Looking back at Worldchanging, an online environmentalist magazine that published a “User’s Guide for the 21st Century” back in 2008, I notice the website’s failure to include in its sevenfold structure a section on psychology and consciousness. That didn’t seem odd when I read the book ten years ago. Today it seems an omission of consequence. Change requires change of consciousness. Reinvestigation of language and the forms by which we think. Bruce Sterling imagined something of this sort in the book’s introduction, where consciousness is spoken to as both observer and participant. We as readers find ourselves part of a continuous process, “a kind of rolling, seed-spewing electronic tumbleweed.” To be part of this process is to be one who performs the future in a newly reconstituted Globe Theater, a true multi-species theater-in-the-round. The pieces by which we perform our play are scattered all about us, awaiting a new gestalt. Yet where are we now? To what platforms have the Worldchangers decamped? Some other time zone, no? Some other historical juncture. Put down the book and the tune changes. The world fills with multi-species partners and allies: bluebirds, squirrels, Monarch butterflies. We converge, exchange greetings, celebrate over drinks, departing afterwards to tend to our nests, our homes, our private story-trees, even as we remain all of one nature. Books carry us off into separate constructs only to return us to this shared one, this commons we call History.
Les McCann & Eddie Harris wow a live audience with their cover of Gene McDaniels’s “Compared to What” at the Montreux Jazz Festival in June 1969.
The moment finds itself reproduced, resonating through countless lifeworlds. The single alone sold over a million copies, and appears on several soundtracks. Gene McDaniels was kind of an odd dude, though, referring to McCann as his “degenerate friend” on YouTube and Twitter before passing away in 2011. His work sometimes creeps me out, actually, much of it operating with a mysterious, vaguely esoteric air: puppet master, glint in eye, etc. McDaniels retired soon after the song’s success, spending his final years living as a self-described “hermit” somewhere in Maine. His politically charged albums of the early seventies, however, remain towering achievements. During this brief but potent stint, McDaniels reinvented himself as “the left rev. mc d,” a persona so radical it drew the ire of the Nixon administration, causing Ahmet Ertegun to drop McDaniels from Atlantic Records after the release of his album Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse in 1971. What about me: where am I at, how do I refocus? The command comes, “Go outdoors,” and it is good. Worlds of images, illustrated figures: around one a mix of life, plentiful, joyous, multitudinous.
How might we of the Undercommons avail ourselves in light of Climate Strike? Do we have concepts we could offer, lessons we could share? What is this Magnificence all around us? How do we help it grow? Who do we want to become? Hardt and Negri have told us, in a “script that is by now familiar” (xiii), that for most powerful social movements today, “leadership” is a dirty word. One of us rightly asks, “Is the youthful movement against fossil fuels leaderless? What about Greta Thunberg?” She’s a sort of leader, certainly — but perhaps the leadership she provides is tactical rather than strategic, a distinction favored by Hardt and Negri. By this they mean leadership of an entrepreneurial sort, “limited to short-term action and tied to specific occasions” (Assembly, p. 19). Hardt and Negri craft openings for which we’re grateful. I appreciate their call, too, at the end of Assembly, for a Hephaestus, a three-faced Dionysus, and a Hermes of the common. Why those three, however, as the constituents of their pantheon of the common? And how do we get from there to putting the machines back in the hands of living labor? How do we mute the command of capital? What would it mean, for instance, to make “digital algorithms” common, a form of non-property open to use by the multitude? Perhaps it’s as simple as forging “an instrument endowed with magical powers,” like the shield Hephaestus forged for Achilles. This instrument would “depict in concentric circles the composition of the entire community,” thus giving expression to “a new civilization, new modes of life, a new figure of humanity, and new relations of care among living species and the earth, up to the cosmos” (Assembly, p. 274).
Fiction, with its fabulated particulars, helps us see among these an implicit grammar, communication from a shared unconscious, truths indiscernible elsewhere. Yet here I am reading an intellectual biography, Alison Falby’s Between the Pigeonholes: Gerald Heard, 1889-1971. I respond skeptically to Falby’s characterization of Heard from the late 1940s onward, after the dissolution of Trabuco College — the Heard, in other words, of the psychedelic revolution — as a “counter-cultural conservative.” Ideologically, he was an odd bird, heterodox and hybrid; of that, we can be certain. I guess Falby is right, though. Her argument is as follows. “Heard’s career,” she writes, “reflects the intersection of spiritualized psychology, religion, and conservatism in postwar America. He became a religious counselor to several libertarian businessmen as well as to Clare Booth Luce, the writer, diplomat, and Republican Congresswoman. Although he advocated self-transcendence, he ultimately entrenched individual selfhood with his spiritual prescriptions of yoga, meditation, and LSD. Although he subverted the individual in his theology, he affirmed individualism by putting his spiritual system at the service of libertarianism” (Falby 121). By the early 1960s, she says, Heard was a fan of Barry Goldwater, supporting the latter’s bid for the presidency in the 1964 election. His views had already turned markedly to the right by the late 1940s. A book of his from 1950 advocates reform of criminals through techniques similar to brainwashing. This same book of his (Morals Since 1900) also contains praise for the surveillance work of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. During the same year, Heard also published a bizarro book about UFOs — and this was all several years before he tried psychedelics. By the mid-1950s, Heard joined with libertarians Edmund Opitz (1914-2006) and James C. Ingebretsen (1906-2000) to form an elite spiritual organization called The Wayfarers. Heard convinced several of these right-libertarian patrons and friends of his to try acid during this period. He and Aldous Huxley were both elitists in this regard, thinking it appropriate to share psychedelics only with a select few. Huxley’s elites were often cultural progressives, however, whereas Heard’s were spiritually-minded business executives and captains of industry.
I’m feeling the love tonight. People have been sending me gifts, wishing me a happy birthday. Sarah took me out for Indian for my birthday dinner. The situation in the UK has me alert and attentive. The Left has an opportunity to take power. There’s a doorway here that leads to sweeter states of being. Let’s live hopefully again, a joyful fruiting multitude, allied again with the planet.
If we’re to assemble into a magical, majestic Multitude, we need to cultivate trust — in ourselves, in other beings, in our capacity to care for one another. No more Gnostic suspicion beyond what is needed to spur care, by which I mean the creation of a system of cooperative, universal care for all beings; but also personal care for sentences, life, loved ones. Trust that despite past shortcomings, we can do better here and now.
Maslow’s ideas influenced the utopian consciousness revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s in a variety of ways beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned. Betty Friedan wrote at length about Maslow in a chapter of her book The Feminine Mystique, embracing his humanistic approach as an alternative to the pessimism of the Freudian paradigm. Yet Maslow’s views regarding women certainly weren’t what we would now recognize as progressive. A woman could only self-actualize and “realize her own potential,” he claimed, “through her husband and children.” His views were shaped by largely unexamined heteronormative, gender-binary assumptions. He remained in all things a centrist, an opponent of the New Left despite an attraction to democratic socialism in his youth. By the time of his greatest influence in the 1960s, he was essentially a New Deal Democrat, fearful of communists, and committed to US victory in the Cold War — a war that was fought in part on college campuses, including those where Maslow worked. Integration, globalization — these were posited and advanced by Maslow and others as solutions to nuclear war. The humanities and the sciences need to synergize, the centrists argued, if we’re to avoid destruction. Let us love each other and teach each other to dance. Yet here we are today, globalized and integrated by digital capitalism, rich waging war on the poor, planet on the verge of catastrophe, fascism waiting in the wings. Might there be other ways for us to put our heads together, both on campus and off, consciousness used to heal rather than curse?