Friday, February 03, 2012

Joseph Gelfer - 2012: Between Critical and Visionary Thinking

Noted and recommended . . . via Reality Sandwich. There is additional info and linkage related to the book at the RS site.

2012: Between Critical and Visionary Thinking

My new book 2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse is the first interdisciplinary collection of scholarly analyses of the 2012 phenomenon. The book kicks off with an introduction from Michael Coe, who some argue started off the whole story in his 1966 book The Maya. It then goes on to chart what we know from the context of the Maya (Robert K. Sitler and Mark Van Stone), the cultural roots of esoteric and stigmatized 2012 thought (John. W. Hoopes and Pete Lentini), how 2012 employs pseudoscience (Kristine Larsen), a reading of Roland Emmerich’s 2012 (Andrea Austin), and an exploration of psy-trance as a vehicle for 2012 (Graham St John). The book concludes with a chapter from John Major Jenkins who writes about how he finds his work to be misrepresented by academic critics. My own contribution to the book looks at how 2012 is imagined down under, within the context of Australia and New Zealand.
The big question, of course, is why do we need yet another book about 2012? For me, it is about creating a space in 2012 discourse that is representative of what I perceive to be the truth. This is not as easy as it sounds, as for years I have found approaches to 2012 either too flaky or too skeptical. I never feel as if I belong in any particular camp when discussing 2012. Further still, I am continually surprised at the responses I receive to my position: for example, at the Atheist Society where I expected my “critical thinking” talk to be warmly accepted, I was publicly called a “parasite” for not denouncing the whole 2012 phenomenon as a dangerous cult; at the “new age” MindBodySpirit Festival, where I expected the same talk to be met with some hostility, a woman came up to me and said she wished I could be cloned so everyone could hear my balanced message.
And it is balance that is the elusive element, and the key to balance is honesty. What I find missing in most popular 2012 books is honesty, or, to be more accurate, honesty about the type of statements that are being made. For example, it bothers me greatly that various 2012 writers have used and abused indigenous cultures on their 2012 journey. Numerous indigenous “prophecies” cited in 2012 books are simply not true: they are either made up or gross misrepresentations of a genuine prophecy. Similarly, one finds all manner of statements in 2012 books about solar and astronomical activity that is allegedly supported by NASA, when in fact NASA has spent a good deal of effort refuting pseudoscientific claims about such things.
That’s not to say that there are not interesting and important things to be learned through such statements, simply that they have to be appropriately framed. Such statements are speculative, metaphorical or poetic. But they are not facts, and they are not research, and to present them as such exposes the author either as inept or dishonest. This becomes even trickier to navigate when different categories of statement are made on the same pages. One might read of an individual who believes they are a reincarnation of some Mesoamerican deity who will usher in a new world order, and then a few paragraphs later about some practical strategy for making the world a better place: When critics point to the problematic nature of the former statement, apologists point to the very reasonable nature of the latter statement. And so the game of categorical cat and mouse continues, which ultimately does no justice to the real value of visionary thinking.
Equally, there is dishonesty amongst the 2012 writings that seek solely to debunk. This Richard Dawkins-type worldview rightly exposes the false nature of the “facts” that are presented in popular 2012 writings, but completely misses the fact that there are different forms of meaning in operation. It is entirely possible, for example, to reject the fanciful facts surrounding 2012 while taking very seriously the existential ultimate concerns that underpin many people’s interest in 2012. And of course, it is entirely possible to see those fanciful facts not as verifiable in any traditional sense, but as creative endeavors mobilized in a process of meaning-making in this wild ride that is life. To miss that “fact” ultimately does no justice to the real value of critical thinking.
So it was my aim with 2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse to strike some balance between visionary and critical thinking. From the outside, this may appear significantly weighted towards critical thinking. Certainly, there are one or two chapters that operate in debunking mode. Equally, there are several chapters that are simply seeking to read 2012 as a cultural artifact. There are also one or two chapters that are supportive of the way 2012 is engaged by some constituencies.
No doubt there are plenty of people involved with both Reality Sandwich and the academy who believe they have the visionary/critical balance right; however, I simply do not see much evidence. To reiterate, I have found approaches to 2012 either too flaky or too skeptical. On my journey to 2012 I have found the task of keeping visionary and critical thinking in productive tension a difficult but necessary task, and I believe it is only through this process that we will manifest the kind of change that most of us wish to see.

Teaser image by Abode of Chaos, courtesy of Creative Commons license. 
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