by Terence McKenna
Our present global crisis is more profound than any previous historical crises; hence our solutions must be equally drastic. I propose that we should adopt the plant as the organizational model for life in the twenty-first century, just as the computer seems to be the dominant mental/social model of the late twentieth century, and the steam engine was the guiding image of the nineteenth century.
This means reaching back in time to models that were successful fifteen thousand to twenty thousand years ago. When this is done it becomes possible to see plants as food, shelter, clothing, and sources of education and religion.
The process begins by declaring legitimate what we have denied for so long. Let us declare nature to be legitimate. All plants should be declared legal, and all animals for that matter. The notion of illegal plants and animals is obnoxious and ridiculous.
Reestablishing channels of direct communication with the planetary Other, the mind behind nature, through the use of hallucinogenic plants is the best hope for dissolving the steep walls of cultural inflexibility that appear to be channeling us toward true ruin. We need a new set of lenses to see our way into the world. When the medieval world shifted its worldview, secularized European society sought salvation in the revivifying of classical Greek and Roman approaches to law, philosophy, aesthetics, city planning, and agriculture. Our dilemma will cast us further back into time in search for models and answers.
The solution to much of modern malaise, including chemical dependencies and repressed psychoses and neuroses, is direct exposure to the authentic dimensions of risk represented by the experience of psychedelic plants. The pro-psychedelic plant position is clearly an anti-drug position. Drug dependencies are the result of habitual, unexamined, and obsessive behaviour; these are precisely the tendencies in our psychological makeup that the psychedelics mitigate. The plant hallucinogens dissolve habits and hold motivations up to inspection by a wider, less egocentric, and more grounded point of view within the individual. It is foolish to suggest that there is no risk, but it is equally uninformed to suggest that the risk is not worth taking. What is needed is experiential validation of a new guiding image, an overarching metaphor able to serve as the basis for a new model of society and the individual.
The plant-human relationship has always been the foundation of our individual and group existence in the world. What I call the Archaic Revival is the process of reawakening awareness of traditional attitudes toward nature, including plants and our relationship to them. The Archaic Revival spells the eventual breakup of the pattern of male dominance and hierarchy based on animal organization, something that can not be changed overnight by a sudden shift in collective awareness. Rather, it will follow naturally upon the gradual recognition that the overarching theme that directs the Archaic Revival is the idea/ideal of a vegetation Goddess, the Earth herself as the much ballyhooed Gaia–a fact well documented by nineteenth-century anthropologists, most notably Frazer, but recently given a new respectability by Riane Eisler, Marija Gimbutas, James Mellaart, and others.
The closer a human group is to the gnosis of the vegetable mind–the Gaian collectivity of organic life–the coser their connection to the archetype of the Goddess and hence to the partnership style of social organization. The last time that the mainstream of Western thought was refreshed by the gnosis of the vegetable mind was at the close of the Hellenistic Era, before the Mystery religions were finally suppressed by enthusiastic Christian barbarians.
My conclusion is that taking the next evolutionary step toward the Archaic Revival, the rebirth of the Goddess, and the ending of profane history will require an agenda that includes the notion of our reinvolvement with and the emergence of the vegetable mind. That same mind that coaxed us into self-reflecting language now offers us the boundless landscapes of the imagination. Without such a relationship to psychedelic exopheromones regulating our symbiotic relationship with the plant kingdom, we stand outside of an understanding of planetary purpose. And an understanding of planetary purpose may be the major contribution we can make to the evolutionary process. Returning to the bosom of the planetary partnership means trading the point of view of the history-created ego for a more maternal and intuitional style.
The widely felt intuition of the presence of the Other as a female companion to the human navigation of history can, I believe, be traced back to the immersion in the vegetable mind, which provided the ritual context in which human consciousness emerged into the light of self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-articulation: the light of the Great Goddess.
What does it mean to accept the solutions of vegetable forms of life as metaphors for the conduct of the affairs of the human world? Two important changes would follow from adopting this assumption:
The feminizing of culture. Culture would be feminized on a level that has yet to be fully explored. Green Consciousness means recognizing that the real division between the masculine and the feminine is not a division between men and women but rather a division between ourselves as conscious animals–omnivorous, land-clearing, war makers, supreme expression of the yang–and the circumglobal mantle of vegetation–the ancient metastable yin element that constitutes by far the major portion of the biomass of the living earth.
An inward search for values. Inwardness is the characteristic feature of the vegetable rather than the animal approach to existence. The animals move, migrate, and swarm, while plants hold fast. Plants live in a dimension characterized by the solid state, the fixed, and the enduring. If there is movement in the consciousness of plants then it must be the movement of spirit and attention in the domain of the vegetal imagination. Perhaps this is what the reconnection to the vegetal Goddess through psychedelic plants, the Archaic Revival, actually points toward: that the life of the spirit is the life that gains access to the visionary realms resident in magical plant teachers. This is the truth that shamans have always known and practiced. Awareness of the green side of mind was called Veriditas by the twelfth-century visionary Hildegard von Bingen.
A new paradigm capable of offering hope of a path out of the cultural quicksand must provide a real-world agenda addressed to the escalating problems that the planet faces. There are several domains in which the rise of awareness of Veriditas might help stave off armageddon:
Detoxification of the natural environment. The process of detoxification is naturally carried out by the combined action of the atmosphere, the biological matrix, and the oceans. This planetwide process was able to take care of even urban industrial waste, until modern industrial technology became a truly global phenomenon. Planting species of datura, the plants once a part of the religious rites of the Indians of Southern California, and other plants that leach heavy metals from the earth and sequester them in their cellular tissue are examples of a natural process that could help clean up our environment. Recognizing the many ways in which the biological matrix of the earth functions to avert toxification, recognizing that nature is working to sustain life, might go a long way toward building a political consensus to actively participate in saving that same life.
Connectedness and symbiosis. Like plants, we need to maximize the quality of connectedness and symbiosis. Plant-based approaches to modeling the world include awareness of the fractal and branching nature of community action. A treelike network of symbiotic relationships can now replace the model of evolution that we inherited from the nineteenth-century. The earlier model, that of the tooth-and-claw struggle for existence, with the survivor taking the hindmost, is a model based on naive observation of animal behaviour. Yet it was cheerfully extended into the realm of plants to explain the evolutionary interactions thought to cause speciation in the botanical world. Later, more sophisticated observers (C.H. Waddington and Erich Jantsch) found not the War in Nature that Darwinists reported but rather a situation in which it was not competitive ability but ability to maximize cooperation with other species that most directly contributed to an organism's being able to function and endure as a member of a biome. Plants interact with each other through the tangled mat of roots that connects them all to the source of their nutrition and to each other.
The matted floor of a tropical rain forest is an environment of great chemical diversity; the topology approaches that of brain tissue in its complexity. Within the network of interconnected roots, complex chemical signals are constantly being transmitted and received. Co-adaptive evolution and symbiotic relationships regulate this entire system with a ubiquitousness that argues for the evolutionary primacy of these cooperative strategies. For example, mycirrhizal fungi live in symbiosis on the outside of plant roots and gently balance and buffer the mineral-laden water that is moving through them to the roots of their host.
Whole-system fine tuning. If the phenomena associated with biological harmony and resonance could be understood, then such large-scale systems as global banking or global food production could be more properly managed. The gaian biologists, Lovelock, Margulies, and others, have argued persuasively that the entire planet has been self-organized by microbial and planktonic life into a metastable regime favorable to biology and maintained there for over two billion years. Plant-based Gaia has kept a balance throughout time and space,–and in spite of the repeated bombardment of the earth by asteroidal material sufficient to severely disrupt the planetary equilibrium. We can only admire–and we should seek to imitate such a Tao-like sense of the planet's multidimensional homeostatic balance. But how? I suggest we look at plants–look more deeply, more closely, and with a more open mind than we have done before.
Recycling. Like plants, we need to recycle. On a cosmic scale we are no more mobile than plants. Until this point in history we have modeled our more successful economic systems on animal predation. Animals can potentially move on to another resource when they exhaust the one at hand. Since they can move to new food sources, they potentially have unlimited resources. Plants are fixed. They can not easily move to richer nutrients or leave an area if they foul or deplete it. They must recycle well. The fostering of a plant-based ethic that emulates the way in which the botanical world uses and replaces resources is a sine qua non for planetary survival. All capitalistic models models presuppose unlimited exploitable resources and labor pools, yet neither should now be assumed. I do not know the methods, but I suggest we start turning to the plant world to discover the right question to ask.
Photovoltaic power. Appreciation of photovoltaic power is part of the shift toward an appreciation of the elegance of solid state that plants possess. Plants practice photosynthetic solutions to the problems of power acquisition. Compared to the water or animal-turned wheels, which are the Ur-methaphors for power production in the human world, the solid-state quantum-molecular miracle that involves dropping a photon of sunlight into a molecular device that will kick out an electron capable of energetically participating in the life of a cell seems like extravagant science fiction. Yet this is, in fact, the principle upon which photosynthesis operates. While the first solid-state devices arrived on the human cultural frontier in the late 1940's, solid-state engineering had been the preferred design approach of plants for some two thousand million years. High efficiency photovoltaics could today meet the daily needs of most people for electricity. It is the running of basic industries on solar energy that has proved difficult. Perhaps this is nature's way of telling us that we aspire to too much manufacturing.
A global atmosphere-based economy. The approach of vegetational life to energy production is called photosynthesis. This process could be modeled by the creation of a global economy based on using solar energy to obtain hydrogen from seawater. Solar electricity could supply most electricity needs, but the smelting of aluminium and steel and other energy-intensive industrial processes make demands that photovoltaic electricity is unlikely to be able to meet. However, there is a solution; plants split atmospheric carbon dioxide to release energy and oxygen as by-products. A similar but different process could use solar electricity to split water to obtain hydrogen. This hydrogen could be collected and concentrated for later distribution. Plants have been very successful at finding elegant solutions based on materials present at hand; a hydrogen economy would emulate this same reliance on inexhaustible and recyclable materials.
The notion is a simple one really; it has long been realized by planners that hydrogen is the ideal resource to fuel a global economy. Hydrogen is clean: when burned it recombines with the water it was chemically derived from. Hydrogen is plentiful: one-third of all water is hydrogen. And all existing technologies–internal combustion engines, coal-, oil-, and nuclear-fired generators–could be retrofitted to run on hydrogen. Thus we are not talking about having to scrap the current standing crop of existing power production and distribution systems. Hydrogen could be “cracked” from seawater at a remote island location and then moved by the already existing technology that is used for the ocean transport of liquid natural gas from its production points to market. The objection that hydrogen is highly explosive and that proven technologies for handling it do not exist has largely been met by the LNG industry and its excellent safety record. Hydrogen accidents could be extremely destructive, but they would be ordinary explosions–local, nontoxic, and without release of radioactivity. Like plant life itself, the hydrogen economy would be nonpolluting and self-sustaining; burned hydrogen recombines with oxygen to again become water.
An internal effort of extraordinary scope would be necessary to begin to move toward a proof of concept demonstration of the feasibility of a hydrogen economy. Granted, there are many possible problems with such a scheme. But no plan for the production on energy sufficient to meet the demands of twenty-first century is going to be without difficulties.
Nanotechnology. The era of molecular mechanism promises the most radical of green visions, since it proposes that human-engineered quasibiological cells and organelles take over the manufacturing of products and culture. nanotechnology takes very seriously the notion that manufacturing techniques and methods of manipulating matter on the microphysical scale can affect the design process of the human-scale world. In the nanotech world, dwellings and machines can be “grown”, and everything that is manufactured is closer to flesh than stone. The distinction between living and nonliving and organic and artificial is blurred in the electronic coral reef of human-machine symbiosis contemplated by the savants of nanotechnology.
Preservation of biological diversity. The life on this planet and the chemical diversity that it represents is likely to be the only source of biologically evolved compounds until the day that we discover another planet as teeming with life as our own. Yet we are destroying the living diversity of our world at an appalling rate. This must be stopped, not only through the preservation of ecosystems but also through the preservation of information about those ecosystems that has been accumulated over thousands of years by the people who live adjacent to them. It is impossible to underestimate the importance for human health of preservation of folk knowledge concerning healing plants. All the major healing drugs that have changed history have come from living plants and fungi. Quinine made conquest of the tropics possible, penicillin and birth control pills remade the social fabric of the twentieth century. All three of these are plant-derived pharmaceuticals. My partner Kat and I work in this area by managing Botanical Dimensions, a botanical garden in Hawaii that seeks to preserve the plants utilized in Amazonian shamanism, one of the many such systems of knowledge that are fast disappearing.
The measures outlined above would tend to promote what might be called a sense of Gaian Holism, that is, a sense of the unity and balance of nature and of our own human position within the dynamic and evolving balance. It is a plant-based view. This return to a perspective on self and ego that places them within the larger context of planetary life and evolution is the essence of the Archaic Revival. Marshall McLuhan was correct to see that planetary human culture, the global village, would be tribal in character. The next great step toward a planetary holism is the partial merging of the technologically transformed human world with the archaic matrix of vegetable intelligence that is the Overmind of the planet.
I hesitate to call this dawning awareness religious, yet that is what it surely is. And it will involve a full exploration of the dimensions revealed by plant hallucinogens, especially those structurally related to neurotransmitters already present and functioning in the human brain. Careful exploration of the plant hallucinogens will probe the most archaic and sensitive level of the drama of the emergence of consciousness; it was in the plant-human symbiotic relationships that characterized archaic society and religion that the numinous mystery was originally experienced. And this experience is no less mysterious for us today, in spite of the general assumption that we have replaced the simple awe of our ancestors with philosophical and epistemic tools of the utmost sophistication and analytical power.
Our choice as a planetary culture is a simple one: go Green or die.