Friday, October 19, 2007

2012: Just Another Year, Or The Year Some As-Yet Undetermined Thing That Has To Do With Consciousness Happens?!

The first half of this post is a little bit rantish. Sorry about that--I try to keep this blog as academic as possible, but sometimes something bothers me to the point that I just have to vent about it on the Internet. Just skip to the [/rant] tag if you don't want to read the rant.


One of the things that really irritates me to no end is the popular confusion of actual philosophy and New Age garbage. This confusion is fairly evident anywhere either of these two are mentioned--you'll hear New Age "teachers" with credentials like:

[name removed] has studied with Alberto Villoldo and The Four Winds Society and is a graduate of the Healing the Light Body School. Ross is a mesa carrier in the lineage of the Andean Shamans and practices Energy Medicine through Soulpaths, LC, in Kansas City, Missouri.

being billed as "philosophers." Go into virtually any bookstore and you'll likely find the philosophy section (complete with Plato, Descartes, Bertrand Russell, and John Searle) right next to the "metaphysical" or "new age" section (complete with crystal healing, transcendental meditation, and volumes upon volumes on "the power of pyramids"). Whom that description above refers to doesn't really matter (it's the author of an article I read on today's topic): it's supposed to stand for a general trend.

I'm not saying that things like "crystal healing" or "energy medicine" don't work. Wait, yes, I am saying that, but that's not my point. Whether or not getting in touch with your power animal and putting a chunk of silicon dioxide molecules arranged into a tetrahedra lattice structure on your face will cure your brain tumor more reliably than, you know, surgery and science, people who push these kinds of ideas (and I use the term very loosely) are most emphatically not philosophers, and the fact that they bill themselves as such gives those of us actually doing serious philosophical work a bad name.

Philosophy, perhaps more than any other non-scientific discipline, values clarity of thought, precision of expression, and rationality of ideas--these are the cornerstones of philosophy. Philosophers strive to eliminate confusion and reduce mental clutter--we do with concepts and ideas what physicists do with hard data experiments. Practically, this means that a good work of philosophy is clear, easily understandable by those with the right background (the less background necessary to understand it the better), and follows a coherent and logical train of thought. Most New Agers, in my experience, have few of these qualities. Case and point with tonight's discussion.


BoingBoing ran a short piece today on Daniel Pinchbeck, the "psychedelic author" behind the recent book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. If you've missed this little bit of cultural wisdom, the world is apparently going to end in 2012--December 21st, 2012, to be precise. Why, you ask? Well, because that's the day that the Mayan Calendar ends its current cycle, of course, you silly rationalist! As insane as this sounds/is, this theory (a species of Terrance McKenna's Novelty Theory) has gained quite a large following among New Agers, spawning a host of websites devoted to the event that's going to happen in 2012. What exactly is this event? I'm so glad you asked. Here's Mr. Pinchbeck's response, as related to a Rolling Stone correspondent, and published here

Whether there will be a complete collapse of the world before 2012 is not for him to say, he says. All he knows is that the upsurge of militarism and terrorism -- as well as an increase in coincidences in his own life -- presage a time when spirit and matter will converge into one. We will then be released from the occult power of the Gregorian calendar, which is keeping us out of synchronicity with our psychic powers. We will receive the powers of telepathy and get to speak to our alien neighbors, not necessarily by mounting spaceships but through psychic evolution.

Is that clear enough for you? Spirit and matter will converge into one, and we'll be released from the occult power of the Gregorian calendar, of course! This is really helpful, because there's nothing more oppressive in the modern world than those damn Gregorians and their arbitrary way of marking time. Good thing the Mayans were on top of the whole thing.

The blurb on BoingBoing caught my eye because it included the word "consciousness." Come to find out, it links to a short video interview with Mr. Pinchbeck, in which he, er, explains (?) his beliefs, saying:

The modern way of thinking about indigenous and tribal cultures is that they were myth-based and superstitious. But it may be that indigenous cultures like the Mayans did have their own knowledge system that was as meaningful as ours, but they were interested in very different aspects of reality, being, and experience [...] Someone who just has a rational scientific mind is going to find all this very hard to accept, but there is a change happening in the Psyche. In my own life and in the lives of people I'm connected to, there seems to be an increasing level of synchronicity, so that if you have an intention about something, you get a quicker level of manifestation.
Excuse me, Mr. Pinchbeck, this might just be because I'm limited by my "rational and scientific mind," but just what the hell do you mean by that? For instance, just what is a "level of manifestation," and how can it be quicker? This writing, speech, and thought is so confused and murky that I can barely understand your point, let alone argue against it; I suppose I should have known what I was in for when the website I was directed to in order to watch the video was titled "Post Modern Times."

Allow me to make a prediction of my own: 12/21/2012 (oooo, numbers!) will come and go. The world will stay fucked up in places, and magnificent in places. People will keep scraping by to survive, and keep trying to make the world a better (or worse) place. Pinchbeck and those who follow him will come up with some lame excuse for why nothing of import happened, and will start looking for the next new, confusing, and vaguely mystical idea to latch onto. Life goes on.

The point I'd like to make with this post is that people like Daniel Pinchbeck are NOT philosophers, and it does a great disservice to those who have spent their lives in pursuit of clarity, wisdom, and truth to call people who trumpet this tripe by that title. Writing about ideas, using big words, and saying things like "increasing level of synchronicity" does not make you a philosopher. Well, maybe it does, but it makes you an extraordinarily bad one. Or a post modernist...but I repeat myself.


Anonymous said...

Damn I was going to buy a new Hummer in late 2012 and drive around the country for a vacation, Now I am going to have to shave my head and join the Hari.s, Muslims, Jews, Jehovah s, Mormons, Christians, and a few other wing nut groups just to cover all my bases.
]Astronomical picture
[/url] - some truth about 2012

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine mentioned 2012 last night to me and it's the first I heard about it so I jumped on here out of curiosity. I think it's kind of sick and sounds like a bunch of skeptical jargon.
I choose to live every day like it is the last because let's be real, WHO THE HELL KNOWS what is going to happen or when it's your time to go on. The past is history, the future is a mystery and now is a gift, thats why it's called the present. It's not healthy to sit around and trip out about when you will die. Stop wasting your time you have now.
]Apocalypse 2012
[/url] - some truth about 2012

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