An exclusive chapter edit from HOW SOON IS NOW? The new book by Daniel Pinchbeck
Gives us the context we need to understand the chaos and turbulence of our times.
A blueprint for the future.
Unconsciously, we have been impelling ourselves towards planetary catastrophe. I believe we are doing this to end our alienation and ego-centrism – to reach a new intensity of communion. Because we no longer have rites of passage which create the same effect through intentionally guided ritual, we are inducing it through mass catastrophe. But the disasters we are unleashing could have the unanticipated effect of breaking open the collective heart chakra. Collectively, humanity can realize love and solidarity – universal, unconditional – as the basis for healing our world.
This may seem distant, theoretical and abstract, but I think many people already see reverberations of this process in their personal lives. For some, this is taking the form of a deep questioning of traditional relationship patterns – often, a rejection of them, as they seek to create something new. Culturally, the focus on transgendered people, gay marriage, the endless sex scandals tearing down politicians and public figures is all part of this unavoidable change.
We have inherited a restricted model of romantic and erotic love. Most people still believe that monogamy – exclusive partnership – is the only way to enduring happiness and contentment. Of course, for some people, monogamy is the best option. But humans are not naturally monogamous, and the current system forces many people to act hypocritically, to deceive themselves and their partners, or to sacrifice their truth.
Deep in their hearts, many people feel permanently disappointed, sad, frustrated and angry because they have been unable to satisfy their erotic desires. Men and women lead lives of quiet desperation and compromise. An ambience of disappointment and frustration permeates our society, in overt and subtle ways. People seek false substitutes for true satisfaction. The insatiable lust for consumer goods is – I believe – a result of our failure to satisfy our deeper needs for love, erotic fulfilment, authentic communion.
‘We are at war with our eroticism’, write Christopher Ryan and Calcida Jethá in Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. After scouring evidence from anthropology and evolutionary biology, they point out that, Human beings evolved in intimate groups where almost every-thing was shared – food, shelter, protection, child care, even sexual pleasure . . . contemporary culture misrepresents the link between love and sex. With and without love, a casual sexuality was the norm for our prehistoric ancestors . . . human beings and our hominid ancestors have spent almost all of the past million years or so in small, intimate bands in which most adults had several sexual relationships at any given time.
Civilization constructed the institution of marriage, and enforced monogamy, to protect property rights, under a patriarchal regime which demonized female sexuality. The force of our repressed sexual instinct was channelled – or sublimated, in Sigmund Freud’s term – into building civilisation, creating culture and making war.
The curious fact about human nature is that it is not fixed, but changeable. This is something that makes us different from animals: we are the species that can reinvent itself, in many ways. However, some things are very resistant to change. The instinct towards sexual satiation, for instance, is hardwired into our biology. We are also unique among animals due to the incessant force of our non-stop, hair-trigger sex drive.
As Gerald Heard explored in the early 1950s in Pain, Sex and Time, we possess a tremendous surplus of evolutionary energy, far beyond what we need to sustain ourselves. This energy must find outlets for expression. Like Walter Benjamin, Heard believed we need to channel this force consciously, through ritual, initiation and training in special schools devised for this purpose. Otherwise, the excess energy continues to get discharged, through wars and violence.
‘If our evolution is over,’ Heard worried, ‘if we have no further original outlet to our enormous and fretting energy, then the only choice is slow degeneracy through sex addiction or a conclusive end through homicidal mania.’ The excess energy, the kundalini, driving us reveals something important about our destiny as a species. In other words, individually as well as collectively, we can choose to evolve and deepen ourselves, or decay and disintegrate.
Sex energy radiates through every lament of our social structure. ‘Sexuality is a superpower,’ writes Dieter Duhm, one of the founders of Tamera, a ‘free love’ community in Portugal. ‘Our attractions and repulsions, sexual signals and links, hopes and disappointments go through all of society like a nerve system, permeating every office, every shopping mall, every art exhibition, every conference, every group, every company, every political party.’ He believes that any attempt to suppress this superpower only leads to negative outcomes – as with those Indian gurus in the 1970s who claimed to be transcendent masters, but couldn’t resist the charms of their Western female disciples.
Duhm was the leader of a group of German radicals who tried to understand why 1960s leftist efforts to build a utopian alternative to capitalism ended in failure. He realized there were core issues around love, relationships and sexuality that people could not fully address yet or bring into their consciousness. ‘The healing of sexuality is perhaps the most revolutionary step in the present healing work after thousands of years of suppression and neglect,’ he writes. Because these issues were not addressed, the idealistic efforts to change the world imploded, instead. Communities and movements kept falling apart. Sex and love were the deepest political issues society could not confront or integrate.
‘The most intimate questions of sex, love, and partnership, of faith- fulness, trust, and community, of jealousy, competition, and fear of separation are political questions with global implications’, Duhm writes. He and some like-minded people decided to step out of society to establish a community as an experimental laboratory. Their modest goal was world peace. They realized that peace on Earth would be impossible until we established peace between the genders – until we found peace in love. They courageously broke apart traditional structures and conditioning, seeking a holistic redesign.
I remember from my early years, my adolescence, how the cultural ambience around sexuality had a dark, shameful feeling. There was no sense that boys and girls – or men and women – might seek to collaborate for each other’s sensual pleasure. That we might enjoy taking care of each other – that we could learn to be generous, compassionate, with each other. Eroticism was not part of our education. It was not something to be explored or studied, even as an afterthought – certainly not with the same kind of analytic rigour we brought to maths or physics, even though sex would be infinitely more important to our future lives than these academic subjects.
Our civilization applies tremendous reserves of intellect and capital to construct killer drones, virtual reality devices, surveillance systems – instruments of death, alienation and fear. Yet we believe that love and sexuality are not worthy of our conscious attention. We act as if they are outside the realm of logic, forethought and social design.
‘Whereas the cerebrum is applied in war technology, in love man lives and thinks out of his spinal cord,’ Duhm points out. When we channel more of society’s intellect and resources towards the exploration of love and eroticism – freeing these areas from an antiquated and unrealistic morality – we will make rapid strides.
Just as we lack rites of passage to introduce us to transpersonal or visionary experiences when we are young – when we long, with our whole being, to experience a deeper intensity of communion, to access something greater than ourselves – we also lack for cultural traditions that would help young people to embrace their sexuality as something wonderful, as a great gift they can explore and share responsibly. We are still a subtly pleasure-denying society, despite Tinder, OkCupid, casual sex and the hook-up culture. Sexuality is considered a private matter, relegated to dark places like nightclubs and bars, which have an underworld ambience.
Sexual hunger is quite different from the hunger for food, which is easily satisfied by a good meal, or even a mediocre buffet. Russell Brand became a raging sex addict who slept with up to eighty women a month at the height of his mania, or so he claims. Not only is Russell extremely charming and charismatic, he would also enlist people to help him in his quest to be ‘shagger of the year’, a title he held several times in a row. Eventually, he realized that this almost unbelievable expenditure of sweat and sperm was bringing him no lasting contentment, so he checked into rehab.
Russell may have gone a bit overboard. But my admittedly controversial perspective is that there is nothing wrong with having an abundance, even a super-abundance, of lovers and sexual partners – whether for men or women – as long as this is done honestly and without coercion. Unfortunately, in our society, the pursuit of sexual desire tends to require all sorts of miserable deceits, lies and hypocrisies. Also, it is totally unjust and wrong that women still get put down for the exact same behaviour that society approves in men.
Sex at Dawn
I suspect some readers will feel I am promoting a hyper-masculine mode of sexuality. Of course, men are more biologically prone to seek multiple mates, but women also have the need to pursue various sorts of erotic adventures. In Sex at Dawn, Ryan and Jethá review studies that suggest there is an evolutionary explanation for why women make louder sounds during intercourse than men. These noises had a function in our early hominid days: the female was calling out to other males in the area to have sex with her in succession. In this way, the child’s paternity would remain unknown. Also, sperm competition would occur in the uterus. The female orgasm also has a reproductive purpose, as the contractions of orgasm pull the sperm deeper into the womb. The male who elicited the most powerful orgasm would be the one most likely to fertilize her egg.
When it comes to sexuality, we have to accept how humans truly are, rather than how they are supposed to be, according to some imposed ideal. ‘Monogamy is not found in any social, group-living primate except – if the standard narrative is to be believed – us,’ write Ryan and Jethá:
If you spend time with the primates closest to human beings, you’ll see female chimps having intercourse dozens of times per day, with most or all of the willing males, and rampant bonobo group sex that leaves everyone relaxed and maintains intricate social networks. Explore contemporary human beings’ lust for particular kinds of pornography or our notorious difficulties with long-term sexual monogamy and you’ll soon stumble over relics of our hypersexual ancestors.
The planetary mega-crisis is directly related to the problems we confront as a species in this area of love and sexuality. One primary urge driving many men to seek success – wealth or fame – is sexual access. Men – Alpha males, in particular – will do almost anything to attract women. The economic system tends to reward sociopathic behaviour. To succeed, people must climb corporate ladders, sell wasteful products, manage investment funds that transfer resources from the poor to the wealthy, promote vacuous fashion trends and so on. The system forces people to compromise their ethics and principles, or renounce them altogether, to get what they want.
My anthropological observation is that people – young people above all – waste an unbelievable amount of their life energy in the quest for sexual satiation. This energy that people expend in the incessant pursuit of sexual fulfilment is exactly the energy that we, the human community, need to redirect, channelling it towards our awakening, using it to enact social change and regenerate our planet’s ecosystems.
Sex itself is not the problem. In our culture, for many people, the act of sex only consumes a tiny fraction of the energy expended in the pursuit of it. Also, sex can be nourishing, physically and emotionally. If there was no need to pursue erotic connections, to compete for mates, we could use that squandered energy to confront the ecological crisis we have unleashed as a species, and bring about a rapid cultural evolution.
If we can understand, and then fix, the flaws in our social design, our stale ideology and antiquated cultural programming, we will liberate a huge amount of productive energy for building a regenerative society. We will take a massive leap forward as a species. And we will do it quickly.
I don’t think the answer is to restrict sexual behaviour, which will only lead to more frustration, repression, resentment and deception. I believe the solution is to consciously liberate Eros – not just Eros as it gets expressed through sexuality and romantic love, but also the various forms of love that bind communities together, including caring for children and old people. We must understand that the Eros that gets expressed through sexuality is not just an individual problem, but has a very large-scale social and political dimension. Men and women must be willing to cooperate for each other’s happiness if humanity is going to have a long-term future on Earth.
Hollywood and the media idealize the nuclear family, which is the basic economic unit of our society. When individuals merge into couples, and particularly when these couples have children, they tend to direct all their energy and resources towards themselves. They lose interest – if they ever had any – in helping the collective. Instead, they seek to amass resources, playing the competitive capitalist game.
The problem in our culture is the atomization which forces individuals, as well as nuclear families, to fight for their own success and personal survival. We can now see that this system, enforcing self- interest as a survival mechanism, is not sustainable for the planet as a whole. It needs to change – since it won’t change on its own, we need to change it.
‘Deep conflicts rage at the heart of modern sexuality,’ write Ryan and Jethá:
Our cultivated ignorance is devastating. The campaign to obscure the true nature of our species’ sexuality leaves half our marriages collapsing under an unstoppable tide of sexual frustration, libido-killing boredom, impulsive betrayal, dysfunction, confusion, and shame. Serial monogamy stretches before (and behind) many of us like an archipelago of failure: isolated islands of transitory happiness in a cold, dark sea of disappointment.
To maintain their relationships, many people find themselves forced to lie about or suppress their true desires. The vast majority of men I know who are in long-term partnerships have confessed they either feel an intense desire for other sexual contacts or have secretly satisfied some of those desires, through affairs or prostitutes – feeding the horrific global sex trade. Other people learn to dampen their sexual drive, but I don’t find this a great outcome either.
I don’t think it is an accident that so many creative artists and geniuses have been fascinated with eroticism and sexual love, pursuing the muse as she expresses herself in many embodied forms. Erotic love is a kind of fuel that makes people feel alive and inspired. Ideally, don’t we want everyone to be as inspired and turned-on as they can be? Wouldn’t we prefer a social system that supports everyone in exploring their deepest capacities for love, for erotic and ecstatic experience, as long as they are causing no harm to others?
There is a direct relationship between our corrupt politics and our failure, as a society, to handle love authentically. When people find themselves forced to lie to or deceive the person closest to them – their partner – about their desires, they are conditioned to accept corruption and hypocrisy in society at large. They can accept the half-truths of politicians and pundits because they are compromised themselves. We fail to care for the world as a consequence of our inauthenticity. After all, why would we want to protect and safeguard a world that has betrayed us at its core?
Living in downtown New York, I find myself in the midst of a purgatorial, hyper-sexualized carnival. Nightclubs still radiate that old hipster attitude, replete with indie rock musicians, tattooed models, fashion world detritus, mostly clad in designer black, tooting cocaine and getting blotto, to the wee hours, until Babylon falls. There are also private, all-night ‘play parties’ in Manhattan, mixing the otsam and jetsam of the Burning Man world with an uptown, Eyes Wide Shut crowd. This community engages in consensual sexual gymnastics, in townhouses and hotel suites, with collegial enthusiasm and peacock pride.
The next level of sexual liberation is happening now, along with the breakdown of old relationship models. It is unfolding in real time. Even as they are living it, most people do not think about it as a problem of system design.
Although it is a tentative step forward, the play party or swinger world is not the answer. Relationships remain shallow and immature, based on ego displays, physical attraction and self-centred hedonism. If we are truly going to liberate Eros, love and sexuality – in particular, female sexuality – we have to dig deeper. We need a new approach to community and, ultimately, a new social design that is holistic, comprehensive and secure. A truly liberated society must support long- term care for children. It must take care of old people. ‘Free love’, it turns out, requires a great deal of discipline.
A Healing Biotope
When I visited Tamera, a few hours south of Lisbon in Portugal, I was taken on a tour that included the children’s centre. Past the age of two, most of the young children in the community live in a house together, where they are looked after by a few of the adults. They can go and see their parents whenever they want, but their parents – in particular, their mothers – have their time freed up for other pursuits.
Cooperative childcare is a simple but crucial design solution. Lacking a community support structure, the nuclear family model is a cumbersome way to raise children. It causes many psychological problems. Even worse is the single-parent model. Much of the anxiety in our culture has to do with this situation. Women must compete with other women, seeking a mate who can offer them long-term support, through the decades-long process of raising kids.
‘How would the prevalence and experience of jealousy be affected in Western societies if the economic dependence trapping most women and their children didn’t exist, leading female sexual access to be a tightly controlled commodity?’ ask Ryan and Jethá:
What if economic security and guilt-free sexual friendships were easily available to almost all men and women, as they are in many of the societies we’ve discussed, as well as among our closest primate cousins? What if no woman had to worry that a ruptured relationship would leave her and her children destitute and vulnerable? What if average guys knew they’d never have to worry about finding someone to love? What if we didn’t all grow up hearing that true love is obsessive and possessive?
These are exactly the issues that Tamera has addressed.
Men and women find themselves trapped in mental webs of jealousy and fear, seeking to protect their investments of time and money, their possessions and property. In Tamera, they say, ‘jealousy is to love as asthma is to breathing’. The only way to change this, they believe, is by building community. In a community, people can learn to cooperate to satisfy both short-term and long-term needs. They can work it out, because they are committed to staying with each other.
In cities like New York, relationships tend to be extremely transitory by comparison. Many aspects of Tamera amaze me. Over the past ten years, the community has done a great deal of landscape restoration work, turning an area of dry land into an abundant oasis. The key to this was establishing a system of lakes (and other installations) to retain rainwater on the land and to replenish the aquifers. They call this a ‘Water Retention Landscape’, an effective way for overcoming desertification and assuring water and food self- sufficiency for decentralized communities.
The Tamerans see a link between how a community treats its water and how it handles love. They believe that both water and love need vessels of containment, along with opportunities to flow and expand. They believe, in fact, that love’s natural tendency is to expand and to flow – that the monogamy model is an artificial constraint.
Many community members have primary partnerships, but most of them also have a ‘love network’ of other connections. Over time, Tamera has developed a set of social technologies which allow the community to process issues, such as jealousy, as they come up. They take everything that is normally hidden in our culture and make it explicit, transparent and visible to all. Benjamin von Mendelssohn, one of my friends who lives there, talks about the ‘community super-soul’, which is greater than the sum of its parts. Very little is hidden or private.
One of the social technologies Tamera developed is called Forum, which the whole community participates in, every day, in groups of 30 or 40 people. During Forum, everyone joins in a circle. People take turns going into the centre, where they speak about or act out their relationships and experiences with other members of the community. Tamerans then give feedback, ‘mirrors’, speaking about them in the third person. The goal is honesty.
During one Forum, a young woman spoke in the centre, dancing expressively as she discussed her past and ongoing relationships with men in the community. After her performance, one of the older men, in a position of authority, said, ‘I appreciated what Martha had to share today, because I have always felt she was attractive, but I didn’t feel I would ever be able to approach her for a sexual contact. After what she said today, I did feel it was possible that, at some point, I might approach her in this way.’ I was impressed that his comment was so unadulterated. He said what he was thinking, with no effort to make himself look good, or try to impress the woman with some insight or advice.
Life is a process of learning, and learning is often painful. When I got famous, and women suddenly wanted me in a way they hadn’t before, I became intoxicated by my new power. Consumed by the free love ideology I had absorbed from the Beats, particularly from Allen Ginsberg, I made the mistake of seeing almost any woman I found attractive as a potential sex partner.
If I had lived within a community like Tamera, I would have received constant reflections and mirrors back from the people around me that would have helped to correct my dissolute tendencies. Instead, lacking feedback, I developed negative patterns, sometimes hurting and offending women by my behaviour, which could be thoughtless and callous. I didn’t possess the tools to understand or address it. Other people saw me as someone in a position of authority or leadership, while I considered myself an apprentice. I still feel I am learning, continuously changing and hopefully improving.
When we envision the transition to a post-capitalist, post-work society, we must have a plan in mind for redirecting the productive and creative energies of humanity as a whole. I think this ideal of a liberated Eros provides the basis for it. If we can create communities that allow people to have deep partnerships rooted in truth, along with other lovers if they desire them, we would no longer feel cheated by a world that seems to deny our deepest desires and yearnings. As labour becomes more automated, we will have more time to explore the communion of souls, as well as bodies, that our deeper nature seeks. We will restructure our society to enable this.
In many parts of the world, women are still horribly oppressed – in Muslim countries, in African cultures that are based on male power and even mutilate female genitalia through circumcision. Then there is the global sex trade, Internet porn – the massive industries that exploit women around the world. Equalizing the status of women, globally, is the quickest path to positive social change, on many levels. When women’s power and access to education approaches that of men, the birth rate falls below replacement levels.
The scientist Rupert Sheldrake developed the idea of morphic resonance. He theorizes that the ‘laws of nature’ are not fixed and immutable. They are habits or patterns that become more coherent over time, until they seem permanent. This happens through a resonance on the level of form, shaped through holographic principles. As an example, once a first crystal forms when a certain group of molecules come together, it makes it more likely that another crystal will appear, given those same conditions, since a new morphogenetic field for crystal formation has been created. As this happens a few times, the morphogenetic field strengthens, stabilizes, and crystals form reliably. But the pattern could change, given new information.
The same process happens with social ideas and systems. New ideas, techniques or social arrangements create new morphogenetic fields, which make it easier for more people, as well as society as a whole, to adapt and innovate. Potentially, a few communities that have defined a new ethos of partnership and cooperation can create a new field of possibility. As it strengthens, the new pattern could become available – quickly and then suddenly – to the human community as a whole. As we know, spontaneous remissions – miraculous healings – do happen, from time to time. Just as there could be an exponential scaling up of new energy systems, so there could be a rapid spread of new social technologies and community models that shift humanity into a new framework of cooperation and empathy.
When I consider the ecological data, I can’t help but feel humanity will need something like a miraculous healing through the coalescence of a new vision, a new consciousness, defined by regenerative practices and social habits. Rather than taking incremental steps, we may make a rapid evolutionary leap from our current suicide system to one that honours life and establishes a foundation of secure love and trust between the genders. Only this will give us the courage to deal with the onrushing tide of ecological decimation, and the social dislocation it will cause.
I realize such idealism may seem impossible and ridiculous to many readers. I know almost everything in our culture seems to support the alternate view that nothing will change – that the situation is hopeless, out of our control, and it is already too late to change course. Even so, when we look back through history, we have seen movements arise that took everyone by surprise. This was the case with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Arab Spring, the civil rights movement, the French and American Revolutions, and so on. We never know what is possible – and we are more than observers. We are evolutionary catalysts who continuously influence what can and will occur.