I have just finished The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby. Thank-you pique. This short and at present out of print book only bolstered some of my opinions and opened internal inquiry into some other areas.
One of my long held opinions is that everything, and I do mean everything, has an essentially political component attached to it. By political, I mean that which is used by whomever has temporal authority, to motivate or coerce people to certain behavior, by use of slogans, religions, thought forms, etc.
Right now on the world scene, we have what Samuel P. Huntington describes as a "clash of civilizations;" a showdown between the West (that's us) and Islam. This replaces the former clash between the West and the specifically Russian form of Communism (Leninism-Stalinism), which I maintain is merely a form of statism. Communism of this form, and its variants, derived from the work of Antonio Gramsci (friend and mentor of Benito Mussolini, which proves that Marxism and fascism are one and the same) is far from dead and will I suppose inevitably rear its ugly head.
This is all going on "at the surface" of current geopolitics. What's going on under the surface, in places like Western Amazonia is possibly more interesting and has more long term significance for our understanding of our world and our place in its biology, as well as the means for healing a vast number of diseases.
Narby is a Western academic who seems to have confronted the rational myopia of materialistic philosophy. He is very clear, as am I, about the historical reasons for the rise of this kind of thinking; the desire to dethrone the God of the Bible in the West. The result has been to replace one faith with another; Darwinism. My friend John Anthony West would certainly be interested in reading this book. It would certainly be grist for his mill. But Mr. West doesn't want to go farther into the mystery of our origins.
Narby cannot help doing what he needs to do, trying to establish an essentially materialistic (mechanistic) chain of possible causality that would explain how it is possible for indigenous people ingesting hallucinogenic substances to gain accurate knowledge of the medicinal properties of native Amazonian plants. The intrinsic and instrumental value of this knowledge is worth millions if not billions of dollars. The drug companies want to know which molecules do what so they can reproduce them from other substances. It didn't make headlines during the Rio earth summit that these indigenous people had gathered there to protest being cut out of the economic loop. Western scientists have the equivalent of a religious clout; since you don't believe the way we do, your knowledge is worthless. Carried further, since you are not of our society, you are worthless as people. Obviously their knowledge isn't worthless, so these outsiders only recourse is to steal it. This is another "ugly head" that has political associations.
This part of Narby's story made me very angry. I have for many years regarded drug companies and the whole business of the control of medicinal and consciousness-changing substances as highly political in the negative sense. Narby's account only strengthened my prejudices.
The solution for these indigenous people seemed to be something they want themselves; an educational system that they control (which is what most people in this country want too), paid for out of the proceeds of their pharmacological knowledge. I have no idea whether Narby or anyone else is working toward this in Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Brazil, etc. Maybe someone could find out.
But the deeper significance of this book is that it raises the same old questions: who are we? Where did we come from? Who made us? Who or what is God? The political answer is as a Hong Kong Chinese girl said to me once, "whatever force is applied to you to make you believe something is true." This is really what is going on in academic communities. Peer review is nothing more than an inquisition. Narby veritably admits as much. The same political forces that control academe, control the press, or try to. The internet (and am talk radio) is helping to restore the competition.
Unpopular ideas may be true: plants (and animals), under the right circumstances can communicate to people. Can we communicate to them in return? What if we admit that Darwin was wrong? What if we admit that we don't know where we came from? What if we admit that there is something, DNA, which is at the root of life on this planet (and perhaps elsewhere)? What would happen to our Western (at present ostensibly Godless and spiritless) civilization?
These thoughts were going through my head as a sort of first take on this book. But it produced some powerful reverberations when I considered what I presently do with my time, what I hope for in my life in the years to come.
When I sit at a piano and play something that I know well, there is something like what Narby calls intuition going on. The piece plays through me. To the extent that the instrument has the potential to reproduce what the piece wants to say through me, the performance will be ... satisfying.
I am consciously planning a life ahead that includes a cluster of business activities, setting myself up to meet the next soul mate, and participating as far as possible in the natural development of my children. None of these things has a purely materialistic aspect to them. Of the business cluster, some element of surprise seems in order, although eventually there will be financial and real estate aspects to it. One sometimes has to build an edifice brick by brick. Of the second, when the protagonist is ready, the partner will appear, seems to be the best attitude. Of the third, this book will be passed along to my eldest daughter who is developing a career involving nursing and molecular biology. My youngest isn't in any kind of situation to care about things like this right now. The idea that what I'm seeing as I write this is merely a replica of external reality generated inside my brain seems incomplete without postulating something that isn't resident inside my body, that goes somewhere else when I'm dreaming, that goes somewhere else when I'm awake sitting on a riverfront veranda late on a summer's afternoon.