"Timothy Leary died recently. We just got rid of him. Why do we need another one?" he asked me on air.
While I have taken pains to differentiate myself from Leary - the Harvard psychology professor turned psychedelic psychopomp, called "the most dangerous man in America" by Nixon, who told the 60s generation to "tune in, turn on, and drop out," with unfortunate consequences - I have inherited a bit of his social cachet as rebel and outsider.
Over the last decade, I have had a unique opportunity to pass through many different worlds, learning and carrying ideas from one to the next. For a German TV show, I wandered the streets of Paris with Alejandro Jodorowsky, legendary director of Holy Mountain, and psycho-magician. I flew in a chartered helicopter with Sting and his family over crop circles in England, looking for extraterrestrials. I hung out in the trenches of Occupy Wall Street with tousled anarchists. I visited the mountains of Colombia to study the rituals and philosophy of the Kogi and Arahuak people. I debated the comedian Russell Brand in a geodesic dome in Utah. I visited a “free love” community, started by German radicals, in rural Portugal. I helped organize a summit on climate change at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, with slick marketing geniuses and nonprofits like Greenpeace and 350.org. We failed to convince Zuckerberg’s minions to support the ecological movement with more than tokenism.
As much as I could, I sought to influence the influencers. Particularly, I thought drinking ayahuasca, the visionary medicine from the Amazon basin, would be extremely beneficial for many of them. In Big Sur, I attended one of the most lavish weddings of our transhuman times, as the guest of Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster and the ex-president of Facebook. The roster of invitees included numerous rock stars and dot-com tycoons, founders and funders of Internet leviathans. Like almost all of them, I wore an outfit custom-made for the occasion, a long tailored jacket and silk-embroidered vest. We partied all night in a grove of majestic redwoods, transformed into a Hollywood phantasmagoria of Renaissance ruins and flower gardens for one multi-million-dollar night. The ceremony set world-records for excess, triggering incensed editorials and local outcries. The wedding was easy to criticize. On the one hand, I found it a beautiful expression of love. On the other, it was a painful reminder that a tiny elite gets to enjoy the most fabulous Gatsby-like extravagance, while billions around the world remain stuck in poverty and desperation.
For Summit Outside, a weekend retreat, I visited a mountaintop in Utah. A group of young entrepreneurs had bought the entire mountain - a sky resort - to build a utopian community for the privileged, taking a page from the libertarian fantasies of Ayn Rand. We dined on one long table crossing an entire valley. A battalion of waiters served over a thousand of our society's best and brightest, a well-meaning, khaki-tinged mob that included heads of charities, venture capitalists, documentary filmmakers, and CEOs of tech start-ups.
On a private beach in Mexico, for the end of the Mayan Calendar's 5,125 year long count, costumed dancers in Aztec headdresses gyrated to electronic beats among life-size reconstructions of Stonehenge, Easter Island's massive heads, and monumental sculptures of Greek deities. I spent the night tripping with one of the world's wealthiest art dealers, a Brit. He offered me free career advice, telling me I should "be the messiah, play the pariah." Back home, following his lead, I wrote him a long, histrionically irate email linking the planetary mega crisis to the decadence of the art world. He never replied.
I write this having just returned from New Zealand where I attended a futurist conference organized by two young tech geniuses, in their early thirties, who dropped out of Harvard ten years ago to build a massive data processing company, which they sold for a fortune. With the proceeds, they acquired 2,000 acres of Kiwi forests and dairy farms. They are integrating the most up-to-date methods of organic agriculture, food forestry and solar-powered villages, assembling a dream team of yogis, reiki healers, permaculture designers, and software engineers. They chose New Zealand, after surveying the options, as the most likely place in the world to survive runaway climate change, global social breakdown, and everything else that’s coming. They may be the smartest people I know.