I’ll take my pseudoscience with drugs, please

May 28, 2009

I’ve been looking for an excuse to trash 2012, the New Age Y2K. Now that journalist Ron Rosenbaum has done my work for me in Slate, I am free to take the broader view.

On Dec. 21, 2012, the Mayan “Long Count” calendar is supposed to turn over after a 5,139-year “Grand Cycle,” and the 2012 meme holds that the date will mark a passage to a new, more globally spiritual era. Drug culture superstar Daniel Pinchbeck has helped fuel the whole thing with his book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. (I’m waiting on my copy from the library.)

Rosenbaum links to a nice debunking of the astrological significance of Dec. 21, 2012. Of course, to anyone who believes in 2012 astrology, “debunking” is jerk-speak for “proof.” Which is why Rosenbaum’s trashing is so much preaching to the choir:

The best cultural explanation I found for this flowering of idiocy said that New Age fads like the Hopi prophecy and 2012 are a kind of cultural colonialism in which white people endow the minorities they have wiped out or repressed with mystical powers made more mysterious by their virtual vanishing.

and

Maybe those obsessed with making the world conform to rigid rationalities are the most vulnerable to the shambolic visions of mystics who can “explain” the anomalies and mysteries that elude their “Science of Detection.”

I agree whole-heartedly with the second statement. But if Rosenbaum thinks colonialism is a bad thing, why isn’t he sensitive enough to realize that an impulse toward spirituality, self-integration, connectedness — whatever you want to call it — is a very human thing, and that even if 2012 is a “silly scam,” maybe it’s being abetted by a dominant culture that doesn’t accept spirituality in nonsecular secular [oops] forms? Our culture does seem to have a hard time publicly affirming the value of subjective experience, hence Marianne Williamson’s goofy quantum advice and George Bush’s unwavering convictions. I mean, as much as I disagree with Jenny McCarthy, all she wants is validation of her feelings.

The tension, as always, is between subjectivity and objectivity. First, 2012ers need to accept that modernism isn’t going anywhere. And second, the Rosenbaums of the world should get on board with the judicious, therapeutic use of illicit psychoactive drugs. And then let’s everybody hold hands and be all Kumbaya and shit, ok?

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2 Responses to “I’ll take my pseudoscience with drugs, please”

  1. Grant Maxwell Says:

    Hey JR, thanks for the invite. Nice place you’ve got here.

    First, a word about debunkers and professional skeptics a la Rosenbaum: It is the easiest kind of intellectual activity to disprove or negate an idea–it is exponentially more difficult to produce a novel theory or hypothesis. However, I do believe that skeptics play an important role in intellectual discourse in that they weed out the obvious cranks and fuzzy-minded New Age types. However, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater since all genuinely new ideas (the Copernican hypothesis, Darwinian Evolution, the Freudian Unconscious, etc.) start out as the vaguely expressed intuition of a few and it can take years and decades and centuries to create a vocabulary and a set of conceptual tools to make a primal intuition viable in a certain cultural context. Thus, skeptics and debunkers, acting as the negative pole in an Hegelian dialectical process, impel discoverers and visionaries to sharpen their rhetorical and political skills to both refine their ideas and express those ideas in a way that does not sacrifice complexity, but is situated in such a way that it can fit into the existing cultural context while perhaps pushing the boundaries of that context to some extent.

    Having said all that, I think that 2012 is a complex phenomenon that is large enough to contain both genuine brilliance (see McKenna and Pinchbeck) and not-so-brilliance (see most of the popular accounts). Personally, I think it’s unlikely that there will be either a catclysmic, apocalyptic disaster or a permanent spiritual transcendence of the material plane via technology on December 21, 2012, though I remain open to both of these possibilities since no one can know what the future holds. However, I think it’s far more likely that 2012 is acting as a focus of cultural, intellectual, and spiritual interest and intention through which we might cocreatively produce a qualitatively new epoch (in Whitehead’s sense) with that date as a kind of transduction point. Anyone who thinks that we aren’t currently in a period of dramatic and accelerating change and novelty isn’t paying attention, though it’s often forgotten that we are the primary actors or participants in this exponential ingression of novelty into reality. At it’s highest level of meaning, 2012 seems to be about making conscious that which is unconscious in our collective psyche, which seems to be the complementary and countervalent impulse to entropic materiality as described by Henri Bergson.

    Astrologically speaking, we are currently in the middle of an approximately 36-year period when the precession of the equinoxes brings the ecliptic into conjunction with the galactic center. This happens every 26,000 years or so. This may or may not have something to do with the Mayan calendar. I’m not really an expert on this so you might want to look at somebody like John Major Jenkins who is. On a somewhat more local scale, 2012 is at the middle of a period from about 2008 until about 2020 when Uranus and Pluto form an approximately 90 degree angle to one another (or what is called a “squre”). According to Richard Tarnas in Cosmos and Psyche, and based on a massive amount of research and evidence, the most significant planetary alignments are the axial alignments, that is, the conjunction (0 degrees), the opposition (180 degrees), and the square (90 degrees). Just to give one example of many, the last time Uranus and Pluto were in conjunction prior to the current square was from 1960-1972, the exact period of what we think of as “the Sixties.” The immediatley preceding square was in the Thirties, and the immediately preceding opposition was at the turn of the 20th century. These two planets were also in axial alignment during the period of the French Revolution and the wave of revolutions across Europe in the mid 19th century. Tarnas goes into great detail showing the correlations of these alignments with appropriate moments in history, but let me just say that periods when these two planets are in axial alignment tend to exhibit a dramatically heightened impulse towards change, transformation, revolution, and disruption since Pluto is correlated with the Dionysian archetype of sex, death, nature, evolution, and the titanic while Uranus is associated with the Promethean archetype of sudden, unexpected insight, creativity, transformation, and revolution. Thus, it would seem reasonable to expect a similar period of titanic transformation during the current alignment, some of which we’ve already seen, for just one instance, in the election of President Obama (which is a diachronic development of the civil rights movement of the Sixties), as well as in many other areas of human endeavor.

    I could go on about this at length, but let me just say that I’m looking forward to seeing what happens on December 21, 2012. I plan to attend a really great party. Maybe you should invite Rosenblatz. He might meet some cool people.

  2. JR Minkel Says:

    I support 2012ers in their desires to lead more spiritually free lives. I just wish they would frame it this way: “Hey everybody, party in 2012!” Their colonialist over-interpretation of an ancient calendrical system may be a nice symbol, but that’s all it is: a symbol. Arguing for some vague transformation dictated by cosmic patterns (as opposed to earthly, sociological patterns) diminishes the value they can expect to derive from the exercise.


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