folks? Where are we headed? Currently there are 200 million CCTV cameras in China, and 350,000 of them already installed in the UK, cameras going up everywhere and for a reason: to keep track of us, to force a surveillance state on us which we won’t fully grasp until it’s too late. But what do the cameras imply to begin with? They imply our mutual suspicion, our fear, our loss of trust in one another. Within each culture and worldwide. How can we regain what we’ve lost? Not in its original form but in a form suited to us now. As you’ve said, Daniel, everyone tuned in to this course knows the precarious situation we’re in. Our society and perhaps life itself is headed toward the wall. Covid-19 is nature’s message to totally stop what we’re doing and radically look around at our lives. But we’re not listening to the virus’ message, at least not in a radical way, basically because of the headlong forward momentum of our personal lives and our collective materialistic and rationalist mindset which has snuffed out any connection to Spirit, to spirits, to the invisible.
Plus, on an immediate level, there’s the crushing need for most of us to earn a living which literally means bringing home a pay check. If we’re the lucky ones, that is. The cultural distractions and denials and wrenching personal concerns plus what billions of people across the planet have been trained to do in order to survive means voluntary radical change is an extreme longshot. Because it can’t just be a theory, it has to be put into practice, and that can’t happen without level-headed, receptive minds. But nevertheless, radical change is possible.
What do I mean by radical change? I’m afraid what I feel in my heart will not be received positively by most of those listening today. Because, first of all, I think capitalist technocracy is in control of technology so that technology is by no means neutral, and therefore technocracy cannot not the answer. Technological innovation will not give us the radical change we need. To take what may be the most dangerous example after glyphosate, 5G is definitely not neutral. Even though it’s not rolled out yet on a large scale, it’s already caused sickness and debility, it’s already known that it scrambles our DNA, destroys our immune response, leads to cancer and more. The implications of the internet of things involve a lot more than meets the eye. If you want to learn, there are many experts whose voices can still be heard (yes, they’re being shut down by the demon realm behind 5G). Martin Pall, for one. Or follow RFK Jr’s commendable work with Childrens’ Health Defense, and click on any number of articles. Or watch videos from Josh del Sol.
The point, though, is this isn’t the whole picture. For me, radical means being open enough to consider the utterly synthetic nature of urban life itself compared to our deep history as a species. From that perspective we can see that what’s needed to keep powering worldwide urbanization is a huge driving force for the destruction of our health, our souls, and the planet itself. The urban monster is controlled by the masters of industrial capitalism, whose products drive it.
So, first of all, we need to find a way to outgrow ravenous, blood-sucking capitalism. That would be step one. I’m afraid that cutting edge architecture and green roof gardens and the rest won’t turn around this out of control urban behemoth, which has already swallowed more than 50% per cent of us. The forward momentum propelling it is too strong, both in terms of the resources it takes to keep it going and also what’s inside people’s heads.
Taking weekends off in the country, or strolling in the forest while counting the minutes until we can get back online, won’t retrieve the deep connection to nature that our ancestors for untold hundreds of thousands of years lived as a daily reality. That reciprocity with nature has been violated, ignored, literally set on fire. “I can’t breathe” applies not only to police brutality but also to what’s being done to the lungs of the planet, the Amazon rain forest. If we let the Amazon burn and disappear, that in itself will cause major planetary weather dysfunction and therefore the fecundity of the soil. It would turn into an immediate problem for those of us hidden in our urban enclaves with no view of the stars, no fresh air, no God-given silence.
So, for me, real radicalism would involve going so far as to risk one’s life to confront the forces of evil destroying the rainforest. Certainly it means at least joining those few survivors of the indigenous people there as they protest their own elimination. If I were younger and not dealing with Lyme disease, that’s what I’d be doing. Sitting in our rooms cogitating over new forms of money or media and relating innovations to those of us who are “the converted,” while the evil-doers in power continue to destroy out of greed is not enough.
I’ll conclude by mentioning step two: let’s have the courage or lopsided craziness—it doesn’t matter if they’re both the same—to consider the following: what would life on this planet be like if we could disassemble the entire 5000 year old urban experiment?
Given the lives of utter degradation and poverty uncounted millions of humans live in giant cities, can we consider that the great urban experiment has outlived its usefulness and at this point is basically eating its young? Can we get rid of cities altogether and really return to a “local” life, something beyond going locavore in our trendy restaurants? In other words, can we live lives of radical simplicity, and teach this to our children? Can we wean them away from technocracy as much as possible? Is it crazy to consider living a life totally locally focused, so that in order to survive we are compelled to re-connect to the spirits of nature, of plant and animal life and to each other? If not, in my view, given how far we’ve fallen from lives of reciprocity and trust and sanity—and being honest—it’s basically sayonara and good luck.
Daniel: Michael, Thank you for your bracing, compelling thoughts! I agree that this civilization is headed for a brick wall. It seems to have already begun the process of disintegrating. The question as we discussed in the course is whether it is caterpillar in chrysalis, turning into Butterly, or whether it is bacteria devouring all the nutrients in a test-tube, expanding rapidly until it dies. I suppose one question that flits through my mind when I read your thoughts is the question of evolutionary trajectory or “progress” or even just “change.”
Yes, indigenous cultures were amazingly varied and beautiful, and had a deep connection to the soul of the world, Anima Mundi, and the spiritual workings of the Universe. However when I ask myself if I would rather have lived in such a culture than having the life I lived as a NYC bohemian writer and cosmopolitan who then discovered ayahuasca and plant shamanism, I feel I would still choose my experience now. I think the beautiful potential is to integrate the modern rational way of seeing and understanding the cosmos through science and technology with the ancient indigenous knowledge of an ensouled universe. Perhaps we will never manage that – it doesn’t seem like it will happen anytime soon, but I have seen it as a potential over this last 20 years, and I still feel it.
Yes we are experiencing a planetary meltdown where the worst and most sociopathic people have become the leaders in business and government, and seem hellbent on building a total surveillance and total control system, and they may well succeed. I see these individuals, karmically, as trapped and frustrated souls who have been denied any capacity to move toward transcendence or empathy.
What I continue to wonder is whether it is possible that humanity as a whole could reorient itself around a new vision and opportunity—a new utopian project, in a sense. This could change the game in profound ways. I see this materialist Capitalist “game” as a worldview and paradigm that has become a prison even for those who find themselves on top of the pyramid. They are individuals who are acting out of their trauma to create a traumatized world—a world that is ruined and cannot continue for long, as we suck the last resources from it. This is why I have felt for a long time that what we need is a spiritual transformation of the elite. And over the last 20 years, there is no doubt that a major subsection of the elite have been flocking toward ayahuasca, shamanism, yoga, vipassana, Qabala, etc. They realize there is a void inside of them, and they are trying to answer it. However, in this evolutionary stage, that has often led to a kind of enlightened self-centeredness. I tend to agree with Zizek’s view that Neo-Eastern mysticism (Ekhart Tolle, Deepak, etc.) actually became the dominant ideology of post-industrial Capitalism. It has given the elites a way to find an internal space of non-attachment which allows them to maintain their separation from the suffering of the poor and the dying of the living planet. But this doesn’t have to be the final stage. There may be another step that can be taken, by the now semi-enlightened elites and by all of us. Clearly, the next step we must take as a species is from individual ego-centeredness to a realization of ourselves as part of a collective, planetary whole.
We do know, pretty much, as we discussed in this course and as I also outlined in my book How Soon Is Now, what we need to do to avert ecological catastrophe and launch a new operating system for human society. We know what we need to do technologically, and we have some idea at least of the changes that must be made to our political and financial systems. If this were to happen—and there are no guarantees, although I think it might also be the case that it is part of our evolutionary program—we could see something like the “birth of the Noosphere” that Teilhard de Chardin and Jose Arguelles envisioned. This new program could take over the entire human community and allow us to restructure ourselves rapidly and radically. For this reason, I do think it is important that we spend time together in Zoom conferences and other dialogues right now, seeking to anchor all aspects of this new paradigm.
This paradigm includes the realization that consciousness is actually the ground of being, and that the individual and collective exploration of the infinite depth dimensions of consciousness is going to be the central focus of the new society of the near future. And in fact, we will then find we can integrate the knowledge of our ancient and indigenous cultures with our cutting-edge science and technology to create something new and perhaps wonderful.
Featured artwork: “Ubuntu” by Kirsten Zirngibl. Support her work on Patreon!
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