And then, there’s Terence McKenna

The homeland of the I Ching

The other day I was thinking about the I Ching, synchronicity, and schizophrenia. The wild and crazy science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick, used it to plot Man in the High Castle, and consulted the oracle to the end of his days. It “works” because of synchronicity, which is the connection between an internal subjective event with the external world, outside the realm of normal cause and effect. It defies the Western edifice of Reason. Indeed, the I Ching goes back to the pre-scientific Neolithic Age, and its system is said to encapsulate reality, past, present and future. The Chinese shamans tapped into hyperspace, a dimension higher than the dimensions of our universe and were able to devise a series of abstractions that, when consulted, could locate you and your question on a map of the 3D universe in that moment of time. It is a living offer of advice from that universal Mind, the Sage, Higher Self, God. Phil wrote that schizophrenics suffer from a direct blast from this timeless hyperspace. (Does it exist?) It is too much reality to handle, and most can only manage a few droplets after our morning coffee.

Enter Terence McKenna. He had a lot to say about the I Ching. Terence McKenna, entheogen evangelist. He was a one man Fourth of July fireworks display of ideas, sparkling wit and humor. I dusted off his books from my attic shelf, remembering that he said the I Ching had mapped out all of time, and that some kind of omega point would happen in 2012. Once we lived in harmony with the Earth Goddess, thanks to the intelligence of magic mushrooms. The mushrooms gradually disappeared, and we began our descent into the alienated world of agriculture and industrialization. Mushrooms can show us the way back. 

You can hear him on the many videos available on YouTube. He was a hoot. He was a fantastic salesman for the life and mind changing properties of hallucinogens.  I was eager to know more detail how this Neolithic I Ching was able to map out the unfolding of time itself. I dug up an old book of his, Invisible Landscape. It is impenetrable to an average reader like myself, as it is full of math and quantum physics jargon. Time, he says, is like something about the binary nature of the I Ching hexagrams charting disturbances in the flow of probabilities. Huh? So I turned to his 10 hour lecture series called The Tree of Knowledge. After two hours, I knew I had gone down the wrong rabbit hole. Terence was wrong. Let me explain.

He says that we have lost our primordial connection with the Source. Thumbnail sketch: the path of our total alienation began with the disappearance of magic mushrooms and the introduction of agriculture. We need to return to the Paleolithic: cattle-raising, shamanism, and Goddess worship. Goddess worship? Here’s a key passage in McKenna’s  Food of the Gods:

When we suppress access to shamanic ecstasy, we close off the refreshing waters of emotion that flow from having a deeply bonded, almost symbiotic relationship to the earth. As a consequence, the maladaptive social styles that encourage overpopulation, resource mismanagement, and environmental toxification develop and maintain themselves.

As if that passage were not enough to indicate where McKenna stands on the status of our globally interconnected technocratic civilization, he concludes his introduction with the following:

Our culture, self-toxified by the poisonous by-products of technology and egocentric ideology, is the unhappy inheritor of the dominator attitude that alteration of consciousness by the use of plants or substances is somehow wrong, onanistic, and perversely anti-social.  I will argue that suppression of shamanistic gnosis, with its reliance and insistence on ecstatic dissolution of the ego, has robbed us of life’s meaning and made us enemies of the planet, of ourselves, and our grandchildren.We are killing the planet in order to keep intact the wrongheaded assumptions of the ego-dominator cultural style.

In other words, we must reconcile ourselves to having less. Everyone, at least in the advanced economies, must become satisfied with less.  He considers free trade to be nothing more than forcing crapola on innocent nations. He explained that the end of communism in the Soviet Union unfroze the economies of places like Turkmenistan, where they still lived by goat herding or some such. With the end of communism, they will, horror of horrors, have to tolerate the presence of McDonald’s and Kmart (evidently the demise of Sears was not yet on the horizon when he wrote that). The mushroom oracle, from timeless hyperspace, is telling us to be content with goat herding, as it was done in Turkmenistan.

McKenna seems to embrace the Gaian worship of nature at the expense of humanity. He assumes that overpopulation and the environmental destruction of the planet is inevitable. He is another doom and gloom prophet moaning about quality of life and other issues concerning the lives of ordinary people on the planet. Things, in fact, are getting better. Not great for far too many, but better. For all that is wrong about our political and economic systems, we are not doomed, the damage is reversible.  We should, however, heed  the symptoms of global warming and keep it under 2 degrees centigrade. Speaking of the Stoned Ages, evidence indicates that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were more destructive of Mother Nature per capita than the average person today. After all the psychedelics, all the quantum physics, and the metaphysical speculations based on shamanistic insights, do you mean we need to revert back to basic human reason and sober common sense?

The point of all this is that the use of psychedelics cannot, as advocated by Terence McKenna, CANNOT change the trajectory of human and society on the planet. There is an internal logic to the current world system. Those few with “heightened” consciousness, whether through drugs or meditation, not only can’t, but shouldn’t be trusted, to transform society. Our problems can only be resolved in an open forum where reason prevails. That requires a free press and advanced, continuous education for all. Not drugs, not even Michael Pollan’s micro-doses of LSD.

There’s also something a little disturbing about Terence. He seems to mildly ridicule people working in factories, that they may not be able to handle psychedelics if they fear breaching  the parameters of their limited existence. In his intellectual way, Terence exalts what Jacques Barzun called “primitivism”: a nostalgic longing for the Pure. In his case, the Pure existed in small egalitarian groupings, living communally and worshipping the Earth Goddess collectively, fueled by the group ecstasy induced by psilocybin mushrooms. But, you can’t go home again.

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