Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Waiting for the Saucers

Whether or not synchronicity has the importance that Jung and his physicist friend Wolfgang Pauli attributed to it, it’s something that pops into my life often enough to be worth the occasional comment. A couple of weeks ago, a fine specimen showed up – well, not quite on my doorstep, but in the course of a half mile or so of walking that began and ended there.

My walk that day took me to the post office, to pick up a package, and to the local media exchange, to see what was new there. I’m not sure how widespread media exchanges are just now, but it’s an intriguing business model: people drop off the books, CDs, DVDs, and so on they no longer want; those that are worth $10 or more on the used book market get sold over the internet, and the rest go on shelves, for anyone to take for free. This particular media exchange gets a dizzying assortment of stuff; for that matter, so does my mailbox.

This particular day had parallel finds in both of them. The mailbox contained the first two copies of my new book on the UFO phenomenon, rather unoriginally titled The UFO Phenomenon, an attempt to get past sixty years of bickering between the people who think any light in the sky nobody can identify must be an alien spacecraft, and the people who think that any light in the sky nobody can identify never existed in the first place. The media exchange followed that up with a packet of yellowing paper putting a full stop at the end of one of the oddest and, in its own way, most moving stories I researched in the course of writing The UFO Phenomenon.

The late Dorothy Martin never became a household name, but this is mostly because she had her fifteen minutes of fame veiled by a pseudonym. She was "Marion Keech," the central figure in the UFO cult chronicled in one of the classics of American sociology, When Prophecy Fails. Martin, a suburban Chicago housewife turned contactee, announced to the world that a vast flood would sweep over North America on December 21, 1954, and only those who were flown to safety aboard flying saucers would survive.

A team of sociologists from the University of Minnesota had a couple of grad students join Martin's circle under false pretenses. The result was one of the few hour-by-hour accounts of what happens when a group of true believers has to deal with the complete failure of their belief system. The climactic scene of the story, the afternoon when a circle of middle Americans gathered in a suburban backyard in a Midwestern winter, watching the skies and frantically getting rid of every scrap of metal on their bodies so the flying saucers could land safely, begs for cinematic treatment; it's hard to imagine any series of events more perfectly balanced on the thin edge between drama and farce.

It's hard to get through a degree in any of the social sciences in America without being exposed to When Prophecy Fails, but very few people know the rest of the story. Friends in the contactee scene got Martin out of Chicago just ahead of a psych evaluation that probably would have sent her to a mental institution, and she went first to Arizona and then to Peru, where a group of contactees were attempting to launch the Abbey of the Seven Rays as an international center for the emerging New Age movement. When the Abbey folded, the promoters simply walked away, leaving Martin penniless and stranded.

It took her years to get back to the United States. When she finally made it home, she settled in the small town of Mount Shasta, California as Sister Thedra, the name she believed she had been given by the aliens. With a constancy and devotion worthy of some less delusional creed, she lived in relative poverty, supported by donations from the very modest network of people who subscribed to her newsletter and found her messages appealing, and devoted all her time and efforts to the task of preaching the extraterrestrial gospel to a mostly uninterested world. Until her death in 1992, she remained convinced that the purifying catastrophes and mass alien landings she had announced in 1954 were still imminent.

The packet of aging photocopies I found at the media exchange chronicled the last chapters of her story: several years' worth of her newsletter from the last years of her life, along with a cheaply bound book of messages she had transcribed from the aliens and a brief biography of Martin written just after her death by one of her few followers. I brought it home and read the whole packet several times. It will be going back to the media exchange, but several aspects of her story seem uncomfortably relevant to the current predicament of the industrial world.

To begin with, of course, a remarkable number of people even today remain committed to the same faith in flying saucers that led Dorothy Martin on the long strange trip of her life. I have had several conversations with one person who is convinced that since the problems besetting industrial society are insoluble by rational means, we need to transcend reason and await rescue by spiritually enlightened extraterrestrials. (It never fails to bewilder me how many people these days think that "transcend" and "give up on" mean the same thing.) I have spoken with another person who, having seen odd lights in the sky, is convinced that they must have been alien spacecraft, and on that basis argues that since it's clearly possible for intelligent species to reach a higher technological level than humanity, humanity ought to be able to get through its present predicament and keep on progressing.

All this is a bit like insisting that any hoofprint sighted in a forest anywhere on Earth proves the reality of unicorns, and arguing from there that the best solution to the current health care crisis is to rely on the legendary curative power of unicorn horns. Still, Martin's legacy has a broader lesson to teach. The contactee faith that shaped her career drew its strength from the appalling contradiction between the ideology of progress that dominated twentieth century America and a growing sense that the trajectory being traced by progress was moving toward a future no sane person would welcome. The slogan of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair – "Science Explores, Technology Executes, Mankind Conforms" – had become the ideology of an inhuman future anatomized by Jacques Ellul in The Technological Society and also, in the sly language of satiric fantasy, by C.S. Lewis in his novel That Hideous Strength.

The result invites analysis in terms of Gregory Bateson's theory of the double bind. Put a child into a family setting where the realities that can be discussed flatly contradict the realities the child experiences, Bateson pointed out, and mental illness is a pretty common result. Put an entire society into the same sort of conflict between ideology and experience, and new belief systems that promise a radical resolution of the conflict spring up. The more drastic the disconnection between culturally acceptable beliefs and personal experiences becomes, the wilder and more apocalyptic the resulting belief systems tend to be.

There's an entire literature on revitalization movements, which is what sociologists call the mass movements that sometimes gather around these new belief systems in times of drastic social stress. Some dimensions of the UFO movement came close to that category, though it never quite managed to become a mass movement on the scale of the Ghost Dance of the Native American plains tribes, say, or other classic examples of the type. The social pressures that gave rise to the extraterrestrial faith found other expressions before that faith could find a large following; the widespread but mild belief that there could well be aliens out there somewhere, and there might be something to all those reports of flying saucers, replaced the total conviction that sent Dorothy Martin in pursuit of her destiny.

Just now, though, the double bind that drove the radical movements of the Fifties and Sixties – the gaping disparity between the Utopian visions of progress that flooded popular culture and the manipulative and inhumane technocracy so many people saw taking shape around them – has given way to a different one. Where the stresses of an earlier time grew from contradictions to the claim that progress is good, those of the present and foreseeable future are building around the claim that progress is inevitable. A society founded on the unquestioned belief that economic expansion and technological development will continue forever may have a very, very hard time dealing with a future in which economic contraction and the abandonment of technologies too complex to be sustainable will likely be dominant trends. It's not too far of a reach, it seems to me, to suggest that massive revitalization movements will follow.

Not all of those will be as obviously delusional as Dorothy Martin's belief in the imminent arrival of the Space Brothers, though there will doubtless be some, and the approaching "end of the Mayan calendar" in 2012 – I put the phrase in quotes, because the Mayan calendar doesn't end then, and the recently invented mythology that has gathered around the rollover of one of their calendrical cycles has no basis whatsoever in ancient Mayan tradition – may well give rise to a whopper. Still, it's the apparently saner fantasies that may cause the most damage, if only by distracting us from steps that can actually be taken to cushion the descent into the deindustrial age and make life better for our descendants for generations to come.

Thus I'd encourage my readers to be at least a little wary of any movement in the years to come, however reasonable and hopeful it may seem, that claims to have a solution to the rising spiral of crises that is building around today's industrial civilization. I have argued here and elsewhere that those crises define a predicament rather than a problem – a situation that cannot be solved, only lived with – but that definition flies in the face of some of the most deeply rooted assumptions of our culture. I suspect that unless we cultivate an unusual degree of common sense, a great many of us in the years to come may end up doing some equivalent of standing in suburban backyards, waiting for the saucers to arrive.


Jacques de Beaufort said...

The 2012 fantasy is very strong indeed, I was a believer for a little while. But I believe in a lot of stuff for a little while, never religiously.

Anyways, I found a great Joseph Tainter audio file and uploaded it to youtube. You can find it here. He refers to Byzantium as an example of the only society he knows of that has ever self-consciously simplified and contracted in an orderly manner.

Re-reading Tainter recently it was interesting to find him very disdainful of the "mystical" approach of both Spengler and Toynbee. I wonder if you find his criticism compelling, or more indicative of his methodology as a "social anthropologist" ?

spottedwolf said...

This is , in my ardent opinion, the most carefully structured analogy of the current issue at hand. I recently posted several lectures on the importance of dealing with emotional denials in the face of rapidly changing conditions. One example of the problems which will rise will be a constant slowing of our ability to express our individualism simply because affording to do so will diminish. This will force us all to spend more time around those we are emotionally closest .... and that includes family and neighbors we do not get along with as well as the ones we do. Our little escapes will become harder to fund which will add pressure to the strains of change, as well. It will be a time of "doorstep sweeping" in many ways people do not expect, I'm sure.


Robert Magill said...

Interesting post, JMG . I think one of the most annoying and distracting phenomenon we will have to endure in the coming cultural sea-change will be a deluge of neo-messianic assault all about us. The web could fairly crackle with hot new "garden paths" to doom or salvation requiring our immediate exploration.
Speaking of the web, it is sure to rank high among the overly complicated and ruinously energy draining sink pits of the future. I expect a return to something approaching the per-minute usage which early on was a financial and space requirement. Some sort of use rationing might be needed as a survival mechanism for the very system in the not to distant future.
It has always made me curious re: UFO's how, if they are real, do they manage to zip about merrily in our atmosphere without the usual penalty of exceeding the speed of sound: making a terrible racket? And, if they are truly as advanced as distance travel would indicate, they would likely be good little Ethnologists and avoid detection at all cost so they could observe us without influencing our behavior.

martinhayes said...

Hello. Long-time reader of your blog. I don't usually like to comment, but I was charmed to see Jung and Bateson invoked together, so I read this post with even more attention than I usually do.

Your Long Descent is on my wishlist, and I feel sure I must read it as a necessary antidote to Kunstler's Long Emergency before I attempt your UFO book.

I don't know what The UFO Phenomenon is about, but I am surprised that your appraisal of the ufology landscape is so black and white, even though it is certainly true that the field is dominated by True Believers and convinced naysayers. I suspect you were just being rhetorical.

And I suspect, having read much of your blog, that your new book is an interesting excursion into uncharted territory.

I am not a ufologist; I have read only Jacques Vallee. But over the years I have saved the titles of UFO-related books that I find strangely alluring. Surely you must be familiar with some of them.

Favourites are:

Ufology Considered as an Evolving System of Paranoia;

Believing the Unbelievable: Child's Play or Con Game;

Signals of Transcendence: The Human-UFO Equation; and

Quicksilver in Twilight: A Close Encounter With a Hermetic Eye.

Bill Pulliam said...

My biker neighbors were talking about 2012 just the other day. I think it is merging with Evangelical "end times" beliefs, and will very soon become widely believed as the date for the Second Coming. When I mention to them that 100 generations of christians, including Jesus himself, believed their generation would be the last, and so far they've all been wrong, I just get blank stares. Plus mentioning that, as I understand it, 2012 is the "end of time" in the same way that December 31 is the "end of the year" and it just cycles again, earns me a new round of blank stares.

I think we saw a small taste of the revitalization phenom in the last election. The widespread belief that one man, a professional, baked-in-to-the-bone politician, would lead a rejuvenation of American society, economy, and vitality single-handedly certainly leans this way. Don't misnderstand, I voted for the man because I thought he would be the best choice as a politician (and I would rather spend four or eight years hearing his voice on the radio than the alternative), and he represented a symbolic repudiation of the policies of the last administration. But government and politics follow society, economics, and culture, they don't lead it. We will have a rejuvenated government when we have a rejuvenated culture and economy, not the other way around. As the hot dog vendor said to the Buddhist in the rebound punchline of the well-worn joke, "Change comes from within."

nutty professor said...

Dear Archdruid,

I watched eagerly for your latest dispatch, and I hope there was not too great pressure on you to produce, but, if so, sorry! how worth the wait it was.

Any religious movement or group, however "delusional" its followers may be, that addresses how we PERCEIVE the crisis in which we find ourselves must surely be preferable to a religion that provides resolutions solely by means of salvation, raptures, or flying saucers, right? If part of the problem we face is how we will be able to survive the decline of our technological-industrial society with humanity, dignity and resourcefulness, couldn't the new religions offer - along with all of their usual funky cultural trappings - different ways of acquiring correct vision, correct perception, or correct seeing as a way to resolve the double bind? I don't know if I am being clear here; but it seems to me that "living with the problem" demands not only radical changes in behavior (how we do things), but how we think and how we see things (perspective). These revitalizing movements may provide alternative approaches to seeing the world, with new myths, new insights into reality, that others may well consider to be insane. After all, isn't that the state of quite a few marginal and alternative spiritualities in the present day?

Flanagan said...

John, I'd be interested in exploring any titles that support your comments about the Mayan calendar.

hapibeli said...

Yo dude! Awesome! Beautiful! Fantastical! I'm laughing and praising at the same time. Just waitin for the saucers! LOL! Maybe I'll keep on gardening and sharpening some other skills too, though...just in case. Heh, heh,heh...

John Michael Greer said...

Jacques, Tainter's dismissal of Spengler and Toynbee is part of the running feud between historians and social scientists, and should be taken about as seriously as any other case of sibling rivalry. Tainter's right, or nearly so, about Byzantium -- we might learn a few things from them.

Spotted Wolf, good. The invention of the cult of individualism was a central part of the abandonment of a communitarian society for a mass society; as communities become necessary again, a lot of habits are going to have to change.

Robert, my guess is that the Messiah-of-the-Month Club will be frantically oversubscribed in the years to come. You're quite right about the web; it uses too much energy, directly and indirectly, to be sustainable for the long haul. Use it while it's here.

Martin, I'm something of a fan of Jacques Vallee as well -- Messengers of Deception in particular had a significant influence on my book. I don't think my approach is particularly black and white. That being said, I found no evidence worth mentioning that there are alien spacecraft in Earth's skies; what I found was a powerful cultural narrative that's been applied, sometimes as deliberate disinformation, to many different phenomena.

Bill, I voted for him, too, but the Messianic fantasies that sprang up around him aren't exactly a good sign. I'd like to think that someday we'll outgrow the habit of fantasizing that somebody or something else will relieve us of the hard necessity to change our own lives, but I don't expect it in less than evolutionary time scales.

Professor, yes, you're being clear, and of course in some sense you're preaching to the choir -- after all, as a Druid I belong to a minority faith dismissed by many people as a bunch of tree-hugging wackos, with its own distinctive ways of trying to reshape the way people approach their lives and interactions with nature! One point worth noting, though, is that the term "revitalization movement" is not a general label for any kind of alternative spirituality; it's the specific sort of mass movement that arises under conditions of extreme social stress, and proclaims an apocalyptic change after which existing cultural beliefs will make sense of the world once again. Rather than offering ways to shift beliefs to fit changing conditions, these movements try to convince themselves that the conditions will change to fit beliefs that are too emotionally important for their followers to give up.

Michael, start with a couple of serious recent histories of Mayan civilization -- A Forest of Kings by Linda Schele and David Freidel is a good place to start. Then read the Books of Chilam Balam -- at least three of them are in English translation, and they're the best original sources for Mayan calendrics. I don't know of a book that compares the 2012 nonsense to the realities of the Mayan calendar, which is unfortunate -- somebody with a decent background in Mayan studies ought to write one, not least because the story of how Terence McKenna and Jose Arguelles invented the 2012 business out of whole cloth is well worth telling.

Hapibeli, "trust in saucers but keep your garden tilled," eh?

kabir said...

Although I don't expect to be whisked away in rapture by Jesus, aliens, or any other yet to be determined higher force I do still wonder about the possibility of an abrupt change here on earth soon.

I'm not at all saying forget the post-industrial prep work. I don't think the rules of thermodynamics are going to be changed anytime soon in this universe and so preparing for low tech low energy future is envitable. I am however leaving the door open for a new understanding to potentially emerge. Perhaps it is no more than the mythological understanding of universal truths that some of our ancestors had.

What if though there is the potential for an even deeper more comprehensive,revealed understanding of our universe and our place in it? Perhaps this breakneck exponential spread of information via the net is merely the incubation period required to cultivate this emerging knowledge.

Or maybe the internet is just a medium to spread revealed knowledge.

I don't know, but for whatever reason I can't shake the notion that humans have been seeking some elusive revelatory knowledge that is core to us. Yes we have chased it down many a dead end and yes we are still looking for it in all the wrong places, but perhaps many of us do end up finding it soon?

in_the_light said...

What an intersting post followed by just as interesting comments. And what a wide range of ideas this post calls forth from me.

Regarding 2012, I think I disagree with you, though I'm not sure I entirely understand your postition on the whole matter. Just like deindustrialization, the "end" of the Mayan calendar, which you accurately depicted, is not an end of anything other than a cycle. Is it happening at the same time as deindustrialization and the profound impacts that that process will have on our consciousness? You tell me. I think it is. i sure won't be on a rooftop awaiting transcendance on december 21 2012, though.

Like the UFO phenomenon, the real significance is in the deeper pictoral metaphors of 2012. Both of those depict something that is happening within people. And what happens within people happens without (which by the way is the perspective from which the Mayan Calendar was written). Real or not is hardly the argument to be having. Though I do see your point in encouraging your readers to avoid anouncements of solutions. What a danger that guy is who says he knows the answers.....

Thanks again for a great post.


Clarke said...

Longtime reader, never commented. Was interested in the inclusion of Jung's insights into this post, along with C.S. Lewis. I seem to recall that Jung, by the end of his life, had an "allergy" to any and all mass-movements and recommended that we should, too. Given the deep discomfort most feel being outsiders in their society, that's not easy advice to take. Even as a lifelong outsider, I still experience quite a bit of discomfort at being congenitally unable to fit any of the boxes we're "supposed" to cram ourselves into. I can't begin to imagine how difficult not joining the predictable mass movements when they arise must be for people who may at one time have believed they were in the "mainstream" of society...

swartzfeger said...

JMG, an amazing post -- this is my first exposure to your work, and I will be a daily visitor.

Strangely enough, I stumbled upon your blog by pure accident/serendipity... I've had recurring dreams since I was very young (started when I was 5, and I'm now 40) of an 'end of age' where few people remain, civilization is a memory and there are 'ships' in the sky, hovering and watching over the remnants.

It's tough being a believer, my brain being bombarded by these end-time/messianic messages by my subconcious and the media (Y2K, Hale Bopp, etc) while being a natural hardwired rationalist/skeptic.

Fascinating stuff, and I look forward to your interview on Coast to Coast!


Todd said...

Reading your post kept reminding me of my mom who if she'd known about Dorothy Martin likely would have believed everything she said. Then again, my mom kept going from one pseudo religion to another in the attempt to find answers in the last 25 years of her life. But since none of these religions told her what she wanted to hear, she kept searching. Now that's she's gone I suspect she isn't searching anymore. *s*

You see this kind of thing from time to time. Look at Jonestown 3 decades ago, or the Branch-Davidian compound. Yes, extreme versions of "followers," but followers all the same.

I didn't realize the 2012 Mayan calendar thing was a myth. Now I will sleep better knowing the world won't end in 2012. *g*

Megan said...

In the Light, I think you are on to something.

The mystically inclined like to say 'as above, so below' - meaning, among other things, that people's visions and revelations about the spiritual world tend to reflect what is going on in the temporal world in a veiled way.

The dying, for instance, are disproportionately inclined to have dreams of the end of the world. Societies dealing with severe class tensions begin hunting witches with depressing predictability. And our host has given a good overview of the situations where revitalization movements crop up.

'Confusing the planes', the mystic types call it - having a metaphorical revelation and mistaking it for a literal one. I suspect 2012 is like that. Wherever McKenna got it (and I really would like to hear that story sometime), the fact that this meme gained traction in the collective imagination tells me that people are seeing changes happening in their world and trying to imagine what those changes might be leading up to.

gordonsson said...

I broadly agree with your last two paragraphs. However, while most "silver bullets" (technological or social organisational) will be at best a mitigation of the predicament(s), is it wise to entirely blind ourselves to the possibility of technological or social "game changers"?
You would probably be wasting your time waiting for "saucers", but if one happened to buzz by and throw some useful tools onto your lawn, would you eschew those tools?

Admittedly, the trouble with purely technical silver bullets (what if a breakthrough tomorrow makes commercial fusion possible, for example) is it that it would facilitate business as usual and merely delay the onset of predicament(s).

Is it possible, however, for a social-technical-economic system with sufficient collective intelligence and foresight to evolve so that it could treat these (silver bullets, technical breakthroughs, resource discoveries) as windfalls as opposed to built-in expectations?

What form would such a society take and how would we get to it?
Is this where dis-sensus becomes important?

The alternative to living in industrial so-called civilisation in some places may well be some kind of eco-topia.
I suspect that in many places, as the technology regresses, the social arrangements will also revert, perhaps as far as hard-core old style feudalism.
Not a few (likely myself among them) would catch a ride in a plausible looking "saucer" to avoid such a fate.

On another note, if aliens existed, were here and were anything like us we'd be either slaves, sex or torture toys, food (humans, the latest intergalactic taste sensation!) or extinct by now.

Evn said...

A friend of mine wrote an interesting essay awhile back, expressing some thoughts on a similar topic. Thought you might enjoy it.

Bill Pulliam said...

So I just Wiki-ed the Maya Calendar out of curiosity; if I read it correctly the calendrical even that happens in 2012 is something that happens approximately every 395 years? It's not even unique in the calendar system, this is the 13th time that particular cycle has been completed since the start date? Sheesh, that's hardly anything to base the end of the world on, that's even less monumental than the turnover of the Millenium we just had, and last I checked the world survived that too. A good tidbit of info to have in the runup to the latest "End of Time."

Fed up completely said...

You seem like the sort of person who values the truth. You also seem to be somewhat misinformed when it comes to Jose Arguelles.

As Arch-Druid of a fringe belief system you must be well accustomed to people who know nothing of Druidry as you practice it, attacking you without cause or reason.

You might also consider the many Rabbis who are incensed by the way the Qabalah has been usurped by the practitioners of the Western Mystery Tradition.

Does this mean that Arguelles is guilty of stealing something from the Mayans? (I think the copyright on the calendar ran out quite a while ago.)

Does this mean he is preaching the end of the world? Not if you study his writings.

I would respectfully suggest that you read Earth Ascending, and then Volumes 1 -4 of the Cosmic History Chronicles. Once you have done that I would welcome your comments.

In regard to UFOs I presume you are familiar with James Gilliland of If not you should check him out.

John Michael Greer said...

Kabir, as I see it, we've been seeking an elusive revelatory knowledge that's core to us since our species attained sentience. It's still right where it's always been -- at the core of ourselves, accessible by each individual who is willing to make the commitment and do the work. I don't see any sign that more people are doing that today than did it a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand years ago.

Mat, it's certainly true that great changes in society tend to be heralded by a spike in the popularity of apocalyptic fantasies -- look at the relationship of the Millerites to the runup to the American Civil War, for instance. That doesn't mean the fantasies can be taken at face value. They're the collective equivalent of dream images; it's what they signify, not what they seem to be saying overtly, that matters.

Clarke, Jung got to see first hand how a mass movement that, to many people, looked very promising in its early years could turn metastatic and spiral down to madness and mass murder. His point remains valid today.

Jay, repeating dreams like that are worth heeding, but they're most often symbolic rather than literal. JRR Tolkien, throughout his life, was haunted by a recurring dream of a great wave rising up and sweeping over everything -- you can find it echoed all through his fiction. It's a very good metaphor for the way the society into which he was born was washed away by the 20th century's waves of change, but a literal prophecy? Not at all.

Todd, yes, I figure that December 22, 2012 will dawn roughly the same way January 2, 2000 did.

Megan, exactly -- in the language of the old mystery schools, the planes are discrete, not continuous, and attempts to read mythic symbols as historical events are a fertile source of absolute nonsense.

Gordonsson, I've noticed that people who start by saying that we should be open to the possibility of game-changing events very quickly move to assuming that one will come along and bail us out of the consequences of our mistakes. I think it's wiser to assume that we're going to have to lie in the bed we've made, and make our plans on that basis; if something happens to bail us out, we can change course at that point.

Evn, many thanks!

Bill, no, this is a bit more than that -- there's a cycle of 13 baktuns that takes around 5125 years to complete, or 1/5 of the precessional cycle, and that's what's coming to an end in 2012. Still, there's only one classic Maya inscription that mentions the upcoming end of the 13th baktun at all, and it doesn't make a big deal out of it. Assuming that the world is going to be transformed when it rolls over is a bit like assuming that your beat-up Toyota is going to turn into a Rolls Royce when its odometer next says 0000000.

Fed Up, I've been reading Arguelles' work since he was a professor at Evergreen State College, and I'm quite familiar with it. You might also want to reread my comment; I didn't say he stole anything, I said that he and Terence McKenna between them invented the current 2012 mythology out of whole cloth, and I stand by that. Yes, I've also read Gilliland's work.

As for your other comments, I'm quite aware that there are people who disagree forcefully with my Druid beliefs, and not all of them are poorly informed about those beliefs. Some have assessed my ideas in detail, and decided that they think I'm wrong. That's where I stand with regard to the current crop of 2012 believers. Mind you, I'm sure they return the favor -- and that's fine; a monoculture of ideas is as deadly as any other kind of monoculture.

Danby said...

Wow, John

You list a bunch of bad, or at least unhelpful attitudes and patterns of thought, and here they all come out of the woodwork to debate with you.

You know I'm not an optimist in any reasonable sense. I just try to make my plans based on the observation that most people are selfish, things could get a lot worse in a hurry, and my duty is to take care of my family.

The only real keys you need to adapt to the future, regardless of which way it goes, are adaptability and being able to see what is rather than what you want of fear. Planning for the future, in the sense of planning a party or planning a mountain ascent, is pointless beyond a few months, or at most a few years, out. Conditions change too quickly for the plans made to be of any use. I'm now on my fourth employer in 5 years, without changing jobs. How could I plan around that?

Instead I make sure I know how to deal with situations likely to come up. If the aliens come, delivering magic^H^H^H^H^Htechnology which will solve the fundamentals of the laws of thermodynamics for us, I'm pretty sure we will all be able to adapt. If, on the other hand, they don't, do you (the reader, not JMG, who I know does know these things) know how to build a fire, and cook over it? Do you know how to doctor blood poisoning (goldenseal, garlic and hot peppers, 1G each, 6x/day btw)? Do you know how to make a batch of beer, grow vegetables, ride a horse? If the aliens come perhaps you will have wasted your time learning these things. If they don't, you can probably get through whatever is going to happen.

If mankind achieves instantaneous worldwide consciousness, I'm pretty sure we will all know what to do. If societal bonds break down and middle-east style internecine warfare becomes common, do you have and know how to maintain and use a rifle? Do you have a dozen people who will cover you back? Do they have and know how to use and maintain firearms? Have you considered that one day you might very well have to kill someone in self-defense? These are the kind of preparations you should be making, instead of hoping for rescue from our own bad habits and laziness.

And I mean it about the guns.

OneCrazyMama said...

I'm not sure how much or how little I believe peak oil to be genuinely real or something used to name something else which is real but thusfar not all that well named.

Still, this is a great post about the overall madness infecting society at the moment. Lots of waiting in the yard looking for green men to drop by, not a lot of practical behavior--at least practical behavior that is visible.

I'm sure there are still good people in the background, working and thinking. The saddest sight, to me, is the person who genuinely thinks the future will look like the present, or even match the past exactly--it just doesn't work that way.

I enjoyed your post. Thanks, as always, for sharing your eloquence with the blogworld. My Wednesdays wouldn't be the same without ya. :)

Stephen Heyer said...

Hi John,
I’m away from home and having trouble posting over this connection, so if you have multiple copies of this comment please ignore the surplus ones.

The awesome thing about the Mayan calendar / 2012 thing is the synchronicity! The timing looks increasingly like it is about right – that is, for rather big and perhaps unpleasant changes to the current economic system, which I suppose is most people’s world.

Now, don’t get me wrong, not only does coincidence happen, but, given the infinite range of things that can happen and our (unsurprising) tendency to notice only those that effect us, coincidence has a rather large role in our lives: In other words, it is just coincidence, we noticed the one calendar that had a major period end event about the time it was fairly obvious our system would be highly stressed.

But still, I suspect a lot of people are going to be spooked by that little example of synchronicity.

And of course I’m going to bicker with part, but only part of your statement that:

“A society founded on the unquestioned belief that economic expansion and technological development will continue forever may have a very, very hard time dealing with a future in which economic contraction and the abandonment of technologies too complex to be sustainable will likely be dominant trends. It's not too far of a reach, it seems to me, to suggest that massive revitalization movements will follow.”

Well, I would bicker with that, wouldn’t I?

In short, I don’t think that economic contraction is necessarily tightly bound to a contraction in technology. Yes, a change in emphasis (people want different stuff) and a contraction in volume, but not necessarily a contraction in scope or technological ability. At least, that is, as long as anything like our current “flat world” one world market survives.

Yes, given the more or less complete collapse of trade, or an economic contraction so severe that world GDP was reduced to a tiny fraction of its current value, then some technologies may be in trouble, but I consider both scenarios pretty unlikely in the short to medium term.

Even then, I suspect more would survive that one would at first expect, including particularly a perhaps trimmed down “Internet Light”.

UFOs, or rather IFOs

Speaking of synchronicity and coincidence, I once saw one of the rarer and more speculator UFOs. The weird thing is that just a week or so before I saw it I had read about the phenomenon and what actually causes it for the first and only time in my life.

Knowing what I was actually looking at, after a moment’s confusion, somehow made it even better, almost better than if real aliens had been involved. It was just the coolest experience!

Bill Pulliam said...

Ah, thanks, Wiki didn't address the higher cycles in detail, probably because they haven't come in to play in routine date keeping.

Sounds like an occasion for a really big party, if you ask me! Lots of maya-themed decorations for the Yule tree in 2012.

Assuming that the world is going to be transformed when it rolls over is a bit like assuming that your beat-up Toyota is going to turn into a Rolls Royce when its odometer next says 0000000.

Or that you will magically be able to stick to your diet, quit smoking, and start writing your novel just because the calendar now say January instead of December. We do love our calendars; we just tend to forget that we made them up out of thin air (and stars and planets etc.), they are not received wisdom and revealed truth.

To complete the digression: I've long liked the idea of a precession-based calendar; I've thought the start date should be when the celestial pole makes its closest approach to Vega, the brightest of the stars that take turns being our Pole Star. Alas, I don't think it is possible to calculate precisely when that last happened or will next happen to the accuracy of a single year.

p said...

The natives of Tasmania seemingly went through what has been described as a 'renaissance' by abandoning the use of bone tools and foregoing eating fish. The food source remained plenty by all indications, and whatever lifestyle niche the tools serviced was never again picked up until they were wiped out by Europeans. There were indications that it was 25% of their total technology and 20% of their food sources by choice. I can't imagine giving up a quarter of my technology and a fifth of my food - oh wait...

Fed up completely said...

You make it sound like Arguelles and McKenna conspired to create the 2012 mythology. I wasn't aware they were in contact with each other at the time they were making their conclusions.

Have you read Cosmic History Chronicles 1 - 4?

John Michael Greer said...

Danby, they're not just unhelpful attitudes, they're very, very popular these days -- thus I get them coming out of the woodwork just about every time I discuss this particular issue.

Crazy Mama, fortunately, yes, there are quite a few people working in the background. My hope is to encourage some of those who might be swayed by apocalyptic fantasies to join them.

Stephen, well, the likelihood of high technology surviving in a low energy setting is one of our continuing points of disagreement; we'll just have to see. As for IFOs, agreed -- whether what's being sighted is an apparition, a high-altitude spyplane, a sundog, or whatever the heck those balls of light are that seem to be produced by tectonic stress (and all of those have played a role in feeding the UFO phenomenon), it's all the more interesting if you know what it is, rather than mapping most of a century of popular culture onto it.

Bill, I know quite a few people who had end-of-civilization New Year's parties on the night of December 31, 1999, and had a grand time. The same principle ought to be workable this time, too.

P, now imagine taking an 80% cut in your technology, food supply, etc. That's about what we're talking about in the present case.

Fed Up, as I understand it, McKenna came up with the 2012 date from his own chemically assisted math, without reference to the Maya; Arguelles encountered his stuff, drew the connection to the rollover of the Long Count, and ran with it. No conspiracy involved -- but it's still not based on anything the Maya themselves taught, or, really, anything else besides wild speculation.

Fed up completely said...

So what is wrong with wild speculation? You do quite a bit of it yourself :-)

wylde otse said...

I passed through the end and beginning of time in the fall of 1969. (naked in the middle of the night, in the Lotus position, on a platform on "Look-out Mountain".)
What happened was that the different cycles of time synchronized into one "tick". I could clearly hear in my head the earth 'tick' ; the slower solar 'tick', the still slower solar system 'tick', the galactic 'tick', and so on. all this ticking of time was comming to one synchronous 'tick'...universal mid-night, so to speak. The end of time.
I very much wanted to be elsewhere ; the sense of foreboding was more than intense.

As 'all time' drew to a close, 'seconds' away... 4...3...2.. I saw myself sitting there, heard myself drawing my 'last' terrified breath..." owww..
Then " zero hour "... and, nothing..."tick", "tick", Tick".
What relief! I exhaled "uuum".
And I realized I had said out loud, a perfect ..." Aum " - the Alpha and the Omega.

(There is more, of course, worthy of 'Coast to Coast AM .com' - ancient revealed knowledge I wished I didn't know, from - " You can pay all at once, or pay in little doses; for that is the Law of Moses... " to... " If God be eternal, what need hath God for a Son?")

What I would suggest here is that no one need worry unduly about 2012. A more noble pursuit would be for people 'en masse' to surround and defend their neighbours from eviction in this time of depression, while crooks and thieves in high places are looting the national treasury (and your pension funds).

Wylde Otse

Jacques de Beaufort said...

This is all really funny because time doesn't even exist in the way we usually think of it or describe it. A calendar, a clock, a second, a month...these things are like fences that try to reign in some sort of liquid ore of molten experience. While it's true that natural phenomenon occur in observable patterns and that the experience or "timing" of these events may be observed as self-similar on various scales, ultimately time is a subjective "secondary" quality that is no more verifiable than the speed of light (which incidentally has been observed to change minutely depending on the instrument).

McKenna largely held disdain for Arguelles and his more overtly prophetic claims. Regardless the "timewave zero" was probably one of his more lamentably shoddy ideas when examined closely under a critical lens. I never took it seriously, and always felt that he never did completely either. But as a thought experiment it's brilliant.

One of the more interesting effects of psilocybin is the experience of time dilation...unless you have stepped outside of time you can never really understand what time is.

I think it was Plato who said "Time is the moving image of eternity".

in_the_light said...

What I understand that is different about the Mayan calendar is that, while its start and stop dates are arbitrary points, they are based on their perception of time which is fundamentally different than the one most of us have. So while it is arbitrary that the end of one cycle is happening in 2012, it is significant because it tells of an end to a cycle of consciousness. End of the world? Well only a wack job (is that PC?) would think that.


John Michael Greer said...

Fed Up, granted. Still, I think there's a bit of a difference between "this has happened many times before and so might happen again," which is what I'm trying to say, and "this has never happened before, and we have no evidence that it will happen this time, either, but we're all going to believe that it will happen very soon."

Otse, thanks for the story! For my part, I think a nobler pursuit might consist of spending the time between now and 2012 learning to garden and get by with less, but to each their own.

Jacques, yes, it was Plato. I'd rather read his stuff than McKenna's any day, too.

Mat, the thing I'd point out is that in the Mayan concept of time, every moment is the beginning and ending of a cycle, and has its own unique qualities of time. So is every day, 260-day ritual cycle, year, 20-year katun, and so on. That's the point that the 2012 believers miss -- there's nothing special about their pet date that isn't also special about every single moment.

rob said...

The 'End of Time', perhaps this might mean the end of our time prison, the end of a 12 month calander that manages to squeeze in 13 full moons. As a person that remote views, and by that i mean i have been trained to do so, i realise that 'time' and the notion of a past and a future is a linear nonsense

try it!

John Michael Greer said...

Rob, the Muslim world uses a calendar based on actual lunations: the month begins with the observed new moon. Has following that calendar made them more enlightened and peaceful than the rest of the world? You tell me.

MrCoffeeCup said...

My first reading of this blog is an excellent revelation. My questions are: Are we now headed towards another "Medival Dark Ages" within 4 years of less? The monetary crisis seems completely unsolveable with the "Smoke and Mirrors" application of free money. So what's next, A complete meltdown of goods and services production?
Will we have government by War Lords like Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Venezuela?
Were the abusers of the monetary engine causing this catastrophy the first to understand that our Economic Capitalism was headed for complete destruction? If so, will they be the ones in the comfy cabins waiting for the dust to settle?
Thanks for your time

owen said...

I think that there are a lot more people waiting for "the Lord" to take them away from all the changes to come than there are people expecting aliens from saucers to save them.

There are many many more religiously oriented groups that are not prepared to face the failures of the prophecies which they follow.

Astronomy is science. All calendars aside, there are some very unique astronomical FACTS occuring around the time of the winter solstice of 2012 which no one can deny.

mad30 said...

Just wanted to drop in and say nice job on Coast to Coast tonight. The best perspective they've had on the "UFO ENIGMA" in a very long time. Too many are living in the false black/white paradigm, it always has to be one or the other, yet the middle ground is never presented which is the truer path. A lot of people, either confused, poorly researched, or too self-involved, only explore one avenue of the extreme; it's simply easier that way and requires less thought & originality. There's very little valid debate or discussion on these topics, and unfortunately sensationalism is what sells... Noone wants to be human. They want to be superior and believe they're part of some lost alien ancestry that's going to come and reclaim them someday. Somehow, UFO's building the pyramids is all that makes sense to them...


Best wishes,

koona1 said...

Honoured Archdruid

I think a profound sadness is in order, that is what I feel. The sadness isn't for the suffering and madness and destructive thrashing about that will ensue but rather for the sheer lack of necessity.
Good men told me well over half a century ago that we could not live on the mother without showing respect. They were right and as I have grown I have come to see this and live my life with respect for earth.
Millions of my generational brothers and sisters came to this respect as well. Millions.....
And we still managed to get to this state.
A seed has lived on, from out of the past, and with what time I have left I will nourish that seed.

Blink. The internet, entertainment center as it has become will I'm sure have a limited lifespan. However, a reversion to a low voltage 1980's technology of the copper twisted pairs, and preconfigured burst packets can be quite supportable for a long time. In the 60's I lived in Alberta on an 22 mile single uninsulated wire telephone line that must have supported 10 families, and I believe they strung that line in 1944. All on a 6 VDC battery and a hand crank dynamo. My point is that for information and inteligence purposes networking can survive quite nicely for a long time.

My mind inevitably drifts towards Walter Millers great book, "A Canticle for Leibowitz". Thanks very much for your well thought out article, and the alert to the idea of "revitalization movement".



kayakangler said...


I got introduced to you on Coast to Coast -- nice job! I was impressed by your clear-headed treatment of the UFO topic.

I'm fascinated by the psychology of people who desire The End. I guess they believe destruction must precede the creation of something new.

The belief in a messiah is also fascinating. It seems to occur when a group is desparate for change, and needs a leader.

These phenomena seem to occur frequently in human history -- any insights, or recommended readings on the subject? Thanks!