Confessions of a Counterculture Redux, or, The Whomp Heard Round the World
What follows is a (perhaps) optimistic rumination on 2012. It is the second of two essays on the topic, the first tending toward pessimism.
Well, it's all over. We have to start from the beginning, asking one another what's going on. --Umberto Eco
One of the minor indignities of being a novelist is that periodically your publisher prods you into pimping yourself out to peer writers to beg for blurbs. As a consequence of this, I once approached a favorite non-fiction writer of mine to meek if he might be willing to offer a testimonial to my second novel, to which he curtly dismissed, "I don't have time for fiction." Dejected, I thanked him and slunk away, and later, when I relayed this encounter to my girlfriend, she told me I should have riposted, "Oh, you haven't yet realized? Everything is fiction."
In the sense that all concepts are constructions, artifices reduced from the onslaught of the all and everything, everything is inescapably fiction. And this makes us characters, incidentally -- clueless characters, usually -- and the roles and identities we take so dreadfully serious are but the impassioned characters of some all the world's a stage divine drama. Our lives are bookended by silence, the pages in between are the only opportunity we'll ever have to say anything, and most of us surrender our voice before we ever realize that we have one. How's that for a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing? If life is a fiction, it's a surreal, dystopian, tragicomic satire that we populate, and the truth is stranger than fiction indeed.
We're going to return to that notion, but first let us orient ourselves. I suspect that many persons -- in contemplating the prophecies surrounding the winter solstice of 2012 -- have found themselves double-minded. I certainly have, and I think it's a perfectly reasonable response. So that I don't waste time on exhaustive disclaimer, I invite you to read the first essay in this dyad prior to this one. In it, I attempted to reveal the reasons for my own uneasy pessimism regarding the ascendancy of the 2012 meme in millennial discourse. In so doing, I hoped to voice my own misgivings, as well as to soothe that side of the conversation. But now let me also confess that I know something of the sensation -- perhaps the spirit -- that has stimulated all of this. I won't pretend to know exactly what I'm talking about here, but yes, there is an inexplicable beckoning haunting the human psyche. I have felt it myself, it has inspired my own writing, and it was quickening long before the beatific blarney of Terence McKenna or the garish marketeering of a hundred different writers on the topic.
Sociologically, there is every reason to recognize not only that we are on the cusp of transformation, but that we are smack in the midst of its maelstrom. Social structures conceived on the basis of flawed assumptions about the nature of reality are shuddering asunder. No less an institution than the global economy -- ultimately that system of symbols and social roles that we depend upon to effectively distribute goods and services amongst ourselves -- is wheezing under the weight of its own contradictions, and like a bloodsnot cokehead desperately snuffling booger sugar in order to inflate a decayed self-worth and avoid a hard slam reckoning with a destructive addiction, our own governments desperately inflate corrupted institutions in order to postpone their own rock bottom crash. Meanwhile, the ecosystems of the Earth -- for which our social structures are supposed to mediate an adaptive relationship -- evolve according to nature while our structures, again, steadfastly refuse to admit their unbearable irrelevance. From peak oil to global hotting, it requires neither shaman nor social theorist to sense that the human species is growing increasingly vulnerable to the obsolescence of its own adolescence.
Then, as if these proximate crises were not stressful enough, far-flung catastrophes having to do with solar storms, geomagnetic pole reversals, collapsing electrical grids, errant meteors, supervolcanoes, aliens, and so on circle humanity like vultures over a parched animal, wringing the hands of some and driving others into the self-sabotage of apocalyptic apathy. Simultaneous to all of this, however, the flabbergasting pace of the emergence and evolution of new communication technologies renders futures incomprehensible a scant decade ago. As social structures are little more than emergent properties of human communication, communication is where our novelty, and hence our hope, must ultimately emerge. Our communicative powers are our species' greatest evolutionary advantage, diffusing innovation much more efficiently than genetic adaptation. In this way, we retain the potential for astonishingly rapid evolution, and this potential lies in our inherent responsibility as storytellers. In short, we need to tell ourselves a better story.
Every word is a magic word, and by magic I mean to indicate the devilishly clever crafting of illusions. It is through words, after all, that you were cajoled into identity -- your social location claiming to be you -- and it is illusions such as this that prevent us from simply abandoning the anachronistic patterns of interaction we have inherited. What fascinates me, however, is that despite these all-encompassing social structures, something incomprehensible, something ineffable, got loose. In my previous essay, I termed this counterculture, and by counterculture I am not referring to bohemian and/or revolutionary identity postures. Rather, I am referring to the domain of consciousness that exists outside of and contrary to all cultural pretension. Counterculture exists between chaos and eternity and nowhere we can point, and in the mid-twentieth century, born from the bang of war, counterculture broke loose, surfing the shockwave of nuclear fission and gracing a stagnant and staggering civilization with a tsunami of novelty, a tsunami that claims to crest sometime around the winter solstice of 2012.
Despite the resentments of culture, counterculture provides Promethean potentials to the human condition. Counterculture is a chaos of information, and it is this information that culture must access in order to evolve. Culture resists counterculture, but that's just human nature. We quaff a cup of chaos and immediately try to capture it, to knit it into our hand-me-down veil of reality, permitting us to pretend that life is stable and predictable. But evolution is neither of these things, and as this countercultural fringe frays further into the center of a culture woven from nylon lies and polyester platitudes, the old yarn that tangled us into this Gordian knot of self-interest begins to disintegrate, and as the story unravels we discover all along that culture has been a blanket, a security blanket, and that this scratchy, sweaty blanket has grown quite threadbare, and thank god and thunder for that, for haven't we suffocated long enough under the pretense that we are separate from one another, that we are not lost in the same labyrinth? Without that stifle, we are free, we can see, and we are entirely unprotected from the dazzling sunshine of love.
For better or for worse, a spell has here been cast. Whether by Mayan prophecy, astronomical destiny, or the dilate and wild-eyed madness of chaos magicians, counterculture in its various expressions has set before us evolutionary deadline. In all likelihood -- and especially when we pretend that we are awaiting inevitability -- this 2012 caprice is an axle-groaning wagonload of bullshit, but then again, so is everything else. Language channels a deeper magic than most of us know, and like it or not, this meme has gone mainstream, and no amount of rolling eyes and heaving sighs will make it go away. Welcome to the human condition, where everything is fiction, and where just a couple of chapters ahead we have an opportunity to write an unprecedented and unforgettable twist into our story. The question becomes this: Are we the authors of our story or not? Or more to the point: Are we going to finish what we've started?
I don't think it's a bringdown to mention that nothing is going to happen unless we make it happen, which is to say, in other words, that the only true prophecies are self-fulfilling prophecies. Certainly, obsolete structures will continue to crumble as deeper, more fundamental networks of kith and kin continue to surface, but this fantasy of global enlightenment, this notion of a forward-escape, a shift, an awakening, a goddamn revelation -- my friends, as much as I would love to experience this, I sometimes wonder if such apocalyptic romanticism is really nothing more than a desperate projection of our own individual existential terror, taunting us with unfulfilled dreams.
But then again, perhaps we are daring ourselves to be something more.
Consider the mutual synchronization of coupled oscillators. The term itself is obviously abstruse, but the concept describes when pendulums in a row of grandfather clocks fall into synchrony, or crickets fall into chorus, or fireflies fall into sync. It happens throughout nature and at every level. When individual heart cells are placed in a Petri dish, for example, each heart cell will pulsate to its own rhythm, at its own tempo: some of them very rapid, some of them very slow, and of course everywhere in between. Once a critical number of heart cells is reached, however, every one of the heart cells falls into perfect synchrony with one another. We don't know how this happens, not with pendulums, not with heart cells, but this synchrony is what we experience as a heartbeat, and you can feel it right now if you put your hand to your chest.
Here is where we find ourselves, then, heart cells in a Petri dish, each of us pulsing our own maladroit egos, clumsy, alienated, rude, confused, until sometimes -- typically when the structures of mind are sufficiently shaken (as I have described elsewhere) -- we fall into sync with the universe around us, everything cascades into place, every grief-stricken mishap makes perfect sense, and life sparkles with good fortune. Such experience of synchronicity is the leading edge of an expanded, non-local, universal consciousness, the Petri dish phenomenon writ large, the macrocosmic reflection of the microcosm. The dare, then, is this: Can we trigger this Petri dish phenomenon at our level of existence? Can we hit that critical mass where every heart falls into perfect synchronicity with every other heart, right here, on this plane of existence, between the hearts of billions?
I think it's worth a shot, and it's certainly preferable to the alternative of continuing to fulfill the obligations of pointless careerism perfectly committed to the systematic dismantling of the planetary ecosystem. The only real obstacles to humanity's evolution are our own social structures, which are actually only the habits of living that we inherited and which have little to do with our current circumstance. Counterculture offers us a key to our proper future, and any survey of the various incarnations of the countercultural impulse finds music at its center. This is revealing. Mathematicians brag that theirs is the only universal language, but mathematics is only a representation of the one language that never needs to be taught to be understood, and that is music. Music is the language that transcends culture, and music provides the rhythms that can unify our hearts. After all, what would the countercultural revolutions of the 1960s have been without music?
To wit: What would happen if we could arrange a hundred million people, at thousands of parties across the planet, dancing at the same time, to the same rhythms? Might this trigger transcendental chaos, the unified heartbeat of the human spirit? Probably not, for I myself suspect that this is all so much sophistry, but if nothing else we would have succeeded in writing an unprecedented twist into our story, a localization of globalization cultural touchstone sufficient to satisfy any prophecy. We would have manifested a spectacle equal and opposite to the vacant consumerism of the Superbowl or the thrilling horror of 9-11, and we would have proven -- if only to ourselves -- that we are not a species of insipid and uninspired hacks, that we are rather the courageous authors of an outstanding story, that there is no script in this life, and that we can do anything we want.
It's a pie-in-the-sky utopian scheme if ever there was one, but isn't that what this 2012 business has always been about? For that matter, if we're willing to settle for one million ecstatic dancers the first time out, it's not even far-fetched. Actually, it's a streaming webcast, some mirror servers, and some fine-tuning to account for transmission delays across time zones away from what Earthdance already attempts with its annual festival, though despite its impressive name Earthdance doesn't take it any further than a synchronized prayer, and I hope I don't fracture any porcelain butterflies when I say that a whomp heard round the world carries considerably more fuck-yeah than an earnest and brow-furrowed Prayer for Peace or a Rainbow-Gathering-inspired hokey-pokey Global Om. Imagine every venue hosting its own regional event but having the opportunity to download the rhythm of the planet at the determined time, with every venue linked via live video feeds randomly projecting on to the screens of every other venue. Imagine 100 million people simultaneously dancing across the planet to the same rhythms, baby.
Or whatever. Maybe it’s a stupid idea, or maybe there are technical challenges I haven’t considered. Admittedly, I've cribbed some of this from the climax of Nine Kinds of Naked, and as I write this my mind makes a surprise lateral association to Martha and the Vandellas, but I don't actually care if we throw this party at the end of time or not. The point is that we're going to have to do something, and we -- and only we -- must find a way to awaken from the long slumber of our history. We sort of know that we are paralyzed in our sleep, we kind of hope for angels or aliens to gentle us awake, but there is nobody in the universe that can remember who we are except our own selves. So as for the winter solstice of 2012, my wish is that we don't sit around on fifty-pound sacks of quinoa cleaning rifles and pretending that a piece-of-shit diesel Mercedes, a stash of hash and tobacco, and all the money spent on kickboxing lessons are about to become supremely relevant in a Cormac McCarthy war of all against all. My wish is that we abandon the patterns of the past, that we wake up to the truth of our own love for one a-lonely-other, and that we realize that there is no tragedy so tremendous that it will fail to find its silence in the emptiness of this eternity. Bam, boom, and kapow, the rockets may fire, the sirens may wail, and all of it -- and all of us -- never more than the echoes of passing shadows.
Image by ken2754@Yokohama, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet