John Perkins: From Corporate Hit Man to American Shaman
John Perkins is a leading figure of contemporary neo-shamanism. He leads retreats around the world, wrote the book Shapeshifting: Shamanic Techniques for Global and Personal Transformation, and founded Dream Change Coalition, an organization dedicated to environmental, economic and social change. But twenty years ago, Perkins played a very different role. According to his best-selling book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, he was part of an elite group trained to "utilize international financial organizations to foment conditions that make other nations subservient to the corporatocracy running our biggest corporations, our government, and our banks." In this modern-day confessional, Perkins comes to terms with his guilt over serving as a tool of "modern empire building."
This month his new book, The Secret History of the American Empire, is being published. Here he talks about the success of Confessions, his shamanic practices, and how they have allowed him to effectuate change in our world.
MB: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man came out of nowhere to be a best-seller. It's going to be made into Hollywood movie. Was it blessed from the beginning?
JP: Michael, this book was turned down by twenty-seven publishers, all of the majors. During its first week of publication, it went to number four on Amazon and shortly after that it went on all the best-seller lists. So it's done amazingly well, considering that it has never received mainstream media attention.
How did that happen?
Word of mouth, people buying copies for their friends. Also Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! played a big part.
What did people get from the book?
We received thousands of letters and emails and the common theme was, "In my heart I knew that this empire building was happening, but whenever I talked about these things, people called me paranoid or crazy. So I stopped talking about them. Now that I've read your book I'm going to talk about them more and I'm actually going to take action." That is very heartening. It shows people are realizing they have the ability to change what's going on in the world.
Can the tools of business and economics be used to effect positive transformation?
Corporations and institutions like the World Bank are a giant octopus of influence. The body of that octopus resides in the United States, but its tentacles reach to every remote corner of the world—and it's sucking those corners dry of all their resources. But if we really look at this octopus, we realize that it's a tremendous network for communication and distribution. What we really need to do is shapeshift the intent behind that network, to make its intention compassionate rather than selfish and greedy.
But aren't corporations greedy by nature? After all, the bottom line comes first, doesn't it?
There is nothing within the history of corporations that says they can't be compassionate, that their major objective can't be to benefit their own employees, customers, and suppliers.
"Shapeshifting" is an ancient technique you were shown by jungle shamans. It allows us to use our intention to transform reality. But corporations aren't hawks or trees, they're cultural constructs. So how do we shapeshift corporate structure?
You can look at the American revolution of the 1770s. You can look at women getting the right to vote. You can look at the Civil Rights Movement in the South, or at what happened in the Soviet Union, or at what happened in Tibet long ago, when one of the most war-like nations in the world suddenly became the seat of a compassionate culture. Something of that magnitude happens when enough people understand that they can change things, and that they need to change things. And I think we're reaching that point in the United States.
But is the United States really leading the way? Sometimes it feels more like the Dark Ages here. We're led around by the nose politically.
Well, it's true that Latin America is the frontier of revolution right now. In recent elections, six countries democratically voted in candidates who were anti-American, anti-globalization, and anti-IMF. Ecuador is an amazing example. A grassroots movement connected with the indigenous people two years ago voted in Lucio Gutierrez, who ran on a strong anti-globalization policy. As soon as he became president, the economic hit men visited him, and they basically offered him a lot of money or threatened him, or both. Then he went to Washington. Pictures were plastered all over Ecuador of him shaking hands with George Bush, and he reversed all his policies. He sided with the oil companies, he worked deals with the IMF and World Bank that were detrimental to Ecuador. But then he was thrown out!
You call your organization the Dream Change Coalition, a phrase you took from the shamans and teachers you worked with in Ecuador. What is the connection between the shamanic worldview and political action?
Every culture talks about the power of the word. The Bible tells us the world was created by a word. The Achuar tell us that it was the sound of the waterfall that created the world. The Aboriginals of Australia tell us that it was a song. Every culture talks about the power of expression. When we have a dream, we have to take action every day to realize that dream. We have to express the dream as if it's happening.
So we visualize whatever we want?
When I met the Dalai Lama, he told me, "It's not enough to meditate or pray, you also have to act." He talked about people around the world getting email and then taking ten minutes off to pray for peace. He said, "That's good! That's the visualization. But if those people walk away from that thinking they've done their job, then they've done a disservice. Because you not only have to have the vision. You then have to go out and do something."
Have you brought this process to bear in your life?
I practiced a Tibetan dream-changing technique at least three times a week. For a year before Confessions was published, I visualized that its message was reaching hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Here's how it works: first, select a dream you know from the depths of your soul that you want to have come true. Then, with eyes closed, see a black void in which a silver star appears. Send your dream out to merge with the star, then bring the star and the dream into your forehead, allowing them to pass through your third eye. Envision the inside of your head as a crystal ball or globe of mirrors. The dream and the star are now reflected and magnified throughout this splendid place and explode three times. Each time instead of being destroyed they're energized. Then let them drop down into your heart. Repeat the process there, watching the dream and star explode three times. With each explosion, reaffirm your commitment to make this dream become a reality. Feel the fusion that takes place between your heart, the dream, and the star. Then let them rise up through your head, out the third eye and back into the blackness. But it's not enough to just to have the dream: you have to take action. So in addition to doing the visualization, I also wrote the book in a way that I thought people would like to read it; I did not write it as an economic thesis or an academic tome. I hired a publicist, did a tremendous number of radio interviews, and traveled around promoting it.
It's great that a simple technique of visualization, if done with absolute conviction, can actually change things. But what about the larger culture?
For shamanism to work in the larger culture, we need consumers and the people who work for the corporations to truly have a vision that shakes them up, a visionary recognition that this world is not a good one for our children, even if it seems good to us. And then we have to take action to change it.
Imagine if a number of us had the dream that Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Nike all committed to making sure that nobody in the world ever goes without sufficient water, food, or clothes. If we had that vision, we would tell those companies, look, we're never going to buy anything more from you until you do this.
Coca-Cola is like Godzilla. Can you really see it responding to these kinds of demands?
Immediately following the tsunami last winter, Coca-Cola sent millions of bottles of water to the victims. But every day 24,000 people in the world die of thirst. and starvation. You don't have to wait for a tsunami—there is a much bigger tragedy. If people have that vision and begin to act upon it, I guarantee you that Coca-Cola will change, and if Coca-Cola changes, then Pepsi Cola will have to change too. And everybody else.
Author photo by Daniel Miller Jr.