Well, it finally happened. For the first time since becoming host of Dreamland in 1999, I have had a fight with a guest on the air. As you know, I cultivate a very special approach to my guests. In order to draw them out and make them feel at home, I'm unreservedly enthusiastic about their ideas. I keep my own beliefs to myself.
The result is that I'm sometimes attacked by listeners who think that my efforts to encourage my guests are an endorsement of their assertions. But I figure that's a small price to pay for being virtually the only large interview program out there where guests are actively drawn out so that listeners get to hear their real beliefs--often, things that they literally never say elsewhere.
This time, it didn't work quite that way. The guest was Daniel Pinchbeck. I won?t go into what I think of his ideas. Actually, I think that they're well worth entertaining. Some of his hopes for the future of mankind are touching and very appealing.
So what was the fight about? Just this: he accused me of being in league with dark alien forces that do not have the best interests of the human species at heart. He said that I was spreading a dark view of the human future and that, by doing so, I was helping them make it come true.
I understand that the secrecy of the visitors is the reason that what I regard as superstitions have grown up around them, and also that I am in the awkward position of knowing them too well to have any such confusion. I know what they are: complex, passionate and intricately intelligent people who sacrifice a great deal to come here, and are trying with all their might and main to help us through a difficult phase in the life of our species without destroying our independence by revealing too much of their breathtaking knowledge and technology to us.
I have been face to face with the anguish this causes them. Among them, I have seen a sadness unlike anything we know among ourselves, that is born of too great an understanding of the way the universe really works, and the grand and tragic position of intelligent life, to know.
Among them I have seen the mad and the vicious, as well as the brilliant and sacred. There are criminals among them, too, profiteers, thieves, you name it. Often, they are vulnerable and afraid, and this makes them mean. I've been a victim of their rough treatment, and a beneficiary of their gentleness.
When, as an adult, I first met them, I reacted like a wild animal?and they reacted like what they were, small, vulnerable creatures who had taken a wild animal into their home.
Imagine if you drugged a panther and brought it into your living room, then woke it up to see how it would react. Well, if it was just any panther, you might not do that. But what if it was a panther that, when it was a cub, you had cuddled and tamed? You might expect it to recognize you.
This panther did not recognize one damn thing. To them, we'd only been apart a short time. To me, they were demons who had come out of nowhere and they scared me so terribly that this particular gentleman became a roaring, raging monster.
But they were not, and are not, evil. Oh, some of them are unpleasant as hell. There is terrific xenophobia there--or what we see as xenophobia. But would you embrace a panther? No, you wouldn't, but to the panther that's going to look like you don't care for it a whole lot.
I have addressed the reasons for the secrecy in these pages a number of times. There are three main ones: first, the visitors would destroy our free will if they exposed us to their knowledge and technology; second, we--in the form of our governments--have reacted to them by doing what we can to hide their presence, and they have respected that; third, the physics of contact are very, very difficult, and unless it is handled by two species who understand its inherent dangers and can cope with them, there is danger that the less-informed species will, essentially, have its access to reality deranged so badly that it will go mad.
They are here because we are at a period of transition in the life of our species, and they are hoping to assist us without destroying us in the process, and that is going to be a very near thing.
Pinchbeck accuses me of bringing on a dark future by predicting it. That's magical thinking, and just as impotent as its opposite--that you can create a positive future by believing in it.
I say in the program that I believe that mankind is going to experience a dieback, and this makes Pinchbeck furious because he fears that just by saying something like that, it will become true. I don't want to put words in another man's mouth, but I had the impression that he sees me as a sort of viral particle of negativism, and that my perspective is designed to bring on the destructions of which I warn, presumably so that my evil alien masters can inherit the ruined planet, I suppose.
What is so silly about this is the idea that they would want our planet, our bodies, our souls, our genes or anything we have. Are you ready to run off to the Congo to get their cassava? I don't think so. But you might be moved to go there to help relieve their suffering, even if they have nothing to give you in return. We don't even have much of one of the fuels they actually do use and mine in nature, which is Helium 3. The moon has a lot of it, but they're not up there taking it, at least not in great quantity, because they know we will need it soon, and that the process of getting it will help advance our species scientifically, culturally and technologically.
I wish that the visitors would expose us to more of the history of intelligent species in this universe. For there is such a history, with names and dates, and stories of the ruin and triumph of worlds. Diebacks are so common that they are not remarkable. They're footnotes, and in ten thousand years, the one we're about to go through will be a footnote in the history of mankind, too. A much larger issue is species death consequent to the deterioration of DNA. Intelligent species tend to outlast the amount of time that nature expected them to survive, and to get old in ways that we won't need to worry about for at least another million years but which will, in those distant times, occupy our attention far more than do present upheavals.
The history of intelligent life in the universe is not a history of magic. It is not about god-beings and mysterious galactic superminds playing in the lives of their wretched planetary underlings. Our gods are in our minds.
Rather, it is a history of what it is like to live in a place that is by the nature of its structure, damn dangerous.
Many intelligent species have become extinct simply because their planet has taken a hit at the wrong moment, or their star has burped a little too forcefully. Just at random. They've gone down, no doubt, calling on their gods and cursing their gods, and begging forgiveness for sins that never mattered at all.
One of the great problems that our present visitors face is that they have attained something close to absolute knowledge, and so they know, in advance, where most of these accidents are going to happen. They also know that they can prevent some of them. They live with a terrific ethical quandary: should they? If a species is ugly and probably going to kill itself off anyway, should they just let some cosmic accident happen, or should they quietly intervene, in the deep of space, and redirect that asteroid, or quiet the turmoil in a star?
What is fate? What is its meaning? To such people, who are at the extreme limit of knowledge, these are the questions that keep them from going stark, raving mad. And they don't work for all of them, believe you me.
Too much knowledge has cursed our visitors with a lack of spontaneity. It is why, when I asked one of them, an old man whom I'd met a few times, what his vision of the universe was, he answered me by projecting a picture of a closed coffin into my mind.
They do not fight much, but there is one thing that I know every man-jack of them will fight for to his last drop of blood, and that is the spontaneity that our limited knowledge grants us. They traded this away by seeking too many answers, and they are suffering the consequences. They don't want that to happen to us, and they also do want to be close to us, to enter our lives in whatever ways they can, so that they can taste of the surprise that life brings us.
Maybe it's selfish of them, and it certainly isn't pretty, but there it is. Right now, they are in an increasingly desperate quandary: their efforts to get us to help ourselves are failing. So, do they "come out" or not? If they do, can the contact be executed in such a way that we don?t see the full reality of the situation? But if they don't fully reveal themselves, the denial that is so deeply engrained in us will continue to function, and we still will not acknowledge them, heed their warnings, or, above all, pick up on the immensely subtle science, which, if we are willing to wrestle with our own minds to understand it, can help us to survive in our earth, and to enter worlds beyond.
Pinchbeck is right about me in one respect. I do think that there's going to be a dieback of the human species, and I do not think that anything can be done to avoid it. Certainly, it can be ameliorated and even, to an extent, controlled, but it is going to happen.
The reason that I'm sure of this could not be more simple. In nature, there is a formation called a bell curve. When the ascending shoulder of a bell curve develops, the descending shoulder follows. Nothing goes up for ever. Entropy always sets in. It must. That?s the way that physics works. I said it on the show--at least, I think I did--and it's worth repeating here. Nature is numbers. It's math, pure and simple.
The human species is just reaching the apogee of a bell curve of consumption and population expansion that began in about 1750. The planet's resources are going to run out, because we are, of necessity, consuming them too fast. Clever technology will enable some of us to climb down the far side of the bell curve, undoubtedly. But for most human beings, it will look like and be a sheer cliff.
Species expansion and contraction happens all the time on this planet. Ideal conditions come along for a given species and it overexpands. Then conditions change and it contracts again. It just happens. The mathematics of nature.
Another thing that happens around here a lot is catastrophe. Volcanoes explode, global warming causes massive methane emissions and short term extreme heating. Then it all snaps back into another ice age. It's been like this for about three million years, and will continue to be like this as long as the land masses of the planet are configured as they are. When they change, as they will, so also will the climate.
In addition to more-or-less random changes in the planet itself, we are also the victims of external forces. Supernovas occasionally sheet the planet in gamma rays. Comets and bolides crash into it. Close encounters with celestial objects sometimes play havoc with it.
What's more, from minute to minute, we have essentially no idea whether or not these things might or might not happen again. Literally, another second could bring about the end of the world.
So we look to our gods. In that, at least, we are not alone. Intelligent life in this universe is on a quest--in fact, it may, itself, BE the quest, but that's another story--and this quest is to find some meaning somewhere out there past that coffin my alien friend sees as his vision of the world.
And now we get to the heart of the matter, something that even the visitors do not fully realize, as extensive as their knowledge is. It is that we--highly intelligent ourselves, and possessed of marvelously sensitive physical instruments--are at the leading edge of the ages-long journey toward God. We are real experts in this, and their greatest fear is that, if they were to reveal their own failure to us, they would disrupt our search.
Recently, the nature of the human search,its stark truth, was exposed in a most remarkable way. The private journals of Mother Teresa of Calcutta were made public, and it was revealed that she struggled all of her life with the sense that there was a darkness there, where God should be.
The instant I saw that, I knew that her life had been entirely authentic, that she was a real saint. For it is the work of a saint to see that darkness and go about the business of faith anyway. In all of her years, she doubted. No doubt she longed for another, lighter, more pleasant life. But even though she had only a sense of this darkness--she was sustained by no illusions, no false gods, no loving Jesus of the imagination--she still acted as if God was there, and suffering mattered, and compassion made a difference.
She did so while, in the inevitable mathematics of reality, there is an asteroid or a comet or a supernova out there that will one day strike the earth again, and shudder her to her core, and make us, by pure random chance, a memory. Unless we come to species death in some other way.
In another of these journals, I reported my mother's perspective on the randomness and tragedy of being. She used to say, simply, "trust grace." Mother Teresa faced the dark and kept on anyway. That's trusting grace in its rawest, hardest form.
And it's also why I argued so vehemently with Daniel Pinchbeck. To pretend that we will pull off some sort of a miracle that will somehow cause two and two to add up to something other than four is to trust nothing. Of course the human intellect will ameliorate the coming disaster. This is why our intellect evolved. We started the last ice age naked and living in the forest. We ended it clothed and living in the plains--where the forest used to be. In other words, we used our intelligence to save ourselves.
We will do that again, and some of us will indeed be saved. But not all. The dieback is, by the math of it, inevitable. And with it will come a true dark night of the soul, as all of our gods abandon us. In our suffering, also, we will begin to blame each other. In fact, that's already happening. The environmentalists blame the oil companies. The oil companies blame the tree huggers, and everybody, it seems, blame the madly polluting Chinese, even the Chinese themselves.
You know what, though? Nobody is to blame. At least, not us. Nature is to blame. The reason is that, because we were so vulnerable for so long, we lost our seasonal fertility and at the same time acquired extremely prominent genitals that are rich with nerve endings. Add to that our fine memories, and we have been turned into rutting machines.
This happened because we were so few and so far between for so long. When we did live in that old forest, our population was sparse, indeed. So nature compensated by making us more sexy. Then came the ice age and we were well-served by that eager sexuality. It helped us to survive that catastrophe, too.
Afterward, though, the planet entered into one of its periodic and brief interglacials. Not brief enough, however, to prevent our fertility and sexuality from working against us in exactly the same way it does when algae bloom under ideal conditions. Remove the conditions, and there's going to be a dieback.
That's where we are. But there is a difference between us and algae, which is this marvelous brain of ours. So we have a bit of a percentage in our favor. We?re going to figure out some ways to help ourselves crash land instead of crash.
In a hundred years, there are not going to be as many of us here as there are now, and saying that does not mean that, by some sort of black magic, I will be responsible for it happening.
There is no reason to fear extinction. Species death is a long way away. But dieback, no. We're on our way down that side of the bell curve--at least, in this man's opinion.
Listen to Dreamland. Enjoy the fight. I hope it makes you think, and I am sure that Daniel Pinchbeck agrees with me, at least on that point.
NOTE: This Journal entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.