Here we are, racing through the first quarter of 2012, a year heaving with portents, some good, some bad, some questionable and crazed. We’re seeing alignments of heavenly bodies which haven’t occurred in donkeys’ years and the crumbly end of the Mayan calendar is manifestly upon us.
Apocalyptic and millenarian cults have been all the rage with humans since before we figured we couldn’t fall off the edge of the world. We invariably find plenty of doom in our apprehension of life on earth, characterized in our forlorn cataloging of our predecessors on the spaceship: sad tales of how the dinosaurs had to die out and all those other squiggly beasties which the climate could no longer sustain.
Personally I’m not preparing an emergency kit for the end of the Mayan cycle, that would be hypocritical to say the least, seeing I couldn’t ever fathom the complicated ancient Mayan system of catuns and tuns and have to use an ‘I Spy The Stars’ book for elementary school kids to figure out what I’m looking at in the night sky. I do just about understand the theory of the thirteen underworlds and the Mayan schema of accelerating time through the ages: suffice it to say that we are in the last tippy top segment of that theoretic pyramid and this can be used to explain why events and developments in our little human paradigm are whizzing by so fast. On every level we apprehend things are changing rapidly: the climate’s vagaries continue to surprise us, our brutal exploitation of resources is causing trouble daily, our rampant interference with natural structures is killing us, the bee populations and all the creatures in between. I imagine extraterrestrial beings like Doris Lessing’s space fiction Canopians are wetting their knickers with laughter over our callow political sensibilities.
If anything keeps me feeling buoyant, if not ultimately hopeful, are the thoughts Terence McKenna shared on the purported end of the world: his idea was that the apocalypse would take the form of a consciousness shift whereby humans would pull back the veil on mainstream thinking and enter a new paradigm of existence. There is a popular apprehension that McKenna, who spoke of “leaving our monkey bodies,” was predicting a moment, right around now, when we were going to bust out of our space time continuum and discover time travel, but this is not my interpretation.
I think that we are already experiencing a species-wide consciousness shift and this reality is being created without a spectacular Back To the Future deLorean device, but more prosaically with the evolution of the Internet. For our perceptions of time and space are inexorably changed by our technology: through a wormhole-like connector we talk and simultaneously see images of each other from opposite sides of the planet. In the last eighteen months sending information out on the internet has brought governments down, exposed crooked dealings in our societal infrastructure, mobilized hundreds of thousands of protesters and changed, for better or worse, the ideological environment we live in.
Not that I believe for a nanosecond that the Arab Spring happened just because of Facebook and Twitter. The precedent was set by the Zapatistas in 1993 when they announced their stand-off with the Mexican Army online, and this action was not forgotten by the North Africans in their hours of need. The world’s attention has been accessed: media control by government is a thing of the past.
I don’t mean to suggest that the concept of consciousness shift is as simple as a whole load of people with access to technology sharing information and suddenly having the means to change the world. Poor old Buckminster Fuller is probably wringing his hands in a spiritual dimension because he had faith that humans would have seen the writing on the wall by the millennium and expected hunger and social inequality to be history by this late date. Fuller’s genius did not comprehend the tenacity of capitalist greed and the embedded superiority complex of the first worlders who continue to eat, drink and buy designer tat while the huge majority of humanity eke out a hunger depraved existence in the badlands.
When Occupy Wall Street started in September 2011 it was heartening but difficult to imagine that the movement would gain the momentum that it did at all, let alone so quickly. Within a couple of months there were over a hundred affiliated protests across the U.S. and the citizens of America were engaged in making banners, puppets, pot roasts and political news despite the mainstream media’s initial reluctance to give them any airplay at all.
Naturally the mainstream disparaged the grassroots movement on every level, there was much fear-mongering emphasis on the constituents of students, anarchists and the freeloading homeless as well as derision about the credibility of a leaderless political force. However, the relentless dumbing down of the population had not completely extinguished the inherent common sense of the great unwashed. Funnily enough as homes were repossessed while bankers took home big fat bonuses, people dragged themselves away from American Idol to demonstrate against the fiscal inequality. While they were at it they also expressed their disapproval of the costly and pointless oil wars we are fighting in the Middle East, their disgust at the shady business of health insurance companies, agribusiness, nuclear power companies, wannabe frackers and mountaintop levelers. Dissatisfaction with the way we are running the planet was apparent and vibrant: Occupy was synonymous with a resurgence of pure art, action, performance and community, a palpable consciousness shift.
I’m not past tensing Occupy, but I recognize that the initial phase of the movement has passed and now our wooly-headed liberalism is poised for its next incarnation. How will the articulation of discontent look this year? Fervent and savvy on all fronts is my hope, our consumerist dream state has gone blurry at the edges and we need to tune in on a different frequency if we really want to effect change. Leaders in the emerging paradigm of consciousness include stalwarts like Chomsky and new stars like Naomi Wolf whose down-to-earth style draws impetus across academic disciplines and ideological divides. Her advice to learn from the documentary films shown at Sundance this year was golden, from ACT UP, to the Egyptian revolution to the decades of environmentalists’ struggles Wolf suggests the blueprint textbook for future Occupy, in her own words:
Media exposure, a clear message, smart soundbites, clearly stated demands and most importantly, tasked, empowered negotiators working on the inside in concert with mass disruptors applying pressure from without – this equals political life.
And so to Downton Abbey, the mindblowingly historically inaccurate soap series which has captivated audiences across the world. Downton’s olde worlde of British lords, ladies and lumpen servants offers glimmers of social mobility in the crystal-cut decanters and huge windows overlooking the deerpark and rose gardens. The twentieth century “consciousness shift” which heralded the end of total aristocratic hegemony in British society was precipitated by the huge carnage of two world wars, now we are tuning in to a rose-colored rendering of how that class war unfolded.
Back in the Eighties, the thrust of social theory was dominated by intellectuals like Baudrillard and Eco who sought to alert us to the “hyperreality” of consciousness that our post-industrial society was creating. They beseeched us to realize that the way we were perceiving reality, through branding (think Golden Arches and Disneyland) was leading us into a morass of cognitive understanding, we were being sold a version of life on earth that was heavy on stimulation but was the ultimate smoke and mirrors scenario.
Nobody listened to them, their books were too complicated and boring while simulated reality- the vaunted simulacrum, with its vocabulary of brightly colored trade beads, Nike, Prada and celebrity culture to us dupes, was a new shiny object which has proved itself irresistible.
Now the cracks of consumerist society are too big to ignore, the oil-seeping seabed of the Gulf of Mexico is as real as the contaminated groundwater of Fukashima. We can comfort ourselves with the costume marvelous-ness of Downton or Mad Men, we can dream of stardom for the Idols , or we can invent our future and Occupy.