Metaconsciousness: Mythology for a Post-Civilized World
I.10 | Contents | II.1
The purpose of this endeavor has been, and is, to create a mythology for a post-civilized human society, and a post-civilized world. Because civilization doesn't work, and civilized mythology only produces more civilization, and does not lead beyond civilization, a post-civilized mythology is essential for the emergence of a post-civilized society. This is a tall order.
Contents of this section:
A Plausible Post-Civilized Mythology
An essential quality of a functional mythology is that it must be believed, not treated as fiction. Therefore, it must be plausible, and it must be able to bear the weight its believers lay upon it. The weight believers lay upon our mythologies is the weight of our very lives. We all do this. We routinely believe that what we believe is really true, and we bet our lives every moment of every day – simply by getting out of bed in the morning, or venturing outdoors – that the world really is as we imagine it to be. This is why the discovery that civilization doesn't work, and that the "leaders" in whom we have placed our trust for generations have betrayed it, cynically and repeatedly, down the centuries, is so utterly devastating. Because it means that our "native mythology," the mythology we were born and raised with, doesn't work either. Our myths cease thereby to be mythology, and become instead mere fiction – and not "innocent fiction" at that, but an endless succession of damned and malicious lies, with literally billions of murdered corpses scattered in their wake.
These are life-and-death issues, and it is no wonder so many people go into reflexive shock and denial when many of the matters discussed in this work are advanced. Anyone who has read to this point has already walked an heroic path, no matter what he or she may think about it all – not particularly because you've read what I have written, but because in doing so, you have directed your attention toward some very challenging, difficult, and unpalatable issues. This is not easily done, and not everyone, by any means, is willing to undertake it.
Then if, as I contend, civilization and its mythology really do not work, and cannot get us where we want to go, it follows that we must abandon them, and strike out in a different direction. Yet we cannot simply abandon civilization and its mythology by stepping into a vacuum. We have to replace our failed mythologies with something: a new mythology, that will support our ventures into an entirely new pattern of living. It is, as I have said, a tall order.
Therefore, I wish to enlist the collaboration of readers of this work in expanding and developing the mythology I have begun here, but have by no means fleshed out to the extent needed for the full support of a post-civilized world. All the great myths are highly collaborative in nature. They have been added to and embellished for generations, centuries, and millennia. It is a great work, building a mythology, and by no means is it a trivial exercise. In this case, perhaps the future of the human race on Earth depends upon it. So here is what I propose.
Because it has worked so well, I propose to follow the example of Linus Torvalds in his project to build an open-source Linux.1 This will be an "open-source mythology;" as distinguished from the many "civilized" mythologies which, with few or no exceptions, share at their core the common hidden agendas of preemption, war, and control. It will be a mythology built from the ground up, "out of the Bazaar," not handed down "from the Cathedral."
This post-civilized myth – which I call the metaconsciousness myth, or the myth of metaconsciousness, – derives its plausibility from its intuitive consistency with experience and reason; again, as distinguished from "civilized" myths, which rely for their plausibility, at bottom, upon "authority." Thus anyone may participate in building the myth of metaconsciousness. No credentials are required, and one certainly need not be a member of any kind of "priesthood" to participate.
So, how will the myth take shape? How will it be decided what is and is not included in the myth?
Genuine myths are living things, and they grow and evolve organically, by consensus, by being passed from person to person; and are also shaped by contingencies that demonstrate the extent to which they work in the real world. People believe their myths because they work for them, and they find them useful in their daily lives. As we will be seeing further on in this section, people also cease believing in their myths when their myths cease working for them. Also, I doubt that anyone's personal myth is an exact duplicate of anyone else's. Each of us weaves our own unique variations into the generally shared mythology of our culture, and this adds texture and richness to the mythology as a whole – as well as to the culture, and to the quality of life each of us experience in our culture.
The collapse of civilization, or the unmasking of its fraudulent and intractably warlike nature, presses upon us (who see it so) the necessity of abandoning our familiar culture, and practically creating a new culture from scratch. This is a daunting task, when contemplated in anticipation; yet it is also an exciting and thoroughly engaging opportunity as well. After all, it isn't every generation that has the opportunity of establishing the keynote (if successful) that may set the cultural tone for many future generations.
This is quite a different matter, by the way, from dictating anyone's future culture, in the style of "civilization." If anything we contribute to the myth of metaconsciousness endures into future generations, it will be because they, the future generations, will have found it useful enough to retain and pass on. Otherwise, it will vanish, regardless how "good" or "important" we judge it to be.
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Elements of the Myth of Metaconsciousness
Here is a synopsis of elements of the myth of metaconsciousness that have arisen, overtly, or by implication, in this open-ended discussion:
These are elements which have so far emerged in our ongoing considerations of metaconsciousness. Although this list may contain some redundancy, I believe every element included is intuitively plausible, and believable – I hope to others besides myself. Being elements of a myth, they need not necessarily be proven; although the plausibility of a myth is always strengthened by rational and experimental verification, when possible. Indeed, in the context of the impenetrable mystery which embraces all things, "intuitive plausibility" may be the best verification we can achieve, in many instances; which does not by any means imply that a post-civilized mythology that works can consist of "just anything."21
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If Not This, What?
I have a general criticism – which does not exclude the present work – of studies that examine the flaws of our social system, or recommend the virtues of alternative social systems, yet are unable to provide a coherent picture of how such alternative systems actually work in practice. This is an issue with which the present work has been grappling from its inception: we behold "civilization," and respond, "Not this!" – yet are hard pressed to give a coherent response to the follow-on question, "If not this, what?" Although frustrating, such shortcomings are easy to comprehend, because in order to convey an understanding, beyond a superficial academic overview, of how a "foreign," or "alternative" culture actually works, one must be absorbed and embraced by the culture to the extent that one is no longer an "outsider."
An anthropologist, for example, conducting an academic study of some remote indigenous culture can only go so far toward illuminating the subject of his or her study – for the simple and unavoidable reason that s/he is an outsider to the culture: a transient visitor who will never penetrate the innermost mysteries of that culture sufficiently to illuminate for general comprehension the spirit that animates the culture and motivates its constituents in their daily lives. Moreover, with few exceptions such visitors operate on the presumption, consciously or unconsciously, that their culture (i.e. "civilization") is immeasurably superior to that of the indigenous culture under study. Corollary is the expectation that their study's purpose is therefore to round out or expand an already pre-existing "understanding" of the indigenous culture, in relationship to the immeasurably "superior" so-called "civilization;" and is more in the way of further demonstrating the "superiority" of "civilization" than of imbibing the native wisdom of an indigenous culture.
"Civilized" people have not easily admitted or tolerated lacking for anything; and if they find anyone else in possession of something they want, "civilized" people have never exhibited reluctance to take it, by any means necessary. In the past, however, "native wisdom" has seldom been among the items "civilization" has valued enough to import from indigenous peoples. Perhaps the collapse-in-progress of "civilization" itself will motivate some among us to change that appraisal.
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So far, contributions beside my own to this work have mostly been made unintentionally by authors of other works, whose efforts are gradually lengthening the bibliography for this one, and whose disclosures at times have influenced the evolutionary progress of the myth of metaconsciousness. Such is the work of Martín Prechtel, author of Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, and Long Life, Honey in the Heart,22 two autobiographical volumes detailing Don Martín's extraordinary adventures in the embrace of the remote Mayan village of Santiago Atitlan, on the southern shore of Lake Atitlan in the highlands of Guatemala.
Martín Prechtel's works are unique, in my experience, due to a highly unusual sequence of circumstances which drew him, in the course of wandering away southward from his native New Mexico, to a remote Guatemalan village where he was accepted, embraced, initiated, and eventually rose to a position of significant influence in the village, before it was brutally destroyed by the advance of "civilization." Martín managed to escape with his life, to tell the tale. He started out, in other words, as an "outsider," but did not remain so; and he became intimately involved with the village, learned its language, imbibed and embraced its culture as his own, and has now returned to "civilization" with a rich cargo of experience and native insight, accumulated over perhaps thousands of years, which may be of vital importance to those who hope to survive the contemporary human predicament.
Without going into too much detail, what struck me most forcefully about Martín's narrative, particularly Long Life, Honey in the Heart, is the incredible cultural richness it discloses in the lives of the indigenous people who used to inhabit the village of Santiago Atitlan. He discusses at length and in depth the cultural minutia particular to every stage of village life, from birth and infancy, through the initiations into childhood, young adulthood, male / female courting, marriage, child raising, maturity, old age, and death. The cultural richness he describes struck me as rendering "civilized" culture by comparison pale, flat, and one-dimensional; and it was borne in upon me, more insistently than ever before, that we "civilized folk" – including myself – no longer have more than the haziest notion of what real culture is even for, or what it consists of. We haven't experienced it, after all, for five thousand years, and it comes as no surprise that our cultural impoverishment runs so deep that we have no way even to comprehend what we've been missing. Attempting to describe real culture to the "civilized" is almost like attempting to describe vision to the congenitally blind.
In consequence, I am rather chastened in my passionate quest for a "post-civilized mythology," and the "post-civilized culture" I hope will follow from such mythology. It's one thing to talk or write conceptually about such matters, and quite another to see them materialize in the real world. Such an ambition is vastly more complex in practice than any imaginable endeavor, say, to follow Martín Prechtel's description of the culture he experienced in Guatemala, and attempt to reproduce it somewhere else. The rich Atitlan culture evolved slowly over the course of hundreds and thousands of years, and was uniquely adapted to the volcanic mountain lake habitat in which it grew and flourished. It cannot be transplanted; and in the event, it was finally annihilated in its native habitat by the "civilized" people who had long perceived it as a chronic obstacle to their ambitions.
Nevertheless, I harbor the hope – and profound gratitude to Martín Prechtel for sharing his experiences, and endeavoring with such passion to bring his rich culture to the attention of all who will attend – that the vital elements of the culture he describes can be resurrected in many diverse settings in a "post-civilized world." He describes social interactions which would never have occurred to me as important to a post-civilized culture; which I am able to appreciate, now he's mentioned them, as vital to a culture that works. They may take many different forms from the ones he describes, yet they seem to be required components, in some form, of a functional culture.
The Atitlan culture had the course of human life laid out as a series of initiations from one stage to the next, cradle to grave, each with the overarching purpose of resurrecting Life from year to year in the village, and in the mountain context in which it occurred. These initiations were sacred rituals involving the active participation and effort of every member of the village, handed down generation to generation by word and example, from seniors to their juniors at every major juncture in the life of an individual. Initiations were one part of the intricate and elaborate means the succeeding generations of that particular village had evolved over the course of perhaps thousands of years to keep the game going23 from one year, and one generation, to the next.
When youths began courting, for example, they thereby gave the signal that the time had arrived for their initiation out of childhood, out of their mothers' exclusive care, and into the wider embrace of the village at large. This initiation occupied the better part of an entire year to complete, and was administered by a hierarchy of elders for whom it was in effect an initiation into the next stage of their continuously unfolding lives as well. In this way, at least two generations were simultaneously initiated in a challenging process of what we might call "learning by doing" the vital steps necessary to sustain Life, for each individual, for the village, and for the world at large. Martín Prechtel was appointed head chief, the Najbey Mam, Foremost Grandchild,24 for the initiation year over which he presided, during which he was himself initiated into the next phase of his life in the village of Santiago Atitlan.
Administration of village affairs was handled by what Martín describes as a "hierarchy" of elders; yet this was not a hierarchy of "superiors" and "inferiors" in the sense in which the term is commonly used in dominator civilizations. The village of Santiago Atitlan was in every sense a gylanic, partnership culture, as specified by Eisler,25 in which women and men were co-equal partners in the full-time, year-round responsibility of keeping the Earth, the village, and its constituents alive throughout the ritual cycle of the seasons, and from one year to the next. Members of the village "hierarchy" took their responsibilities in addition to whatever else they normally had to do to keep body and soul together from day to day, and year to year. They fulfilled their administrative responsibilities at their own expense, and this typically bankrupted them and put them in debt to the entire village.
Martín describes how he was personally prosperous, being an artist whose works were in demand by an affluent sector of "civilized" society; so it took longer than usual for his duties as Najbey Mam to drive him into bankruptcy. When this finally happened, and he was at his wit's end casting about for the wherewithal to conclude his responsibilities, the village exuberantly rallied round and carried him through to a victorious conclusion to the initiation year. Later, when Martín was financially back on his feet again, and tried to repay the villagers who had helped him through the pinch, they threw rocks at him, scolded him roundly, and chased him away from their doors! Someone had to explain to him that that was the idea of the thing: he was supposed to go broke, and become indebted to the village, because that's how their culture worked. Everybody was indebted to everybody else, all the time, and so could be called upon for help in time of need, and cheerfully respond with their best. Such were welcome opportunities to repay what could never be repaid – and so their culture worked. Learning this was part of the next stage of Martín's initiation.
As already mentioned, many of the elements of Atitlan culture would never have occurred to me, nor probably to most other "civilized" individuals. Yet, once pointed out, I can appreciate their subtle logic and vital necessity to the organic culture Martín describes. It is perhaps not reasonable to hope that Atitlan culture might someday be resurrected in its original form; yet it may be that the experience of it related in Martín Prechtel's books, lectures, and workshops may contribute to the evolution of a post-civilized culture that works, in which elements of Atitlan culture may be in some form incorporated.
The main value to me, which is incalculable, of Martín Prechtel's experience and description is that he draws upon a once-living culture that he actually experienced from the inside, and describes in considerable depth and detail how and why it worked. It demonstrates once again that a sustainable human culture is actually possible. That that culture ultimately failed because it was deliberately murdered is no mark against its fundamental viability – at least in the absence of overwhelming hostility. And of course, the absence of overwhelming hostility, that is, the absence of war, is prerequisite for the viability of any culture, as well as for the viability of all Life; because it is prerequisite for the evolution of metaconsciousness, which requires an environment of richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty in order to function properly.
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Social Survival and Collapse
As Martín Prechtel's work provides a microscopic view into the inner workings of a single culture, conversely Jared Diamond provides a wide-angle survey of many human cultures scattered around the Earth and across history and prehistory.26 Diamond's work addresses the question, Why do some human societies experience catastrophic collapse, often at the peak of their evident success; and why do other societies pull through challenging adversity, and prosper for hundreds or thousands of years? It is a timely and broadly illuminating study, even if he is nowhere near attributing, as I do, the bulk of the human predicament to the fundamentally warlike nature of contemporary and historical "civilization." He makes clear, however, that the global human predicament is one of extraordinary complexity, resulting from a convergence of many different kinds of causes which combine synergistically in the poisonous cocktail now flooding the Earth and all its inhabitants. Once again, it is clear – and chastening – to note that there are no "simple solutions" to the human predicament. Although many "heinous deeds" have been committed along the path to "right here, right now," identifying, judging, and hanging the "villains" will not contribute significantly to a solution for "the rest of us" – if there is indeed anyone on this planet not implicated in our shared "crimes," and / or follies.
Diamond seems to me somewhat obsessed with deforestation and environmental degradation, in the same way I am analogously obsessed with preemption, war, and illegitimate hierarchies. Well, maybe obsessed isn't exactly the right word. We each place considerable emphasis, anyway, upon our respective focuses of attention. Diamond documents at length how time and again, people who have colonized pristine and unblemished environments, and ruined them, had no way of knowing, until the damage was already done, how fragile and difficult to repair those virgin lands, rivers, lakes, reefs, and seas turned out to be; or how devastating and long-lasting the consequences of such ruination can be. In some cases, as in Tikopia, steps were taken in time to halt and reverse pending environmental catastrophes; in others, as in Easter Island, and Nauru, no such steps were taken, and entire cultures were, and are being swallowed up in cataclysms largely of their own making. Such follies, as suggested by Tudge,27 have by no means been limited to "civilized" cultures. Societies of widely diverse sizes and levels of complexity have alike been overtaken by self-made catastrophes; or have taken successful measures to sidestep impending catastrophes.
On the basis of Diamond's broad yet penetrating survey of many ancient and contemporary human cultures, it is clear that "civilization," as understood and practiced on planet Earth today, has never held a monopoly among human cultures on warfare. To imply otherwise, as I may have done in earlier parts of this work, is a misleading oversimplification.28 In any case, it is accurate enough to say that warfare, as defined in items 27 and 28 above, is fundamental to contemporary human "civilization;" and that there have been other human cultures of which this cannot truthfully be said. The now-extinct Atitlan culture described by Martín Prechtel, which was overtaken not by a catastrophe of their own making, but by the catastrophe of "civilization" itself, is one example among many that might be cited.
Diamond does not explicitly highlight in his survey the distinctions between warlike and peaceful, or between hierarchical and non-hierarchical cultures, because his primary focus is upon ecological damage and its complex long-term, as well as proximate causes; and what the cultures he examines either did or did not do to remedy the consequences. Also, Diamond does not share my perception that warfare and hierarchical societies are by nature root causes of ecological catastrophes; yet his work supplies much evidence that confirms my views.
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Possibly some time before the year 900,29 a canoe expedition of Polynesian colonists made landfall on the eastern Pacific island which 800 or so years later was given the name, Easter Island. The island was "discovered" Easter Sunday, 5 April 1722, by Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen.30 The roughly triangular island, with an extinct volcano at each vertex, has a surface area of 66 square miles, a maximum elevation of 1,670 feet, and is situated 2,300 miles west of Chile, and 1,300 miles east of the Pitcairn Islands in eastern Polynesia, Easter Island's nearest neighbors.
Around the year 1864, the native population of Easter Island was estimated by Christian missionaries to be approximately 2,000 individuals; survivors of the Peruvian slave raids of 1862-3, two documented smallpox epidemics in or after 1836, other smallpox epidemics of European origin from 1770 on, and the major population crash of the 17th century.31 Additionally, the island is "populated" by almost 900 monolithic carved statues averaging 13 feet high, and weighing 10 tons each, scattered all around the island's perimeter, along roads, and inside and outside the volcanic crater where they were quarried. These, of course, are the world-famous "trademark" of Easter Island, symbolizing by their gigantic size and inscrutable silence the many mysteries of this remote outpost.
The most immediate mysteries of the place to its first European visitors were the questions of who the Easter Islanders were, where they had come from, and how they had got there. For in 1722 the island was bare of trees, and the inhabitants had only small, leaky, uncaulked canoes stitched together out of small planks and bits of wood. A minimum 1,300-mile sea voyage in such craft, for even one or a few individuals, was clearly out of the question. So, how could they possibly have gotten there? And then, 13 feet and 10 tons were only the average size of the monolithic sculptures these people, or their ancestors, had carved. The largest of them ever erected weighed, respectively, 75, and 87 tons.32 How did these mysterious people manage such feats, without timber and strong ropes?33
Although by 1722, when first sighted by Europeans, Easter Island was entirely barren of trees, this is not how its Polynesian settlers found it when they first arrived. Evidence in the form of pollen observed in sediment cores taken from swamps in the bottoms of the island's volcanic craters, and charcoal recovered from ovens and garbage heaps, attest that Easter Island was heavily forested with a wide variety of valuable tree species at the time it was first colonized. The first Easter Islanders would have made their ropes the same way most other Polynesians do: from the bark of Triumfetta semitriloba. They would have made their voyage of discovery in large ocean-going canoes made from Alphitonia cf. zizyphoides, or Elaeocarpus cf. rarotongensis, which grow 100, and 50 feet tall, respectively; and they would have replaced their canoes, once they had settled on Easter Island, by means of the same trees.34 Until, that is, they had cut the last of them down. After the last trees had been felled, and the last canoes made from those trees had rotted away, there was no possibility of return, or onward exploration, from this remotest of remote Pacific outposts. There was no longer a possibility, either, for offshore tuna or porpoise hunting.
The same garbage heaps that yielded the charcoal that disclosed the forest species present on Easter Island during the early years of colonization also disclosed much about the Easter Islanders' diet and lifestyle. More than a third of the bones found in their early middens belonged to the Common Dolphin, Delphinus delphis, the largest animal available to the first colonists. This is unusual, being the only location in Polynesia where dolphins contributed as much as 1% to accumulations of discarded bones. Dolphin bones disappeared with the trees, however, as they can only be found at sea, and without seagoing canoes, could no longer be hunted. Elsewhere, fish bones attest that fish account for 90% of the typical Polynesian diet; whereas fish made up only 23% of Easter Islanders' diet, even in the best of times. This is because the drop-off to deep water lies close to the Easter Island shore, and inshore fish species are few. Easter Island, however, used to host perhaps the richest breeding bird sanctuary in all Polynesia, if not the entire Pacific Ocean; and the middens of the human colonists bear witness that birds of all kinds contributed lavishly to the Easter Islanders' diet – until all the birds were gone. Today, there is not a single species of land bird to be found on Easter Island.35
The overall picture for Easter [Diamond writes] is the most extreme example of forest destruction in the Pacific, and among the most extreme in the world: the whole forest gone, and all of its tree species extinct. Immediate consequences for the islanders were losses of raw materials, losses of wild-caught foods, and decreased crop yields.36
Destruction of the forest, in addition to removing it as a source of foods and many materials vital to the islanders, exposed the land to wind and water erosion, which in turn depleted the nourishment of the soil, and exacerbated the relative aridity of Easter Island. As the process of resource depletion accelerated, a cascade was set in motion whereby the resources upon which the Easter Island population depended became successively scarce, and eventually vanished; with the result that their social structure collapsed, and the Easter Islanders descended swiftly into poverty, starvation, internecine violence, cannibalism, and a final, catastrophic population crash. At its peak, the Easter Island population has been estimated at between 6,000 and 30,000, and Diamond's analysis finds a peak population of 15,000 quite plausible.37 As already mentioned, by 1864, the native population was estimated at 2,000, and by 1872 there were only 111 natives left alive on the island.38
Aside from depredations caused by visiting Europeans after 1722, Diamond has identified nine physical, or geographic factors operative on Pacific islands which tend to exacerbate or ameliorate the process of deforestation – all nine of which combined to work against the Easter Island colonists.39 Easter Island, in other words, was much more prone to ecological catastrophe than it would have been had it been located, for instance, nearer the Equator, nearer Central Asia's soil-enriching dust plume, had it been of higher elevation, had it enjoyed more recent volcanism, more rain, etc.
In short [Diamond writes], the reason for Easter's unusually severe degree of deforestation isn't that those seemingly nice people really were unusually bad or improvident. Instead, they had the misfortune to be living in one of the most fragile environments, at the highest risk of deforestation, of any Pacific people.40
Diamond has also established in his book a set of five factors with possible impact upon the potential collapse (or not) of a human society:
As is typical of Polynesian societies elsewhere, Easter society was stratified hierarchically, as evidenced by the differences between the large houses of the chiefs, situated near the coast around the perimeter of the island; and the modest houses of the commoners, situated inland, and characteristically associated with utilitarian structures such as chicken houses, ovens, and garbage pits not allowed near the chiefs' houses. Surviving oral traditions and archaeological surveys corroborate that the island was divided pie-fashion, from the coast inland, into eleven or twelve territories, occupied respectively by as many different clans, each with its own chief; an arrangement also typical of other Polynesian societies. Less typically, although there was peaceful rivalry among the clans, they were also integrated politically and economically under the leadership of a single major chief. Polynesian societies elsewhere are generally typified instead by vicious and chronic warfare among rival clans.42
This unusual cooperative spirit among the Easter Island clans may have been encouraged by the circumstance that the territory of each clan contained some resource or advantage of vital importance to all the others. One contained the best beach for launching and landing canoes; another contained the only source on the island of obsidian for sharp tools; another included the quarry for the best stone for carving Easter Island's characteristic and enigmatic statues; and so on. Roads for moving the finished statues radiated from the quarry to all parts of the island, and the statues had to cross the territory of different clans in order to be set up at their final destinations dispersed all around the island's perimeter.
Evidently, a cult of statue-carving and worship evolved on Easter, rooted in Polynesian traditions elsewhere; one element of which became the representation in ever expanding form of the ranking ancestors upon whose blessings and good will the success of the colony was probably believed to depended. There are grounds for speculation at least that, isolated at the end of the Earth, without enemies or friends, or neighbors of any kind, the islanders poured their efforts and creativity into the carving, transporting, and erecting of increasingly ambitious stylized representations of the ancestors; and that, cooperation being enforced by the distribution of vital resources around the island, clan rivalry was given expression in a friendly competition focused upon the issue of which clan could erect the largest and most spectacular statue.
Carbon dating of coral associated with the statue-carving phase of Easter culture suggests that most of this activity took place between the years 1000 and 1600.43 There seems to have been an evolutionary progression during this period, graduating from smaller to larger works, and from rounder, more human representations to the more stylized and angular statues of later years. This period too may be surmised to have been the "golden age" of Easter culture, during which resources were varied and abundant enough to support the ambitious undertakings of quarrying, sculpting, transporting, and erecting the giant works throughout the island.
It may easily be imagined how the Easter Islanders, absorbed in the challenging tasks associated with erecting monuments of increasing size and weight, and focusing upon the nuances of clan rivalry invoked by these activities, may have entirely overlooked the gradual denuding of their island, from one generation to the next. Neither process occurred "overnight," and the ecological catastrophe that ultimately overtook them must have "snuck up" on them so gradually that nobody noticed – until the pickin's began to grow so slim, after some 600 years, that their straitened circumstances could no longer be ignored. By then, however, food and other resources were becoming scarce, and the cooperative clan rivalry that had expressed itself in monuments of increasing size degenerated into bloody internecine warfare over the basic survival needs of a population that had overshot the island's diminished capacity to sustain it.
These alarming developments undermined the credibility of the chiefs, and the religion that sustained the monument building. The last, and the most massive of the statues were erected around 1620; the discredited chiefs and priests, who justified their relatively lavish lifestyle with claims of relationship with the gods, and promises of abundance and prosperity, were deposed around 1680 by military leaders; and a swiftly degenerating peace was replaced by outright civil war. The statues that had been so painstakingly and laboriously erected over hundreds of years by gently competing clans, were now deliberately toppled across slabs of stone, so as to break when they fell. Commoners moved to the coastal zone, once reserved for the now overthrown chiefs – yet in drastically diminished numbers, for now famine stalked the land, and discarded human bones, cracked open to extract the marrow, provide grim testimony to the rise of cannibalism on Easter Island.44
Such, briefly, is a synopsis of the rise and fall of the Polynesian culture on Easter Island. It is a haunting and disturbing tale, because it foreshadows, possibly, the chain of events now in progress on the immensely grander scale of the entire planet Earth. Like the Easter Islanders, we residents of this remote planetary outpost have not the option, either of "returning where we came from" – if we possibly may have originated anywhere in the universe besides here – or of venturing forth in search of a more hospitable planet somewhere else. We must either establish a relationship with our planet that works for everyone, and is able to sustain us indefinitely into the future, or perish; and probably face a destiny along the way similar to that of the Easter Islanders when their culture collapsed. Fortunately, the latter eventuality is a choice, and not the only one available to us, even at this advanced hour.
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There resides in the southwestern Pacific Ocean another isolated island, 1.8 square miles in extent, supporting a population of around 1,100 individuals. The island's population density is about 600 people per square mile – compared to something on the order of 200 people per square mile, if Easter Island's peak population was around 15,000. The tiny island of Tikopia has been occupied continuously for almost 3,000 years.45
There are other differences between Tikopia and Easter. Tikopia is situated nearer the equator, which gives it a wetter climate – and also places it in the main cyclone belt of the Pacific, giving it an average of two cyclones per year, which cause damage of varying severity at unpredictable intervals. Somewhat balancing this liability is the asset of being situated in the zone of volcanic ash fallout from other islands, enriching the Tikopian soil. Tikopia's nearest neighbor is 85 miles away, the 0.14-square-mile island of Anuta, with a population of 170. The larger islands of Vanua Lava in the Vanuatu Archipelago, and Vanikoro in the Solomon Archipelago, are each about 140 miles away, and 100 square miles in extent.
As disclosed by archaeological evidence, Tikopia was first colonized around the year -900 by ancestors of the Polynesians, a people known as the Lapita. As had the Easter Islanders many centuries later, the first Tikopians burned the virgin forests they found on the island, and devoured to depletion or extinction many species inhabiting the surrounding land, sea, and air. By around -100, human depredations had so diminished the initial sources of food that adjustments began to appear in the archaeological record. Charcoal ceased accumulating, indicating a cessation of slash-and-burn agriculture. Traces of native almonds (Canarium harveyi) appeared, indicating the cultivation of nut tree orchards. The decline of wild birds and fish was compensated by the husbandry of pigs.
Meanwhile, the people who traced their origins to the Lapita, the Polynesians, had been evolving their culture among the island groups known today as Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. Around the year 1200, some of these Polynesians arrived at Tikopia, and brought with them some of the technologies and ways of living they had developed.
Around 1600, the archaeological record demonstrates, and oral tradition confirms that the Tikopians reached a significant decision about their relationship to their diminutive environment. They slaughtered every pig on the island, and thence forward commenced substituting in their diet the protein available through increased consumption of turtles, shellfish, and fish. According to Tikopian oral tradition, their ancestors killed all the pigs because they were rooting up their gardens and competing with humans for the available food on the island. A pound of pork is produced at the cost of ten pounds of vegetables humans would otherwise eat themselves. A 300 lb. roast pig, in other words, would cost, subtracting, say 75 lb. of bones and other inedible parts, about 2,250 lb. of vegetable produce. The Tikopian ancestors evidently decided this was too high a price to pay for the luxury of a traditional Polynesian luau.
Approached from the sea, Tikopia today has the appearance of an uninhabited island, mantled in virgin rain forest. Closer examination discloses that, with the exception of small patches of true rain forest still rooted on the steepest cliffs, nothing grows on Tikopia that is not either edible or in some other way useful to Tikopians. Most of the island supports a diverse orchard of nut- and fruit-bearing trees, or trees and plants yielding other useful products. Beneath and among the overarching trees are gardens in which bananas and yams are grown, and a variety of giant swamp taro (Cyrtosperma chamissonis) adapted to these well-drained hillside orchards.
Elsewhere, there is a small freshwater swamp where the standard variety of giant swamp taro is grown; and taro, yams, and manioc (the latter introduced from South America), are grown on a continuous basis in intensively mulched and weeded fields throughout the year. Ducks and fish harvested from the island's single brackish lake contribute minorly to the Tikopians' protein intake, and fish and shellfish harvested from the sea contribute majorly.
Additionally, as during the dry season when other produce is scarce, or in the aftermath of a crop-destroying cyclone, Tikopians are able to fall back as necessary upon a starchy paste of surplus breadfruit fermented in pits; a product which can be stored for up to three years. This technology was brought to Tikopia ca. 1200 by the Polynesians. Also, products of the surviving rain forest which, although not preferred under more favorable conditions, are at least able to hold famine at bay in an emergency, until normal food production can be restored. And so, the Tikopians are able to feed their population.
The complimentary requirement for sustainable living is a stable population which never overshoots its habitat's capacity to sustain it. This the Tikopians have traditionally addressed by seven different means:
"Virtual suicide" has been resorted to on other occasions, and has consisted generally of undertaking "impossible" sea voyages, in preference to awaiting starvation on an island incapable of supporting more than an uncompromising maximum population. Similarly, there have been occasions on which individuals have chosen to commit suicide by swimming out to sea, rather than starving on land.
Option 4, celibacy, was defined on Tikopia as not bearing children, not as abstaining from sex. Thus options 2 and 3 have been traditionally available in the event of failure of the effectiveness of option 1.
Due to its extreme isolation, although Tikopia was "discovered" by Europeans in 1606, there was no significant European influence upon Tikopian affairs until the 1800s. The first Christian missionaries arrived in 1857, and the first conversions to Christianity did not occur until after 1900. As regards Tikopian population control, the British colonial government on the Solomon Islands "outlawed" options 6 and 7, and the Christians discouraged options 2, 3, and 5, and redefined option 4. In consequence, the 1929 population of 1,278 rose to 1,753 by 1952, the year two consecutive cyclones46 destroyed half of Tikopia's crops. The British Solomon Islands responded immediately to the Tikopian famine by sending food, and subsequently invited the excess Tikopian population to resettle in the less densely populated Solomons. Today, the Tikopian chiefs regulate the population, by stipulating that no more than 1,115 individuals may reside on the island.
Although the Tikopian chiefs are naturally influential among Tikopians, they more resemble the "hierarchy" of Atitlan elders than the elitist Easter Island chiefs. Diamond writes that of all Polynesian societies, "Tikopia is among the least stratified chiefdoms with the weakest chiefs."47 They tend their own gardens and produce their own food, like everybody else, and they are far more custodians of tradition, and advisers of their people, than anything resembling tribal autocrats.
Tikopian society is today divided among four clans, and the population is small enough that every Tikopian can be personally acquainted with every other. The island is so small that a circuit of its entire coast may be completed in a half-day hike. Diamond tells us that he was once asked by a group of Tikopians, "Friend, is there any land where the sound of the sea is not heard?"48 Consequently, there is no part of their domain with which every Tikopian is not personally and intimately familiar, and a circumstance affecting the life of anybody automatically affects the life of everybody. It was therefore natural from the very beginning, almost three thousand years ago, that Tikopian society should be governed mainly by consensus.
Such consensus may have been spontaneously achieved, as early as it was, simply because the vital immediacy of every aspect of life on Tikopia to every resident of the island was impossible to ignore for long. On Tikopia, there is no such thing as an SEP (Somebody Else's Problem). On Tikopia, any problem, "large" or "small," is unavoidably everybody's problem, and all Tikopians intuitively understand this. It is perhaps in this way that Tikopians differ most profoundly from "civilized" folk; for the situation shared by all residents of planet Earth is no different, at bottom, from the situation shared by all Tikopians. We are all residents of an infinitesimal island in a vast ocean, and there is no such thing as an SEP, for any of us. All Tikopians understand this about their island; like the vanished Easter Islanders, precious few "civilized" folk, as yet, understand this about ours.
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Lying about 850 miles north of Tikopia is the one-time paradise of Nauru, about four miles long by three wide, which in recent years has suffered a fate much more in common with that of Easter than with that of Tikopia. During the nineteenth century, whalers calling there had Nauru listed on their charts as the "Pleasant Island," – which began to change later in the century, after a German colonialist happened to notice that the island was rich in phosphate, a valuable component of agricultural fertilizers. First under German, then Australian, then Japanese stewardship (during WWII), and after 1968 as an independent nation, the major industry on Nauru was the mining of native Nauruan phosphate, and shipping it off to foreign lands in exchange for money. While it lasted, the Nauruan economy boomed, and there was a period there when Nauruans enjoyed the most prosperous per capita economy in the world.
For a 4 × 3 mi. island, however, even if it is entirely made out of the stuff, there are limits beyond which a phosphate economy cannot be stretched. Eighty percent of the island – the 80% in the middle – has been systematically mined of phosphate down to the limestone bedrock. Nothing grows there. No birds populate the sky, which heated by the blistering tropical sun above the island's moonscape of naked rock, raises a perpetual column of hot air that prohibits the approach of rain clouds. Water, food, and all commodities required by the island's inhabitants must be imported. Tourism is impossible. The outlook for the ten thousand native Nauruans is less than hospitable, to phrase it as gently as can be.49 The island stands as a cautionary tale for the rest of the world, in the immensity of the broad Pacific: This is what happens when you mine the natural resources of your home-island in exchange for quick wealth. Planet Earth is no less the home-island for all humans than are Tikopia, Easter, and Nauru for their human inhabitants. Humans, take note: the writing is on the wall.
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Toward a Post-Civilized Mythology
This business of bringing to life a post-civilized mythology is not the work of a single book, or a single individual, or a single lifetime. It is the work of multitudes, a timeless work of deep importance and creativity. We have seen over the course of our five-thousand-year episode with "civilization" how profoundly our mythologies – what we believe to be true – shape our lives, in great and small ways, individually and globally. Some of our beliefs are vital for our survival and well-being; others are suicidal. If we are to survive and prosper on planet Earth, we must cultivate the ability to distinguish clearly between wholesome and suicidal beliefs, and consciously shape our mythologies accordingly. The mythologies we have received from our "civilized" heritage, "from the Cathedral," so to speak, given to us by those who do not understand the common destiny of all island peoples, have manifested in the human predicament which today threatens the life of every planetary resident. If we want a different result, it is our responsibility, yours and mine, to shape our mythologies in ways that bring into manifestation instead the kind of world we have always dreamed of: a world of peace, kindness, trust, and unbridled liberty and creativity for everyone. Such a world can be our world – if we create the mythologies that manifest in that kind of a world, and in those kinds of lives. Part II of this work is dedicated to development of such mythologies.
I am certain of very little, yet I can state with considerable confidence one thing at least: certainly there is much I have overlooked in my speculations and observations about metaconsciousness, and there is much to be added that has not occurred to me. I hereby call upon the combined metaconsciousness of readers of this work to fill in the areas I have left vacant, and to improve the areas I have considered imperfectly. Suggestions for improving or correcting this text, as a whole or in part, are welcome, and contributions collaboratively deemed appropriate for inclusion in future editions will be included with full attribution.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to add to, edit, broaden, refine, clarify, or otherwise improve the myth of metaconsciousness in whatever ways seem to you appropriate. Then if you would, please forward your suggestions to me.
Thank you for your time and attention, and for your creative response to the joyful task of bringing forth myths for a post-civilized world.
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1. Section I.6, p. 68.
2. What I Mean by Myth, in the Prologue.
3. The Elements of Metaconscious Entities in section I.2.
4. Item b, Additional Contours of the Metaconsciousness Myth in section I.4.
5. I.1. Genesis and Evolution of Metaconsciousness.
6. Item a, Additional Contours of the Metaconsciousness Myth in section I.4.
7. Ibid., Item d.
8. Section II.1, p. 138.
9. This is a paraphrase of section II.1, p. 139. The argument is particularly strengthened by the emergence of Cosmological Scale Expansion, discussed in section II.5.
10. Item e, Additional Contours of the Metaconsciousness Myth, in section I.4.
11. A Course in Miracles.
12. This, and items 11-14, incl., are first stated in the Prologue, p. 12. See section II.4 for elaboration.
13. Daniel Quinn, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, A Bantam / Turner Book, New York, Toronto, London, Sydney, Auckland, 1992, p. 129; The Story of B, Bantam Books, New York, Toronto, London, Sydney, Auckland, 1996, p. 252.; also quoted above in the Prologue, p. 24. Emphasis added. See also items 16, 19, and 21-32, inclusive, below; and The Wider Dimensions of Warfare, Warfare and Predation, and The Games of Life, and "Win all the Marbles", in section II.3.
14. This may be the first statement of this principle, in so many words; yet it is implied in various ways throughout the entire work, and is extensively elaborated in Conditions for Social Success, section II.3.
15. These principles too are implicit throughout much of this work. They first appear, stated as such, in How Do They Do It?, section I.6; and are repeated again in The Prognosis for Humankind, section I.8.
16. The Rise and Fall of Minoan Crete, section I.8.
17. Ibid., Lessons From Old Europe.
18. Items 21-32 in this list have their source in Conditions for Social Success, section II.3.
19. Metaconsciousness, in section II.5.
20. The Molecular Microworld of the Cell, and Inconclusion, section II.6.
21. Well, a functioning myth can consist of just about anything, because people have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to believe just about anything; although such a myth may not work for very long. The aim of the myth of metaconsciousness is to achieve plausibility for those with a capacity for the somewhat greater discrimination that is also evidently humanly possible. See Nonlocality, and Yes, but What Does it Mean? in section I.4, and "Post-Civilized" Physics in section II.5, for discussions of the contribution rigorous experimental proof can make to a plausible myth.
22. Martín Prechtel, Secrets of the Talking Jaguar: a Mayan Shaman's Journey to the Heart of the Indigenous Soul, Jeremy P. Tarcher / Putnam, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., New York, 1998; Long Life, Honey in the Heart: a Story of Initiation and Eloquence From the Shores of a Mayan Lake, Jeremy P. Tarcher / Putnam, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., New York, 1999.
23. See The Games of Life, and "Win all the Marbles", in section II.3, for a description of the game of "win all the marbles," in contrast to the game of Life.
24. Prechtel, 1999, p. 37.
25. Eisler, 1987. See also Dominator and Partnership Civilizations, in section I.8, for elaboration.
26. Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Viking, The Penguin Group, New York [undated].
27. Tudge, 1996. See also Learning to Live Within Our Means, section II.3, for further discussion.
28. In mitigation, however, in an infinite, non-local, quantum universe, any conception one may have of reality is unavoidably at best an oversimplification, subject always and ever to endless refinement and further elaboration. See I.4. Metaconsciousness Among the Quantum Fields, II.4. The Myths of Infinity and Hierarchy, and "The Edifice of Human Knowledge" in section II.6 for further relevant commentary.
29. Diamond, [undated], pp. 89-90.
30. Ibid., p. 80.
31. Ibid., pp. 90-1.
32. Ibid., p. 96.
33. One possible answer, not considered by Diamond, is the same way Leedskalnin, mentioned in The Coral Castle, section II.2, built his Coral Castle in Homestead, Florida. However, the archaeological evidence does not seem to support this possibility, there is no Polynesian tradition suggesting it, and Diamond may be excused for not considering it. This "off the wall" suggestion is inserted here merely as a reminder that there are no end of mysteries in this world, and those who think they are in possession of the "last word" on anything will more than likely encounter surprises, sooner or later.
34. Diamond, pp. 103-4.
35. Ibid., pp. 104-6.
36. Ibid., p. 107.
37. Ibid., pp. 90-1.
38. Ibid., p. 112.
39. Ibid., pp. 116-8.
40. Ibid., p. 118.
41. Ibid., p. 11.
42. Ibid., pp. 93-4.
43. Ibid., p. 97.
44. Ibid., pp. 108-10.
45. The discussion here on Tikopia has its factual source in the much more detailed presentation by Diamond [undated], pp. 286-93.
46. Actually, the two cyclones were spaced 13 months apart; ibid., p. 291.
47. Ibid., p. 293.
48. Ibid., p. 286.
49. Jack Hitt, "Island of the Damned," The Sun, Escondido, California, Issue 367, July, 2006, pp. 12-17.
Metaconsciousness: Mythology for a Post-Civilized World
I.10 | Contents | II.1