The 1960s Redux: In our new age of apocalypse, is the consciousness revolution back on?

For the past few years, I’ve had a mounting sense that the abortive consciousness revolution of the 1960s and early 70s may have come back from the dead, riding on the wave of apocalyptic sentiment that’s been washing over us all since the late 1990s. Sometimes a new datum, or something that I interpret as a datum, enters my field of awareness and reinforces this.

Today, as on most days, I spent a few minutes browsing the latest updates at Tony Peake’s forum. That’s Anthony Peake, mind you, the British author of Is There Life after Death?, The Daemon: A Guide to Your Extraordinary Secret Self, and the forthcoming High Plains Drifters and Time, Dreams & Precognition. The first offers a revolutionary, scientifically-based theory of subjective immortality. The second elaborates on an idea included in the first: that we’re all divided into two separate centers of consciousness, and that the self which does things like read the words you’re now reading is the “lower” one which is ontologically preceded, accompanied, and guided by a higher one. The third will be a study of out-of-body experiences. The fourth is explained by its own title. For obvious reasons, Tony is occasionally described as a successor to Colin Wilson.

At his forum today, I found a mention of a new book, published in May and accompanied by a blurb from Tony, titled The Dark Man. Written by Deborah Wells, who, like me, is a participant at Tony’s forum, it is devoted to exploring the “mysterious dark presence . . . a tall, dark, gaunt man” that “stalks us through our dreams, our waking lives and our creative endeavors” and is pervasive in “the history of religion, philosophy, art, and literature.”

This struck me with an electrical jolt of personal significance. Why? Well, it’s obviously because of my own experiences with the dark man via my sleep paralysis episodes. And that surge of ecstatic and fascinated recognition as I first read about Ms. Wells’ book and then availed myself of the Amazon and Google Books previews helped to crystallize my aforementioned thoughts and feelings about a possible resurrection of the 1960s consciousness project. Because, as evinced by the very existence of her book, and Tony’s work, and a thousand other current and recent reference points, we are right now experiencing an epic fermentation of cultural discourse about consciousness, selfhood, the paranormal, scientific knowledge, and the nature of reality itself.

I was born in 1970, so my personal memories of the period are drenched in a misty air of mythic significance. When in my late teens and early twenties I discovered the intellectual/cultural/spiritual/philosophical legacy of 1960s — by obsessively reading Alan Watts, Theodore Roszak, Robert Anton Wilson, and other authors; by watching the likes of Dr. Strangelove, The Graduate, Easy Rider, Harold and Maude, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! and 2001: A Space Odyssey about two million times; by studying the history of the civil rights movement, the hippie movement, the psychedelic culture, the Vietnam War and its attendant cultural insanity, the great worldwide protests of 1968, etc. — I wished fervently that I could have lived through that heady period, when it seemed as if the collective cranium of Western and global civilization was primed to erupt in a psychedelic expansion into new realms of thought, experience, and being that would inevitably lead to new patterns of social, political, religious, and cultural arrangement.

But of course we all know what became of that age. In America (and Britain), the excitement died a miserable death under the onslaught of various assassinations, scandals, economic calamities, and the eventual consolidation of the corporate consumer worldview under and after Reagan (and Thatcher). And that’s not even to mention the movement’s own inexorable centrifugal force and latent narcissism, which led it to corrupt itself from within.

So that’s the past. Now fast forward to the first decade of the 21st century, and what do we find? As in the sixties, everything seems apocalyptic. Everything seems poised to melt away and reveal an ugly truth lurking beneath the facade of what we have collectively agreed to call a normal way of life. For Americans especially, what primed us for this was the Y2K non-event. Then 9/11 deflowered us. After that, successive waves of tentative financial calamity, followed by our current and ongoing full-blown financial-economic collapse, erased our (illusionary) innocence entirely. Additionally, fears about serious and calamitous climate change have made significant attitudinal contributions, along with other ecological portents, fears about peak oil and 2012, and the first-ever wide-open recognition, by pretty much the entire public at large, of the entrenched and seemingly incurable corruption of our most prominent political and business institutions, as illustrated most recently by the collusion of BP and the U.S. federal government in creating a total fustercluck in the Gulf of Mexico.

And running neck in neck with this — again as in the 60s — we’re seeing a concomitant explosion of new discourse, expressed in books (including Tony’s and Ms. Wells’), films, music, and more, that appears to pick right back up where the original consciousness revolution left off. This formerly esoteric and marginal realm of investigation and experience, which deals with a true upending of conventional notions about selfhood, identity, time, space, and reality, presently appears to be snowballing into a major cultural force with transformative and mainstream-invading potential.

To name just one more example, only two weeks ago Rachael by-God Ray featured a segment on her network television show about “mysterious illnesses” — and one of them was sleep paralysis, a subject which, as indicated by the explosion of recent books and documentary films (one of which caught Ray’s attention), and by the solid backbone of scholarship established by Dr. David J. Hufford over the past three decades,

  1. is linked directly to religious experience, and is in fact an authentic firsthand religious experience of its own;
  2. is a classic instance of a major human experience that has been rejected by the dominant Western worldview of the past several centuries; and
  3. is manifestly edging its way into the mainstream of the Western first-world cultural conversation.

In short, I find this all quite astonishing, not to mention hugely gratifying. And although I fear my chosen data points in support of my conclusion or suspicion may seem idiosyncratic and weird, I don’t think this invalidates the suspicion itself.

So where’s it going to lead? Naturally, I have no idea. But I’m currently rereading Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger to remind myself of where the original consciousness revolution came from, and of the extent of its failure due to a tendency toward personal dissipation, as interacting with the violent backlash from a dominant mainstream culture acting out a psychological/neurological imprint of reactionary hatred and fear. At the same time, I’m wondering if maybe, just maybe, things might really have a chance to change this time.

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD and GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES.

Posted on August 18, 2010, in Psychology & Consciousness, Society & Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.

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