Is the spiritual counterculture doomed?
I would love to gainsay the point made by Nicholas Fuller in a recent essay at Evolutionary Landscapes. Sites like Reality Sandwich, and movements like Evolver, and the entire subcultural milieu that they represent, not to mention the general worldview they inhabit and promulgate, are near and dear to me. But damn it, Fuller is onto somethin when he says this is all destined for destruction. Especially see the part of his essay — not excerpted below (because I want you to click through and read the piece in its entirety) — where he describes his own workaday worries and pressures involving relationships and school and money, and points out that “No amount of DMT, books on Buddhism, and weekend retreats of spiritual practices can even begin to address any of the issues above, and frankly, between my 40+ hour work week and full time college work load, I barely have time for the sleep my body desperately needs, let alone the nourishment I’m told my soul needs.” In other words: If he’s feeling this disconnect, then it’s surely lodged in the collective psyche of America at large and people elsewhere as well. And that spells trouble for all of those spiritual concerns that have self-identified as standing outside and apart from the dreary inferno of everyday life. This is deeply perceptive. And tragic.
As a supporter of consciousness movements, and new versions of spirituality alike, this is not something I am happy to state as I saw these movements really coming into their own in the last ten years. Nonetheless, like a coroner at the scene of a tragic family accident, I must pronounce this promising flame of possibilities deceased…Why is it doomed, you ask? The proof is in the title of this article, and the very definition of the movement — counter-culture. With this simple phrasing, the spiritual movement has misstepped in its reborn infancy, and is now irrevocably damaged. When a movement begins to self-identify as separate, it has lost
…As soon as it, or any other movement does this, the antibodies come out, the immune system activates against the infection and immediately isolates it, scheduling it for destruction. Every successful movement has only been successful because it fought tooth and nail to not be seen or considered outsiders or counter to the status quo, but rather an existing part of it…The United States of America was not called “The Counter-Britain States of America”, rather, it pushed a unity for everyone in its every act and action. They fought for freedom of speech, taxation, religion, and representation as all other states under Britain received. Like Dr. King hundreds of years later, they preached freedom and equality for all, as part of the all
…In the very act of the counter-culture identifying itself as such, it has shot itself in the foot and violated the very message of unity and oneness it set out to change the world with. This means that the cultural antibodies have activated and swarmed and it is already being fought hard against by its very nature. If they had fought for the unity they set out for, they would have accomplished their goal. Instead they did the exact opposite, which, in the minds of the masses, violated the fundamental rule of Inception — you have to make the dreamer think the idea is theirs.
– Nicholas Fuller, “The Spiritual Counter-Culture Is Doomed,” Evolutionary Landscapes, April 17, 2012
Indeed and exactly.
We also have the life and accomplishment(s) of someone who shares Nicholas Fuller’s last name, but whose existential example provides, if not a refutation of the basic point made above, then a kind of transcendence of it: Buckminster Fuller. (For a brief, excellent, and inspiring profile, see “The Vision of Buckminster Fuller.”) Fuller famously experienced a spiritual/existential crisis and transformation in mid-life, accompanied by a collapse of his outer circumstances, and determined to devote himself to “an experiment to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity.”
[A]t the age of 32, finding myself a “throwaway” in the business world, I sought to use myself as my scientific “guinea pig” in a lifelong experiment designed to discover what — if anything — a healthy young male human of average size, experience, and capability with an economically dependent wife and newborn child, starting without capital or any kind of wealth, cash savings, account monies, credit, or university degree could effectively do that could not be done by great nations or great private enterprise to lastingly improve the physical protection and support of all human lives, at the same time removing undesirable restraints and improving individual initiatives of any and all humans aboard our planet Earth.
The answer, of course, was that Fuller was able to do an almost miraculous amount of valuable work, not just scientific and technological but philosophical, that would make him one of the towering figures of the 20th century. He invented the geodesic dome, coined the term and concept “spaceship earth,” and proclaimed that human suffering could be eliminated if we just had the will. “There are few men,” writes PBS for its American Masters series, “who can justly claim to have revolutionized their discipline. R. Buckminster Fuller revolutionized many. ‘Bucky,’ as he was known to most, was a designer, architect, poet, educator, engineer, philosopher, environmentalist, and, above all, humanitarian. Driven by the belief that humanity’s major problems were hunger and homelessness he dedicated his life to solving those problems through inexpensive and efficient design.” Says Popular Mechanics, “The late, great architect and inventor brought us the geodesic dome, but Buckminster Fuller’s often twisted, often brilliant vision extended far beyond air-conditioned sporting arenas. From super-efficient cars carrying lots of passengers to entire cities encapsulated by single roofs, he made Frank Lloyd Wright look positively normal, and his prescient engineering foreshadowed — and continues to inform — the movement toward green design and prefabricated housing.” A young Robert Anton Wilson (to get us back to the spiritual counterculture) was floored by a lecture Fuller gave in 1956, and counted him a genius and a hero for the rest of his life. When Fuller’s magnum opus, the book Critical Path, was published in 1981, Wilson called it “an event of historical importance, because the survival of humanity might — just might — depend on how many people read and understand what Dr. Fuller has to say.”
Fuller’s transformative crisis, and his question about what he could accomplish with his life that would be truly worthwhile, is actually one that presses on each of us from the moment we’re born. This is because the crisis and the question both have to do with the issue of life purpose, calling, lifework, vocation. What are we here to do? How shall we live? We’re basically thrown into the world (as Heidegger would say) and left to figure out not only what it’s all about but what we are all about, each of us, individually.
And when it comes to the question of whether the spiritual counterculture it doomed, I find I’m forced by my own experience and long reflection on this very matter to say that both Nicholas Fuller and Bucky Fuller are correct. The current spiritual counterculture may indeed be doomed, and for the very reasons N. Fuller elucidates. But the truly countercultural force must always be the individual and his or her Bucky Fuller-esque first-person awakening from the cultural consensus trance that is a non-negotiable and unavoidable part of being born. And when it comes to this, the life or death of social movements is intrinsically tangential.
Collectively, the current spiritual counterculture will go away, just like the last one did after the 1970s (to be continued for awhile as an insipid caricature of itself in the New Age movement of the 80s and 90s). It will probably have worked some real changes and effected a real shift of the cultural center of gravity, just like the last one did. But die it will, and without having realized its political, societal, and economic aims. (This is all assuming that our political, social, and economic systems haven’t all entered some dramatic stage of real and terminal collapse by then.) And another such movement will come along at some point to continue the work.
But the stillpoint of the individual psyche, and the grace-given decision of the individual to ask himself or herself that ultimate question — or rather, to figure out what the very question is, to divine and enact the deep query that he or she is innately and daemonically driven to ask and answer with the fact of a unique individual life — this must be the perennial locus of the counterculture, whose essence is therefore defined, ultimately, as the transcendent impulse to shake off the conditioned psychic nets of culture, language, and temporal circumstance, and see-live-know life in its real vibrancy as an experience of the eternal One Mind knowing itself in the up-close-and-personal social and sensory reality of the embodied Now. From this point of centered self-and-world-knowledge, you can do almost anything.