Q: Are you optimistic about the future?
A very obvious question deserves a very indirect answer:
If you have not read (and re-read) Gurdjieff’s arcane, hilarious & profound mega-text of 1930s sci-fi religion, The Tales of Beelzebub to His Grandson, then I will point to just one of its many strangenesses.
The Devil — a wise, god-loving alien from Galactic Central who lives on Mars with his extended family and a fancy telescope — describes for his grandson the sacred cosmic law of Soolionensius.
Soolionensuis is an unavoidable condition of intensified peculiarity resulting from interstellar tension. Just as you might get “weirded out” by another person walking too close to you on the sidewalk, our beloved Sun enters into these tense, exacerbated proximities with other solar systems. The solar agitation ripples through the Gaian biosphere of Earth as an ambient wave of uncanny cosmic striving.
Normally (as happens on most other planets of our galaxy) this period of accelerated strangeness creates the iabolioonozor effect. It turns up the volume on Eros. Sane beings on other planets eagerly await this periodic phenomenon. They look forward to the spontaneous acceleration of their religiousness — i.e. their being-striving for acquiring Objective Reason and the “rapid self-perfecting of three-brained beings."
It amplifies the urge of evolutionary enlightenment.
Sounds good, right? But there’s a problem. Our terrestrial civilization is fucked. We live in ways that sabotage the development of organic conscience and, as a result, we cannot assimilate the extra energy of Soolionensius. The iabolioonozor does not do its job on this planet. As the wave of cosmic pressure moves through our biosphere, we do not recognize or integrate its power. Instead, we have a weird, collective unconscious reaction. We feel upset. We feel polarized. We feel like something big has got to change. We want to mobilize. We want to improve ourselves and our society. We know there is a dramatic insufficiency that must be corrected in order to avoid despair.
This is particularly evident when Beelzebub describes visiting Russia in disguise during the rise of Bolshevism. A mass formation of collective psychosis erupts around “class.” Members of the mainstream governing bureaucracies become hysterical, conformist Mandarins while anti-government agitators erupt from every corner. War and Civil War become all-too-easy. Leaders become dissociated and anti-leaders swarm into view. The social fabric shreds as people take “sides” whose outcome can only be the destruction of our inherited possibilities of health, freedom and wisdom. Sensitivity and foresight vanishes.
The natural cosmic religious mobilization urge is deflected into the narratives at the social surface.
Putting Gurdjieff’s iconoclastic mythology aside, we can probably agree that we are collectively facing some kind of an apocalypse. The planetary tension is high. A “metacrisis” of confluent radical disruptions of biology & civilization has already begun. And the ordinary question (“Can we do anything about it?”) has to be supplemented with the extraordinary question:
Can we consciously assimilate this weirdness — or not?
These are hard words. The small voice of sanity in the back of our minds will point out that any particular model of the future may be incorrect and that we certainly cannot agree with the unstable lack of rigor found in doomsday conspiracy theorists. Very true. But today there are very many truly radical possibilities in play for the next few decades and, honestly, it only takes one…
Our ice caps are rapidly melting. There are huge reserves of greenhouse gases that will accelerate global climate destabilization if they come to the surface. Meanwhile the Amazon rainforest — still being deliberately burned — is outputting more carbon than it absorbs. Oceanographers point to simultaneous acidification of the seas and an imminent tipping point for cascading die-offs among marine species. At the very same moment, we are building artificial intelligences, self-driving cars and flying killer robots (lethal drones). Our pocket computers are monitoring us and using special algorithms that deliberately erode attention, break up social bonds and generate addictive stress. We can design the genetics of babies in laboratories. The location of nuclear weapons is getting harder to track. Natural and artificial pandemics are circulating. Deepfake technology means that “audio, video and photographic evidence” proves nothing. At least one of your online friends is a piece of software. At least one of the social groups important to you was created by a distant cybernetic troll farm that deliberately wants to radicalize you. Our democratic legislatures are unresponsive to the will of the people. Wild animals are already full of microplastics and strange hormones. Everyone is taking multiple mood-altering drugs. You can 3D print guns that can’t be detected by airport security. The tools for making bio-weapons are spreading. The most beautiful places in the world are constantly on fire. We are moving to make settlements on Mars. Computers can defeat us at all games. And, according to the Pentagon, UFOs might be back in the picture…
This is NOW.
And I bet you could add a half-dozen more things to that list…
So the problem of how to be a good apocalpytarian becomes an important existential question. The old question is: Will there be an apocalypse or not? The new question is: How do we live under the conditions of the apocalyptic mood?
We are not only postmodern but, in a perverse way, postfuturist. Many things that seem like science fiction have already happened. Robots defeating humans at Jeopardy, Chess, Go? That is the past. Reality TV star Donald Trump becomes president of the most powerful nation on Earth? Babies without sex? Sex without babies? Artificial limbs? Holograms? Global pandemics?
Take it seriously. Try to inhabit the current and emerging world. It is some kind of “end of history” or “kali yuga” or “Mckenna’s hyperdimensional object at the end of time.” It’s weird. It’s really weird and it’s going to get weirder.
Don’t waste one second pretending that we’re going back to normal. Sure, many disrupted things can and should be reestablished but the looming sense of crisis, the surrealistic mood, the collective stress, the hypernovelty, the polarization — it’s not going away. It will just roll on from one strange ambient crisis to the next.
We are just like those fictional earthlings facing Beelzebub’s soolionensius. We have strayed into a time between worlds in which some extra charge of peculiar transformational crisis is our background condition. Either we can work with it OR ELSE we will be driven to self-destructive suppressions and revolutions at the social surface.
Probably both will happen.
If you follow this substack account or participate in one or more “liminal web communities,” then there is a good chance that you can be an apocalpytarian. I believe in you. You have a higher-than-normal likelihood of being able to surf the ultra-peculiarity, assimilate the revolutionary ambience and transmute the world-historical urgency into wisdom, discipline and freedom.
However, most folks are not like you. Across this country and around the world, even in your own family, people will be slipping into reciprocal forms of “mass psychosis.” They will unthinkingly associate this ambient world mood with a desperate or depressive desire to take a “side” — and start fixing the problem represented by their fellow citizens. They will become open to the idea of abandoning classical virtues, squashing the deplorables, denouncing the intellectuals and doubling down on what doesn’t work. Important chunks of society will mobilize against other important chunks.
All over, we should expect that — despite the various good cultivation projects that are producing good, healthy, sane & super-informed people — we will see waves of irrational, obscene conformists trying to penalize, oppress or destroy people whom they think are irrational, obscene conformists.
The uncanny ripples moving through the biosphere and noosphere are getting louder. It is the same ancient nonsense that we have periodically strayed through but it is accelerating with new tools in its hands. While we work, as we should, to mitigate the effects and course correct our civilization, we must also learn to lean into those qualities and skills that makes us more likely to be good citizens of the apocalypse.
We are and need to be Apocalyptarians.
It will feel (and really be) better than if we don’t. And we already kind of know who we are, right? People with complex, unique integrations. People who are never exactly on any of the sides. People good at embodiment. People looking for deeper dialogue. People trying to bring ancient spiritual practices and new sciences together. Post-postmodernists. The sincerely ironic. The evolutionary inbetweeners.
These are the people who might be able to use the mood of the multi-apocalypse as fuel rather than as some form of short-circuit into reactive (pro-narrative or anti-narrative) social nonsense.
It could be great. Amazing and wonderful things are going to happen. But don’t be fooled.
Most folks will probably go the other way. And they will not only have guns, they will also have both the mainstream & alternative media, the banks & the NGOS, all the main political parties, the algorithms and both sides of every so-called mass formationmobilization. They will feel sincerely (rabidly?) that they are finally on the verge of solving the Great Problem represented by all the unreasonable bad people who have been eroding the value of our civilization.
But they are so close to being correct. There IS a Great Problem. We do have an urgent need to mobilize. There is something radical and restorative that must be done.
We just need to be able to put that feeling in the right place…
For a Twitter conversation with Jonathan Rowson see here
Main picture: Gerhard Reus @ Unsplash