Punching the air isn't something I do very often, even less so when I'm immersed in a good book, but I found myself doing this on more than one occasion reading 'How Soon Is Now', so poignant and relevant are its theories, examples, conclusions and calls to action, chiming with a lot of my own recent thinking and Campfire's emergent values and principles too.
This book, written by Daniel Pinchbeck, who describes himself as a mystical anarchist, might appeal to a similar span that brought last year's George Monbiot book 'Out Of The Wreckage' and before that, Paul Mason's 'Post-capitalism' and prior to that, Russell Brand's 'Revolution'. In varying ways, all are aspirational handbooks for modern times, focusing on economic, social and political changes that need to be made, aspirational in an enlightened collective sense rather than an individual sense. Pinchbeck goes further into spirituality, or the "outer reaches of inner space" as one of his sections is headed. He foresees two missions humanity can undertake together to satisfy our innate yearning for new frontiers and new worlds to conquer.
One direction is down and in - exploring the vast fields of the psyche via psychedelics, meditation and inner contemplation. The other is up and out- exploring the vast regions of the surrounding universe, settling in other worlds, as science fiction has prepped us for.
Written on the cusp of Trump's ascendant into The White House and the ushering in of all that has already resulted from that momentous curveball, this is a book rooted in the here and now - the unforeseeable tumult in which we find ourselves post Trump. To that end, the sense of immediacy has to have practical and tangible solutions to be credible. It's as if Trump and Brexit have opened the floodgates and unleashed the demons at once, jolts that have both woken us from slumbers and offered new urgency of purpose.
Author/journalist/philosopher/visionary Daniel Pinchbeck comes from a family of artistic parents who in the 1970s and 1980s helped him form an alternative vision - his father was abstract painter Peter Pinchbeck and his mother, Joyce Johnson, a writer/participant in the Beat Generation. Daniel worked as a journalist for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, the Village Voicen and Rolling Stone, among other publications and is currently editorial director of the Evolver Project (a global network connecting organizations and individuals working towards the health and wellbeing of Earth and humanity. The Evolver Network’s mission is to empower positive transformation of self and community through education, celebration, and co-creation). He has been quoted as saying "In my late twenties, I fell into a deep spiritual crisis that led me to the study of shamanism and psychedelic substances. My first book, Breaking Open the Head, recounted my initiation into several tribal cultures that use hallucinogens in their rituals. Over time, I became convinced of the legitimacy of the shamanic and mystical worldview held by indigenous peoples around the world."
"In shamanic cultures, synchronicities are recognised as signs that you are on the right path."
Pinchbeck's rallying call resonates on a fundamental level. It's the sort of crystal ball gazing that we instinctively know is required today. He applies his framework to a visionary modus operandi that is likely to nudge the reader to actually bring about some of shifts that are necessary for both survival, harmony and prosperity. This approach gives space for us to think about how we each might play a part in that transition from coercive power to cooperative power, tapping into a sense of spirituality as we seek "adventures which will shift humanity's focus away from individual egotism, competition and warfare".
He's right in his repeated reminders that we don't have much time to get this right. We have a stark choice, continuing our current trajectory towards probable extinction, or we can "leverage the ecological mega-crisis as an opportunity to make "a mutational leap, a metamorphosis, into a new condition of being". It's that radical clarity of vision and ability to see the wood for the trees that makes this an essential work, but it also offers realistic steps to achieving the fundamental shift that has to occur, in recognising that we can understand our own power as political beings.
"The 'promise of politics' begins when we understand that our power as political beings is a living force, rooted in our solidarity with one another. Electoral politics tends to be a sad spectacle of compromise and capitulation. But that is not the real essence of politics. It is a corrupt aberration. We are inherently political beings. Freedom is something we create, in collaboration and communion with each other"
On an individual level, as he notes, many of us are asking "What Can I do?". Without wanting to be prescriptive, Pinchbeck offers a self help list with the caveat that individuals should think about their own lives accordingly and work out where they fit into the changes that need to take place. "Each of us has a role that is appropriate for us".
A few examples:
- Become a vegetarian or a vegan, or reduce your consumption of meat to a minimum.
- Cut down on air travel. Stop taking unnecessary business trips and vacations. Focus on creating local utopias rather than travelling long distances for exotic experiences.
- Give up your car, or share a vehicle with other people. New digital platforms are making this easier. For instance, Bla Bla Car, a European company, has recently launched a new ridesharing platform, which connects ‘people who need to travel with drivers who have empty seats’. This is a beautiful and simple solution. It could quickly become a global standard.
- Reuse, recycle, conserve, compost.
- Buy less stuff, particularly new stuff.
- Support the transition to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
- In the digital domain, support the movement away from closed, proprietary platforms that extract value to a small financial elite towards platforms that are open-source, peer-to-peer, cooperatively run and democratic.
- Food: grow some of your own food, if possible.
- Join a cooperative or start one. As business ventures, cooperatives are democratically controlled, collectively owned, voluntary associations of people. They are based on common economic, social and cultural needs and shared values.
- Create your own media about what inspires you: With smartphones alone, each of us is now a broadcaster able to spread ideas, stories and so on. In the best-case scenario I can envision, at least a portion of the wealthy elite in the developed world will model the path to self-sufficiency, sacrificing excess, choosing to address the planetary emergency as an initiatory path. Through media, they can explain to the global multitudes – the rest of the world – what they are doing, and why.
- Join an already existing, purpose-driven, social change movement. Some examples of ongoing global movements are Transition Town, the Zeitgeist Movement, the Global Eco-Village Network and the World Social Forum.
- Join a community, or start one with your friends. I currently know many groups buying land or buildings together.
He references a wide variety of thinkers, philosphers are writers, from Buckminster Fuller to Oscar Wilde, from Spanish aristocrat Ortega Y Gasset to The Beatles (one of my 'punch the air' moments... "The Beatles conveyed the message that humanity was going to triumph, somehow, in the end."
Podemos, Liquid Democracy, Occupy, Bernie Sanders, Karl Marx, Paul Mason, Murray Bookchin, Albert Camus, The Venus Project, Hannah Arendt, Rob Brezsny, conceptualist of Pronoia - they're mentioned here along with many others.
"We will need to engineer, eventually, a peaceful transition from ownership and private property to stewardship, trusts and other cooperative models."
His comments on media and its relevance to community are particularly prescient, acknowledging the huge changes that have happened in social media and technology over the decade or so, led by Facebook and Google but is quick to suggest that we need to be looking beyond Facebook "Although Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected, the company is limited by its responsibility to its investors, and the vision of its founders. This is yet another example of our current predicament: we have the tools and technologies to bring about a rapid, even sudden evolution of human society in all of the ways I have previously discussed. But our political-economic ‘operating system’ is obstructing our ability to move as swiftly as we must."
"We need to understand what is at stake, and what is possible - even at the furthest edge of possibilities. If we don't have a plan or a new model ready, a social breakdown or series of disasters may only lead to new forms of despotic control and intensfied repression, which will ensure further ecological breakdown".
This book should really be appealing to everyone, as we're all affected by the issues it addresses. It envisages a global system based on mutual aid, where everyone is guaranteed basic security. Authentic individualism is the modern day derivative to communism. As Pinchbeck sees it "People will be free to be - no longer surfing waves of anxiety, guilt, status envy, fear, no longer driven to compete against each other for survival." With AI and technological advances, we will inevitably work less and find time for self-development.
And here's one for Campfirers and those who believe that trust and building resources together can be revolutionary rather than merely evolutionary:
"Today's communications infrastructure could support a permanent revolution. In fact, I think this would be its logical endpoint. It seems possible - let's try a thought experiment - to design and launch a social networking infrastructure, via the internet, that seamlessly supports political collaboration, direct democracy and resource sharing, based on transparent exchanges. Along with launching such a global platform, we would need to undertake a mass educational initiative throughout the media. We would have to disseminate the values and principles of a co-operative, trust-based society to people across the world."
There's so much of substance here, it's impossible to write any sort of overview that even begins to capture the vision expressed here. To borrow from Buckminster Fuller, it's a meeting of transcendent idealism and pragmatism. I'd conclude by saying buy it as soon as you can and take your time to read, absorb and digest this enlightened post-capitalist manifesto.
It may just prompt you into some major life changes.