2012: Carnival of Bunkum

2012 Movie Poster - Photo credit: movieposterdb.comI like a good apocalypse as much as the next American, which is why I’ll be braving the Stepfordian horrors of the local mall for the opening of 2012, the German director Roland Emmerich’s latest exercise in disaster porn. The trailer is awesome. It’s got John Cusack in a puddle-jumper plane dodging collapsing skyscrapers, John Cusack in a car playing dodge ball with a meteor shower, and John Cusack squealing around a corner on two wheels, yelling, to no one in particular, “When they tell you not to panic, that’s when you run!” Plus, it’s got every New Yorker’s idea of schadenfreude-gasm: California barrel-rolling into the Pacific.

According to the movie’s press packet, Emmerich and his writing partner Harald Kloser got a brainstorm when they learned that “the Mayan calendar is set to reach the end of its 13th cycle on December 21, 2012—and nothing follows that date. […] ‘You will find millions of people, from all walks of life, who believe that in 2012 there will be some kind of shift in society, or a shift in spirit,’ says Kloser. The scope and variety of theories provided inspiration for Emmerich and Kloser as they penned their screenplay.’”

Millions of people? Really? From all walks of life? Or are we just talking about a few thousand woo-woos whose mental engine blocks have cracked from one too many psychoactive alkaloids? In any event, however many people are investing this arbitrary date with cosmic significance, it’s entirely too many. As a throwaway plot premise for a Hollywood blockbuster, New Age “theories” about The Coming Shift in Global Consciousness (not again!) are harmless chaff. Who cares if every tie-dyed Elmer Gantry working the Esalen hot-tub and Burning Man circuit is predicting ecstasy, or dread, or both, in 2012?

The answer, in brief, is that the stories we tell ourselves, as a culture, do matter. Profoundly. Daniel Pinchbeck, author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (the Nahuatl name for the feathered serpent god of the Mesoamerican peoples), is an object lesson in the hidden costs of myth. Bidding fair to become the media face of the 2012 phenomenon, Pinchbeck is a tireless publicist for the global cataclysm and universal outbreak of cosmic consciousness he believes will ensue when the digital alarm-clock numbers click over to 2012.

Daniel Pinchbeck. Photo credit: 2012conference.orgWhich makes him the poster child for all that’s worst about the 2012 craze. Pinchbeck’s feathered serpent-oil salesmanship offers a case study in some of its most pernicious aspects.

First, there’s the gape-mouthed credulity required of true believers in the 2012 prophesies — the unblinking, irony-free ability to swallow groaners that would make a cow laugh, such as Pinchbeck’s pronouncement that 2012 may beckon us through a psychic portal, into a “multidimensional realm of hyperspace triggered by mass activation of the pineal gland.”

Pinchbeck, like New Age thinkers all the way back to Madame Blavatsky, preaches a refried gospel of ancient wisdom and mystical, supra-rational knowledge. In 2007, he told The New York Times that “the rational, empirical worldview…has reached its expiration date…we’re on the verge of transitioning to a dispensation of consciousness that’s more intuitive, mystical, and shamanic.”

Well, somebody say “Amen”! There’s entirely too much rationalism and empiricism clouding the American mind these days, in a nation where, according to the Harris and other polls, 42% of Republicans are convinced President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, 10% of the nation’s voters are certain he’s a Muslim, and 61% of the population believe in the Virgin birth but only 47% believe in Darwinian evolution.

Placing our faith in ravings about a “multidimensional realm of hyperspace triggered by mass activation of the pineal gland” is a luxury we can no longer afford.

Much of the 2012 shtick is a light-fingered (if leaden-humored) rip-off of the late rave-culture philosopher Terence McKenna’s stand-up routine, without McKenna’s prodigious erudition, effortless eloquence, or arch wit, and Pinchbeck is no exception. For Quetzalcoatl’s sake, if you’re going to start a religion, at least invent your own cosmology. Even L. Ron Hubbard was canny enough to concoct a pulp theology for ham-radio enthusiasts out of leftover SF plots. But every time I see Pinchbeck’s glum mug, regarding the world with a sort of forced bliss, I think: Would you buy a used eschaton from this man? (McKenna, by the way, knew which side his ectoplasm was buttered on. When I asked him, over dinner, why a man of his obvious intellectual nimbleness endured the saucer abductees and trance-channelers who plucked at his sleeve at New Age seminars, he rolled a knowing eye and replied, I thought wearily, that he owed his daily crust to “menopausal mystics” and thus had to suffer them, if not gladly.)

But the worst of the 2012 bandwagon, epitomized by Pinchbeck’s lectures and writings, is the blithe cultural arrogance and staggering anthropological ignorance evident in the movement’s appropriation of Mayan beliefs and history. In a discussion hosted by Pinchbeck’s online magazine Reality Sandwich, the cultural theorist Erik Davis puts his finger on the minstrelsy implicit in the ventriloquization, by white, first-world New Agers, of the Maya. “[I]t seems to me that there is very little concrete sense of what ‘the Mayans’ (whoever that grand abstraction represents) thought about what would happen in the human world on 2012,” he writes. “To my mind it is kinda disrespectful to the Mayans to force them into our own narrative.”

Mayan CalendarThe technoculture journalist Xeni Jardin sharpens the point of debate. While Jardin is no expert on, or spokesperson for, the Mayan people, she is well-positioned to reveal the 2012 phenomenon for the carnival of bunkum it is. Her adoptive father is “of indigenous descent,” she told me in an e-mail interview, and working with his nonprofit in Guatemala, “doing cultural and philanthropic work” for the country’s indigenous peoples, has brought Jardin into close contact with the Maya. “We work to help these communities sustain their culture and social integrity,” she says, providing microloans and scholarships, working to bring clean drinking water and healthcare to the villages.

When I asked her what she thought of Pinchbeck’s invocation of Mayan beliefs, and of the 2012-ers’ use of the Maya in general, she was blunt. “What makes me angriest about Pinchbeck’s bogus, profiteering bullshit isn’t so much him, but the fact that that many people are racist enough to believe any asshole white guy who declares himself an expert in Mayan culture. Did it ever occur to anyone to ask practicing Maya priests out in the villages? […] It absolutely enrages me that while people I know in Guatemala, traditional priests, are struggling to figure out how to provide clean drinking water to their families, how to feed their communities, how to avoid being shot by the gangs and thieves that plague the roads more than ever—while they’re struggling to survive and keep their communities intact, assholes like Pinchbeck are making a buck off of white man’s parodies of their culture.”

In a moment worth its weight in black-comedy gold, Jardin told one of the priests in a K’iche village about the New Age’s obsession with 2012 and the ancient Mayan myths that supposedly foretell apocalypse. “I tried to explain to him that a lot of gringos believe that the chol q’ij says that in the Gringo year 2012, the world will end, or rainbows will fly out of a unicorn’s ass, or Mayan space aliens will land on the earth and our chakras will explode,” she says. “I told him they’re making a movie out of it, and how much a movie like that costs to make, and stands to earn. The priest laughed, and said in K’iche, more or less, “Well, that’s gringos for you, what do you expect.” These people are well-accustomed to being exploited and ripped off, and having their cultural rights shit on. That is the tragedy, and what makes me feel such disgust and contempt for the likes of Pinchbeck. They get away with it.”

2012 - End of Days

In his Reality Sandwich remarks, Davis wondered “what is gained by… believing that the wizards of a rather bloody jungle culture foretold our moment of rising C02 levels and suicide bombers.” Point taken. Premonitions of the End of Days and prophecies of a Space Odyssey-like leap in species consciousness, in 2012, are just the same old bedtime story — a story we never seem to tire of hearing, about the moment (forever forestalled) when there will be “wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below,” as the Book of Acts has it — when the sun will go dark and the moon will turn blood red and time shall be no more. The environmental crises and geopolitical pathologies of our times — “rising C02 levels and suicide bombers” and the sufferings of the wretched of the Earth, like the Guatemalan Maya — demand that we step up to our social responsibilities and engage passionately with the issues of our age. Placing our faith in wet-brained ravings about a “multidimensional realm of hyperspace triggered by mass activation of the pineal gland” or “a dispensation of consciousness that’s more intuitive, mystical, and shamanic” is a luxury we can no longer afford. We’re out of time.

61 Responses

  1. Bryan says:

    I have been intrigued by the dizzying turmoil of world events; natural, financial, and societal, and created this video to explore both the causes and solutions.

    It is titled:
    ‘2012 Mayan Calendar – A Schedule to Enlightened Consciousness’ and is in two parts:

    Part 1:The Calendar Explained: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sd_hbRUgvDE
    Part 2: Intuition and the Heart: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDhTmGWwrn4

  2. Anonymous says:

    Please stop saying the word “new-ager.” You sound like a know-it-all Republican asshole.

  3. M. Dery says:

    As I said over at Boing Boing, any author who wades into a comment thread this deep, with this many points of debate, inevitably gets that Neo-in-the-Burly-Brawl feeling. I’m going to winnow the grain out of the chaff, here, and address the substantive points over at Shovelware. If you care, join me there.

  4. M. Dery says:


    Hapgood? The same Hapgood whose degrees in medieval history and whose PhD dissertation on the French Revolution left him utterly unprepared to opine on geophysics? The same Hapwood who dismissed the theory of continental drift before plate-tectonic theory conclusively proved it? The same Hapgood whose “crustral displacement” theory was long ago discarded by geophysicists as demonstrably untenable? THAT Hapgood?


    By the way, Einstein wrote the foreward to Hapgood’s book before plate-tectonic discoveries put paid to Hapgood’s theory. Even geniuses can’t foretell the future. Perhaps if he’d been a psychic…

    Speaking of which, you should know that there are those—myself among them—who regard the public admission that you’re a psychic as proof positive that they’re dealing with a refugee from the pre-Copernican world, when the laws of physics as we now know them didn’t apply. The fact that numberless god-botherers still believe in physics-defying fables (I’m thinking of the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation) doesn’t make this sort of thing any more credible, not to mention less risible.

  5. Anonymous says:

    If you want to know what a Mayan priest thinks about 2012 take a look at this:

  6. Jojo says:

    I hope the world does end in 2012. We need to start over again.

    A few people will survive and they can the nexus of Earth 2.0!

  7. sharonsj says:

    I studied prophecies for a decade, plus I’m a psychic. And even I say that trying to figure out the meanings is nigh impossible. All prediction is based on how the receiver interprets the information; I know from experience that I have made wrong interpretations. That said, the idea of a planetary cataclysm is based on the Earth’s shifting crust as postulated by Hapgood and condoned by Einstein. There is evidence it has happened in the past. But it doesn’t mean this is going to happen in 2012. It is merely the end of a cycle; if anything I’m hoping it means the U.S. will be in another Great Depression and the public will finally revolt.

    • Freelancelot says:

      You know, people, I agree with the basic tenet of this article: I’m looking forward to Christmas, 2012, and my birthday (the day after Xmas). I’ll be laughing at all of you who may believe that there is going to be any special revelation a few days before that.

      But, let’s see…some Mayan priest’s prejudices and ignorance are somehow better than Pinchbeck’s or any “asshole white guy” (I agree, by the way, that Pinchbeck is an asshole). The voice of “reason” in the article is worried about something as irrational and stupid as “rising CO2 levels”. And then we have self-proclaimed psychics in the comments who hope that the US falls into another Great Depression (rather than hoping we get rid of the black asshole Obama).

      Well, it seems that even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and again.

  8. Anonymous says:

    It is certainly true that Mckenna did not intend his Time Wave Zero to be so “Fetishized” or trumpeted so loudly over the megaphone of mainstream culture (the Cusak movie looks terrible!). However, I see it’s value not as a deadly accurate ticking time bomb counting the days to the end of the world, but as a beautifly rendered visual interpretation of an intuition. Mckennas enitre idea of the ingression of novelty is brilliant and original, and Time Wave Zero exists (in my mind) as just one intruiging puzzle piece of that theory. It is no more important than any of his works, maybe just more fun to exploit. I try not to take myself too seriously (which I hear is something Pinchbeck struggles with as well), but I didn’t really appreciate the authors dismissive and sometimes derogatory language used to describe some elements of the counter culture. I’m going to deliberately ignore the easy swipes at psychedlics and their advocates, but as far as the myth of the eschaton goes, so what if it is a “bedtime story”? Does the author have no respect for fiction’s ability to permeate the layers of rationalism to explain a universal theme? Yes, Pinchbeck may be incorrect in assuming that the ball drops on a dime on some predetermined date. And yes, all people throughout the ages have been under the impression that it was their generation who would live to see “the end times”. Well maybe every millennial and centennial panic or milestone is an opportunity to see that, in fact, we ARE living in the end times. Humanity (and possibly Life in general) is always “surfing the event horizon” or riding the razor thin hymen between salvation and destruction. This is our natural place in the uinverse, and if 1999, or 2012, or your fortieth birthday is a day that can help awaken you to that fact, then yippee skippee. The author may not need an alarm clock, but there’s no need to begrudge others theirs. And P.S. even if it is only an excuse for an all out hedonistic party….I’m game!!!

  9. Shallel says:

    The Mayan Long Count Calendar ends October 28, 2011.

    We must leave while our planet is remodeled, since it’s current human tenants and their progenitor Yahweh/Jehovah/Allah/Satan and his minions from off world have trashed the place good.

    You will be welcomed back to the Garden, if you so choose.

  10. bottlerocket says:


    You may want to read about why Guatemala and, more specifically, the Mayans are in their present dire situation. If the Mayans weren’t forced off their land they would have fresh water, it’s not their choice to live in slums. Thousands have died in the various bloody wars for profit since the mid twentieth century.

    Why did this happen? The United Fruit Company–an American owned corp., foreign interests and a complicit and brutal militaristic government who made huge sums of tax free profits from this country and the brutalization of the people there.

    Thousands of Mayans died, many disappeared only to end up in mass graves. I think calling Westerners ‘gringos’ is far from an insult considering the history. A little understanding and being versed in history would go a long way here.

    It’s OUR failure as a culture that’s led to the sorry state of the Mayans today and the recent BS from popular culture (2012), only pours salt on the wounds. They’ve lost their homes, their families, their livelihood and now the culture and history are under attack. Why? There’s no reason for this, no reason people should be kept apart by ignorance. Wake up and do some research.

    It’s up to you to read about this, not enough space here to go into all the details but if you’re ready to see the truth I invite you to Google it. You may not like what you find.

    So please refrain from slamming another people, unless you’re fully versed in the history. I don’t fault anyone for this since the information isn’t popular knowledge. Sadly, the truth is far worse than what our delusional culture puts forth. You may not like what you find.


    • As always, the truth is somewhere in between. There is no question that such organizations as UFC and banana dictators they supported (to say nothing of the attitudes and actions of the conquistadores) contributed mightily to the brutalization and deracination of the Mayans and other Mesoamerican peoples.

      At the same time, the Mayans may have already overused their resources even before the Spaniards arrived. They were a top-heavy society, their city states were at constant war with each other, and they inhabited a deceptively lush yet fragile ecosystem that was hard to maintain or regenerate. They were already imploding under their own weight — which is a far more important take-home lesson than the New Age vapors swirling around 2012.

      • bottlerocket says:

        Understood, but I wasn’t speaking about Mayan history before the Conquista. Why the Maya fell is still unknown and up for debate among archeologists–as you acknowledged.

        My original point was directed towards Michael and his statements. I think he made them without knowledge of the past. I feel if he knew of the history of Guatemala during the twentieth century, he wouldn’t be as quick to judge.

        Regardless, no matter how the Maya fell, there’s no justification for what happened to them in the last century. No excuse for subjecting any people to the treatment they endured and in no way does their history, or theorized misuse of their land, give anyone the right to exploit them.

        We should be taking a good long look at ourselves instead of projecting our problems onto historical peoples. We needn’t look to the Maya and unproven theories for a take-home lesson. We need to throw off our cultural hubris and see our own faults, to really own them without viewing them through others.


      • Anonymous says:

        “As always, the truth is somewhere in between.”

        Please stop using this phrase, it is neither true nor helpful, except in making trifling straw man arguments.

  11. Jim Oberg’s immortal words fit well here: ““Keeping an open mind is a virtue, but not so open that your brains fall out.” As for humanity’s entry into adulthood, that happened long ago, when the questioning mindset arose. Prometheus is a much better role model than Chicken Little, and both are preferable to snake oil salesmen or the bored rich fumbling for a cause the same way kids pick up (and drop) toys.

  12. Michael says:

    Listen to this woman’s language regarding white people. Listen lady, if it weren’t for us you wouldn’t have the knowledge to make clean drinking water let alone all the money the “gringos” send to support all the abandoned children roaming trash dumps and the streets while sniffing your wonderful glue. I HAVE SEEN THIS FIRST HAND! As a gringo I take offense to your racist language the same way you take exception to the supposed gringo’s exploitation. It’s Hollywood, the same Hollywood that sanctified Selena for you people.

    The main difference here is that the gringos constantly attempt to assist your “peoples” failure as a culture. Your honesty is appreciated as I will certainly provide no more donations to a delusional culture where a racist speaks with the BS of an all knowing expert who is ADOPTED into that race. Are you so desperate to have a family tree to make your adopted tree real in your mind?

    God, the Starbucks coffee will taste so much better now. Your 15 seconds of fame are up. Go consult one of your tribal priests for answers for your next interiew.

  13. Richard says:

    Forget 2012. My new book is “2013: Why The 13 In 2013 Is Really Effing Scary.”
    It’s a book that will be specifically designed to dissipate those post apocalyptic morning after blues, when all the glitter & shine has worn off your end times bedmate and you see him/her for the dodgy little shoe salesman that he/she really is.

  14. Phlash says:

    Derry, You are clearly more well informed than I, at least on the topic of Pinchbeck’s association with the movie. I have read all of his stuff, exchanged emails with him, spoken to him on the phone and even took him to lunch once in the East Village. Despite his “consulting” for the movie, based on what I know of him, and the movie, the movie does not remotely resemble his vision for what 2012 may be. Though I do recognize that he has at times said that there may be a lot of doom and gloom coming our way, he, like McKenna, both suggest that this need not be the case, if we are able to adapt or evolve or change, or whatever. You don’t have to be a New Age spiritualist to recognize that if systemic changes are not made to the way we do business, then much doom and gloom will indeed come our way.

    As I said before, I do think there are real critiques to be made, and you have surely made some of them. My biggest issue, and I told him so, is the “transmission” he claims to have received directly from Quetzalcoatl, in which Pinchbeck comes to “understand” that he is an actual prophet here to save humanity. That’s the moment I got off the Pinchbeck bus. In fairness, he received this transmission during an Ayahuasca ceremony. It is understandable that, under the circumstances, he felt that this really happened. It is regrettable that he did not come to understand sooner (as in, before he posted it to his online forum and wrote a book about it) that one does not publicly announce that one is the messiah and expect to be taken seriously.

    Of course I can do nothing but agree with you that the Mayan conception of time is cyclical (Pinchbeck understands this, btw, and never suggests that time will come to an end on the 12/21/12 end date) and that many other cultures have believed that they lived in the end times. I would point out that, to the extent those cultures are no longer here, they were probably right.

    In the case of our own time, I think you are being overly dismissive of the number of serious global problems we’ve got on our hands that all seem to be coming to a head simultaneously, at the same time that our communications technologies are accelerating to the point of altering our perceptions of time and space. Personally, I feel as if we are living in a tinderbox in which even a small explosion could set off a chain reaction that would blow the whole thing to hell. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think a lot of other people, spiritualists or not, share this anxiety. In that regard, I stand by the claim that we are at a precipice. Just because others have steadfastly believed this to be true in their time does not, in and of itself, make it untrue now. As I understand it, Pinchbeck’s current project, Evolver.com, is a social network, the intent of which is to foster new ideas and activism towards the goal of ensuring humanity survives the current “transition”. Is this not what you suggest he ought to be doing with his time?

  15. Anonymous says:

    Sure there will be a spiritual awakening in 2012, it will happen on December 22, 2012, when all of these new agers wake up with a really bad hangover because they thought the world would end the day before and they stayed up all night eating magic mushrooms, smoking peyote and drinking ayahuasca. They’ll wake up and realize that the vortex didn’t quite align to the mystical paridigm shift that was supposed to invigorate their chakras and advance their awakening to the manubrial waves of the new age of reason, or you know, whatever it is they mean with all of those indecipherable large intelligent sounding words. Then they’ll go back to the drawing board, recite some ancient Druidic texts, manipulate some Egyptian heiroglyphics, read a poor translation of an ancient Sumerian cylinder scroll, pepper in some King James fire and brimstone and come up with a new date for the next apocalyptic wave of earth shattering cosmic enlightenment.

    Well written article Mark. I enjoyed it very much.

  16. TJ says:

    I thought that McKenna’s message was not one of impending doom, but positive transformation. I could never understand how in the hell that got turned into doom-and-gloom … which was only for the Dominators … which seems to be on track …

  17. “It is the business of the future to be dangerous.”

    Alfred North Whitehead

    I think this quote sums up anxieties of the world. However, I do think it’s fair to criticize Cartesian thought on ecological grounds. I don’t think we need any mystical insights to see that we’re heading into a major paradigm meltdown, one being the idea of the autonomous self disembedded from the Earth, or an over-done sense of self that disregards the social production of thought and culture. I agree that the current slate of global issue requires social and political action… and also mindfulness. I don’t think it’s a matter of a one or the other trade-off: we need to be grounded, whole persons and activists for change. It’s my impression that civilization (or as Gandhi put it, that would be a good idea) has a predominance of schizophrenic thought. I hope we can focus on the need to heal our minds and the world simultaneously.

  18. M. Dery says:


    >>This is an ad hominem attack that avoids any serious discussion of Pinchbeck’s underlying metaphors. To compare him unfavorably with Terrence McKenna is just intellectually dishonest. Terrence wasn’t being coy or ironic when he talked about 2012; he, too, believed it represented a significant shift point in human consciousness. Why is he a BoingBoing hero while Pinchbeck’s an “asshole” peddling “bogus, profiteering bullshit?” Maybe because Pinchbeck has found a much larger audience?<< An ad hominem attack, at least in my dictionary, is a slashingly personal assault. My essay is nothing of the kind. It calls Pinchbeck to account for the transparent unoriginality of his ideas; for the eye-crossingly preposterous silliness of his pronouncements; for his role in diverting energies that would be more usefully spent engaged in real political activism for social justice or environmental protection; and for the implicit racism and cultural imperialism in his ventriloquizing of a culture about which he is manifestly ignorant, and shockingly so. True, I did allow myself a dry little chuckle when I referred to his “glum mug,” but that’s the only passage that could conceivably be characterized as personal. And it’s a fleetingly brief one. I was at pains to avoid his personal life, a subject the scarifying ROLLING STONE profile feasted on, at some length. My intention was to take a stick to his IDEAS, not the man, and to beat them dead, which they richly deserve. I have no idea if McKenna is a BB “hero.” I don’t speak for BB, nor am I in their employ. But McKenna has charmed many, even sworn foes of spiritual flapdoodle and New Age fakery like myself for the simple reason that he was luminously bright, prodigiously erudite, often hilarious, and by all accounts unfailingly charming. And he was a spellbinding raconteur, with a nimble wit and a fairly original shtick. I haven’t encountered an evolutionary biologist or a linguist who buys his arboreal-apes-acquired-language-by-eating-magic-mushrooms routine, but it makes a great bedtime story, and I’d pay to hear him riff on it any day, if he were still with us. Pinchbeck, by contrast, is, well, a Pinchbeck. As in: >>pinch⋅beck
      /ˈpɪntʃbɛk/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [pinch-bek]
    1. an alloy of copper and zinc, used in imitation of gold.
    2. something sham, spurious, or counterfeit.
    3. made of pinchbeck.
    4. sham, spurious, or counterfeit: pinchbeck heroism

    >>The paradigm of Burning Man is that if we encourage everyone to individuate as much as they want, to be as creative and original and different as they feel like being, this in turn will create the healthiest and most unified social structures.

    That’s a pretty good summation of how Burning Man culture can be brought usefully into the rest of the world, and maybe — maybe — can help solve some of the deeply entrenched problems and dangers we face as a species.<< I see. Sounds a lot like Ayn Rand’s VIRTUES OF SELFISHNESS. Or the sublime self-interest of the capitalist actors in Smith’s WEALTH OF NATIONS. Or in the neo-liberal theory of the Chicago School. Or in consumer culture, American-style, which is dedicated to instant gratification, oral satisfaction, and other infantile, narcissistic pleasures. How, exactly, does the Me Generation-pursuit of being as “original and different” as I want to be guarantee anything other than the societal equivalent of the Rat King? I’m not getting it. It seems to assume a benign soul of the (unsurprisingly) Burning Man sort. But if your neighbor’s idea of being “original and different” and following his own alienated, sociopathic bliss runs to Michael Savage, survivalist gun-nuttery, stockpiling MRE’s in his fallout shelter, sleeping with the TURNER DIARIES under his pillow, and arming himself to the teeth? This is going help solve world hunger, wars, and rumors of wars exactly how?

  19. M. Dery says:


    >>Come on – this is a second rate hit piece. There are certainly legitimate critiques of Pinchbeck and the 2012 phenomenon to be made, but this is by and large a low blow. Pinchbeck, to the best of my knowledge, had nothing whatsoever to do with the 2012 film,<< Then why is he listed as an expert, and by inference a consultant, in the movie’s official press packet? In any event, his association with the movie (or not) is entirely irrelevant. The movie is the just a topical peg on which to hang my essay. Journalism lives and dies by the topical peg. This is not news. >>Faulting Pinchbeck for stealing McKenna’s rap is one thing, but it’s not something he hides. Should Paul have started his own religion or continued to follow Jesus? That’s what happens with religion – the prophet dies and the mantle is picked up by a disciple.<< In fact, many biblical scholars and religious historians would argue that Paul did, in fact, hack Christianity as we know it into existence. He did far more than merely take up Christ’s mantle; he was in many ways the author of the early church’s version of Christianity, one that may well have been unrecognizable to Christ himself. (See Bart D. Ehrman, JESUS INTERRUPTED) By contrast, Pinchbeck adds nothing to McKenna’s ad-hoc mythos. McKenna was droll, drily funny, nimble-witted, a silver-tongued raconteur, broadly read, a devout student of estoeric belief systems and ethnobotany and McLuhan and Joyce. Pinchbeck is a foot-draggingly leaden, humorless epigone---the Elmer Gantry of the Esalen crowd. >>Further, your characterization of McKenna is misleading to the point of fabrication. The reason McKenna attracted wackos is because he was one. And I mean that in a good way. Mckenna wrote about UFOs, dimensional shifts and hypereality and fucking self replicating machine elves that live in the DMT world, yet the way you describe him a reader unfamiliar with his work could be forgiven for thinking that McKenna was some kind of rationalist logician.<< I’ve read several of his books, chewed through countless articles on him, and listened to a dozen or so of his tapes. I’m well aware that McKenna was flake-errific. The *contents* of his mind---many of his theories---were inarguably flaky. But his *cast* of mind was in many ways Cartesian. He invoked science to buttress his arguments. He argued logically, proceeding from point to point, in a linear fashion. He adduced evidence to undergird his theories. He was, unquestionably, a walking contradiction. But even his rhapsodies about the machine elves of hyperspace were the Esperanto-ish fantasy of a man who believed deeply in language, in rhetoric, in debate, and yes, in a species of reason. Listen to his lecture on UFO’s: he cites Carl Jung’s book on the subject, and as much as says they’re piffle, a consensual hallucination, a metaphor for our times. >>but it’s unfair to totally dismiss the meme without a deeper exploration of what’s going on here. There is little doubt we are at what appears to be at confluence of crossroads on the cultural, ecological, geo-political, and technological fronts (to name but a few). Despite what you write, Pinchbeck has said, and I quite agree, that 2012 is not about the 12/21/2012 date – it’s a metaphor for our time. We stand at a precipice in our history. Will we allow the forces of entropy to prevail or will we find a way through the darkness? That’s what 2012 is about and guess what? It’s already here.<< Oh, for Cthulhu’s sake, this is the oldest dodge in the book. When a hairy eyed prophet starts to get cold feet about his prophesies, he shifts into it’s-just-a-metaphor mode. Read WHEN PROPHECY FAILS, an account of a ‘50s saucer cult and the intellectual contortions of its members when the Terminus of History came and went without incident. “We stand at a precipice of history.” This is a steaming heap of flash-fried ectoplasm. Yes, global warming is real, yes we’re in an economic downturn that is starting to look disconcertingly like the late Weimar Republic. But that’s a far cry from the last trumpet blast of Revelations. EVERY generation has believed it Stood at the Precipice of History. Tell it to the Millerites. Or the religious hysterics in the year 1000, all over Europe, who knew, just KNEW that the stars were about to fall from the sky and the dead were about to come staggering out of the tombs in their winding-sheets. The historical amnesia---amnesia about all the OTHER millennial grand-mal seizures and endtimes arm-waving throughout the ages---required to believe this sort of thing must be producing a distinct churning sound in the vicinity of Carl Sagan’s grave. >>groan<< By the by, entropy ALWAYS prevails. It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law---the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

  20. Amour De Cosmos says:

    The vision of the apocalypse is in loop mode play and perpetually broadcasted to anyone who is mortal. Huxley said the world was created and destroyed in each intake and outtake of the breath, as do the yogis. Devry’s antagonism is a bit rich since he goes ahead and adds his own bunkum of fear as a concluding statement and raises the PC guilt factor to appear holier than thou. I bet his’ Mayans enjoy a stupid hollywood movie as much as the next person. A great part of US culture is bunkum, at least since Phineas Taylor Barnum, and to curse Pinchbeck because suckers have too much money and not enough brains is disingenuous.

  21. onanymous says:

    from what i recall both r.a.wilson and mckenna saw the “2012 thing” as having as much to do with the notion of the technological singularity espoused by kurzweil et al. as it does any calendar or whatever.

    kurzweil’s dates don’t line up with 2012, but exact dates are the LEAST important factor in this story. as someone else pointed out, mckenna wasn’t too anal about the date. where is the discussion these days about the overlap of 2012 with the other ‘scientific’ singularity?

    anyway, singularities suck. lonely as hell in there. surfin’ the event horizon is where it’s at.


  22. adeeplust says:

    McKenna had the good fortune to flee the scene well ahead of 2012, and in various interviews backed off from fetishizing the date. Plus, he often acknowledged that he was trickster bard using language to open minds and change realities, rather than a ‘genuine’ prophet.

    Pinchbeck seems to be in rude good health – I wonder what his game plan is for the rest of his life post-2012?

  23. M. Dery says:

    @Evan Martin:

    [snip] but you have to admit, the significance-seeking nature of humanity is crafting quite an elegant self-fulfilling prophecy by hitching on the back of the Maya’s uncannily accurate calendar and Terence McKenna’s mindful musings about a Timewave.

    I categorically refuse to admit any such thing. The Mayan concept of time, as I understand it (and I don’t pretend to be an authority on such matters), is CYCLICAL, as is the case with many pre-modern concepts of time. The Maya didn’t believe the End of Days would happen on December 21, 2012. Accurate their calendar may have been; dedicated to the proposition that the firmament would roll up like a scroll and the oceans would boil on the fateful date of 12-21-2012 it was not. As archaeologists and anthropologists who specialize in ancient Mayan culture are growing eye-rollingly weary of pointing out. Not that anthropological/archaeological fact gets any traction with the bliss-ninny demographic, too many of whom are either allergic to material evidence, scientifically illiterate, innumerate, or all three. This, despite their frequent invocation of (trash-compacted versions of) Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and chaos/complexity theory to legitimate magical thinking.

    As for McKenna’s “mindful” musings (odd use of the modifier…) about a TimeWave, well, as a campfire story for someone whose brainpan is being Etch-a-Sketched by DMT, delightful. As science? Risible. There’s a marvelous moment in the ESQUIRE profile of McKenna (Mark Jacobson, Esquire, 1992, “Is Terence McKenna the Brave Prophet of the Next Psychedelic Revolution, or Is His Cosmic Egg Just a Little Bit Cracked?”) where the Bearded One shows a scientist (at Santa Cruz, if memory serves—and it well may not), well-versed in mathematics, physics, and the nature of time, his program, and asks him, with an almost touching desperation, if there’s even a CHANCE that his scientific theory might be theoretically possible. Again, I’m recalling this from memory’s vaults, but after all these years the scientist’s crushing response is etched in my mind: he drew himself up to his full height and sniffed, ‘Mr. McKenna, it’s not even SCIENCE.’ The math was laughable, it turned out, and the theory made a mockery of all the known laws of physics. In a word, the man reduced Terence’s theory to a smoking hole.

    [snip] So what if WE are the ones imbuing that date with special significance? Don’t we do that already every holiday? If we use 12/21/12 or or whatever as a marker for the first globally acknowledged holy moment I can only see that as a GOOD THING.

    Fine if you like “holy moments.” I find the whole notion invidious. Alternately, why can’t EVERY moment be holy? I mean, if we’re going go around imbuing things with holiness, let’s maximize our opportunities for beatitude. By the bay, it’s the merest cultural arrogance to suggest that this thing will be “globally acknowledged.” I can’t imagine the millions of muslims and Buddhists and Hindus who make up much of the world’s population even know about the 2012 phenomenon, much less take it seriously. And history offers a corrective lesson: the same totalizing language was used to ballyhoo the Harmonic Convergence, which turns out, in retrospect, to have been a bit of fizzled squib.

    [snip] Well, the Mayan calendar is wayyy more cosmically accurate than the Gregorian and this date marks a ~25,000 year cycle… HOLY CRAP!!

    See above.

    [snip] If we use 12/21/12 as a marker for when the authentically unitive voice of humanity declares spiritual independence or entry into adulthood, then it may just stick and have an empowering effect on generations to come.

    They said the same thing about the Harmonic Convergence(tm). And about virtually every centennial and millennial outbreak of hysteria since the year 1000. Read Hillel Schwartz’s excellent cultural history of endtimes, Century’s End (http://www.amazon.com/Centurys-End-Hillel-Schwartz/dp/0385479816). Or read my extended debunking of millennial hysteria in The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium (http://www.amazon.com/Pyrotechnic-Insanitarium-American-Culture-Brink/dp/0802136702/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258080574&sr=1-1). Or read When Prophecy Fails (http://www.amazon.com/When-Prophecy-Fails-Leon-Festinger/dp/1905177194/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258080607&sr=1-1).
    Fact is, the history of the End(s) of Everything is a long and storied one—a fact that should in itself be instructive! As the biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman notes, Christians from the first century on were convinced they were living in the endtimes. And why not? They worshipped a beady eyed, bearded millennial hysteric. (Hey, WAIT a minute…!) And Christians ever since have been certain sure that they’ll be raptured any minute. Every generation has its Hal Lindsey, fulminating about THE LATE, GREAT PLANET EARTH. And as Ehrman likes to say, the only thing they all have in common is that every man jack of them could prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that scripture predicted his chosen end date. And every man jack of them was thumpingly, hilariously WRONG.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “spiritual independence” but if by that you mean independence FROM spirituality, then I, as a child of Voltaire and fellow traveler of Mencken’s and Ambrose Bierce’s, am all for it. But why wait for some date supposedly sanctified by a punch of paleolithic polytheists? Declare your independence from the cowering, superstitious childhood of the species here and now, through a sheer act of intellectual courage. And begin by jettisoning the mind-clogging flotsam of 2012.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I’m the anonymous who “dissed” Xeni.

    I have nothing against Xeni, I don’t know her, and I do read boingboing, daily. My point was she seems to be upset that people are making money off other, long dead, people’s ideas. That’s exactly what she and her partners do as a blog/ aggregator of information.

    I also understand that to be listed on boingboing can bring someone/ somecompany, advertising and exposure they may not have normally gotten. So boinbboing does in a way give back. But it still does essentially the same thing.

  25. Anonymous says:

    “The paradigm of Burning Man is that if we encourage everyone to individuate as much as they want, to be as creative and original and different as they feel like being, this in turn will create the healthiest and most unified social structures.”

    This would be a wonderful statement were it not predicated on the assumption that people are not self-centered selfish bastards – which is categorically and demonstrably false.

  26. Hank Hyena says:

    Great article, Mark! I don’t know much about the 2012 paranoia, because I don’t want to waste my time & brain on it, but it is obviously complete irrational. There’s been Apocalyptic Terror at regular intervals throughout history and they never amount to anything. Do 2012 adherents ever ask themselves how and why the Mayans would know this info? When it is over it will look as silly as Y2K, or the “Ghost Dance” of American Indians, or Uri Geller, or the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius, or Atlantis, or the Bible. Thanks Again for exposing the fraud.

Leave a Reply