Mar 07 2012

The Final Disillusion


CC-licensed image courtesy of lensfodder

Looking at the last ten thousand years the only conclusion is – how many people died because of tyranny and oppression? Of the unnatural deaths possibly more than half were directly or indirectly attributable to force or oppression by other humans. Can we conclude that this selection bottleneck had a distinctive effect on human genetics? If so, could this have led to distinctive cognitive bias that, when coupled with exponentially expanding technologies, lead to what is now commonly referred to as “existential risk” ?

When animals know they will soon become extinct they do no shed any tears or feel sorrow, much more they would feel for the loss of a favored companion or their imminent demise. Humans inhabit a new category of animal on this planet (and potentially in this part of the galaxy) that potentially feels more sorrow for the potential loss of its species than for the loss of itself. This in itself is a new degree of neurological ability – to extend concern to your entire species, and to all of life, and to all beautiful and valuable things that exist, beyond the mere temporal self – and to act upon this concern…

For humans tool use is a fundamental trait of psychology. Humans exert control (dominance, force) over all those aspects of the world they can affect, including other humans. This is self-evident. The question immediately arises – has the force of humans towards their fellow humans been a force of evolutionary pressure, and in what manner has our psychology developed features (or blind spots) make humans not act in an objective or fully rational manner? My answer is – yes. Humans have inflicted considerable recursive attrition and this selective mechanism has acted as a genomic bottleneck to the human species in the last ten thousand (or so) years.

The mechanism of this force has left indelible effects on the instinct of the human species. We can see this in human populations that have been affected more by this pressure, respectively less. Nomadic lineages of humans appear to have other behavioural urges. Might we then conclude that a prepensity for (say) ADHD was more prevalent – or even the norm – before the onset of this selective stage? How do we treat people with ADHD these days, and can we conclude society is still collectively (and unconsciously) conducting a genetic progrom of sorts towards what it considers “the undesirable”?

Envision for a second the image of townspeople chasing down the monster of Frankenstein. The commoners were really motivated by a a palpable rage or hatred for Frankenstein’s monster. Even though this image is only fiction, it is a nice diorama of this natural tendency in human beings to engage in “progroms”. One might conclude humans have a special affinity for persecution. One might even conclude modern society is the result of this instinct, and that we as a species demand comformity of one another, by force of death if necessary. Humans are just as prone to killing an aggressive house pet as they are to marginalize or punish malcontents and unadjusted specimen.

If I represent this mechanism as a self-reinforcing system feedback much of what happened in the last ten thousand years suddenly makes sense, albeit in a perverse new light.  Such a bottleneck of selective pressure must have left a range (or spectrum) of predispositions in human behaviour. It would also explain feelings of racial superiority, or the tendency of ‘imperial’ collectives of humans to behave so awful towards the other groups of humans they just happen to colonize.  Humans consistently explain such colonization as “bringing civilization”, whereas the net effect is more an outright process of eradication.  And after the process of colonization the force directed towards domestication  continued apace.

This process seems to have started at the end of the Pleistocene. I’ll argue that the force instinct is literally a self-reinforcing cycle of self-directed abuse, where one genetic lineage (the dominant strain in the human species) benefited more from the force than the less dominant populations of humans. In other words – the human species has developed a distinctive sub-genus of ‘alpha’ humans that naturally gravitates towards positions of dominance and power, and by and large the less dominant humans accept this and sometimes they don’t.

It is my belief that societal progress resulted not from this dominance itself, but rather from the tug-of-war between the two polar elemental tendencies in the human species. If one or the other genetic predisposition exerts societal control over the other, nothing much changes and society is static. Once there is conflict (or class struggle) consistently there has been an objective improvement in the collective state of human beings on this planet. In other words – all progress in the last ten thousand years has been made through emancipatory struggle.

It might for many people a frightful and cynical concept that the dialogue between feudal tyranny versus violent revolution has been such an engine of progress, and that dictators would have had such a great influence on the human social instincts. Humans are doing little else than constantly domesticate and subdue the world, even if this means humans eradicate the natural world.  So in effect there is a constant tendency of humans to engage in predation, but sadly we have not evolved a mechanism to constrain such brutality.

We can clearly see the result if this in animal species: worldwide you’d be hard-pressed to find any surviving predatory land animal species that do not cower in the face of humans.  Even the most effective top predators are cautious about attacking human beings. Clearly in the last thousands to tens of thousands of years humans have had a distinctive impact on the genetic traits of animal species. Animals instinctively know – attacking humans is bad news ..humans carry a grudge. Messing with any humans increases your chance of them coming after you “angry mob” style. Humans hunt down and kill what they perceive as “potential competitors” – or even anyone they consider “easy prey”. And this extends to inter-special rivalry : it seems to be difficult for humans to regard the majority of their fellow species as “equals”. Humans may actually have a genetic predisposition towards inter-species murder and racist prejudice. Humans have the ability to regard humans as non-humans. This is not unique, chimpanzees seem to do this as well. 

Hence I will argue that humans from before the age of widespread tool use (let’s simplify that as the onset of the Holocene, some 12.000 years ago) were of a different nature. I will argue that twelve thousand years of dictatorship, tribal wars and feudalism have acted as an evolutionary bottleneck, and have left humanity effectively “self-domesticated”. All throughout the last million years humans have been “neotenized”  (humans evolved more for bigger skulls, and many features of the human body evolved into more “childlike” states of the earlier specimen) and as a result behaviour itself shifted towards emphasizing the docile (or child-parent) axis of the human psychology. But the childlike features if more recent primates did not mean we have become more peaceful.

Pleistocene savages versus Holocene bullies

The single-most significant change in human society going from the Pleistocene (12000 years ago) to the Holocene was triggered by major ecological shifts as the ice ages ended. The world lost widespread coastal regions when glaciers and ice caps melted. This process compressed the largely migratory human populations together in the span of just a few generations or even decades. In other words – the end of ice ages flooded massive regions of land, and pushed humans together in more dry, warmer, and more constrained territories. The sudden disruption on more widespread migratory populations in to more condensed (and formerly barren) land would have caused new survival and food gathering strategies. This fits with the known understanding of what humans in fact did in the Holocene; there was an increase in population levels, and a sharp increase in tribal conflicts. And a winning strategy proved the  claiming of land, the development of animal husbandry and agriculture.

No doubt the processes in the Neolithic triggered considerable territorial disputes between humans that until that moment were mostly hunter-gatherers. It is easy to create a narrative (oversimplified or not) that depicts humans using new cohabitation or communal strategies, no longer gathering nourishment along migratory opportunistic food gathering, but instead left to claim a territory and grow food in one favourable spot. This had profound effects on how human sexuality and gender divisions operated.  While it can be argued that the Neolithic caused an increase in populations, this expansion of numbers was not always an expansion on general human well-being. Bone remains of before this process started were quite different in nature – Pleistocene humans seem to be stronger and bigger and had healthier diets over-all; they also died younger due to the severity of fluctuations in access to food, as well as natural dangers, lack of shelter, etc. For earlier Pleistocene populations social structures were smaller and more family oriented. This allowed for over-all stronger human populations, but also for more attrition from starvation and accident. In such a risky environment individuals live less long.

The Holocene was not necessarily an improvement. Humans in the later and decidedly larger Holocene were over-all more miserable. They were smaller and died young as well, but not from the same reasons – In the Holocene emerging territorial disputes women died young in ever more forced ‘serial childbirth’, domestic manual labour and infectious disease (childbirth in close proximity to cattle was a bad idea); whereas men died increasingly in armed confrontations. As the metal ages emerged, and as society diversified in to new structures some humans had access to more organized and increasingly abstract benefits of society. As the city state emerged we see the emergence of “hereditary leaders”, who would eventually become distinctive lineages of our Kings and other Feudal leaders. For any population having a Leader seemed to have some degree of benefit (since humanity kept these leaders around so long) but the only conclusion I can infer is that the leaders themselves benefited out of bounds from the arrangement. Of course “common folk” also had a fall-out benefit of enjoying the protection of being governed by a warrior elite, but I am pretty sure the feudal overlords enjoyed their benefits a great deal more.

There is a distinctive selective component to this. Recently there was study of human bones remains, of humans that were buried in the middle ages. When the genetic material of these bones were studied in close detail the genetic forensic evidence was rather startling – the bones found in burial sites or ossuaries where ‘rural’ people (“villains“) lived had genes that clearly had not survived (and passed on their genes) to people alive in to the 20th century. In essence, people living in the 20th century are by and large the survivors of medieval townsfolk and the upper classes. This led some researchers to conclude that modern western-european people had evolved for capitalism.  So clearly, if we can shamelessly argue that a marked tendency for “capitalism”, we can also argue that human beings are by nature and culturally predisposed to stratification, feudal persecution, mass-murder, genocidal wars and tyranny. And that opens up a major can of worms as soon as we ask how such a genetic pressure would affect the default substrate of human thinking. This kind of breeding pressure has distinctive effects on the psychology all animals we have so selected – thus, what would be the effects on human psychology?

Roman slave labour

Many mechanisms active in ancient Rome were oddly analogous with many societal trends in our day and age, with the difference that ancient Rome more or less perfected corporatism, slavery and the unabashed hierarchical society. The root word for “fascism” is derived from the “fasces”, the wand of office of various Roman dignitaries, and this seems quite apt. It is safe to say that by and large early imperial Rome was unabashedly cut-throat social Darwinism. Michael Parenti  represents Rome as gruesome from a modern western perspective, but a good look at how the modern west treats their slave labour in the third world may suggest this is only a flimsy cognitive bias. Contemporary humans are not that morally superior to pre-medieval Romans.

Rome thrived on working a major population of slaves literally to death. Rome as a coherent political entity kept prized slaves around, routinely killed off the less useless slaves when there were many slaves around, and also bred quality slaves based on docility and physical quality. This was a high-attrition process and it required the Roman slave economy to consistently take prisoners from foreign conquered populations, kill off any the uppity captured in the arenas, and keep the docile ones around for general exploitation. This taking prisoners from the conquered was routine habit rather than exceptional. Even enslavement of their own, for “honour’s” sake” was routine in the early republic. In this light early pre-Caesar Rome was a horrific society by today’s standards, not merely for its sheer ruthlessness (though contemporary/recent western  empire did probably not much better in Africa and Asia) but rather because Romans regarded their contemporary brutality as “the natural order”. In Rome state fascism and “punishing barbarians” exemplified state superiority and glory. To a Roman any foreigner was a mix of subhuman, disgusting, the enemy, a competitor, less intelligent, barely civilized or outright degenerate. To a Roman the universal declaration of human rights would probably not have made much sense.

Romans respected power first and foremost, even at the expense of their own cultural identity; Roman women would seek out barbarian gladiators to beget children rather than lie with their own born husbands (or with the knowledge of their husbands) to have “stronger” offspring. In this latter regard the social-Darwinist context was tempered by meritocratic and pragmatic considerations. Roman racism bowed to the latter Machiavellian political ideal of opportunism. But what we see is the emergence of private interests to govern over the Roman state ideal – as Romans became more staunchly self-interested, the Roman society turned from a fascist nationalist entity into a profit-centered plutocratic entity. This curious shift in attitudes is considered as one of the major causes of Rome’s collapse as a world power.

I don’t think this happened earlier in human society – “erosion of the state because of money interest”. Romans ended up trading and trafficking more with foreigners, often at the expense of these foreigners, but at the end equally at the expense of their own citizenry and plebeiate.

Japanese docility and the age of Samurai

To quote an example from recent personal experience and insight – In the last thousand years Japan has been (and I am oversimplifying here) a garden for natural selection of humans.  Japan has for a millennium been a distinctly stratified society with very clear boundaries between the upper classes (and their executive warrior castes), and the lower classes. Leaving ambiguity (yakuza, eta, burakumin, gaijin, shugenja) aside, in Japan, for close to ten centuries there has been a self-reinforcing system of increased lethality as sanction for bad behaviour. In Japan the rule was by and large draconian and even the slightest infringement of this rule could signify a sharply increased incidence for premature death. Such selective pressures must have a profound effect on humans, human physiology, human neurology and effectively, human behaviour. Recently I was engaging in an unnamed Japanese derived martial arts, and the style of this particular one emphasizes resistance to bullies, and the bullies were clearly samurai. The vast majority of defensive acts against the Samurai in this highly versatile martial art entail stylized and toolbox acts of lethal force against katana wielding, armoured adversaries. In effect the practitioners of this particular martial arts were the “terrorists” of late middle age Japan, as they fought well a established power hegemony. The whole way of moving, thinking, planning in this martial arts is a deeply ingrained cultural legacy of “efficient logistics of resistance”. Lethal if necessary.

Now look at Japanese society. What kind of society, what kind of modes of behaviour, and what kinds of societal order would one expect to end up with, relative to the rest of humanity, after conduction a millennium of genetic breeding based on a mostly unassailable elite that had full rights (in many instances and periods) to execute any underlings “at a whim” ? I’d argue that many of the deeply ingrained cultural aspects of Japanese society are to a “statistically distinct” degree predisposed to more docility. In the total hypothesis I advocate this would be quite hard to scientifically measure under the layer of cultural programming. But the effect would be literally genetically derived from these centuries of “selective breeding and culling”. All the “uppity” Japanese have been left executed a few centuries ago. In this regard I regard Japan as a poignant example of selective attrition by the governing elements of human society.

As a counterpoint I find that the urges of the people in European nation states were less subdued and more oriented towards open competition, as a result of the somewhat unique (pardon me the term) “balkanized” demographics of European states. But this is only a perception and it is hard to prove such an idea, and the notion itself (that people of European descent are more prone to competition) may carry a racist stigma.

Irrational apathy

So – if some humans genes benefited from exerting dominance, other humans may have been bred (or their genes may have somehow benefited) from the reverse – a docile state. Our current day and age seems to suffer from a pervasive crisis. We all enjoy democracy now, or so we would assume. Democracy seems the rational choice of history and we have seem to come to a somewhat preferred endpoint in history, relative to the awful mess we had before. I would argue that a democratic society, with just laws and human rights is a fundamental improvement over what seems the default for at least the last several thousand years.

It is not my intent to enter in to a debate on proper theology or scripture, but the “Old Testament” does seem to put a rather high emphasis on somewhat distasteful acts of tribal warfare, exterminating competing tribes, the capture of the women of said tribes and subordinating these woman as servile or sexual slaves, and more of the same. Suffice to say that most monotheistic religions do not favour democracy.  Another word for “submission” is “Islam”, and that in itself is an unashamedly atheist analysis. The Old Testament in part reads as a manual of conquest and defeat, if not in a few sections as a genocide manual. Now granted .. this book emerged (one way or another) in not the most civilized of human times and regions. It is still pretty much a mess in that particular spot on Earth, and I might speculate that the continued bloody genetic predispositions and cultural legacies of human beings in these regions is exclusive to that area. If I draw a circle around the globe, all areas with somewhat similar geographic and (fertile/warm/temperate) climatic opportunities seem to share the same mix of tribal conflict, conquest, subjugation, territorial enforcement and (curiously) the same overt emphasis on deeply ingrained (inviolate) religious and cultural law.

The converse of this is what now clearly has become a threat to the desirable state of democratic self-governance. It seems that the vast majority of people have sentiments or urges that conflict with the civil responsibility of democracy. In a democracy all who vote should (or must) take a responsibility to vote for a good leader, one way or another.

And it is becoming increasingly and poignantly clear that humans vote for awful leaders in stressful or ambiguous times. These leaders consistently emphasize aspects of “silverback” male sexuality.

It is almost as if the majorities humans have an instinct to expect autocratic governance in times of increased competition, scarcity or “perceived” threat of conflict. I would argue that humans have a troubling predisposition towards “blind faith“.  In other words humans over all have an irrational inclination towards taking their leaders for their honeyed voices and promises, and hope for the best.  I’d go as far as call this the “apathy gene”. I could also call it the “submission gene”. It is no coincidence that the world’s major religions use the iconography and symbology of this “submission” as the highest objective good. But more on religions later.

In our day and age this specific ‘submissive’ behaviour has deteriorated to such a degree that it sometimes approximates the state of apathy common in masochistic or total willing enslavement. I argue that in our current culture the pervasive lack of interest by the majorities of people amounts to a distinctive trance-like state of suspended volition of critical scrutiny I’d associate with cult membership.

By the sword or by the plough-share

The amazing Richard Dawkins described this macabre mechanism in The Selfish Gene. His work was deemed a fairly politically incorrect statement in the 1970s. My statement differentiates from Dawkin’s statement in little. I would however emphasize that humanity may be differentiating in to two lineages; one naturally gravitating towards submission, apathy, complacency and a religious sense of servitude – the other bloodline towards left brain fetishist rational and calculated governance – or outright violent dominance.  I’d go as far as suggest that in the latter category, if it actually did exist in the realm world, incidence of psychopatic disorders would be more common.

With “psychopaths”  I don’t necessarily mean serial killers, but rather to people with ‘markedly less affinity for conscience‘.  Being unconscionable, emotionally barren and strongly predisposed towards callous self-interest seems to be a plus on any executive‘s resume these days. But then again, these unique qualities always become more ostentatiously prominent in any era of exaggerated hubris.

…”I want to reach in, rip out their hearts and eat them before they die”…
- Richard S. Fuld, “The Gorilla”

The question arises in me how we can manage a cohesive society when the mechanism for management is based on direct opposition of self-interest with the majority of society itself. Such cavalier self-interest seems to carry the seeds of societal disintegration, if not imply outright the end of any society. And this is clearly the mechanism of the creation of any society (national or ethnic identity, a common cause against an outside threat) as well as the disintegration of most societies (the ascendancy of power of self-interested parties takes precedence over society itself).

An end to cohesion, whether it is the intensely predatory cohesion of the Roman empire or the allegedly more gentle cohesion at the heart of the formation of the democratic ideal, mostly implies the autumn or winter age of a culture. This process generally implies that too many people expect too much of society (and this can happen in the lower class echelons of a people as well as in the upper echelons) and society is abandoned as soon as it can’t live up to the collective expectations.

In the 20th century we have a fundamentally new situation, completely unexpected by any human being. Right now most people take science, progress and industry for granted, but no human being alive or dead could have predicted the changes humans have brought over this planet in just a few decades. This change was spurred on by scientific theory, and then by industry. In turn the current intensity of industrialization could not have emerged without access to large natural reserves of petro-chemically encased solar energy. Coal, Oil and natural Gas allowed an industrial revolution and an unprecedented change of the entire planetary surface and climate. Unfortunately (and even in more stark contrast with the hundreds of years before) in this age also allowed a population growth from just over a billion at the dawn of the industrial age to seven billion in the early 21st century.

And that is turning out to be a potentially very bad situation.

The problem of oil going away – aggravated affluence consolidation 

If access to cheap oil ends, there won’t be widespread mechanization or industry, period.

And the era of plentiful, cheap quality oil is pretty much ending. There are people in serious denial about this fact, but the facts have become acutely compelling in the last decade. In the coming decade global oil demand will not be met by supply, and the shortfall can not do much else than ratchett up global oil prices. An increase in demand for an essential product will mean first competition, and next it may very well imply the collapse of modern society to an essentially less desirable state of living where humans will have to consume substantially less, have less “rights” and perform more physical labour.

There is however a problem in this equation. Right now we have a lot of extremely rich people in the world, and we found ourselves in a situation when the vast majority of people can’t make ends meet any more.  I could say – the 99% of human beings on the planet are feeling the pinch of dwindling natural resources, whereas the very affluent 1% of human beings are actively using their assets to change the current system to protect their acquired interests, power, property, sense of prestige, affluence, security, etc. It is a sad thing that the losers in this mechanism are blamed, but that behaviour of “blaming the loser” seems to be a constant in human society. In any era of total diminishing affluence the very affluent are the last to lose theirs since they will be in the best bargaining position, and can buy the political process. That is pretty much what we are seeing.

The end of work is an end to mass-consumerism 

On closer scrutiny the problem is not (primarily) a lack of petrochemicals – we do have the ability to come up with alternatives – the problem is why gets to decide what the machines powered by all this cheap oil do. In an era of plentiful oil everyone gets to decide what machines perform in mechanized labour. In an era of plentiful cheap energy every single human has access to a very cheap and very powerful energy carrier to make equally cheap and ubiquitous machines do his or her bidding. In the 20th century we became accustomed to this glut of cheap energy and threw it around like there was no tomorrow. A stupid mechanized infrastructure is wasteful. Now we arrive in an era we can’t afford waste no longer, and precisely at that stage we have arrived at an era where machines are acquiring the system qualities to do independent labour. I’ll simply this as “robotization” (though that isn’t the whole story).

In the book “The End of Work, by Jeremy Rifkin the author describes an end to widespread employment of all humans. This was already obvious to Rifkin in the 1990s, and his unwelcome message caused him to be booed from USA centered academia. The US Times went as far as to label him “The Most Hated Man in Science.”

But Jeremy Rifkin was absolutely right. Later works, specifically “Lights in the Tunnel” by Martin Ford and the article “Robotic Nation” by Marshall Brain spelled it out even more blatantly obvious – not just robots are taking jobs away from the most “superfluous” of humans – a range of office appliances, logistical systems, efficiency measures, JIT management, new production processes (3D printers!) have already left many people world-wide competing with the result of investment in these means of labour, and increasingly on the losing end of this face-off. Robots are by and large owned by rather affluent investors, and clearly this is a self-reinforcing trend in society and industry. This whole issue has recently been highlighted by the publications of Frederico Pistono.

Corporations can secede from you – The feudal corporate state 

Corporations are essentially an organized gang with shared interests (in quite a few cases criminal) and these interests by definition do not include the interests of everyone outside the corporate entity. This makes the corporate person-hood  a particularly insidious development in human history, especially now has become clear corporations have expanded numerically and in numbers as to challenge the sovereignty of state – and all private people. In other words – where organized gangs can fulminate their self-interests, and do so exclusively, there is a cross-over point where corporate interests become effectively unaccountable, irreversible and will keep on expending at everyone else’s expense.

Without much doubt this is where in 2012 we have arrived – we have a geopolitical order that is thoroughly and irreversibly corporatized. This makes the current new world order fiercely “plutocratic”, as well as social-darwinist meritocratic. We also see precisely that happen. The formation of states inside the state (and transgressing the state) would be bad in itself – the very idea is an organizational monstrosity evolved to secede from democratic and legal oversight. Corporations are by nature exclusivity engines.

Now something like this would have happened in some form, regardless of the development of the corporate. Humans compete, and if we regard “democratic states” as means to protect the vulnerable from predation by the powerful (formerly – European autocrats), then a new generation of competitive humans would soon emerge and work to find ways to harvest a greater share of collective fruits of labour.

The corporation as a national and transnational vessel just happened to work nicely because it filled a niche in the necessity model of modern states. But soon the pathologically ambitious caused the original corporate charter to escape any prudent boundaries of legal constraint and corporations became much like unaccountability machines. Right now states tread with caution not to be regarded unfavourable by the corporate sector. Corporations (and their tax dollars) can actually leave – and by having corporations walk away the state loses it’s seat on the beggar’s banquet of scraps falling from the oligarch banquet. This places the corporate entity in a very favourable negotiations position world-wide, and in an age of automation this will only get worse, well within the next decades

In the end the corporate can only evolve to become state-less and fully seceded from any accountability of states and citizens – this would be the age of what I’d label “full Singaporization”. In literary history we also called this “Cyberpunk Dystopia”, but it exemplified nothing short of a kind of fascism where a small number of people are “on the inside” of scarce resources, and everyone else lives in the gutter. When we have arrived at that point money as it exists today won’t be a consideration. The insiders will have their own means of exchanging value, probably a “non-fiat” denominational currency backed by actual property, and those without property won’t have any say in the matter, or any share in the new mechanism of transactions. When that happens unions nor politicians nor violent protest will make one iota of difference.

Globalizing favelas 

This process of economic marginalization is a considerable danger to the majority of human beings on this planet. The threats imposed by widespread systemic marginalization are implicit rather than explicit. Poverty kills and destabilizes. Poor people fall prone to stupidity, emotion, fear, not because they are inherently stupid, but largely because the human mind can not function rationally in a pervasive context of humiliation, destitution, hunger and persecution. Poverty implies life-shortening stress. The poor can not acquire safe living environments. The poor can not procure safe conditions, sanitation, clean drinking water, security, proper education, living space, healthy food, dignity, humane medical care, uplifting entertainment or a range of other necessities to be a functional human being. If the majority of the world is reduced to widespread destitution the human spirit is broken and castrated, and reduced to the conditions of an average third world prison. This process is most visible in slums, ghettoes and favellas in Africa, south and middle America, the middle east and Asia. In the “externalized” and “outsourced” margins of society the destitute are left to their own devices, and reduced to the most dehumanized common denominator.

Encroaching poverty is real, even though conservatives bend themselves backwards to deny it. I don’t wish to belittle the actual people that live in these conditions (I am fairly underprivileged myself in the context of the Netherlands), but I wish something better for the masses of humanity. The centralization of wealth and the concentrated abuse of radically advancing, asymmetrical technologies creates an infrastructure of division, between lush paradisial gated communities  and occupied territories.  Once the walls of division are in place they become part of the judgement system of human beings, they ingrain in the fundamental psychology and they’ll have horrible consequences for generations. Once humans hold a subset of humans in contempt, the stigma clings and inevitably leads to attempts to kill.

Centralized power kills – absolute centralized power may kill everyone 

An existential risk  is a danger of a magnitude that it threatens the majority of human beings, all humans or even all life on the planet. Cognitive dissonance is the inability of people to deal with new ideas that are at odds with strong preconceived notions. I alleged that most people and especially the world’s economies remain unable to grasp that we can have existential threats manifest, and respectively, that the combination of centralized power and radical advances in technology can kill leave billions of humans prematurely dead before the end of this century.

The conclusion I postulate is that if you mix a sufficiently affluence-empowered elite with sufficiently advanced technologies, the problem is that only these macro-financial elites have access to the technologies, and only they increasingly reap the benefits. The rich get richer exponentially, while everyone else just gets relatively poorer along a linear regressive metric. The rising waters only serve to drown those at the bottom.

This is precisely what we see happen in our age, and it looks as if this deterioration is getting worse as time goes along. I argue that this has always caused massive death in human history if the process escalates far enough. In the past nearly every time a small elite of homo sapiens becomes too powerful relative to everyone else the end result has universally been the death of the least powerful, and the pervasive trend is that this process of extermination has become increasingly privatized, mechanized and sanitized. In the early 21st century I’d call the exterminations and genocides of the last century to have been conducted clumsily. Even the mass murders of the 1990s were still mostly hard work on part of the exterminators, but I shall say nothing more on this gruesome topic.

The Singleton Prometheus 

If humans believe they part of a winning team, they are willing to stick with the status quo because upsetting the status quo might cause their team to stop being the winning team. Ray Kurzweil is unabashedly optimistic on this. Ray may be right in his analysis that we are on a technological ascent towards ever more sophisticated tools, Ray seems completely colour blind to the fact that these new technologies benefit only a very small percentage of humans.  The poor in the third world have reaped some of the benefits, but this seems a process that won’t continue indefinitely.

Globalization, capitalism, big banking, automation – all these factors conspire to centralize power in the hands of the few, and intimidate, coerce or buy the political decision-making process. Austerity is just another word for a globalist process of asset consolidation in the hands of the few.

This leads to speculation that these ‘elites’ desire a one world government. Though it is hard to unambiguously prove that we are moving towards a one world system of political control, there are very serious arguments this order is emerging, and this order favours elites. Another word for one world decision-making entity is a “Singleton”, and a critical element for the sustainability of a Singleton is the development of ever more sophisticated cognitive tools – essentially Artificial Intelligence. We are clearly seeing the leadership of the world working hard to consolidate control over the Internet (SOPA, ACTA) and try take General Computing from consumer markets.

I am in strongly favor of humanity having access to Artificial Intelligence as a tool. What I would want avoid at any cost is to have an accountable and arguably immoral elite of humanity to have exclusive access to Artificial Intelligence and global communications. I am of the conviction this will literally lead to an existential threat to a significant percentage of human beings.

Occupying the future 

Despite widespread apathy of the electorate it has become critical to resist this process. The Occupy movement may be one of the most essential development in recent history. I assume not many occupiers know just how critical it is what they do, but the stakes are very high. I strongly urge anyone reading this article to take away one single message from this diatribe – you are almost certainly not part of the geopolitical elite, and you are not very likely to permanently enjoy the fruits of accelerating technological advances. Nobody is safe once full-blown automation and robotization commences. Unemployment rates will shoot up faster than any populace can retrain, or any government can artificially print money, or quell insurrection. The Rich can win this race only by duplicitous acts, and pushing for trojan horse legislation that benefit them and few other people.

I will make a hard statement here – I predict unemployment will from 2012 go up by at least a single % average worldwide per year. That means that by 2020 global average unemployment should be 10% higher than current (real, not doctored) statistics, and at least 20% higher by 2030. If I am right we will see widespread protests and a collapse to consumerism, and “the rich only turning energy and raw materials in to goods for their own consumption interest”. Those without anything more than a token janitorial job will be left unable to acquire anything of real value, and by 2035 the majority of humans would be without meaningful/paid employment.

The problem is that law enforcement, the military  and the range of security apparatus, corporate media as well as automated security systems is keeping up faster than the ability of normal people to protest, riot, sabotage or agitate.  I leave it up to the reader to visualise the consequences of a face-off between a globalist law enforcement apparatus of the 2030s and truly panicked populace. It could escalate in to mass-slaughter.

Universal Basic Income as a Core Human Right

In this possible terminal phase of human existence Democracy and Freedom are more than ‘values to be treasured’ – they may well be essential to survival.”
– Noam Chomsky.

States have a power to tax anyone, including the obscenely rich or corporations operating in their sovereign domain. States are still accountable to democratic oversight. In theory – if it were possible to convince the major worlds electorates of all of the above we’d still have a window of opportunity to turn this potential disaster around. In other words – if we could rely on voters not being apathetic, or if we could count on politicians not being corrupt, we could easily put the neo-feudal beast back in its cage. You will understand my next statements are not overly optimistic.

The only mechanism I can remotely envision to rectify an “power asymmetry collapse” of civilization (to put it in a dramatic choice of terms) is to rectify disparity with a tax and spend scheme commonly referred to as Basic Income. This would be quite hard to realize, since any basic income depends on international adoption, as well as a somewhat competent and sovereign government. Right now we have neither. Basic income as a concept is not yet politically viable and won’t be for a few years (as soon as unemployment numbers go beyond a certain point and an increasing range of producers will increasingly find they can’t sell any products). Once that moment arrives it may be too late and those with any money may have made sure their hold on global society is so tight, respectively their assets have moved beyond taxation.


Effectively I have provided ammunition to ‘demonize’ excessive affluence and disparity, as coupled with empowering technology. I might even have scorned many very affluent in this world. Let me emphasize I don’t intend to demonize or lambast wealth as such. Neither do I strictly advocate what some perceive as the logical opposite of wealth accumulation (capitalism?) and call it “socialism”. This is not the issue I speak out against, nor do I consider socialism the logical opposite of capitalism. Both socialism as well as capitalism allow the accumulation of excessive power in the hands of the few. It should be clear what I consider excessive – where the less fortunate suffer greatly as a result of the few becoming “excessively” rich. I’d argue the difference of use of power, wealth and (more recently) technology to increase power, wealth and technological industrial capability as distinctly undesirable. All humans arguably have instincts and urges that are predatorial towards other humans, especially genetically ‘somewhat’ different ones.

It is ironic that I as a human come up with the recursive value judgement stating “you can’t trust humans to judge other humans”, but that’s essentially what it I do say. As long as humans are likely to act instinctively predatorial we need some kind of functional protective mechanism in the hands of the electoral majority to make sure the naturally powerful do not proceed to push the vulnerable in to destitution, bondage, despair or outright extinction. Ideally I’d see the insurance mechanisms take the shape of well-formulated laws and democratic entitlements and human rights, but if these won’t suffice the next best alternative should be the ability to strike back at any potential tyrants with decisive force, and we should never let whatever system-du-jour rob us of either rights, or the power and freedom to retaliate decisively.

The rich should fear the majorities, as much as governments should fear their constituencies. In fact – all of power must be held in check by the less powerful and more numerous, for the consequences of disparity have been invariably lethal throughout history.

* Humanity 2.0
* Technoliberation

Jun 28 2011

The Interwingularity Is Here! Sex & Psychedelics & Interconnection


an Interview with Richard Doyle, author of Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants and the Evolution of the Noosphere


Books that offer novel perspectives on psychedelic drugs and evolution are a rarity; and those that enclose densely complicated, multiperspectival themes in language that virtually leaps about with acrobatic joy are rarer still.  And perhaps rarest of all is a book about psychedelics (or as the author likes to call them; “ecodelics”) that embraces the experiences and insights provided by LSD and ayahuasca, by Psilocybin and 2cb, by Ibogaine and Ecstasy; and that gives some respect to Dr. Leary and Dr. Shulgin, Aldous Huxley and Bill Burroughs, the counterculture and the rigorous scientists. Anyway, you get the picture.

I interviewed Richard Doyle about his books and about these mind altering substances and how they relate to sexual selection and Darwinian evolution via email

R.U. SIRIUS:  Let me start off by asking something simple: what you mean by your use of two different words.  The first word ― which is probably not familiar to my readers ― is ecodelic.

RICHARD DOYLE: Well, there is a good reason why your readers would not be familiar with the word “ecodelic” ― I made it up! I am a “neologista” ( I made that up too, at least in English), meaning that I practice the strategic invention of new words (neologisms) and the careful construction of their contexts in order to help map different aspects of our reality. Following Robert Anton Wilson (who methinks your readers will indeed know very well), I am trying to help readers break through their “reality tunnels”, the tiny sliver of reality we live within most of the time ( although less than readers of those Other Blogs). These reality tunnels are made up of our habitual modes of thought, and the language we use is one of the most powerful ways we construct our reality tunnels. The good news is that we can make different reality tunnels with different scripts.

So “ecodelic” is, to paraphrase Wilson, a word. But it is a word I offer to help alter our conception of these plants and compounds we usually call “psychedelics.” We are very much living in a reality tunnel when it comes to these plants and compounds, one forged by the drug war and a torrent of misinformation.

Now I like the word “psychedelic.” It was invented in a poem by scientist Humphrey Osmond in correspondence with the writer Aldous Huxley, and it means “manifesting mind” or, intriguingly, “manifesting life.” Huxley’s name for it was “phanerothyme,” and both of them were trying to come up with a word that was better than “psychotomimetic” (meaning “simulating psychosis”), which they found down right inaccurate. Earlier, the German Louis Lewin used the term “phantastica.” Later, Carl Ruck, Jonathan Ott, Gordan Wasson and others suggested “entheogen.”  All of these terms give us slightly different maps of the reality of these compounds and the experiences they can occasion, especially because the experiences themselves are so sensitive to “set and setting” ― the context and intention with which we use them. “Ecodelic” is a way of amplifying the way many people have found these plants and compounds to help them perceive their interconnection with the ecosystems of our planet. The book suggests that this may be part of the evolutionary legacy of our use of these plants. Our usual reality tunnel insists that we ‘really are” separate from each other and our environment, when in fact nothing could be further from truth – we are an aspect of ecosystems, not separate from them. “Ecodelic” is a way to remind us of this.

RU: The second word, then, is transhumanist, which you use differently than most of the denizens of the transhumanist movement use it, and yet I sense they ultimately intersect.

RD: “Transhumanist” comes from “transhuman,” a word that seems to have received its modern meaning in correspondence between Julian Huxley (Aldous’s brother!) and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit paleontologist and theologian. I found a letter in the Rice University Archives where this occurs. Teilhard distinguished the ‘transhuman” from the “ultrahuman,” with the latter meaning a kind of souped-up version of the human, and the former indicating an actual transformation ― evolution -― of who we are. For Teilhard, this transformation was evolutionary as well as spiritual. The challenge of the transhuman is to actualize our unique individuality within the much larger planetary collective he saw emerging. Teilhard was really one of the early theorists of globalization, among other things, but he insisted that planetary “communion” could only come about through the difficult work of individuation: In order to evolve, we each must become who we are, together. Let’s get on with that epic, shall we?

Now most recent usages of “transhuman”, it seems to me, have forgotten most of this, and mistaken the “transhuman” for the “ultrahuman” ― a kind of upgrade to the same basic model, still denying our connection to each other and the environment. We are trapped in a reality tunnel again, souping up and “enhancing” who we already are rather than really evolving. My usage of “transhuman” goes back to Julian Huxley’s 1957 “Transhumanism”, which had the rather pointed subtitle “New Bottles for New Wine.” Huxley, a biologist, very much intended “transhumanism” to indicate a change in who and how we are, and this change centered on a recognize of our radical interconnection with the cosmos, a perception of unity. His essay opens with “As a result of a thousand million years of evolution, the universe is becoming conscious of itself.” The astronomer Carl Sagan repeated this with his notion that “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”  Now “transhuman” etymologically suggests “beyond the human”, and in my view much of what we call “transhuman” these days ― the technological enhancement of our already existing nature to cling to life and deny the role of death, for example ― is, as Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “human, all too human.” It is an individual ego’s vision of evolution.

Now this does not mean I think we should just give up enhancement or that we ought not be grateful and amazed at the capacities of modern medicine and technology to extend and improve our lives, only that we need to rethink the maps we are using to plot our epic quest of evolution. Because like it or not, as Huxley points out in 1957, we are now steering the starship. “Whether he wants to or not, whether he is conscious of what he is doing or not, he is in point of fact determining the future direction of evolution on this earth. That is his inescapable destiny, and the sooner he realizes it and starts believing in it, the better for all concerned.”

What I call the “transhuman imperative” is this necessity for humans to take the next step in evolution, and that begins with experiencing and acting on our interconnection with the planet and each other. Ecodelics seem to help foster that recognition through what the psychological literature called “ego death” ― the recognition of structures much larger than our individual egos. Sometimes, as in the 2006 Johns Hopkins experiments with psilocybin or the Native American Church use of peyote, those structures feel divine. This links us to the much older tradition of “transhumanism” ― the yogic quest to become divine. Transhuman indeed!

RUS: There are layers upon layers of dense interconnecting scientific and philosophic and experiential tropes in the book.  It seems like, ultimately, all one can do is evoke ― rather than explain ― the ecological connections of everything with everything and what psychedelics (or ecodelics) have to do with it all.  And this seems to relate to your exploration of the claims made by many psychedelic commentators that what is learned can’t ultimately be languaged… and at the same time, that psychedelics can evoke a very affective sort of rhapsodic oratory.  I’m not sure there’s a question here, but would you untangle or further tangle these thoughts in terms of your book?

RD: Well, the book is participatory. You have to engage in an epic quest to understand its twists and tropes and turns, and it is hoped that by engaging these layers, readers will come to understand themselves and their active role in interpreting the world.  We have become accustomed to language and discourse that approaches pure information that requires nearly zero interpretation. To paraphrase Humpty Dumpty, it means what it says and says what it means. Now the problem with this is at least two fold: First, there is a relatively small subset of phenomena and processes that are so simple that that they can be taken out of their context and rendered in this fashion. It’s not just ecodelic experience that resists languaging in this way ― family life is practically built upon the unsaid, and highly intricate premises (unspoken maps) within which we live and work. How often does one hear “What’s that supposed to mean?” in such a context? Love and courtship call forth poetry and song because of the importance of ambiguity as well as communication in creating a relationship. The second problem with this use of language to approach pure reference (besides the tiny sliver of the universe for which it is appropriate, such as “stop!”) is that we become incredibly lazy and incapable of reworking the labels we use to organize the world, and we take them to be the world.  We accept the default language, such as “conservative” or “liberal” and squeeze an incredibly dynamic world into it. So I am offering my book as a kind of “pilates for your head” towards discovering the creative freedom we have in mapping our world. New maps for new realities! Reality is a verb!

Besides, it’s sublime fun to play in the interconnections of language. Wasn’t this Terence McKenna’s specialty? I doubt I ever recovered from reading James Joyce.

Now clearly there is something rather special about ecodelics, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have spent nine years writing a book about them. As you point out, many commentators on psychedelic experience have discussed the “ineffable” nature of their perceptions ― my favorite is 19th century psychologist and sexologist Havelock Ellis’s use of the term “indescribeableness” to describe his encounters with mescaline . Now, on one level that is certainly true. But, then again, who among us can truly describe the taste of  a piece of cheese? We can’t.  There are the words we use, and then there is the experience. Now, some can do a better job than others, and it is worth nothing that even our description of said cheese has recourse to non-referential language ― such as the synaesthetic trope of “sharp” cheese, where the modality of “taste” is mixed with the vocabulary of “touch.” What seems specific to ecodelics is that we persist in noticing the distinction between the language we use to describe an experience and the experience itself, what Korzybski called the “map and the territory.” This may be part of the key to their effects. Psychedelics can help remind us of the very existence of our reality tunnels by persistently refusing to conform to our maps of them. Language is such a powerful lens for shaping reality that we frequently forget that it is a tool at all, and take it for reality.

And it gets curiouser and curiouser. For as I mentioned above, it is also the case that the language we use to describe a psychedelic experience becomes part of the experience. So our description feeds back onto the experience itself. Hence “ecodelic” ― it is time to explore our interconnections with our ecosystems, and the book offers readers intensive experience in interconnection through the rhetorical entanglements of the book. Most everybody has had the experience of looking at a mandala, where layers hold our attention and somehow connect us to a visual whole. I seek to do the same thing with argumentative prose. Some people report that they practically “trip” while reading it.

RU: So I feel like we’re dancing or skating around the core of your books theme… your essential thesis, if you will.  Can you give us the short version?

RD: The book puts the human use of ecodelics into an evolutionary context. The human use of ecodelics is very old. Many researchers have wondered how psychedelics could be such a persistent part of human culture given the evolutionary pressures of natural selection. The idea is that it might be difficult to deal with the tiger at the edge of the village if it seems to have six heads or a thousand pairs of eyes. My argument is that we need to take a broader view of evolution to include the crucial and now recognized role of symbiosis and what Charles Darwin called “sexual selection” ― the competition for mates. The book argues that ecodelics likely played an integral role in the development of human consciousness through these two vectors of evolution.

Why “Darwin’s Pharmacy?” In The Descent of Man, Darwin describes watching birds engage in competitive singing, and determined that the best singers usually left more progeny as a result of success in these singing “duels.” In the next chapter he discusses the evolution of the human voice in oratory ― he was arguing by implication that our capacity for speech and reason evolved through courtship. A more recent book by Geoffrey Miller argues that our oversized brains are essentially courtship devices. I argue that ecodelics likely functioned as “eloquence adjuncts,” aids to our capacity to generate discourse that capture human attention, creating the capacity for seduction and the generation of group bonds. A bow greatly increases our capacity to launch projectiles; Ayahuasca induced researcher Benny Shannon to sing. Mushrooms make many people perceive an inner voice or “the logos,” which seems to speak through them in what researcher Henry Munn called “ecstatic signification.” Peacocks display their fan of feathers to capture the attention of peahens, and mandrills eat Iboga roots (which are psychedelic) before engaging in highly ritualized combat that determines mate pairing. I just drank a double espresso to write this up. Are we still dancing?

RU: The book quotes intellectuals and discusses people who use psychedelics (or ecodelics) for serious purposes and at the same time it’s an expansive look at the effects of these plants and chemicals on human kind.  How would you weave the mass use of psychedelics by people at, say, heavy metal concerts or the sort of terroristic uses by people like the Manson family or Aum Shinriko into your vision?

RD: Well, it’s true that I look closely at the work of  people like Aldous Huxley, Henri Michaux, William Burroughs, Dennis McKenna, Kary Mullis, Alexander and Ann Shulgin, Francis Crick, Lynn Sagan, Albert Hofmann, Arnae Naess and other great minds that have commented on psychedelics. I think it’s crucial to balance the drug war distortion that suggests that the careful and intentional exploration of our minds is somehow inherently idiotic or self destructive. The near total prohibition on psychedelic research means we know much less about our minds than we should. We have become a culture that is downright afraid of inquiry, let alone inquiry into our own minds. But I also write about plenty of less famous and often equally impressive psychonauts who post on places like ― archives of open source cognitive science of self exploration. And the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s were very much a mass affair, arguably akin to other Great Awakenings ― religious revivals ― that have occurred throughout US history. It is often forgotten ― though I doubt by you ― that when Timothy Leary urged people to “drop out,” he was following the same advice as contemplative mystics throughout the ages: “Complete dedication to the life of worship is our aim, exemplified in the motto “Turn on, Tune In, Drop Out.” (as he wrote in “Legal Papers,” League of Spiritual Discovery, in 1966)

Now, as for the Manson Family and Aum Shinriko, let me just say first that as you know millions of people who never had anything to do with anything like the Manson family took LSD or ate psilocybin mushrooms and smoked plenty of ecodelic ganja, so the continual invocation of Manson when the topic of LSD comes up is rather propagandistic.  I know you have to bring it up because others will. So here is my answer: Yes, these are tools, and human beings have the creative freedom to misuse tools. Somebody just sent me spam ― Damn computers?! ― and I just drank another espresso, though I probably shouldn’t have. But hopefully when we bring up the space program ― something I think this country should be immensely proud of ― we don’t just show the Challenger blowing up over and over again. Almost by definition these kinds of tragedies are just that ― tragic ― and they resist easy explanation even if they have some contributing causes ― such as criminal individuals or a flawed O-ring. (BTW, you probably know that it was that dope smoking and LSD using physicist Richard Feynmann who figured out the cause of the Challenger explosion. He also invented nanotechnology in 1959, well before he received his Nobel Prize in 1965. According to the NSF, nanotechnology will be a one trillion dollar industry by 2012. Do we need more stoners to help the economy?)

That said, at first glance the Manson “family” would seem to fit the hypothesis of psychedelics and sexual selection very well indeed. A group bond was formed with a very high ratio of women to men: How? I don’t recall the specifics of their use of psychedelics, though, except that they dosed somebody to keep them from becoming a witness. I have a feeling good old-fashioned violence and intimidation played a more important role than psychedelics, and I believe one of their victims ― a Folger heiress ― was on a psychedelic when she was attacked. So not the attacker, but the victim, was using a psychedelic.

I don’t know enough about Aum Shrinko to really comment except to say that sadly the terroristic uses of all manner of compounds ― I believe alcohol is the number one date rape drug ― is likely as old as most of the compounds themselves. Mescaline was used at Dachau as an interrogation tool, and of course, we know about the CIA’s use of LSD in MKULTRA. I am proud to say that it was here at Penn State that psilocybin mushrooms were first mass cultivated by Ralph Kneebone in 1959, but sadly the security state seems to have later wanted metric tonnage amounts for chemical weapons purposes. Don’t blame the medicine, blame the irresponsible user.

And as for using psychedelics at a heavy metal show, I guess there is no accounting for taste, but the effect of set and setting would probably cause a good deal of negative reactions. I guess more research is needed. Most shamanic traditions that are experienced with these plants include strictures on their proper use.

There is something dirge like and darkly religious about some heavy metal, and I think that a good social contract for the decriminalization of these plants and compounds would be to agree to collectively treat them as sacraments ―  as many of us already do. This would probably mean treating them with respect and with clear intention, and with respect for those around us. We don’t seem to really have a problem agreeing as a society that unless you are in the desert or on a closed track, you probably shouldn’t go much over 80 miles per hour in a car or on a motorcycle, so probably we could come up with some agreeable common sense guidelines for the legal use of ecodelics. After all, cars kill over 40,000 people per year in the US and are involved in around ten million accidents, and I know of no one suggesting that we prohibit them. We do require training to drive that (at least implicitly) includes informing drivers that they should not  drive around at heavy metal concerts 🙂 We could, and should, offer similar guidance in the use of ecodelics, but please don’t let the DMV handle it.

RU: Sex and drugs and evolutionary competitive advantage? A new motto for the 21st Century?

RD: Well, I love mottos, but I don’t really like this word “drug” ― it seems to be word that is used to describe things that other, usually very bad, people use. It reminds me of the “freedom fighter” versus “terrorist” debates around Nicaragua in the 1980s. Everybody “knows” that alcohol is a drug by any sense of the term, but still the term is reserved for other inebriants, some of which are obviously less toxic and more interesting (to many of us) than the default intoxicants of alcohol, tobacco and coffee (though I love coffee).

In the very early stages of this project, I got the opportunity to travel down to Peru as part of an audio documentary about ayahuasca tourism. The contract actually read that I was to travel down and “trip balls.” I had honestly never heard the phrase before, but I had a good sense of what it meant. I went down expecting to experience a drug, and this no doubt shaped my initial experience, but what happened instead was that I was healed. I remember speaking out during an ayahuasca ceremony and saying, in my broken Spanish, that ayahuasca was not drug, “it is medicine.” It might seem like a minor distinction, but as a result of these ceremonies and a good deal of introspection and practice, I was healed of life long, severe asthma and whole body eczema. You can see why I had to write the book and try and share and understand what I perceived to be a healing through plant intelligence.

And healing (if you will forgive an English professor) comes etymologically from “to be made whole.” Perhaps I got just a glimpse of reality undivided by our mental labels. It definitely feels infinitely better.

As for “evolutionary advantage”, the book is suggesting that we recall the evolutionary advantage found through interconnection. Our cells have a nucleus as a result of what biologist Lynn Margulis called the “long bacterial embrace”, the endosymbiotic evolution of eukaroytic cells.

RU: It seems that Ayahuasca has become the sort of signifier ― and the source ― for serious psychedelic exploration in recent years.  Is there
an evolutionary and/or cultural difference between an Ayahuasca oriented culture and an LSD oriented culture?

RD: For me at least, Ayahuasca culture is quite distinctive. There is a palpable and unmistakable sense of being taught by the plant. I had formerly considered the notion of a “teacher plant” to be “just” a metaphor, and nothing but. But to my utter astonishment I learned otherwise. This also se ems to be true of cannabis, but it is subtler and most people do not seem to potentiate this “teacher plant” aspect of the plant… more reality tunnels. Because of this feeling of being “schooled,” my experience has been that the cultural contexts of ayahuasca are perhaps slightly more intentional; the very difficulty of taking part in an ayahuasca ceremony, either in the US or elsewhere, seems to alter the interface with the plant. One is doing something very specific in seeking out this plant brew, and that specificity may sometimes sharpen the intention. One of the things I learned in my first experience was that I was totally free to explore the experience in any way I wished. How did I want it to go? I had never felt so totally free in my entire life even as it was clear that I was not completely in “control” of the situation. I was free by necessity. Subsequent experiences continued the teacherly and healing theme, though I knew nothing about the healing aspects of ayahausca before I journeyed, and was seeking it out because I was following up on some research on the writings of William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg in The Yage Letters.

Now the very characteristics that helped LSD become such a revolutionary force in the 1960s ― the ease of transporting it, even, the ease of its ingestion ― lends it a wonderfully technological feel. It approaches Arthur C. Clarke’s notion that “every sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” We can see why Leary, through McCluhan, saw it in cybernetic terms; it  is as “easy” as flipping a switch, dropping a tab. “Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out”: The triplet code of the psychedelic revolution.

Make no mistake ― Albert Hoffman’s discovery was a phenomenal one. It was also timely. An increasingly technological culture found “better living through chemistry,” and the fact that you could carry an enormous number of doses in a mayonnaise jar made it difficult to interdict even after it was prohibited. Ayahuasca’s magic feels, and is, much older. It roots us in the ancient shamanic practices that we in some ways participate in through re-enactment. We connect across space and time with the practices as well as the experiences of ayahuasca. Of course, with Hofmann, we connect with the ancient alchemical traditions, and he spoke of LSD, too, as if it were an organism. He thanked LSD itself on his 100th birthday. It too can seem to have a teacherly agency. So I would say that these subtle differences translate into a different “vibe” in cultures of the vine and “dose nation” ― the plant and compound are respectively part of the set and setting for ecodelic experiences. The medium is part of the message. But, of course, there is plenty of overlap, both demographically and experientially.

When I started this project, I was struck with a kind of sci fi hypothesis that “Psychedelics are chemical messengers from Gaia to remind us that she is here.” Now this is just a map, a tool for exploring ideas. It came in an early morning instant at Harvard Square ― I couldn’t sleep and went out for a walk, and I had this idea out of the blue in totally “ordinary” consciousness. I think for me, ayahuasca was more in tune with this “Gaian messenger” theme, but that could very well be an attribute of my experience rather than something essentially different about the two ecodelics. It is interesting to recall that in fact “LSD culture” as it emerged at Harvard was deeply informed by ayahuasca ― Ginsberg brought his experiences in Peru into play as he was helping Leary figure out how to manage and “program” psychedelic experience.

RU:  So is anything unusual going to happen on December 21, 2012?

RD: Yes! If we learn to focus our attention on any particular moment, we can experience its utter “fullness.” That will be unusual indeed. I think the discourses about 2012 are fundamentally about the need for a qualitative theory of time. Both the calendar and the clock divide time into discrete units, all allegedly equivalent to each other. This is both an incredible triumph of technology and, from the point of view of living experience, a bizarre fiction. As finite beings, time has, for us, qualitative attributes as well as quantitative ones. When I read the late José Argülles many years ago, and again more recently, this is what struck me: we seek an account of time that does justice both to the blind ticking off of moments and to the specificity of this moment and that one.  Sometimes, this perception is unavoidable: The moment my son was born was not just any moment ― a new world emerged, for my family, with him. When my daughter was born ― yet another singular moment. The Greeks had words for these two aspects of time ―chronos, or quantitative time, and kairos, or qualitative time. Having a sense of timing means knowing that all moments are not, despite the calendar and the clock, equal, and 2012 feels to me like a more or less unconscious realization that both of these aspects of time are equally actual. The possible limitation of even the Mayan’s precise map of time is a veritable announcement that “the map is not the territory.”

Now the qualitative difference between one moment of time and another can’t be measured by the atomic clock in Colorado, but it can be perceived by consciousness if we will focus our attention on the “thisness” of any particular moment. Think Ram Dass, Leary’s colleague: Be Here Now. If we will focus our attention on any particular moment, we notice that of course it is always Now, and that “always Now” characteristic feels like a connection to eternity ― it is now, Now, just as it was for the ancient Mayans or our contemporaries, Jesus, or George freaking Washington. Maybe that is what will happen in 2012. We’ll notice that it is still Now, and that all the maps and calendars are just extremely useful reality tunnels that we ought not be stuck within, except by collective choice. I think it was Buckaroo Banzai that said ‘Wherever you go, there you are.” A temporal corollary might be: “Whatever time it is, it is always Now.”

In other words, something unusual is always happening, and this “always” is Now. When Camper recently predicted the end of the world, again, I told my friends that he had it only half right. Yes, the world was going to end, as it does each instant, but so too was it going to begin again. Each moment, a version of the world passes and a new one comes into being. Change, samsara, never ceases. This too shall pass! When we focus our attention on the qualitative as well as the quantitative aspect of time, we attend to both the unique creation and destruction that inheres in each moment. As George Clinton might put it: Once Upon a Time Called Right Now! Our culture, in love with apocalypse and narrative closure, forgets creation. My understanding is that the Mayan elders describe December 21, 2012 as a time of transformation. To a culture such as ours, with no sense of qualitative time, it is understood as apocalypse.

Two more things that may be of interest to your readers regarding 2012: The National Science Foundation and Reuters both estimate that nanotechnology will be a one trillion dollar industry by 2012. Is this the flash of the transcendental, utopian other at the end of time Terence McKenna seems to have glimpsed? And when I asked ayahuasca about 2012 way back in 2003, I was “told” that it was merely storms, “just some storms.”

RU:  In Leary’s future history series, he tried to puzzle out the evolutionary purpose of psychedelics in the future.   One thing he indicated was that psychedelic experience was rather in conflict with an industrial culture but provides evolutionary openings to future cultures that would be very different. Have you explored those metaphors?

Let me add that one thing I’ve been thinking about is this idea that he used in his book, What Does WoMan Want? He kept on talking about “Brain Reward Drugs” ― which sounded Orwellian to me and seemed to conflict with the subversive tone of the rest of the book.  But now I think I understand that we have neurochemical patterns and releases that make us feel rewarded when we win. And these patterns are associated with ambition and success and accomplishment.  But there seems to be this other rewarding psychedelic possibility built into our neurology that offers other ways to feel and experience something marvelous. Any thoughts on that?

RD: Well, in the book I argue that ecodelics are transhuman in yet another sense: they put our sense of “human” ontology into disarray. When the maps are found wanting, ecodelics put the ontological question of what we are to us. This is a utopian question, because even asking the question illuminates the degrees of freedom we have as well as our creative responsibilities for the planet and ourselves. What shall we become? For Leary, a good deal of the utopian vision for psychedelic – mind manifesting – evolution involved a journey to the stars. Starseed: “Evolution is concerned with nervous systems and the sexual attractive efficiency of bodies, the expansion of consciousness.” This is a sexual selective theory of consciousness all right: Not only the Psy Fi vision of  “What does Woman want?” (the question to which life is the answer), but the scaled up “What does Gaia Want?”: the question to which evolution is the answer. Let us speculate just a bit for the sake of our imaginations and our possible futures: Gaia wants to get galactic in scale. It seems like we have turned our back on space. But another thinker from the Fourth Great Awakening, Bucky Fuller, reminds us that we’re already on the journey.

Now Spaceship Earth has not achieved escape velocity and is now finishing up a stint as Prison Planet coincident with the Great Prohibition of Psychedelic States. Epic plot twist: It’s time to free the inmates! Wikileaks Sez: Information wants to be free, and people – over a billion of them – need clean water, electricity, and the education to achieve our birthright: the collective evolution of the noosphere, the rather obvious transformation that is taking place as we live and breathe. Tweet this: Nanotechnology is yielding new technologies of water filtration and solar cells that can deliver on Fuller’s vision for Spaceship Earth. Will we “make it so”?

Whether or not we achieve our evolutionary epic quest depends upon our experience of each other and our ecosystems in, yes, marvelous interconnection. We are wired for ecodelia. It’s hard to avoid the tug of the stars, if we’ll gaze upon them with awe. We are indeed stardust. Tat Tvam Asi. And if we’ll look with marvelous ecodelic adoration at each other, all of us, and perceive what Ted Nelson called our “intertwingularity”, we’ll behold One planetary life form on the brink that thrives on, needs our conscious individuality Now in loving, collective action. How then will we resist the tug of nanotopia and beyond? Singularity? Get a late Pass ―the Intertwingularity is Near!