In this paper on catastrophism and its consequences, I consider Velikovsky and "the new Anthropology"; this work removes the study of man from its present scientific, cyclical world view and places it in an apocalyptic cosmos. This is only a shift in perspective. The spadework, and most of the superstructure, have been done long ago at the formation of the world religions, as Velikovsky argues so convincingly. I will present evidence that the New World Hopis built their cosmology on catastrophism. For a present-day example, the authors of the Whole Earth Catalogue illustrate a prototype gestalt which lives with a consciousness of catastrophe. The pioneering effort in this paper lies in appreciating Velikovsky's contribution to an existing paradigm of catastrophism.
My theologian friend, David Arnott, the Vicar of Roundshaw in London, England, read Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision while I visited him recently. His criticism: "The fact that a society is interested in a catastrophic understanding of the cosmos is more indicative of the state of the society than of the nature of the cosmos."
This seems fair. We know that people seek world views which complement and support their own perception of reality. So to some real extent the participants of this symposium have already embraced the possibilities that earth exists in a cataclysmic universe, and that man already may have experienced global collisions.
An historian of science doesn't have to look far for the roots of these perceptions. Western, industrial man, whose imperial grasp has embraced all the sources of information upon which Dr. Velikovsky draws (from the New World Codices to the extensive geological records), is the same man whose philosophy and religious tenets became bankrupt, as Nietzsche's madman proclaimed before the turn of the century. Although this announcement went unheeded, the same message assumed material form in the massive destruction of the World Wars, and by the more widespread trauma heralded by Black Tuesday in 1929. When we consider that this same Man devised the atomic holocausts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we can appreciate the setting for an understanding of a cataclysmic cosmos.
As participants in a new paradigm, we need not disregard the societal grounds of our being. To those whose consciousness matured during the sixties, the fact of catastrophe becomes the gateway to understanding - the first prerequisite. This catastrophic consciousness even has its own annotated bibliography: the Whole Earth Catalogue, an already articulated paradigm which shouts "Rejoice! The apocalypse has already occurred."
I shall argue that the Catalogue was conceived as a post-apocalyptic document providing the readers with a sketch of the new world which unfolds once global catastrophe has surfaced to consciousness.
My own appreciation of this consciousness arose first from infatuation with Anthropology. My readings attempted to explore a basic canon of works dictated by Pope's maxim: "the proper study of mankind is man." I thought I was doing strictly exploratory work (Jacques Ellul and the nature of technological society; Lewis Mumford and his thesis of the symbiosis of man and his use of tools; searching for spiritual truths of the aboriginal natives of this continent, the James Bay Cree, the Oglala Sioux, the Yaqui sorcerer, the potlatch, the Hopi ceremonialism; learning to keep bees and not sell honey; Arthur Koestler; developing a detailed awareness of the ecological crisis from Rachel Carson to the politics of the 1970's, from Edward Hall's The Hidden Dimension to Buddhist meditation). All these seemed random pursuits, but to my great surprise they proved to be part of this articulated paradigm with annotated bibliography, the Whole Earth Catalogue. Both start with a cosmic view of disaster - the common "given" is a view of the eggshell fragility of Planet Earth and its delicate biosphere. But whereas I speak prosaically, the Whole Earth Catalogue sings. It is poetic. It quotes from The Star Maker by Olaf Stapleton:
The sheer beauty of our planet surprised me. It was a huge pearl set in spangled ebony. It was nacreous, it was opal. No, it was far more lovely than any jewel. its patterned colouring was more subtle, more ethereal. It displayed the delicacy and brilliance, the intricacy and harmony of a live thing. Strange that in my remoteness, I seemed to feel, as never before, the vital presence of Earth as of a creature alive but tranced and obscurely yearning to wake.
The Whole Earth Catalogue began in 1968 as an ad hoc freak enterprise "Access" was its key concept - how to link up people with tools in a form that would promote the development of an ecological gestalt. Its editor, Stewart Brand, provided a clue to the precepts of this gestalt in an editorial entitled "Apocalypse Juggernaut, Hello":
As if the spirits of our ancestors weren't trouble enough, now we're haunted by the ghosts of our descendants.
Ken Kelsey claims that ecology is the current handy smoke screen for everybody's Dire Report... I tend to view the whole disaster as an opportunity to try stuff. If you take all the surprise-free projections for mankind's near future and connect them up, they lead neat as you please right into the dead-end meat grinder. The only Earth we had, used up.
The devotee of the Whole Earth Catalogue's peculiar compendium of survival tactics assumes that the catastrophe has already occurred, or is now occurring. The agent may be seen as social unrest or the industrial poisoning of the biosphere. For example: the January 1971 Whole Earth Catalogue Supplement devotes one page to Albert Speer, architect, Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production for Hitler, writing as a prisoner:
I thought of the consequences that unrestricted rule, together with the power of technology - making use of it but also driven by it - might have in the future. This war (II) had ended with remote-controlled rockets, aircraft flying at the speed of sound, atom bombs and a prospect of chemical warfare ... A new great war will end with the destruction of human culture and civilization.
The nightmare shared by many people . . .. that some day the nations of the world may be dominated by technology - that nightmare was very nearly made a reality under Hitler's authoritarian system. Every country in the world today faces the danger of being terrorized by technology; but in a modern dictatorship this seems to me to be unavoidable. Therefore, the more technological the world becomes, the more essential will be the demand for individual freedom and self-awareness of the individual human being as a counterpoise to technology.
According to Stewart Brand, the living experiment of the Alloy community was the setting in which the Whole Earth paradigm began to unfold. Alloy was held in the New Mexico desert between the Trinity Bomb Test Site and the Mescalero Apache reservation, March 20-23,1969 (the Vernal Equinox).
150 people were there. They came from northern New Mexico (communes), the Bay area, New York, Washington, Carbondale, Canada, Big Sur, and elsewhere. They camped amid the tumbleweed in weather that baked, rained, greyed, snowed and blew a fucking dust storm. Who were they? (who were we?) Persons in their late twenties or early thirties mostly. Havers of families, many of them Outlaws, dope fiends and fanatics naturally. Doers primarily with a functional grimy grasp on the world. World thinkers, drop-outs from specialization. Hope freaks.
They left behind their proverbs recorded in the catalogue. Here's one: "There's a lot of people who want the Apocalypse. Instead of looking at it as the death force, there's a possibility of the emergence of something new, a reshuffling of the deck."
The Catalogue looks around for what might be salvaged from the great midden-heap of civilization. According to proverbs from Alloy: "You're just saying that there is in reality no guarantee that life will continue. The right to live is a fiction. It's a pretense at a political reality." The Whole Earth Catalogue says: yeah-yeah, you thought the liberal democratic uniformitarian world system was bust, but you didn't know how bust. First, let's look at the big picture.
You're too close. Back off and survey the big picture and old mysteries will clear up for you and other mysteries will arrive ... among the discoveries ... is that this lovely place Earth is scarcely inhabited and scarcely habitable. Stare into the void. (Page 7)
The apocalypse has already occurred. And what might you want to know in order to live in this newly collapsed world? The massive information bank of the Whole Earth Catalogue aims to expand the capacities of each human individual so as to increase his survival potential.
... Surprises ... is what we (man) are here for. The standard Operating Law when a species is in a bind is to diversify. Multiply alternatives. If you don't know what's coming, the way to evolve ahead of the changes is to try everything.
(S. B. - Page 233)
The Catalogue redefines human potential, and provides access to tools for each to begin exploration in their brave new world; it acknowledges the godhood of humanity and challenges man to accept the responsibility. Although it may seem that only the selfish and egocentric would interest themselves in learning to survive while the rest of humanity perishes, that can be only the criticism of an outsider to this world view. Once the paradigm is embraced, adventure, joy and the drama of discovery, with its colossal blunders and momentary awards, provide the necessary spiritual tutorship - the centering knowledge to live in the present - to be here now.
As one of the conscious inhabitants of this globe, Man is awakened from his lethargy by the sound of alarm bells: crisis. The veil of amnesia has been lifted, the result is the awakening of consciousness, whether the apocalyptic agent is perceived to be an extra-terrestrial jostling, or biospheric poisoning, atomic weaponry overkill, or overpopulation; or whether one has experienced the disintegration of his world view by chemical inducement a magical mushroom or the fabled LSD. The generation of the Whole Earth Catalogue has experienced the catastrophe and, consistent with Dr. Velikovsky's amnesia theory, they no longer itch to re-enact the primordial paroxysm that heralded our present age - the bomb has gone off. We acknowledge the Russian Roulette of the planetary system. People are dying all around us. We live in the now. Now what?!
Much of the philosophy that the cataclysmic paradigm looks to is found in the eastern spiritual teachings. Eastern man has honed his consciousness as assiduously as we have developed our technology. He learned that to comprehend the cosmos, he must look into the void. "THE VOID?!" Western man declares, "Why there's nothing there." This is the most terrifying prospect for material man to envision. For centuries we have codified laws, erected structures and systems, and designed labyrinths to cushion us from even a hint of nothingness. Rational Apollonian scholarly Western man needs more than the ecstatic revelations of an Eastern mystic to reveal the nature of the cosmos. And this is the great contribution of Velikovsky.
Velikovsky not only argues in consummate detail (in the finest of Western scholarship), he not only uses Western methods to illuminate his truths. He uses Western sources to prove his case! His work reinterprets our own canons of knowledge, the whole Hebraic heritage and the very precepts of the scientific tradition. These are the building stones of his new cosmology. From the genesis of Judaism, with the flight out of Egypt during catastrophic circumstances, to the frontiers of modern physics, his theory is revealed. Better than affirming the possibility of catastrophe, Velikovsky has provided an argument in Western terms for a catastrophic cosmology.
This symposium is in fact a celebration of the acceptance of the legitimacy of Velikovsky's work. Far from being a crisis-induced scramble for an apocalyptic band-wagon (a revival in the scholarly world, as so many established academics regard it, of the gloom-and-doom popular hysteria fads about the end of the world) it is more the reaffirmation of much that modern, progressive, liberal democratic science has shunned or railroaded completely out of existence. Probably each participant to this symposium is attracted by a particular aspect of Velikovsky's work. Appropriate to the physician's calling, Velikovsky has provided the fragmented specialization of the multi-versity with the cool healing of an interdisciplinary synthesis.
For my part, I celebrate the reaffirmation of an historic universe where unique events inevitably alter our course. This affirmation of the Hebraic side of our heritage counters science's preponderant influence from the Greeks and their cyclical cosmos, their search for harmony in the heavens. With an historic perception, the mysterious potential to life is reaffirmed. If we are in a paradigm shift of which Velikovsky is an integral part, it is partly as a reaction to the confining vision of man that science imposed. For science's cosmos operated by laws, and eminently knowable laws at that. The corollary: knowing those laws provides science with manipulative power over that which operates by the laws, whether people or principles of aerodynamics. Science has restricted too far the vision of biotic potential; it has obscured past, present, and even future with predictability, and hence monotony.
The catastrophic paradigm celebrates that which is mysterious in the nature of life. This is Wendell Berry's Manifesto for the Mad Farmer Liberation Front in the Whole Earth Catalogue:
Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay. Want more of everything made. Be afraid to know your neighbours and to die. And you will have a window in your head. Not even the future will be a mystery any more. Your mind will be punched in a card, and shut away in a little drawer. When they want you to buy something, they will call you. When they want you to die for profit, they will let you know. So, friends, every day do something that won't compute. Love the Lord. Love the World. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who doesn't deserve it. Give your approval for all you cannot under stand. Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed. Ask the questions that have no answers. Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias. Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant and you will not live to harvest. Say that the leaves are harvested - when they have rotted in the mould. Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years. Listen to carrion - put your ear close and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come. Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts..... As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it. Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn't go. Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection. (W. E. C. - Page 25)
The mysterious open-ends what is possible, unlinks the chain and rejuvenates the world.
Velikovsky's thesis began with a reappraisal of the view that myths were founded on material reality. His cross-cultural comparisons argue for a common material reality for all the survivors of the last global upheaval. This interpretation acts as a great restorative to the effect of the sludge which the functional schools of interpretation have hardened over our understanding of world mythologies.
Let us read the first revelation of the Hopi's historic and religious world view of life with this new acceptance of its validity. The Hopi hold that our planet has experienced three world ages and that this is the fourth. Each age has been terminated by physical apocalypse which has dramatically altered populations, bringing some to the fore and casting down others. Each has set fresh conditions for the possibilities of life on this globe, and dramatically altered the consciousness of survivors. In describing the end of the second world age, they first tell of moral decay and the inadequacy of man to hold up his part in the song of creation; then:
... as on the First World, so again Sotuknang called on the Ant people to open up their underground world for the chosen people. When they were safely underground, Sotuknang commanded the twins, Palongawhoya and, Poganghoya, to leave their posts at the north and south ends of the world's axis where they were stationed to keep the earth properly rotating. The twins had hardly abandoned their stations when the world with no one to control it, teetered off balance, spun around crazily, then rolled over twice. Mountains plunged into seas with a great splash, seas and lakes sloshed over the land; and as the world spun through cold and lifeless space, it froze into solid ice.
Quite clearly the basis for the Hopi cosmology is a catastrophic view of existence. They, like the Israelites, began this age amidst a violent upheaval which initiated their migrations in search of their chosen land. Their goal, on the bleak mesas of the American southwest, is
... to sustain forever responsibility for the well-being of the world. Theirs is the mysticism not of change, but of the stability of the yearly cycle of one winter's food at a time.
Now you have experienced this paradigm travel full-circle; for these lines are from the review of the Book of the Hopi, contained in the Whole Earth Catalogue.
Velikovsky argues for the integrity of the Hopi cosmology with material reality. The Hopi provide us with an archetypal response of life to a cataclysmic consciousness. Concern for the welfare of the earth unites the new anthropology to the wisdom of the Hopi.
I have attempted to show that catastrophism is a current paradigm which Velikovsky provides with a Western mythology. Since the writings of Thomas Kuhn, we acknowledge that one of the properties of a theory is its contextual basis in an existing, but often unarticulated, cultural milieu. My prime concern has been to explore the implications of living with the knowledge of catastrophism. Here is the best statement of this calling my years of ecofreaking have uncovered, authored as "The Four Changes" by poet Gary Snyder, and, of course, contained in the Whole Earth Catalogue:
Our own heads: is where it starts. Knowing that we are the first human beings in history to have all of man's culture and experience available to our study and being free enough of the weight of traditional cultures to seek out a larger identity - the first members of a civilized society since the early Neolithic to wish to look clearly into the eyes of the wild and see our self-hood, our family, there. We have these advantages to set off the obvious disadvantages of being as screwed up as we are - which gives us a fair chance to penetrate into some of the riddles of ourselves and the universe, and to go beyond the idea of 'man's survival' or 'the survival of the biosphere' and to draw our strength from the realization that at the heart of things is some kind of serene and ecstatic process which is actually beyond qualities and certainly beyond birth-and-death. 'No need to Survive !' 'In the fires that destroy the universe at the end of kalpa what survives? ' - 'The iron tree blooms in the void! '
Knowing that nothing need be done, is where we begin to move from.