06 February 2009

2012 Redux

A little over a year ago I reviewed a book in these hallowed electronic pages called 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. That review mainly consisted of an ad-hominem attack on its author, Daniel Pinchbeck, for which I am marginally regretful. Not because the book is good, or its ideas are worthwhile, but because I failed in my objective to shine light on a tremendous pile of stupidity and, instead, flinged mud at a messenger. At the time an opportunity arose in which I could (and should) have criticized convoluted new-age spiritual garbage, but I got lazy faced with the prospect of actually having to re-read the book to really pick it apart and expose its lack of merit.

Fortunately all I got was a weak type-lashing from the author in my comments scolding me for being a bad boy. Unfortunately, the beast has returned, new tome in hand culled from the vast storeroom of vacuity that is his website. Titled Toward 2012, it's clear Pinchbeck has a fetish and is determined to mine it for all it's worth, presumably until three years hence, when Y2K happens all over again. Dwight Garner just reviewed this for the NYTimes and, while much subtler than I in his criticisms, pretty much labels the book a steaming pile. But first he had to provide some context and so blurbed Pinchbeck's previous book thusly:

In a previous book, “2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl,” Mr. Pinchbeck seemed to want to have it both ways about earth’s fast-approaching deadline. He didn’t entirely dismiss the possibility of Armageddon, but he used his book as an occasion to urge humanity to come together to stop global warming and heal the planet in other ways. Maybe, you know, we can head this bad juju off at the pass. Mr. Pinchbeck also wrote about crop circles, alien abductees, experiences with poltergeists, ingesting psychedelic mushrooms and practicing “new ideals of erotic freedom,” but never mind.

I read that and laughed, reminded of exactly how far removed from any rational thought this material is. The mention of "new ideals of erotic freedom" nearly made me lose my coffee all over this keyboard, since it was belittling Pinchbeck's views on that topic in particular that got me in trouble in the first place.

Seeing this review on the screen as I set myself up here at work this morning got me thinking about people close to me who go in for this sort of thing (Garner does mention "woo-woo friends" in his review). It makes me a bit depressed to know people are desperately reaching for meaning in a universe devoid of any such enduring thing and, thus, cling to outrageous anti-scientific and pseudoscientifc claims in books such as Pinchbeck's.

Just yesterday Scientific American posted a story, "Finding Control In Chaos", whose subtitle read: Feeling helpless leads to see nonexistent patterns. The article is short, I recommend reading it, but the ultimate point is that test subjects imposed fictitious order on situations in which they lacked control. I've found among people who are into new-age or vaguely spiritual "philosophies" that acute lack of control over their place in the universe and an intense desire for meaning to show its face.

This isn't a rare phenomenon by any stretch. In fact, it's probably the default human setting as far as anyone has determined. Our imaginations are a wondrous tool, but to deny ourselves the use of our rational functions is as criminal as denying our imaginations for rigid logic and order. We have the capability for dialectical thinking, for synthesizing our logical functions with our imaginative capacities. It would be to humanity's benefit for us as individuals to take advantage of this. Wallowing in shallow pools of pseudoscientific drivel and spiritual horseblather is a waste and proponents of this kind of thinking should be seen as the hucksters and contemporary snake-oil salesman they are.

1 comment:

Bibliophile said...

Word of the Day for Sunday, February 15, 2009

pinchbeck \PINCH-bek\, noun, adjective:

1. an alloy of zinc and copper used to imitate gold in jewelry-making; by extension, something counterfeit; an imitation
2. not genuine; fake