Isolated and adrift in pre-millennial New York, faced with the onset of a spiritual crisis reflecting all the droll hipster ennui of impoverished creative urban living, journalist and author Daniel Pinchbeck turned to psychedelics as a surefire shortcut to finding meaning in his life. In his first book Breaking Open The Head Pinchbeck narrated an odyssey of shamanic initiation through experiences with ayahuasca, DMT, Iboga, mushrooms and LSD, becoming a psychonautical hero and inspiring a new generation to spiritual reckonings through entheological and pharmaceutical experimentation. In his recent film 2012: Time For Change, Pinchbeck combines Mayan prophesies of the impending end days with Buckminster Fuller's design science revolution and shamanic techniques of consciousness expansion into a vision of positive transformation and hope.
Arguably, Pinchbeck's pronouncements can sometimes stretch credulity – cue esoteric taxonomies of spirits, alien abductions, alternative realities or crop circles heralding contact with intergalactic federation (to the uninitiated they can rival the crack-withdrawn lucid ravings of the west coast's resident Vatican ninja assassin, Charlie Sheen). but Pinchbeck's is simply a decompressed reality where the limitations to our world are exposed as being the limits of our imagination. Central to 2012: Time for Change is the idea that change is possible if you get up and actually start doing something about it. Ahead of his talk at next month's Dazed Live event, we spoke to Pinchbeck about his film and seeing the universe as one cosmic art project.
Dazed Digital: In relation to the film and the title, 2012: Time for Change, why do we need change? What is wrong?
Daniel Pinchbeck: Unfortunately, our current society seems to be on a path of self-destruction, involving extinction of ourselves and the biosphere. It’s an unfortunate situation – either we’re gonna significantly transform how we’re using the resources of the planet and sharing those resources across the earth or we’re probably not going to survive very long as a species.
DD: In a sense isn’t change a constant process, change is always going on. What makes 2012 in particular special?
Daniel Pinchbeck: On one level, I think quite simply we know as journalists that it’s awesome to have a deadline, if you’re trying to get something done you wanna have a deadline. I think it’s useful in that respect to be like, ‘Oh, we gotta get things going’. We’re in a decision window. Now is a point where a small amount of influence can exert a disproportionate force on the whole situation. The other aspect obviously is that in my book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl I looked at indigenous prophecies around this time, including tribes like the Hopi but then also the civilisation of the classical Maya.
That was the end product of a whole investigation into shamanism, beginning with psychedelic substances and the types of transformative experiences one has on a psychic level through shamanism. I went to West Africa, down to the Amazon, to Mexico and so on. With my first book, Breaking Open the Head, I went through a process where I recognised that there were these psychic, occult and shamanic aspects of reality; that in societies which have an ideology of scientific materialism are systematically denied and suppressed to create a particular belief structure and container around the world.
That led me to take more seriously what these other cultures say about the world that we’re in. The most sophisticated development of a shamanic culture was the classical Mayan civilisation. Part of their work was spending a very long amount of time, hundreds of years even, combining astronomical study with non-ordinary states of consciousness to arrive at an understanding that this time we’re in now would be the culmination of a great cycle of time, history and a period of regeneration and destruction.
DD: What do psychedelics offer you in terms of this opposition of world views?
Daniel Pinchbeck: Psychedelics give you, if you take the experience seriously – which most people don’t, they see it as another amusement park ride or something – a tremendous amount of insight into how different reality could be. What we take as permanent structures like money, government, corporations and so on, we almost thing about them like natural products, that are irreversible. Actually psychedelics have this effect of de-conditioning you from your normal ego state, revealing that it’s all very transitory and we actually have the potential to re-imagine and reinvent our society in the way that people like Joseph Beuys talked about.
DD: Buckminster Fuller’s ideas of a design revolution are central to the program put forward by the film, could you elucidate the central principles?
Daniel Pinchbeck: He was definitely a core figure for our vision in the film and he had a number of breakthrough concepts. One was that the way we were designing our world was incredibly stupid because it violated all of nature’s principles. We should re-conceive a design science where we you looked at how nature did things and start from there. He saw in the 60s that we actually had reached a level of technical capacity where we could elevate all of humanity to a level of sustainable existence but we could only do that if we maximised the efficient use of resources and energy.
DD: Could you explain what conscious evolution is?
Daniel Pinchbeck: Barbara Marx Hubbard talks about it as an evolution from unconscious to conscious choice – that we’re still trapped in a lot of beliefs and social games that are the inertia of our past inheritance, so we’re not dealing with the real possibilities that are inherent in our present situation which could lead to an aware and co-creative relationship with the evolutionary process. Everything I’ve been discussing kinda falls into that. We can see what money is now and the type of world it creates, but then we can step back and say, ‘Okay that’s what money does if it’s constructed like this, now let’s experiment, let’s reconstruct what money is, so that it serves a different function and creates a different set of relations that are more regenerative’.
We can do the same thing with time, the clock and the calendar we have now is totally desynchronised from anything happening in the universe, our months are not linked to moon cycles, our years could be recalibrated. Actually the Mayan calendar in some ways is a more sophisticated tool for understanding the nature of time than the Gregorian calendar, not that we would necessarily go back to there, but we could take on time as another art project. We could be figuring out how we consciously co-create with the evolutionary process.
Daniel Pinchbeck appears at Dazed Live on Saturday April 9, 2011. The festival takes place at several occasions in and around Shoreditch and is presented in parthership with Levi's and Absolut Vodka. Find out more about the Dazed Live HERE and buy your tickets HERE