Sunday, September 28, 2008

Entry 3: Elves and Eschatology Part 2: Omega Points

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience….We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Terence associated the voice he heard in the Amazon with the muses of ancient Greece, with the externalized, deified left-brain voice of pre-historical cognition theorized by Julian Jaynes in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Brain, and, in his more fanciful turns, with a galaxy-spanning alien intelligence genetically encoded in the mycelial networks of psilocybin mushrooms. He held various contradictory theories in equilibrium, without actively dismissing the most obvious and reductive: that he was just utterly off his gourd on mushies. In his many later public dissertations, it is difficult to separate literal belief from fun metaphor, and metaphor from sheer outrageous leg-pull, because very little distinction really existed between these things in McKenna’s mind. Returning to the States, he lead a relatively quiet life in the ensuing years, his idiosyncratic scholarship funded in the main via the sales of The Magic Mushroom Growers Guide, which he had written, and magic mushrooms, which he had grown. Of the various strange and shadowy revelations vouchsafed him at La Chorrera, the nature of time and history became his chief preoccupation.

Terence began with the intuition that time did not correspond to the forward marching arrow of linear, thermodynamic time commonly postulated by physicists, but rather possessed a spiral, recursive, fractal character. Time is an eternally present continuum, which he envisioned as a liquid surface; ruptures at certain significant points on the surface cause ripple effects which move back and forth across the whole. The demarcation and sub-division of time which we experience is not a property of time itself, but rather of the apparatus by which we process time, and the piecemeal, differentiated nature of that apparatus itself within the stuff of the universe. Thus far, this is a common enough mystic and poetic intuition of temporality. A form of this kind of thinking is present in the latter poetry of T.S. Eliot, informed by his study of both Eastern mysticism and the subjective schemata of temporality postulated by Henri Bergson, and it is expressed most explicitly in the often quoted opening of Burnt Norton:

Time present and time past

Are both present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

Terence, however, was only getting started; it was unlikely that a marijuana-addled mortal such as himself could single-handedly redeem eternity, but he was always game for an intellectual challenge. The all-knowing voice in the jungle had suggested that the I Ching, that ancient and enigmatic Chinese system of divination beloved of all who dwell in the often dense mental fog of the New Age, was a vital piece of the puzzle. Working closely with Dennis, McKenna gradually developed the closely related concepts of Novelty Theory and the Timewave, a typically dense stew of numerology, fractal mathematics, and futurist eschatology, which as a whole bears a close resemblance to Telhard de Chardin’s grand synthesis of Christianity and evolutionary cosmogenesis in The Phenomenon of Man. Needless to say, the gradual steps in the development of these theories followed a visionary rather than scientific logic; at this point, it would do well to get strapped in, or abandon ship altogether.

In itself, novelty theory suggests little to outrage the scientific mind. The most basic tenet of the theory is that the universe is basically an engine designed to produce and conserve exponentially increasing levels of novelty. Novelty in this context should be understood as not only as newness and innovation, but as the essential factors that engender these things: increasing complexification, or the evolution of matter into ever more highly organized and self-conscious forms. This predisposition towards higher organizational forms is articulated by de Chardin as the Law of complexity and consciousness:

“In state A, the centres of consciousness, because they are extremely numerous and extremely loose at the same time, only reveal themselves by overall effects which are subject to the laws of statistics. Collectively, that is, they obey the laws of mathematics. This is the proper field of physico-chemistry.”

“In state B, on the other hand, these less numerous and at the same time more highly individualized elements gradually escape from the slavery of large numbers. They allow their basic non-measurable spontaneity to break through and reveal itself. We can begin to see them and follow them one by one, and in so doing we have access to the world of biology.”

“In sum, all the rest of this essay will be nothing but the story of the struggle in the universe between the unified multiple and the unorganized multitude: the application throughout of the great Law of complexity and consciousness : a law that itself implies a psychically convergent structure and curvature of the world.”

From the alpha point of the Big Bang, that enigmatic singularity which launched the thousand ships of everything we will ever know, the white-hot, primordial stew of cosmic matter has shaped itself inexorably into stars, galaxies, planets, and life-forms of ever increasing complexity and capacity for micro and macro-cosmic awareness and interaction, al-be-it always paying as it goes the incremental toll of exhausted energy and entropy, the dreaded one-way return on the shuttle back to the primordial and formless pea soup of our initial extraction. For de Chardin, however, our destiny didn’t lie in the pea soup; rather, the exponential increase of complexity moves towards an Omega Point, an awesome trans-temporal singularity that draws evolving matter at all temporal levels to itself, and to the event horizon of cosmic evolution, beyond which consciousness is all-knowing and divine. Part of the this process is the activation of what de Chardin called the noosphere, a kind of global group mind, which we will encounter again in a later section dealing with the nineties, a peculiar decade in which all these ideas begin to make unexpected and strange cameos. McKenna’s timewave agrees in most particulars with de Chardin’s scheme; it differs, however, in that it offers us a somewhat more specific date for the coming of the Omega Point.

Novelty theory branches away significantly from conventional scientific wisdom in its assertion that the periodic explosions of novelty throughout history are not randomly timed events, contingent upon an essentially unpredictable mass of circumstantial variables, but rather a kind of fractal, algorithmic pattern, like a musical score from which history plays increasingly dense variations on a theme. Some of you are probably wondering how McKenna came to this conclusion; others have no doubt intuited quite correctly that this is where the I Ching comes in. The Timewave was constructed by graphing the numerical patterns in the King Wen section of the I Ching according to a set of mathematical ratios, thus creating a fractal algorithm. McKenna then overlaid the King Wen algorithm over a graph of cosmic and planetary historical development. The result, in McKenna’s analysis, was something akin to the mystical convergence between Tyrone Slothorp’s sex life and the fall of the V1 rockets in Gravity Rainbow: the Timewave seemed to map out the occurrence of major spikes of novelty throughout human history, positing major fluctuations about 4 billion years ago when the earth was formed, 65 million years ago when dinosaurs became extinct and mammals started throwing significant shapes, about 10,000 years ago after the ice age, during the scientific, industrial, and social upheavals of the eighteenth century, during the psychedelic pressure cooker of the sixties, around the 911 period, with major incoming spikes projected for this November, and in October 2010. The real rub, however, lies in the fact that the Timewave projects the exponential growth of complexity and novelty reaching the level of infinity on December 12, 2012, a date increasingly posited by fringe Mayan scholars as having some kind of profound apocalyptic significance for mankind. It was either a fairly mind-blowing synchronicity, or simply artificially cooked as the biggest wheeze of all in McKenna’s trickster philosophy. Personally, I’d like to believe it caught him completely unawares; to a synchronicity-attuned stoner like McKenna it would have been a transcendent moment, requiring the immediate construction of a joint of Cyclopean proportion and Byzantine complexity, just to fully savor the moment, and contemplate its myriad implications. A trenchant scourge of organized religion found himself sitting upon an enthobotanically inspired Book of Revelations which was just about crazy enough to speak to contemporary, millennium-approaching consciousness.

By this point, McKenna had been scared out of the trafficking of magic mushrooms by a severe drug bust among his peers, and was easing into the self proclaimed role of “charismatic talking head” and stand-up shaman, taking his personal brand of psychedelic eschaton on the road. Meanwhile, at roughly the same time that these ideas were taking shape, some other interesting ripples were beginning to form on the timestream: by the early eighties, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) had developed a decentralized computer network, designed to remain effective in the event of a nuclear attack, which they were calling the APRANet; in 1984, a Time magazine cover story was hailing a recent commercial innovation called the personal computer “machine of the year.” It was shaping up to be a good time to be preaching a gospel of rapidly accelerating novelty.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Entry 2: Elves and Eschatology: Terence Mckenna and 2012 Part 1

"My interest in drugs, magic, and the more obscure backwaters of natural history and theology gave me the interest profile of an eccentric Florentine prince rather than a kid growing up in the heartland of the United States in the late fifties.”
Terence McKenna.

I first encountered the eschatological mystique surrounding 2012 in the late nineties, via a route through which I suspect many others also discovered it. Around that time, I was intrigued by the potential of psychedelic drugs to generate, if not outright enlightenment, then exciting times at the very least. Problematically, I never had a reliable source for actually acquiring these drugs, so most of my psychedelic energies were spent reading books about the phenomenon, and hours of surfing user reports on the now legendary Psychoactive Vaults of Erowid. For the uninitiated, these Vaults are a detailed online library of psychoactive plants and chemicals, designed to encourage informed and responsible drug use, and established by a pair of psychedelic archivists who go by the name of Fire and Earth Erowid. At the time, in the first magical flush of the internet, I assumed that Erowid must have been some kind of all-knowing gnome, a creature connected to the earth via certain mystical mycelial networks, a counterculture Yoda who dispensed wisdom to the elite raver and psychonaut. The more prosaic reality, naturally, was a sweet-looking middle-aged hippie couple from somewhere in both the geographical locus and state of mind of California.

Like most people, I tended to ignore such trifles as the sections which dealt with health and legality issues, and went straight for the site’s raison d’etre: its incredible collection of first hand accounts of hair-raising and hilarious trips to the other side. Those weird slices of life have stayed with me: the Vietnam veteran who, after a long, helter-skelter trip encompassing a brief period of incarceration in a military brig, cradled his young daughter in his arms, and realized he was the most important being in the universe; the college kid who started watching an old Japanese sci-fi movie for laughs, and quickly began to acquire the conviction that it wasn’t simply called Message From Space, but actually WAS a message from space; one particularly horrifying tale in which the tripper experienced a complete meltdown, and woke up in a hospital bed with a catheter…well, in place a catheter had no business being. Anyway, to move the yarn along, it was through this website that I first came across links to Terence McKenna, and his idiosyncratic predictions for 2012.

McKenna was the premier altered statesman of the nineties, and the most important advocate and philosopher of psychoactive chemicals since Timothy Leary exchanged his Harvard laurels for hippie beads in the sixties. Possessing an extraordinary degree of erudition and loquacity, coupled with a hypnotic, nasal sing-song cadence of voice, McKenna brought his strange tales from the fringes of consciousness to university conference rooms and earthy underground raves around the world, becoming in the process an early hero of the nascent and uncensored realm of the internet. The cult American author Tom Robbins, whom I have never read and frequently confuse with the boyish liberal actor of similar name, called McKenna “the most important – and entertaining – visionary scholar in America”, suggesting a kind of lineage with the grand American tradition of free thought and Transcendentalism. The Village Voice said “if only a fraction of what McKenna thinks is true, he will someday be regarded as the Copernicus of consciousness.” Timothy Leary himself, exhibiting the streak of almost Wagnerian egotism which paradoxically accounts for much of his charm, called McKenna “the Timothy Leary of the nineties.” Leary also called him “one of the five most important people in the world”, leaving one to wonder who the other three were.

Expressing itself in a prose which is densely eclectic and dizzyingly verbose, McKenna’s philosophy evokes an almost infinite, multidimensional aspect to consciousness, populated by a melting pot of archetypes culled from both the deepest wellsprings of archaic mythopoeia, and the more distinctly futurist realms of science fiction and spirit/technology interface. Needless to say, it’s a lot to take in at first. In order to fully explicate McKenna’s ideas about 2012, we need to look closely at the development of these ideas, and explore why the nineties provided a zeitgeist which was so oddly receptive to them. First of all, it would be useful to suggest a wider context in which to place McKenna and thinkers of his elk, since they do possess a significance which is greater than the relatively small and hermetic community of psychedelic drug users. McKenna belongs in the frontlines of an ongoing ideological struggle with relates to how we understand human consciousness, and particularly its precise status in relation to what is perhaps the quintessential component of the modern worldview: the wholly objective, non-conscious physical world which is now ours to study and manipulate, but no longer to project anything of the purely internal and subjective characteristics of our psychology onto. McKenna’s philosophy explicitly raises questions about the ontological status of subjective states of consciousness, such as those generated by the imaginative or visionary faculty, those experienced in dreams, and, to refer specially to McKenna’s case, those produced by devouring gargantuan quantities of psychoactive plants. By emphatically rejecting the strict mind/matter dualism so endemic to the modern outlook, and arguing for the primacy of the visionary faculty, McKenna, like virtually all of the psychedelic movement, is the linear descendant of William Blake.

In his own lifetime, Blake claimed both to see and converse with a variety of angels, devils, departed souls, and biblical personages. He asserted the absolute validity of these experiences, and avowed his own idiosyncratic religious system with an almost fundamentalist fervor; as he wrote in a letter: “He who is Not with Me is Against Me. There is no Medium or Middle state; and if a Man is the Enemy of my Spiritual Life while he pretends to be the Friend of my Corporeal, he is a Real Enemy.” All of these assertions represented, quite consciously, a grenade hurled against many of the prevailing ideological currents of Blake’s time, which are in some respects the catalysts of our modern world view: the mechanistic cosmology of Newton and the empiricist doctrines of Bacon and Locke were sources of particular chagrin to Blake.

Blake’s philosophy of Imagination is far too involved and complex to fully expound here, and I haven’t really studied it sufficiently to do so with any real competence. With McKenna and the psychedelic movement, it shares a sense that empiricism and rationalism constitute a kind of overspecialization of mental faculties which is far too limited to really encompass the totality of human experience. As with various currents of thought within the rather motley confluence of ideologies gathered under the New Age banner, both Blake and McKenna look back to a perhaps idealized period of pre-history in which man basked in a greater acquiescence with nature, and a fuller understanding of the indivisibility between consciousness and cosmos.

Believing that modern individuals felt fundamentally alienated in the contingent, utilitarian and entropic world-view of technocratic capitalism, McKenna called for an Archaic Revival in the nineties: “And this is where the future is taking us, because the secret faith of the twentieth century is not modernism, the secret faith of the twentieth century is nostalgia for the archaic, nostalgia for the Paleolithic, and that gives us body piercing, abstract expressionism, surrealism, jazz, rock’n’roll, and catastrophe theory. The 20th century mind is nostalgic for the paradise that once existed on the mushroom dotted plains of Africa, where the plant-human symbiosis occurred that pulled us out of the animal body and into the tool-using, culture-making, imagination-exploring creature that we are.” William Blake’s conversations with angels and Terrence McKenna’s encounters with DMT entities raise a variety of questions which are crucial to an understanding of the deeply divided modern sensibility: they correlate with the skeptical investigation of mainstream psychiatry instigated by Michel Foucault, R.D. Laing, and others, and constitute decisive stances adopted in the increasingly acrimonious argument between post-Enlightenment rationalism, and the whole corpus of archaic worldviews and practices which preceded it. Indeed, if we examine a whole variety of contemporary cultural artifacts, from the New Age revival of shamanism and tribal culture, to the extraordinary popularity of fantasy novels set in a variety of archaic and animistic neverlands, they all seem to bear witness to something of what McKenna is alluding too: a deep-rooted desire to escape modernity. It is with these things in mind that we should approach McKenna’s exotic adventures, and the even stranger ideas they inspired.

McKenna was born on November 16, 1946, and grew up in Paonia, Colorado. Because his parents wanted him to receive the benefit of the then highly vaulted Californian public school system, he moved at age 16 to Los Altos, California, to attend high school and live with family friends. He was introduced to the concept of psychedelics by two Gutenberg-like technologies of the 1960’s: The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, and Village Voice magazine. Later, when he moved to San Francisco to study at U.C. Berkley, he was introduced to cannabis by Barry “the Fish” Melton, co-founder and lead guitarist of another Gutenberg-like technology of the 60’s: Country Joe McDonald and the Fish. After receiving a BS in Ecology and Conservation in 1969, McKenna followed the archetypal trajectory of his way-ward, gnosis-seeking generation, traveling east to study Sanskrit in Nepal, alternately teaching English, trafficking hashish, and collecting butterflies for biological supply companies along the way.

According to Daniel Pinchbeck, Terrence and his younger brother Dennis “dreamed of becoming the psychonautical Wright Brothers of the New Age, making charter flights to new realities, garnering Nobel Prizes for melding science and shamanism.” Fueled by these mercurial and impractical dreams, the brothers decamped with three friends in 1971 to the village of La Chorrera, deep in the Colombian Amazon, in search of a fabled DMT-rich brew called oo-koo-hee. By now well absorbed in a thoroughly strange quest, the would-be Wright Brothers hoped to scientifically verify reports they had read of a “violent or deep blue” magical liquid apparently produced by the body of shamans during deep trance. They found neither oo-koo-hee, nor any bodily excretions worthy of record, but rather stumbled upon fields of plump and potent Stropharia cubensis mushrooms. Like a trope of philosophical drunks wandering to the banks of a stream of whiskey, the expedition drank deep, and quickly plunged into an experience as intense and life-altering as Apocalypse Now or Aquire, Wrath of God, in psychedelic terms.

How one chooses to interpret the visionary phantasmagoria that descended upon La Chorrera in the Stropharia-saturated weeks that followed – as drug induced semi-schizophrenia, or flashes of maya-shattering Gnostic illumination – depends to a large degree on your own perspective or particular world-view; the type of bands you listened to in your formative years may be a determining factor. Regardless, the experience haunted Terrence for the rest of his days, and to some degree the rest of his intellectual life became an attempted exegesis of it. This will immediately evoke for some readers the case of Philip K. Dick, who three years later experienced a comparable, al-be-it somewhat more disorientated, gnostic overload, occupying a similar shadowy hinterland between revelation and mental collapse. As Robert Anton Wilson writes in his introduction to Cosmic Triggers: “I met Phil Dick on two or three occasions and corresponded with him a bit. My impression was that he was worried that his experience was a temporary insanity and was trying to figure out if I was nutty, too. I'm not sure if he ever decided.” Dick, lacking McKenna’s apparent ease in the stranger backwaters of the mind, struggled with similar tenacity to explicable his experience both to himself and the world; it produced his most intense, searching, and important novels, but sadly did little to ease the sea of troubles in his mind. Though Dick died in the early eighties, both his and McKenna’s personal cosmologies would seep subliminally like a spiked cocktail into the bloodstream of nineties popular culture, as we will see later.

In the period of intense exploration that ensued in La Chorrera, strange visions abounded: mysterious lights raced around the jungle floor, clouds morphed into lenticular saucers, and the flowing ripples on the surface of a lake suddenly froze into pristine and eerie status. As their friends became increasingly and understandably concerned, the McKenna’s resolved that they were entering a mode of consciousness whereby tiny, localized ruptures in Newtonian space/time were being activated by their minds. Dennis apparently fell into a temporary state of schizophrenia, while Terrence began a lengthy, nine day communion with a vast, possibly alien or interdimensional intelligence which he often referred to as the Logos.

Continued next Post.

Entry 1: Rationale.

These Diaries are by no means predicated on the belief that anything special or noteworthy is going to happen in the year 2012, or on the specific date of December 21 of that year. Nor do they preclude the possibility of such extraordinary, unrepeatable events as the reversal of the poles, the catastrophic destruction of the earth, or the end of time itself, occurring in 2012. Robert Anton Wilson, one of the few individuals to realize the full potential for entertainment and humour inherent in a flexible agnosticism, was fond of saying: “I don’t believe anything. But I have many suspicions.” Wilson believed that while we certainly live and die in a tangible reality, what that reality actually means will always remain relative, and subject to differing subjectivities. The purpose of these Diaries is to explore a variety of interrelated subjects, all equally dubious and disreputable, with a flexible agnosticism.

Keen observers of alternative ideologies and ideas will have noticed an extraordinary amount of synergy occurring in the field of late, and much of it centred around the coming of 2012. Some wise-men avow that the ideas of rational people are but the few agreements lunatics have achieved between them; thus, when the cranks of the world speak in unison, it is worth lending them an ear. The 2012 solstice marks the end of a 5,126-year era in the “Long Count” of the calendar developed by the Mayan civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Precisely what this marker meant to the Mayans themselves is a matter of highly specialized knowledge and scholarly debate, and what it should mean to us a more opaque matter still. Nevertheless, the Mayan fin-de-scale has acquired an extraordinary eschatological mystique down through the ages, becoming in recent years a kind of New Age/conspiracy fiend Y2K, and a publishing phenomenon designed in the main to entice those readers who are only now beginning to spot the cracks in Dan Brown’s revelatory worldview. While a variety of competing visionaries are setting their alternate stalls of global disaster and cosmic transformation, the phenomenon is set to move from the Mind, Body, and Spirit dustbowl of high-street bookstores to the hyperreal canyons of the Hollywood dream factory. As we speak, John Cusack is preparing to flex his long face and non-descript charms against a wave of global catastrophes in 2012; an early review of the script credits the enterprise with the considerable achievement of rendering the apocalypse boring. On a far more intriguing note, 2010 will unleash 2012: The War for Souls, directed by the notorious New Age polymath Michael Bay.

Apocalyptic thought expresses both a fear for the frailty and transience of the most seemingly permanent things, and a subterranean desire for violent transformation and change. It thus finds eager audiences in times characterised by intense anxiety and uncertainty, and particularly in times when the social and societal structure is perceived to be tugging at the end of its tether. Back in the early nineties, the teleological vision of neoconservative political theorist Francis Fukuyama almost possessed a degree of plausibility: "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such... That is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." To a pre-9 11 generation eagerly mauling the English language under the languid tutelage of Friends, such ideas were not outrageous; but the world seems a different place now. Current anticipation of imminent cosmic rapture is fuelled not only by ancient prophesies, New Age dilettantism, and Gnostic pop trash, but also by a series of concrete and scientifically credible fears: the geopolitical instability created by both terrorism and extreme counter-terrorism, the seemingly irreversible trajectory of catastrophic climate change, and the apparent depletion of a variety of vital natural resources including fossils fuels and clean water. Needless to say, since I started writing this, Wall Street bankers have brought global markets and banking systems to a similarly strange and jittery place.

Even the most punitively rational souls must accede that this is a fairly worrying cocktail to contemplate. We are only a re-energised Cold War away from proper, high-end paranoia. Deep ecologists and Gaian activists paint a fairly chilling picture of industrialised Western society, once so enamoured of itself as the pinnacle of human technological and intellectual evolution, now envisioned as an out-of-control behemoth, hurtling towards its own destruction with no brakes or ejector seat. We can see in all this the primary catalysts for the proliferation of apocalyptic ideas: a pervasive fear of eminent upheaval, coupled with a subconscious longing for violent change, or, at the least, a sense that such transformation may be a necessary and redemptive panegyric to a system in terminal entropy. Similarly, while our temptation may be to regard apocalypticism as the sole preserve of a lunatic fringe, hysterically projecting vengeful urges and transformative fantasies onto the cosmological future, it is nevertheless a mode of thought which is intrinsically immeshed with its contemporary material circumstances. So, while current ruminations on 2012 are paved with no end of zany mental potholes, they have also opened interesting forums for debate on where our fragile society might be going next.

This is not, however, to negate the virtue of zany mental potholes. One of the miracles of the information age is its heroic lack of discrimination. Discussing the proliferation of conspiracy theories involving the moon landing, folklorist Linda Degh expresses a perennial truth when she concluded: “Mass media have a terrible impact on people who lack guidance.” What is most intriguing about the 2012 phenomenon is its ability to draw together the most outrĂ© and disparate bedfellows, and in the process create apocalyptic melanges which can only be described as millenarian sci-fi spectacle in biblical IMAX. Conspiracy nuts, religious fundamentalists, alien contactee messiahs, and ayahuasca-quaffing middle class shamans alike, have circled December 21 on their calendars, and spun wild armageddons involving New World Order archons, biblical giants, and advanced extraterrestrials, against a widescreen backdrop of material disaster and spiritual awakening. While the scientists of the world are huddled eagerly about the Hadron Collider awaiting secular revelation, their counterpoints in the subterranean covens of pseudoscience and hidden knowledge are frantically reading the entrails of the internet, watching the skies for strange lights and inexplicable miracles, hurtling into mental hyperspaces on DMT and a range of designer shamanic sacraments, looking in every corner of an increasingly catastrophe-obsessed eggshell world for shivers of the coming rapture.

Of course, none of these ideas are particularly sane or credible, but some of them are damn entertaining. I recall a film critic once commenting on the performances of Victor Mature and Heddy Lemarr in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 Samson and Delilah: “neither make convincing Biblical personages, or even particularly creditable actors, but they sure know how to put on the old zingeroo.” Far away from the mono-perspectivist certainties of the Enlightenment, adrift in the age of quantum physics, postmodern self-immolation, and perpetual mediation of experience, the old zingeroo may be all we have left. Bob Dylan once reputedly said of hallucinogenic drugs: “Everybody needs to get their heads bent from time to time.” Apocalypse or no, the world has all the signs of getting its head bent in the years to come, and these Diaries plan to follow every loop of that curve, all the way to 12 o’clock, December 21, 2012, when the final entry will be logged. Whether that dispatch be sent to a world much as it was before, or to Mad Max’s savage, oil-starved Thunderdrome, or the endless spume and spray of Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, or some fiery and barren vista populated solely by the leering Jack-in-the Boxes of human aspiration, or some vast, disembodied cosmic consciousness that only seconds before was myriad, atomistic Man, only time can tell. So long as that hasn’t run out as well, along with all the oil, rainforests, cigarettes, and every other damn thing.

The 2012 Diaries will not focus exclusively on the countdown to 2012, but rather use that as its tangential centre, leaving no dubious claim of otherworldly abduction, no utterance of a higher intelligence however garbled, no suggestion of underlying pattern however idiosyncratically assembled, unturned along the way. This is a form of investigative journalism perfectly commensurate with strange times. We will approach these subjects neither with a dogmatic skepticism, nor with a desire to become, like Jim Corr, the latest causality of the infernal marriage between credulity and the internet. Our commitment to strange things which are most likely untrue is predicated on the belief that they are, in the main, more entertaining and invigorating than prosaic things which are most likely true; that the vagaries of human belief are a serious subject, and far more revelatory of human psychology than its normative modes; and finally, that the best strange tales might take us outside of the realm of truth and falsity altogether. The 2012 Diaries will aspire to a place in the firmament somewhere between the sublime inquisitiveness of Montaigne, and the bottom shelf drivel of the Weekly World News. Our enterprise over the next four years will be like the logical and intellectual equivalent of running away with a circus: gravity will be defied by gaudy-sequined artisans, clowns will gambol and caper, freaks display their anomalies, and when it’s all over, things may very well stink of sawdust, elephant dung, and stale popcorn. But the weary villagers, rooted to their familiar streets and squares, will watch with misty-eyed longing as our strange convoy resumes its restless peregrinations.

Cecil B. Mille’s Samson and Delilah: the old zinderoo, circa 1949. Its publicity proudly boasted: YOU WILL SEE: Samson armed with only the jawbone of an ass defeat a Phillistine army of hardened warriors!