What do science fiction, storytelling, and mythology have to do with COVID, healthcare, politics, and life? Everything, it seems.
– [Zubin] Hey guys, Dr. Z, welcome to The ZDoggMD Show. Today I have Damien Walter. Okay, listen, I saw Damien on Rebel Wisdom Podcast with my friend David Fuller, and they were talking about “Dune” and the mythology of “Dune” and science fiction and a new 21st century mythology. Now, why am I on a medical podcast, purportedly, are we talking about mythology? Well, because it is central to who we are as humans, finding meaning, purpose and a telos, a direction, of where we’re going. And COVID has really highlighted this. Now, Damien is a writer and a storyteller, he’s been featured in BBC, “The Guardian”, “The Independent”, whenever I say “The Independent”, Damien, I think of “Trent Crimm: The Independent” from the Apple show, , but I’m stereotyping now. He’s been publishing in Oxford University Press, he’s the former director of Creative Writing at the university of Leicester. Is that how you say that?
– [Damien] Leicester.
– [Zubin] Leicester.
– [Damien] But Leicester is fine, we wouldn’t persecute you if you said that in the City of Leicester, we’d let you off.
– [Zubin] , Anything I missed on this? Because when I saw your episode with David, you go so deep on the mythology and the foundations of science fiction. What am I missing here?
– [Damien] Well, actually, the beginning of my career was in over more in the healing practices, you could say. I’m in no way a qualified physician, but I was basically a social worker using the arts, a development worker it was called at the time. And I did that in the City of Leicester for about 10 years. I went there for university, and it’s a great city, but it has real problems with poverty, it has big immigrant communities who we’re kind of struggling to integrate, and I was using arts and specifically writing, and storytelling, and I would do like storytelling workshops in old people’s homes, and schools and prisons, and I did a lot of work with mental health communities. And I got fascinated by what stories mean to people, that we’re all living out a story, and when I encounter people who are struggling in life in whatever way, it was because on some level their story was broken. It didn’t fit in the world, they didn’t think they were fulfilling their story, this can get really pathological, it’s kinda crazy how your sense of your being in the world can determine so much of your health, or maybe not crazy at all, actually. And during this point, I decided to go back to university, essentially and study stories and storytelling. And then I spent about another 10 years doing that, trying to understand just this really basic question, like what is a story? Because wherever we think about life in society, we get stories and we get storytelling. We spend a huge amount of our life watching stories, we talk about like political narratives, and how we marketed stories, I could do a big list, but we didn’t really seem to know what stories were. So I set about trying to figure that out, and that eventually resulted in my course, which is called The Rhetoric of Story, that has like a little bit over 30,000 students now, and it’s kind of answering this question, what is a story? So that’s me so far.
– [Zubin] And honestly, this is why I was drawn to you, because you know science fiction is cool and all that, but this idea that story is the underlying fabric of how humans find connection, meaning, purpose, and even beyond that, a sense of identity, this idea that now we’re in a COVID pandemic that has caused this thing, which in the states, I don’t know what they’re calling it elsewhere, and you’re in Bali right now, which there are definitely worse places to be, , than that it’s beautiful. The great resignation is what they’re calling it, where people are realizing, they’re looking inwards, they’ve been through this traumatic event, this global international fear contagion, and they’re looking inwards and saying, “Wait, is this my story that I’m living in this life?” And they’re starting to wake up and say, “No, it’s not, why am I working in this job that doesn’t… It’s not who I am, my story feels broken.” And they’re not saying it this way, but this is how I think I’m seeing it, is people are having a story crisis. Does that feel correct to you?
– [Damien] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the reasons I love to live in Bali is because of the culture in Bali. So wherever you go in Bali, they have statues of the gods and they have ceremonies, and every village has its own temples and ceremonies, and they all do this together. And I knew that whatever happened with COVID, you remember back at the beginning of COVID, and there was the sense that it’s been very bad, but it could have been much worse. And I thought Bali will be fine, because there’s a real story holding everybody together here, and you know that when you’re here. It’s a very conservative, religious story in a sense, and then you look to like where I grew up in the UK, and like in the commute about coming into London where the people are who are resigning on mass from their jobs now, and there’s no real shared story left. It’s a story of going into London, maybe working in a bank, trying to build up your fortunes, whatever it is, and it’s not enough for people on the level of meaning, this is what John Vervaeke calls the meaning crisis. This kind of new story we’ve made for ourself, it doesn’t fulfill all our needs on the level of meaning and identity and togetherness as a society. And I think COVID just cracked this open.
– [Zubin] Someone doesn’t want your story told, Damien.
– [Damien] , Yeah, COVID just cracks that open and left us seeing it.
– [Zubin] That’s exactly correct, this idea that Vervaeke calls it the meaning crisis, there’s the atomization crisis too where we’ve been fragmented into parts, and we’ve lost sight of what this whole is. And when we even look at the pandemic, there’s all this tension between autonomy, our own independence and freedom, and right to wear a mask, not wear a mask, get vaccinated, not get vaccinated and communion, which is the bigger picture. Should we have lockdowns? Should we ask some people to sacrifice? Should we harm the poor preferentially, ’cause seems like that had been done. That tension between autonomy and communion, what Ken Wilber, who I think we’re both quite familiar with his work calls the whole lawn, we’re all a whole in ourselves, but we’re also part of a bigger whole, it’s kind of a fractal reality in that story. That fundamental story of disconnection is something that has actually been especially rampant in the U.S. and as a healthcare professional, we see that manifest in the form of depression, anxiety, opioid abuse, substance abuse, suicidality, all these kinds of things. And you’re right, I think COVID has just kind of blown it open. So how is it that understanding story can actually save us or help us because we don’t have that fundamental mythology anymore, like in Bali?
– [Damien] Yeah, when I was kind of growing through and developing all of these ideas, I had a good friend who was a Jungian psychotherapist. And I was very interested in becoming very interested in mindfulness and meditation. And she said, you know, Damien, that the problem that you’ll find with that path, like the meditation and mindfulness path is that it’s made for people thousands of years ago, who had a really solid ego sense and they had a place in a story. And then at some point as they got older in life they needed to be broken out of that place in a story, and that’s what they would do with meditation or mindfulness or retreating to a temple. And the problem for nearly all Western people, yourself included, my friend pointed at me, is saying that really none of us have strong identities ’cause we’re in this kind of this whirlwind of change, like technological change, social change. I can look back at like my family history, and one side of my family all lived in the same village for like 700 years until about 1900. And then they just get thrown all over the world, we’re all immigrants to new countries, so we all have these broken stories, broken identities. And what we is storytelling, like you can look at something like Jordan Peterson, Self Authoring Program, which has put some of this into the mainstream, is we can build a sense of identity. This is what we do in therapy, is kind of go back and reconstruct our story together, and like being through that process, I found it really useful. But I think what we’re also doing now, and it’s questionable how healthy this is, is investing in like pop culture stories. So this is one of the reasons I’m so interested in science fiction is that it provides so many of the stories that we put our identity into now. Like the number of people who grew up with Luke Skywalker, perhaps, as our kind of iconic model of self or another similar character, but there’s problems with investing so heavily into these kind of shared mythologies as well.
– [Zubin] We can dive into this because it was “Star Wars”, the collective mythology of “Star Wars”, that was my gateway into everything story-wise including personal meaning because it was ’77 when it came out. I was four years old when I saw it in the theaters with my dad and I remember it vividly. I remember the saga of rooting for this kid who comes out of nowhere and blows up this thing, and that last sequence with the trench and the death star, where there’s so much tension ratcheting up, everything is on the line and this kid from BFE, butt fuck nowhere, comes out and does it with an assist from a guy who’s technically a bad guy, he’s a smuggler and a pirate. And they destroy this mechanistic symbol of the empire, the system that we’re all stuck in. And I felt it intuitively , at age four so much so that I drag that into my career as a doctor where I created this character when I started doing videos as a kind of cry for help, I created this character Doc Vader, who is Darth Vader as a physician. He used to be this idealistic Anakin Skywalker, who over the course of his medical training and career was twisted into the dark side of mechanized medicine, this Health 2.0 that we’re in, where everybody’s a commodity and it’s an assembly line optimization. And that character actually got so much traction because people identified with the mythology that came out of “Star Wars”, yes, but also with their own story, you know what, that guy feels a lot like me, certain days. It’s powerful, and in the absence of say a biblical mythology or a common religious mythology, or what you have in Bali, which is I imagine the Buddhist, iconography and mythology, it was the next best thing it seemed. But you’re saying maybe there’s a downside to creating it in a popular way that way?
– [Damien] Sure, these are like the oldest stories, these hero myths, and they have a real purpose. And every traditional society would have their version of the hero myths, which you get told and they’re about inducting the youth into society, essentially. And this is about, there’s a phase that we reach in life, where we kind of form our heroic personality, we could segue into Ken Wilber from here, but maybe not quite yet. But there’s like a certain energy like Freud called it, like the energy of heroes or and it’s the life energy and it starts coming up. And what are you gonna do with this energy? Well, hopefully you’ve already had this model for you, you’ve been told the hero story that when you get to the kind of Luke point, you’re ready to go off and live life. You kind of, you find your group of friends and you go on a journey and you defeat an enemy of your people and then you come back and you’re celebrated by your people. And these stories would be integrated into kind of bringing, especially young men who are gonna have this energy very often in spades into the society. And they’re saying, if you use your energy for this, you will be celebrated by the society. So don’t turn into an asshole, become a hero instead, and that’s the point. If you have this story, but it’s not integrated into our society for most people, especially young men, I think you see it, who now face, I think, very massive systematic challenges in society that we’re underestimating. Then you try and go and do something heroic, but nobody notices, and there’s no community that celebrate you when you’re doing it. And so it kind of becomes pathological if you’re given this hero’s model. And so instead, it’s easy to invest that energy into video games, for instance, which give you this kind of artificial sense that you’ve taken the hero’s journey and done something productive with your time in life. And I think this is a really major downside of these pop cultural mass media, very commercialized hero’s narratives that we fill society with but we’re not then integrating them back into the culture. And when I was working in Leicester, we have a lot of very young men who had a lot of very different issues. I could see after a long time doing it, that it was the lack of the fulfillment of their hero’s journey, which was so much a massive part of the problem.
– [Zubin] Wow, that really resonates as someone who was once a young man, it was this idea that you’re on this, you leave home, you go on this quest and again, you’re kind of infused in this from everything from “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, “Dune”, which we can always talk about, You did a beautiful thing with David on “Dune”, “The Matrix”, these are all heroes journeys. Some of them have the savior element, and that idea that if the expectations are here for the hero’s journey, you don’t have the community to celebrate what journey you do take, you turn in words and it becomes kind of maladaptive and you can never live up to the hero’s expectation. And for me, that was actually a very frustrating point in my medical career, I was a hospital doctor at Stanford and I felt like I was living someone else’s hero story at one point, because I was like, this isn’t me. Like if I feel like anyone can drag and drop and do the job I’m doing, that’s been trained, but I have this set of things I wanna do in the world that are not just this and how do I do that? And that feeling of failure, it’s almost a shame component. It turns inwards, it’s like, please don’t look at the core of me because it’s so broken because I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do. And I think the expectation of the heroes arc definitely contributes to that. But then the question is Damien, how is that different than say the heroic tales of the Greeks or the other past mythologies, premodern mythologies and so on?
– [Damien] Yeah, you see the difference in is that we take a character like a Luke Skywalker and we send him on his hero’s journey and he defeats the empire and he comes back and he’s a hero. And then a little bit later on, like in the later movies we look and we see him alone on the island that he’s kind of retreated for in society, so then we start to look at the other sides of the story. But when we told traditional hero’s journeys, like there’s a fantastic story called “The Listener”, which is from the Navajo Indian tribes. And the Listener is a hero’s journey, but the hero is destroyed on the journey. Everyone he comes into contact with is somehow untrustworthy. He’s recruited like by this group of women come along in a canoe and they take them off in the canoe and then they completely abandoned him in the wilderness. And the point of the story is that there’s a cost to the hero’s journey, you have to pay the cost as well, but we only show one side of the story. So if you’re given the cost as well, then you can say, when you’re fulfilling like your doctor role, that isn’t satisfying, I’m paying the cost of being the hero of doing something for the world as well. And that’s an important part to integrate into the story, but it doesn’t make the same commercial box office fodder to tell that story, unfortunately.
– [Zubin] You know, that’s really well put because Luke Skywalker pays a cost, he loses his hand, he finds out something horrifying about his own paternity. You felt in that second movie, the sense of dread and despair by the end of that movie, that you were paying the cost. It was almost, in meditation circles, which it sounds like you are very familiar with and I am as well, there is this idea of the dark night of the soul, where as you progress through your realizations, you realize, oh, maybe the self isn’t what I thought it was. If you did not have a very stable sense of identity before, I feel like it might be quite destabilizing when your identity shifts to, oh, I’m actually much vaster, and this thing was really just a story, oh my gosh, how destabilizing, how horrible, this thing that I never even really properly formed and it’s not real. And so people really can struggle with that, and I wonder if it was as common in the old days when there was a different mythology and the idea of paying the cost, in a sense, like you said that you had this identity and this story kind of well-placed before you went on retreat and went to the monastery and did those kind of kind of processes.
– [Damien] Sure, yeah, I lived in Chiang Mai for a few years before I was in Bali and there’s a huge meditation scene and community there, and very large temples where Westerners, mostly young kids from Europe, a lot of Americans go to do meditation retreats. And in the Buddhist Sangha, I was part of Buddhist study group, we would get lots of people who had been on the retreats and were really damaged by the retreat experience, like a 30 day silent retreat. If your not, I don’t wanna say psychologically stable, but if your ego identity isn’t really solid going into it, you just hit very quickly, lots of traumas, psychological issues, which are underlying. And actually I don’t recommend it as a path for young people and for many people necessarily. And it is because of this storytelling facet, one of the things I run into when I start talking about this with people is kind of the doubt, the stories have this much effect on us, the going to watch “Star Wars” is forming your identity in this way. And of course, it’s not just coming from “Star Wars”, you don’t go to see “Star Wars” and then become Luke Skywalker. But we’re really immersed in what I use the term for, a mythos, and it’s an ancient Greek term, classical Greek culture. And they divided culture into the logos, which is all this stuff we think about a lot today, we’re very logocentric, logic, science, reason, economics, whatever it may be that we can consciously think of. But I also had a conscious understanding of the mythos. So when you went to Greek theater or Sophocles, you were having your mythos kind of engineered, you knew you were thinking through the stories of your culture and it was like a sacred experience for you. But we taken on mythos and we commercialized it, we use it for advertising, we’re doing it primarily for money, which is fine, I’m not completely anticapitalist, but we kind of lost sight of it, that all of these things like our personality, our psychological structures, our stages of development in the Wilberian model or whichever model you want to use. They’re all really bubbling out of this methods, and we can tell stories that have an influence on it that attach some values to our mythic structures, and that have a really big impact on us. But I think because we’ve lost sight of this, we have lost sight of how we’re forming as beings and how our culture is being shaped and that we could more actively develop this. I think if we, again, treat it as something of the sacred, which I think is a big thing we need back in our culture.
– [Zubin] Man, so there’s so much here to dive into, but that this idea of the sacred has really been lost. And what’s interesting is, and this is a story that I’ve only recently been able to tell, because just a week ago, I came back from a silent six day retreat and I’d not done a full retreat, I’ve only meditated myself for around eight years and am an avid reader of this stuff, hyper intellectualize it and so on, and I’ve had experiences and I’ve had the psychedelic experiences in the remote past and so on that have opened my mind to the idea that, oh, there’s more to this than what it seems, and there’s even a hint of the sacred there. Now this is from someone who never went to church, came from a Zoroastrian religious background, which I was really more agnostic most of my life and a science-based logo’s kind of guy. And going to this retreat, being in silence with 30 other people, there is a sense of peace and the sacred that emerges, and that manifests in a kind of a feeling of intense unconditional love and compassion, which was really interesting because you also talked about the… And again, the story, mythos, dives right into this, a beautiful story evokes that same sense of sacred compassion. So you talked about these 30 day silent retreats in Chiang Mai, and it’s similar to these go anchor retreats where you don’t get a lot of support and you throw people into silence and they face all their unconscious rises up. Even during the six day retreat, I had a lot of unconscious stuff come up and because there was support and a sense of community around this experience. In the evenings, we would process a bit and have Q&A and that kind of thing. And it was beautiful to see people tell very similar stories, oh, did you cry most of the afternoon, like curled up in a ball and not know why, and these kinds of things that come up and then feel incredibly light afterwards, you feel unconditional level. Were you angry with yourself? Were you feeling shame? All these kinds of things came up? The idea that you could go to a Greek theater and experienced some vestige of that, with others in your community, have it form bonds and a sense of meaning for the whole tribe, as well as for the individual, that’s powerful. And I don’t think we have, I think you’re right, because in the last thing, I’ll say, sorry, everything you say just really is fascinating in terms of how it’s making me think about my own experience, because I’m so selfish. The release of the “Star Wars” prequels, the one, two and three “Phantom Menace” was I looked forward to it so much because of the mythos of the original really resonated and the hero’s journey of the original, then to see the second three be so disappointing to me, so flat and digital and heartless and meaningless, it was painful, it was hurtful, like something had been taken from me. And I think a lot of people in my Generation X kind of felt that way about the prequels, whereas younger people, millennials, may have actually enjoyed them and so on. How do you have any thoughts on anything I’ve said?
– [Damien] Yes, I don’t know if I’m alone in this, I expect I’m not alone in that, that even when I see a good film, like a multiplex cinema, which is usually on a big shopping center, somewhere more recently in Asia, but previously like in London where I was living before, and I’d have the experience of walking out of the film and the film, let’s say it’s been great, and I’ve really had some of that kind of sacred experience, and I walk out and I’m in a shopping center and all there is, is like commercial messaging around me. And there’s like this real sense of disappointment, even if the film was good, and we can talk about what happens when the film is bad, because there’s so much more that needs to go around this sacred experience than just the story at the center of it. Like we have things like something that is talked about quite a lot in psychedelic circles, like the Eleusinian Mysteries. And these would be like storytelling and psychedelic drug experiences combined together that went on for weeks and were combined with ritual and meditation and community. Or you can go back even further to like the oldest storytelling we can identify, which is cave paintings, like these ancient cave paintings, 15,000, 20,000 years old. And people had spent hundreds of years painting the caves, they gather over time. And then you can imagine the great ceremonies that would go with going down into the dark cave of your ancestors and being told this story of the hunter, ’cause these are all scenes of hunting and like becoming a hunter for that experience. So we’ve had all of these things that with our art and they were all part of one great ritual, ceremonial experience that was about self-transformation and exploring our debts as human beings. And we’ve split them all apart, and we’ve lost, in my understanding the real purpose and meaning and function of these. You said something when you were speaking there, which I think many of us do, and you said, you know, I’ve had the psychedelic experience because it’s like a commonplace thing, now. But you think back to let’s even just say like the 1950s and how rare that psychedelic experience would be, how rear the experience of going to rock concert would be, how nonexistent the experience would be of going into like a 3D virtual world in a video game, or even watching a blockbuster movie. So we actually have these very powerful, like John Vervaeke might call them psycho technologies. We’re doing them a very high level, like synthesize drugs, musical experiences, movie, virtual worlds, computers, and all of these things are psychedelic and they’re all ritual and they’re all opening us up, but they’re not integrated into anything meaningful. So it’s like we’re being whole generations of people are being kind of opened up beyond our traditional stories, but we’re not being given anywhere to go, and I think that’s really dangerous.
– [Zubin] I think I concur with you, when Zuckerberg talks about the metaverse and Meta and all of this, it triggers a lot of fear in me because I have experienced virtual reality, I’ve been over to Facebook headquarters, I’ve seen a COVID documentary, I had a guy on the show who’d made this COVID documentary using VR in the hospital and how immersive and visceral that is. And so this is a powerful technology, the question is, so what do you do? Where’s the meaning? What’s the connection? If it generates more atomization, more of this meaning crisis, more polarization, then it’s an existential threat because I think these technologies they are so powerful to open your mind. Just like psychedelics can be, just like meditation can be just like chanting or prayer or a sense of that community, the ritual. You talked about those cave paintings, I remember listening to Joseph Campbell’s series with Bill Moyer and I think he too really talked about when you go in these caves, even now, there’s this deep, like archetypal experience of like it’s pitch black and imagine with just a torch, what that was like, first of all, creating it but then experiencing it. And he didn’t mention, what you mentioned, which was this idea that, hey, maybe this is how you would teach the young men, like this is what it means to come into being a hunter or the sacred nature of the coming of age, which was was so beautifully pointed out in the cinematography and the whole feeling of how “Dune”, the new “Dune” movie actually unfolded as well.
– [Damien] Yeah, and it’s where we came from. Like we only survived as a humankind because we were able to become hunters and we did something that nothing else that we can point at has ever been able to do. We made this transformation that wasn’t evolutionary, it wasn’t biological, it wasn’t in the genes, we developed a whole new pattern of behavior and we did this with storytelling. So let’s say it’s the cave paintings and that made us the hunter, and then at some point later, we changed that cultural story and we become the farmer instead. And then later on we change the story again and we become like the merchant pluses instead. And it’s all growing out of our storytelling and it’s all still there as well, that inside all of us, inside our cultural heritage is the hunter who was originally came out of those stories. And we need to keep that guy, he’s really important to who we are.
– [Zubin] Okay and we’ll talk about the Wilberian idea of transcending and including our previous stages of development and the idea of story being in a way, a creator of reality. In other words, new worlds come into being in the actual, through the influence of story. The fact that we’re linguistic creatures separates us from most of the other species on the planet allows us to cooperate flexibly in groups, unlike bees, which they cooperate, but they’re inflexible, it’s almost genetically determined, you and me, who’ve never met, could do something remotely at a distance with multiple other people because we have language and story, maybe a shared mythology, maybe some underpinnings of morality that we share through story, these are crucial. And it made me think when you talked about these, the sort of that this is not a genetic thing, this is an epiphenomenon of our culture, our language, our story. In 2001 Arthur C. Clarke’s book, but the movie with Kubrick, they kind of externalize this idea with an alien monolith, teaching these apes more or less how to use tools and transforming, and the next jump cut with the bone flying as a spaceship. And even just thinking about it, it fills me with awe the way that that was transmitted.
– [Damien] Yeah, that’s why Stanley Kubrick was the greatest storyteller of our generation, ’cause he did the whole of human history in one cut on a cinema screen and then said… Something that Kubrick is recorded as saying is that he believes that humanity was an evolutionary step towards a truly civilized being. So 2001 is about this transformation to becoming something beyond human and our human limitations, which is very much part of like the psychedelic counterculture that Kubrick was interested in. And he tells that story in 2001 and kind of destroys science fiction as it was at the time ’cause science fiction had been telling the story about flying rocket ships into space and going to other planets in the same way that we sailed to other continents and just a continuation of the same world that we were living in and Kubrick as a great myth maker said, no, no, if we’re gonna go into space, it’s a transformation entirely of consciousness, we have to become something else to get there.
– [Zubin] It’s so amazing, ’cause you think about something like a “Star Trek”, which was roughly the same time period and they were, again, it was like, let’s take society, let’s progress it a little bit to a more pluralistic, multicultural, inclusive society, and let’s throw it into space where it meets other cultures and has to fend and in a very sort of modern, or even sometimes premodern way. But then Kubrick is saying, no, actually that’s all very animal egoic stuff, you can actually transcend all of that. And his sequence where David Bowman goes through that whatever, wormhole with the stars and the lights and the very psychedelic kind of mind expanding thing and ends as the star child, this transcendent creature made of energy that it really was… And when I was a kid, I didn’t get it at all, I’m like, what the hell is this? Give me a phaser and yeah, the computer’s crazy, and just the last thing I wanted to say about that was the symbolic gesture of David Bowman turning off HAL’s mind, his thinking mind that the artificial intelligence turning it off in order to transcend an escape, it’s such a metaphor for quieting the mind and meditation and transcending the ego and all these things that only became apparent to me in the last period of my life.
– [Damien] Sure, I think maybe you have to have maybe the meditative or the psychedelic experience to have that moment of actually escaping your mind and your thoughts ’cause this is the downside of our story-driven reality is that it’s part of our conscious waking mind and we’re trapped in it. It’s very difficult to escape our stories or even hold consciously that you’re in something like a story structure. Like if you actually, if you’re dealing with somebody who is very aware that their name is just a symbol and the culture around them is just a made up narrative, that’s potentially someone who’s in quite a lot of suffering at the time, ’cause there’s good reasons, I think psychologically why we can’t suspend our attachment to the story in the way that Dave Bowman does, he’s stepping out of that conscious thinking mind. I think maybe the criticism of 2001 in Kubrick’s vision and the psychedelic vision and what brings kind of the value of the “Star Trek” back in a way is that I don’t think humanity is ready to escape our psychological constructs and the effort to do so has to grow and develop over time. And I think this is what the psychonauts from the psychedelic experiments has encountered that if you try and leap too many stages ahead, you’re gonna hit lots and lots of problems for doing that. And “Star Trek” is more the reality of the situation that we’re in at the moment than a vision of the future. We’re on a planet with lots of different civilizations at various different stages of development, we’re trying to negotiate between them all. We’ve got technologies that are far too powerful for our psyche and our institutions to really deal with effectively. And something like the crew of the enterprise kind of model not quite the scientific, like the combination of the scientific thinker with the emotionally intelligent as well the imperf and the scientist together. Who’s sorting these problems out in the world around us?
– [Zubin] Yeah, that’s a very good segue into talking about the stages of human development, which I’ve talked about quite a bit on my show too, because what you’re saying with “Star Trek”, I think is, or how I’m interpreting that is that humans don’t skip stages of development or evolution, they have to go through all of them. They can go quickly, but they have to go through, you don’t skip. It’s just like when you look scientifically at embryonic development, the embryo recapitulates its entire evolutionary history. So as humans at some point have a tail that gets reabsorbed, we have gills that get reabsorbed. That’s crazy when you think about it, it’s absolutely crazy, but it is absolutely necessary. Every single human organism, recapitulates, almost all of evolution as it unfolds as an embryo. And it’s the same with human social economic, technical, psychological development. We have to go through these particular stages, and I think if you talk about the Kubrick transcend, the rational stage, you might be jumping the gun for human society. In fact, we know you are because the mass majority of humans are not at that level and we’re at all different levels of around the globe. So maybe that’s a good segue to talk about how this kind of idea of story and our COVID situation all relate to these stages of development. What do you think?
– [Damien] Well, it made me think when you made the biological evolutionary comparison that we’re so far back behind our understanding of the development of the human psyche and society than where we are in biology. We don’t really have the theory of evolution for culture yet, which is why something like story is in a sense so underestimated and invisible to us. We’ve got parts of it, we have like the idea of means, and the metics coming from Richard Dawkins, and then being kind of picked up in different parts of the culture that we could kind of point to self replicating ideas as some way that our stories grow and evolve, but there are some things that are insufficient about that. So that means that I think is really valuable to talk about development stages, but I’m always try to consciously bring in the valid critiques of this as well. And often to start with them, that we can talk about these stages, but we can’t prove their existence. And we don’t want to trap people within them, which is very often the problem of any kind of stage development system. What we want to do is use them as a useful model and see where that gives us some benefit. And I think in that way, it’s super useful to think of human development and the stages that it goes through whilst recognizing some of the pushback that is kind of valid on that as well, ’cause if we’re talking about development stages, then it’s impossible not to imply that a tribal society is less developed than a high-tech Western European civilization, and that’s just intrinsic in the discussion. But if we think about transcending and including, the question is what did we lose from that tribal society that we need to pick up again in our Western society? And that’s a super-valuable area of thinking, because there are in a way it is our stories that we lost, we’ve abandoned them along the way.
– [Zubin] That makes a lot of sense, because in the typical sort of unfolding, you have a phase of development and you’re right, these aren’t discrete, they’re more like these broad spiral dynamics kind of describes this very well. It’s these kind of broad, ebb and flow where maybe the average of a person or the average of a society, the average of a town is at a certain level, but really it’s a scatterplot and every human has different aspects, and there’s different lines of development. There’s lines of emotional development, mathematical development, physical development, et cetera. So you’re not talking about one thing it’s actually rather complicated, which is why I think a reductionist approach to it can be definitely, you can criticize that strongly. This idea that when you go to a next phase of development, what you’ve left behind. So the idea that Wilber really is saying is to do this in a healthy way, you transcend the previous stage and include it within the next stage, in a healthy way, while integrating or rejecting shadow parts of it that were not useful or were shown to be problematic. And I think what we often do in a dysfunctional way, especially nowadays with our divided culture is in different stages, we reject what came before and we either fear or reject what’s the next stage. And that can become very dysfunctional, it creates polarity, it creates a lot of condescension, like you pointed out that, oh, this idea that this tribal group is not as advanced as whatever. These are growth hierarchies, not dominator hierarchies, so you can’t have somebody at a higher stage dominating the other. It’s more like you’re trying to nudge everybody to be the most healthy they can be at that stage and then transcend and include. So curious your thoughts on that and the role of story in that.
– [Damien] Yeah, it’s difficult for very good reasons ’cause in any developmental model, in order to achieve the next stage, you have to make the separation. So if you’re a teenager, you have to separate from the psychological trappings of being a ten-year-old, you can’t take them with you. And that brings up like feelings of disgust or shame that you were once, that immature. And it’s necessary to go through that, so I think the simplest, the model of development stages is the premodern, the modern and the postmodern and I think is the most open for people to speak about. And, of course the modern, as it’s separating for the premodern, so the premodern is your religious society, a kind of monotheistic religion, holding it all together. And it’s very hierarchical and people aren’t gonna move around in this hierarchy. And of course, the modern that wants to form metropolitan cities and trade and have science and have meritocratic societies. It has to fight its way out of the premodern that came before, ad we’re still rehearsing that fight, we’ve been doing it like at least 500 years now. And like the new atheist movement, we’re still having that fight and arguments about does God exist? We’re still having that fight 500 years on. And it was necessary, but learning to let go of it is incredibly difficult, especially when now we have the postmodern emerging, which is a whole new… I mean, if we think about west stories coming to this, your premodern society is a story, is one story that holds a large group of people together, maybe a city state. And then your modern society is the awakening to the need for a universal story that we live in one universe governed by the laws of physics and these economic systems. And they can all fit together and we need to get rid of these old stories. And then the postmodern is the deconstruction of the modern, that even this universal story you’ve come up with is still in itself a story, still assumes values. And this is a very important thing to do, but it’s a huge fight as well. And you see in our culture wars, the people who are absolutely determined to hold onto the modern and its values and the people now, I think we generally call them like politically progressive, who are trying to deconstruct all of that and build an even bigger story, a more pluralistic story.
– [Zubin] Right, and what’s interesting is there’s dysfunction at all these levels. So obviously in the premodern you have the states in say, the middle east or somewhere, that’s maybe a “failed state” that’s creating a lot of stuff difficulty, because there’s economic challenges, there’s resource challenges, development challenges, but we will then in our modern U.S. way, we’ll look at that and say, oh, we need to bring democracy, we need to do this, we need to do that, but you don’t quantum jump a society a whole phase from premodern to modern overnight, it’s a whole unfolding, and if you try to do that, then you have problems. Then you have the modern dysfunction, which is reductionism, this idea that we can have a drug or a molecule that will treat everything forgetting that humans actually are conscious creatures that have internal experiences and the mind and body are one continuum. And so that reductionism there, and then the postmodern, I mean, boy, we could talk for hours on the dysfunction, in postmodern, everything from what Wilber calls a perspectival madness, where if no viewpoint is solid then where do you even get a foothold? And the idea that there are no hierarchies except for the hierarchy that there are no hierarchies, so it’s internally contradictory. And the idea that we have woke culture and identity politics and other things that have caused some degree of loss of suffering for some, but a lot of conflict for others and have generated a culture war 2.0 that we have. And so I’m curious, you were talking about a bigger story with the pluralistic postmodern culture. What is that story and why is it so fragmented, it feels like?
– [Damien] I think what we’re looking at with the emergence of the postmodern is there are great postmodern figures in history that we can identify, someone like Mahatma Gandhi, let’s just use him as an example. And really he’s a postmodern figure because he understands the premodern structures and he understands the modern structures and he understands how to play them, to liberate an entire nation from an empire, which he does very effectively. And he is someone who’s gone through these stages of growth, he was a young solicitor earlier in his life before our image of him as the holy man later on. So we need this postmodern transition and we need this intelligence as well. The problem is that we’re trying to promote people to this level, as I say it, far too quickly in their development. So one of the areas that, and this is widely discussed now that postmodernism has taken hold of the universities. So we’re sending people in their late teenage years, their formative years to do lots of postmodern thinking, which is actually far too early in their development. It’s probably not something most people will be ready to do until their thirties and their forties. When I get asked this question, I say if you’re in like the postmodern malaise, it’s because you went to study like postmodern philosophy or media studies like myself, which is a very postmodern subject when you were 18, 19, and it was far too early. So what you need to do now is go and have relationships, start business, do all of this grounding stuff, and then come back to it. And I think what we’re looking at with the woke are the people who haven’t, they haven’t developed to that stage, they’re trying to behave. And of course it’s completely dysfunctional to do that. And so the stories that they relate to it are also completely dysfunctional because they turn on like the complete fluidity of identity, because this is to an extent true. As we were saying before, if you’ve really developed your identity structure, then you can go and break that apart and see what lies beyond. But if we’re trying to do that too early, we just throw people into very, very deep confusion, the confusion of identity politics that we’re dealing with now.
– [Zubin] This, go ahead.
– [Damien] Sorry, yeah, the thing to avoid, and this is our reaction to that ’cause there’s a lot of very confused people in our cultural development and we absolutely have to avoid demonizing that postmodern stage, that’s why we’re really struggling in the cultural now.
– [Zubin] Man, that’s exactly correct. I think it is this like postmodernism, green, plural stage, whatever you wanna call it there’s a bunch of different names, this idea is actually essential to human development, we need it. We need to understand pluralism, we need to widen our circles of compassion beyond city, state, nation tribe, to all beings on the planet. But if you try to push that early fast without the proper development, like Millennials, I used to get annoyed with just because they seem to just wanna skip ahead and that’s how it felt to Gen X, but it’s cool, they’re awesome. Gen Z, the latest generation, I just feel really nothing but compassion for, I feel like they’re suffering, I feel like we’ve confused them, we’ve taken off the reigns, we’ve over parented them in some ways and cuddled them in some ways, so they haven’t taken the risks in the normal development and they are really lost in a sea where they’ve got devices that they’re addicted to from an early age, social media that determines their self-worth, especially for girls, they can commit relational aggression remotely and never have a break from it, so the bullying becomes amplified and accentuated. And so this postmodern malaise as you call it, because I went to UC Berkeley in 1991 at age 18 and immediately I was the most liberal, progressive kid in Clovis, California in our rural conservative town. And I went there and I was like, this is crazy, like what these people are saying makes no sense to me, it was like a foreign language, I wasn’t ready for that. And now I think in my later years, I’ve been able to integrate all that, but it came at a cost of confusion and a little anger and everything you said, villainizing the postmodern, like ah, what are these hippies talking about? , ‘Cause that’s a common response.
– [Damien] Yeah, and it makes complete sense especially where we have the weight of our society in the modern absolutely. We’re probably at just past the peak of modernity, I would guess, probably peak like in the ’70s or ’80s, computer technology is just throwing everything into chaos, beyond that. And of course the force has to keep hold of that immense, the period of history that I think of is like the war between the Catholic church and the emerging kind of states of Europe and the enlightenment and the scientific revolution, because yeah, I mean, it’s easy to demonize the Catholic church there, but the church had done a huge amount to develop the whole continent of Europe basically, and drag it up through stages of development. And it had therefore had its power structure and there was no way it was going to let go off that, and it becomes completely pathological and violent when it’s really challenged. I worry tremendously about the conflict between the modern and the postmodern as it’s emerging from both directions, because people of course, who are very rooted in modern values, initially the postmodern is just something that you mock, because it just seems weird and confused, but when the weirdness and confusion is actually overpowering you, of course, your response is potentially very violent in response to that, whether it’s what older levels of violence can manifest.
– [Zubin] And in the same vein, I think the postmodern looks at the modern with a degree of contempt and condescension, to the extent that when it’s pathological, they haven’t integrated the modern, they attack these sort of traditional values for lack of a better word and it’s very destabilizing battle. What’s interesting is when it’s healthy, when you actually do a transcend and include, the postmodern can speak the language of premodern, modern and postmodern, and actually bridge these divides, recognize that people are at different stages, but it’s rare in postmodern. And that actually leads me to the next question, Damien, which is something beyond postmodern, there’s a next tier, right? And I think this is where there’s a little confusion because in that next tier, something really remarkable happens, which is you’re able to start to integrate the previous tiers instead of having them battle. And the second thing that becomes a little confusing when you’re looking at it from the outside is, oh, but, who are these guys? Like, are they modern? Are they postmodern? Are they premodern? Who are they? Because the way they talk has aspects of all these, and so people will either call you a new age weirdo, they’ll call you a conservative right-wing lunatic, or they’ll call you a lefty, progressive nutjob. And in fact, you’re a tier two, and you’re all of those things with the shadow integrated. So I’m curious your thoughts on this.
– [Damien] Yeah, I mean, this is something, that can and will be certainly encountered and I greatly admire him, but I’m sure he exacerbated it slightly himself, but when you start trying to speak the integral language, you’re the kid on the city block who is not a member of any of the gangs anymore, and you’re potentially exposed to all of the gangs and they will gang up on you. So like public integral dialogue is very difficult because it’s gonna, at some point, trigger everybody at every stage. I think a good example of this is like climate change, storytelling at the moment. Climate change is like, you see I can see myself wearily guarding against different stage responses to this. So let’s just accept climate change is a real problem, but probably not the end of the world, something that we can mitigate with technology and that we will move to more sustainable fuels. But it’s very much in the pluralistic postmodern agenda for it to be the end of the world, because it’s a tool that it can hit the modern with over and over again. We’re living through this ’cause we capitalists and scientists building your technology and developing society and dragging everybody out of poverty, but the cost of this is that we’re all gonna die because of CO2. And so it’s a real issue that is also weaponized within the culture wars, but recognizing that will trigger all kinds of people, particularly the postmodern stage, who don’t want to have that story told, and mostly aren’t thinking openly enough to acknowledge that too.
– [Zubin] That’s a really good example, I think climate change is a perfect example of how these different stages look at an issue, a global issue of importance, right? It has a political ramification, it has economic ramifications, it has social ramifications, it has cultural ramifications. So looking at a premodern, there aren’t many of those societies left, but they’re just not even on the grid to consider it except to suffer if climate change happens and their small island nation gets wiped out. Then you have the modern, which is like, listen, the basis of modern society is economic progress, which is run on fossil fuels and coal. And so you’re actually threatening the very fabric of reality for a modern, and so the postmodern says, oh, there’s gotta be a better way, there’s wind and all this, and screw you moderns, you did this and you’re still doing this because you haven’t woken up to the postmodern reality and until you wake up, you’re endangering the entire planet and we’re gonna do everything to stop it and make noise about it. It’s quite dysfunctional, but then you have the tier two, the next phase, which it’s funny. So Damien, I rebranded it without knowing it, I call it the alt-middle. So this a radical, it’s an integral perspective. It basically says yes and, everything is true, but partial transcendent and include what came before, but this is a view that’s quite integrated, you’re trying to be. Which means if you look at climate change, you say, yeah, all those things are true, . So we need to come up with actual solutions that actually speak the voice of all the levels of development and come up with answers. And that’s a very difficult place because you get attacked from all the sides. And it’s not a political centrist position, it is a integrative integral position as far as I see it. So it’s not some milquetoast, middle of the road thing, but a lot of people will see it that way and get very angry and say, well, you don’t stand for anything. It’s a frustrating place to try to nudge folks to, but what’s interesting is there is a good percentage of the population that is there or getting there or resonates with it deeply when you talk about it, when you name it, when you tell stories about it, heaven forbid, they go that’s me, I never even knew it. Holy smokes, tell me more about that.
– [Damien] Yeah, I mean, maybe I’m getting hung up on how hard it is to take this alt-middle integral sense-making. I think sense-making is also a good, I think once we get to the point of having the matches of discussion of how we’re making sense of the landscape, you’re doing something essentially integral in that. And it’s why I’ve been so excited by like John Vervaeke, Rebel Wisdom, your channel now, which I discovered, because I think these are having the conversations that can become the story that we need. And I mean, we can definitely get into, I think like what the story is and the complexities and finding any kind of new unifying narrative that can get us past these culture wars, essentially, the culture wars are so ingrained, whenever I was, I’m very much a culture warrior, like when I was a newspaper columnist and I look back on some of what I wrote and I like goddamn, I was partisan like out to destroy an idea, so I absolutely understand where that’s coming from. And of course, we will all have been there and we’re all still there in many stages. But I think what we get better at recognizing is the technical existence of bullshit. This is like there’s a Harry Frankfurt essay, he was, I think a Stanford or Harvard psychologist, and he writes an essay called, “On Bullshit”. And it gives the technical definition of bullshit essentially, which is not simply an untrue idea, but an idea that its advocates know on some level to be untrue, but it’s very useful for them to advocate. And all of our stages of social development have their own very powerful lines of bullshit that we’re, throwing at each other through our media. And we have a media ecology that as you know, I’ve seen you talk about is largely completely dysfunctional because it’s monetizing people’s love of the bullshit that supports their side in the war and I’m picking all of this of course, is super complex. It doesn’t mean there’s not a simple answer, but-
– [Damien] Yeah, and this is the central challenge, I think of our time. To some degree, I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say it’s an existential challenge because these are, if we don’t actually progress to that next phase. And with that next phase comes a new mythology, comes a new narrative, comes the return of, because remember what we lost in modernity may well be that spiritual center, whatever that was, that was driving premodern society, but they had sort of packaged it into a hierarchical religious structure with dogma and rules and all of that because it was necessary. But then the moderns kind of said, yeah, to that, the postmoderns were like, all belief is the same, it’s just culturally constructed and we can deconstruct it. But the integrals say, well actually there are these core archetypical senses as a human that we can connect to and there’s many paths to it. And so that line of development has to come back online and with it comes a new story, a new mythology, I think for the 21st century that we have yet to discover a right or know how it even emerges. Is it a virtual reality story? Is it some other culture? I mean, do you have any thoughts on what that might be or thoughts on that in general?
– [Damien] Yeah, I think I see the parts of it coming together, ’cause I’ve been very down on commercial storytelling and that’s a little bit unfair of me because of course I watch like a lot of Marvel movies, like I have an inner child and an inner adult, which is really pleased by the entire Marvel universe, much more so than “Star Wars”. And there’s not a moment in “Avengers: Endgame” where Captain America has been fighting Thanos and he’s pretty much defeated and his shield is broken, he’s covered in blood, everything is torn, he’s completely alone and he gets up and you have that moment, where his sidekick? Sorry, he says on your left calling back to the movie and he comes out through the portal and the whole army, like the armies of humanity emerge from the portal. And then Captain America, who we’ve seen using Thor’s hammer, he holds out his hand and grabs the hammer, the hammer hits. And you see these video clips of like cinema studios all around the world, cinema auditoriums, and the audience just goes fucking insane at that point. And you can watch it a number of times, you’re gonna feel what are you feeling like at that moment. This is your inner tribal warrior, like we’re conditioned for quite good reasons to have put down, we can’t carry our tribal warrior into every situation with us, but we need our hero, we need that part that is inside us for when life really hits us with the worst stuff, that’s when your inner hero comes out. And that’s what we feel when we see that with Steve Rogers, ’cause he’s kind of modeled what the greatest kind of hero especially a masculine hero would be. So we take him like that inner hunter that we were talking about that part of the human psyche that formed in the caves, and we’re still telling that story when we can do it right and when we can give it the perfect values as well for that stage of our development and Marvel does that really well. It does some other stages as well, but I think what we can see is there in the storytelling, we can celebrate all of our stages of growth to stop the constant warfare between them. Like I said, I love living in what is quite a conservative religious community here in Bali, because I think that’s where every child should grow up, in a really like stable town somewhere, with a shared story across the community, we’ve rituals that we go and experience and we shouldn’t strip people out of that. And we should love our conservative friends because they’re holding onto all these values that we really need, and we need them as very liberal people who got shipped off to college and got confused by what was going on. And we need the liberal and we need the progressive and the postmodern as well. We’re not getting out of here without all of these stages of growth and what comes next as well. So I think we’re looking for stories to integrate them beautifully together.
– [Zubin] Man, I mean, what you just described, the little mini journey you took us on is the sort of alt-middle stance, which is everything is beautiful to some degree, everything is important, everything is sacred, everything is part of us and it all has its place and time. And to reject out hand or to villainize or to condescend is to really reject a piece of yourself in some way, because to be a fully integrated human being, those are parts of us. It’s like that embryo, it’s that tail like it gets reabsorbed, but man, without it, the embryo is not gonna develop quite right. The gills, that throw back to when we were in the ocean, but primordial seas like this is powerful stuff and stories that go into that. I’m sure you’ve seen the series “Devs” on FX?
– [Damien] Yeah.
– [Zubin] So I watched that on the recommendation of a friend and that was an interesting kind of postmodern like nothing quite matters because they’re gonna, I don’t wanna give any spoilers, but really interesting. So it told a kind of a postmodern and even an integral story where they went back in time and they recreated, using this quantum technology and this idea of freewill and determinism and so on, is very complex philosophically, but they could look back at cave-dwelling families and experience what it was like at that stage of development and realize the commonalities, realize with love that, oh, this woman is 32 and she had four children, three of them died, she’s now doing this because they can watch history happen in this device, I mean, very powerful storytelling.
– [Damien] It’s going to be the storytellers who see it first. The answers is this, that’s our job is to lay down like a route that we can progress into here. Sorry, I interrupted what you gonna say then.
– [Zubin] No, no, I had nothing, I think you’re exactly on point, the storytellers see it first. “Interstellar”, when you think about that as what a fascinating film in terms of there’s a deep, emotional, familial, conservative, family love component between father and daughter, there’s a brother, they are farmers in many ways, they’ve gone back. They’ve been forced out of the modern, into the premodern/traditional farming culture. And the hero, McConaughey, just bristles at it, bristles at it and his daughter kind of is too smart for her own good, and she’s getting in trouble in school. And then the transcendent act of love itself saves the entire human species. I mean, what are your thoughts in general on “Interstellar”?
– [Damien] You’re helping me find an answer here, actually Zubin, because I think to use the Vacas term, and with dialogosing or we’re finding some nuances.
– [Zubin] I love it.
– [Damien] Because the thing in the postmodern is that the distrust of the grand narratives that came before of squeezing everybody into one story that has to fit everybody, be it the traditional religious narratives or like the modernist, colonialist narratives. And so the complication of finding a new story is not just finding one story, basically. What we have to do is find everybody’s stories and start integrating them back into our culture. And this is something that actually happened like literally in the science fiction community. The science fiction community went through a kind of culture wars, which had a resolution and it was about science fiction’s reputation for being white and male, and nerdy as well possibly, and telling just kind of one kind of story over and over again. And there was a growing community of writers from all kinds of different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different identity groups within our culture now. And this kind of manifested around major awards for science fiction. And now since 2015, 2016, the winners of those awards are lots of women writers, lots of writers of color, lots of writers from different identity groups. Now that of course, can make some people bristle, there’s a response to that as well, because that in itself might just seem like kind of postmodern culture wars thing. But I think there’s a real reason why we need to do it because we have all of these mythologies around the world, and they need to kind of become part of all storytelling. And that’s what many of these writers are doing, bringing back in kind of traditional, tribal narratives and bringing back in religious, especially like Muslim and Islamic narratives into what we call science fiction now. Which is why I’m hoping that from all of that kind of melting pot science fiction will give us kind of new mythologies for this era that we’re in.
– [Zubin] Yeah, it’s interesting, it’s really fascinating to see science fiction evolve. When I saw “The Last Jedi”, I believe that was the one after “The Force Awakens”, I sat in that theater, I went to saw it myself because my kids were at school and I’m such a “Star Wars” fan, I had to go see it. And I sat there and I looked at an Asian woman, give her life to crash the ship into the massive battle station and the diversity of like women, men, different races, all of that happening. And I compared it in my mind to the first “Star Wars” and the second “Star Wars” and like maybe Lando Calrissian threw a little color in there. But to see this actually filled me with a sense of what psychologist, Jonathan Haidt calls moral elevation. You get the sense of expansion because to me, it did not feel forced. And I know there’s a lot of controversy there that, oh, they’re trying to shoehorn this kind of thing. It felt quite natural and that was remarkable in itself. And so as a kind of meta observer of this, I was like, wow, that’s like postmodernism done right, that’s postmodernism at its healthiest there, integrated into the story and you feel for these characters and so on and I thought it was really, really something that struck me deeply that, hey, maybe there’s hope for the progress of our culture in general. But of course, then there’s always the controversy and the shoehorning and the doing it to do it kind of thing.
– [Damien] A story like “Star Wars”, so I could make some like narrative criticisms, for “The Last Jedi”. But they arise from trying to do something narratively really difficult ’cause I felt kind of “Hero’s Journey”, which is the first movie is a story we told over and over again. We know how to tell that story on a technical level, we know what it is. If we try and tell stories that are, I use the word, which is kind of reviled in many communities, like intersectional about the place in communities and “Star Wars” is literally intersectional, the rebel Alliance is like an intersectional army. They all come from different planets, they speak different languages, they’re different shapes and body sizes, and they will have to kind of figure out together against the empire, which is completely monocultural, it’s just a group of clones literally on spaceships. So they don’t have any of these issues of how we’ll work together. And of course the style was maybe is they’re trying to figure out how you tell that story and advance that. And sometimes they do it well and sometimes they didn’t do it so well on the technical level, but that’s the challenge for the storytellers is how do you tell stories for a 21st century of 8 billion people on a planet? And we’re all talking to each other with smartphones because the narrative, which is just talking to one group of people in Western Europe doesn’t work anymore as the grand narrative of our society.
– [Zubin] Man, there’s so much in story, so much in our popular stories, in our traditional stories. And I think that’s why Campbell’s original thing with Bill Moyer was so popular. It really resonated, as he talked about mythology resonating and he said things, platitudes like follow your bliss and things like that, all of which are kind of true, it really taps in again to the power of story. When I saw “The Matrix” in 1999, I was in my last year of medical school and I had no idea what it was about because I saw the trailer and it was like, oh, there’s some magical force field that allows them to float and fight each other, that’s all I could figure out. And when I watched it and the twist happened where he wakes up, has his awakening and he’s like, what? My entire worldview was destabilized. Like the entire narrative of reality for me became destabilized and it’s never been the same. So the idea that what we take to be the story in reality is only partially true, that there’s a larger truth beyond that was a fundamental takeaway. And then the scene in the end where Neo dies and again, the savior kind of archetype and wakes up finally, has his enlightenment for lack of a better term, and is standing there and stops the bullets. Like it was a mystical experience for me to see him do that time stopped, everything became a one pulsating reality, watching him do that. And that’s, again, the power of really good storytelling. I’m curious, your thoughts on “The Matrix or anything that I’ve said.
– [Damien] Yeah, I mean, think about how many people had that experience in like medieval Europe going into a church, ’cause you have no stories, you have no access to stories. You go to the church on Sunday, ’cause they’re gonna tell you a story, and they tell you like part of the passionate Jesus, for instance, and you would feel that same element because they’re giving you the transformation of the human spirit, that’s what you’ve got with Neo, that’s what you’ve got with any savior figure. And we have a sense that it’s possible. I think of a Jordan Peterson line in one of his wherever, wisdom interviews and he says, “We don’t know what’s possible if a human being really fulfills their potential.” And this kind of you have the human potential movement around this as well. What rarely happens if a human being gets to where we could get, where our culture could take us, where our technology could take us, learning and education, if we could get it all flying together, and these stories, “The Matrix” or “Star Wars” or “Dune” is another good example of this, they’re giving us a kind of knob, towards where that might be and the costs that we might pay to get there. And every human has had some part of the experience, some kind of tastes of the transcendent, or sometime when you performed kind of out of your socks at something that you were doing. And then these stories kind of tune us back into that, and that’s super powerful, I think.
– [Zubin] Yeah, interesting on that angle there was the animated series that came out after “The Matrix” called “The Animatrix” and in that series, there was a series of little vignettes. And one of the vignettes was an athlete who is in the matrix and he’s a runner and in an act of flow and transcendence, his physical peak activity in a race wakes him up and he wakes up in the real world with the tube, and he’s just like, what? And it’s, again, it’s this act of this being in this transcendent flow state, there’s many paths to get to it and he wakes up that way. Unfortunately then the agents of “The Matrix” realize, and the agents to me have always represented our ego defenses, the ones that do not want us to escape from the prison of their own story that we’ve constructed for ourselves. And they put them in a wheelchair and he’s permanently disabled, but his last word in the thing is “free!” and it was really powerful. I still remember it and I saw it years ago when it first came out.
– [Damien] Yeah and we’re kind of trapped at the moment in what I would call suboptimal stories about our culture. ‘Cause as I said, we had this science fictional story about space travel and colonization, and we’re still kinda playing this out in a way like Elon Musk is the lead character in this story of going to Mars in a rocket. But then without that story, we kind of, what do we do, it’s just us trapped on a planet together, ad infinitum, where do we go? And we don’t have a vision of that. So I think it’s why we start looking at things like climate change narratives and dystopias, particularly we’re caught in dystopias like zombie uprisings or the totalitarian government that’s gonna run the world. And on one hand, they’re valid warnings, we do want to avoid the dystopia and trying to achieve the utopia can lead us to that, that’s fine, that’s the warning there. But it’s also a kind of neurosis, I think, of not having a vision of what the future might be. And these transcendent stories, I think are a key to where we might go, although I see the downsides as well, but we start thinking again about what we could really become as a human race, even if we don’t leave the planet, what our full potential is. What if every human being on the planet could be a real creative spirit in the world? And I think we need to restart thinking about how our technology might take us there instead of being trapped in Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse, we need to start painting visions of how our technology could actually liberate us all to make wonderful creations in virtual spaces and build new kinds of structures of human interaction and cooperation. It’s difficult to do ’cause we feel so trapped in this negative vision at the moment, but I think we need to reclaim an optimism about our future and ourselves in doing that.
– [Zubin] Yeah, I have this theory that it’s not just mine, I’m sure, but that the reason we don’t see aliens here, mass evidence of galactic organization is that as a species progresses, it actually realizes it doesn’t need to go anywhere, it’s a psychological transformation, a revolution, and involution finding everything you need here, and whether that’s in technology in a virtual space, or whether it’s in some singularity like Kurzweil and these guys talk about, or whether it’s really just simply going, hey, it’s all right, just to be, they don’t need to do this Elon Musk make a big penis and shoot it into Mars and I do wonder about that. Okay, so real quick you mentioned something about this idea, what if every human could reach their creative potential? And you’ve talked before about this tension between a consumer culture, which is what we have now and the potential for a creator culture. Can you help me understand where you think that might go? Because I feel like that’s a big piece of what the future might look like and a new story might look like.
– [Damien] Yeah, I have an experienced of watching like a young relative online, just talking with her and she’s doing “Minecraft” projects. Her and her friends basically built like a “Minecraft” world over a weekend, like completely decentralized. It was a school project, but and they went through all the planning stages and they built everything in this world and it was all working and she’s in her like early teems. And so much of like our education systems, which we really value because we fought to get them like universal education, but is it really helping people now to send all of our kids off to schools where they’re largely being babysat, I think. And what do we actually have to do and change in our society just to release people to do this, ’cause creativity is really our natural default state and we have to have it kind of crushed out of us to go and participate in our consumer culture at the moment. And the reason why we consume, why it’s called the consumer culture is ’cause that’s what we fill the space where that should be created. And along with storytelling, this is my insight from my 10 years working in Leicester that we would do things like the team I was working with, put on poetry nights, painting events, anything to give people a space to have some creative outlet and be celebrated by their community for that. And honestly, in terms of mental health and then a lot of physical health that came on, that’s the best intervention I’ve ever seen for people, thought greater than the medication or one-to-one therapies where people need community, they need celebration, they need creative outlet. And when they find that, they just start to become their full potential, it doesn’t need much more than that. Zubin
– [Zubin] No, no, that’s the story we need to be telling, that’s a story we need to be telling. So it’s interesting because we talked about how each human recapitulates kind of the general growth of the species in some way and previous species and so on. For me when I went through medicine, I found the creativity that I always connect to when I was younger, was beaten out of me to some degree out of necessity, because there’s only so much brain space and you have to do this and you have to be professional and there’s a lot of external pressure on you and so on. And so it would creep out in certain ways on rounds with the students and so on. And I do the comedy in little creative bits, but it was pretty much crushed out to me. The way that I assuaged my emptiness was I was a consumer of high-end audio gear. So I would collect vacuum tube amps and turntables and I would listen to jazz with high-end headphones and obsessed neurotically about different cables and how they sounded differently and different power sources, just hours of time, neurotically fiddling with this stuff, trying to fill a hole that never was filled, it was never quite enough. And then as I transitioned to making videos, to making music videos, to doing parodies, to being a creative and starting to do that full time, the contrast in happiness and fulfillment, in connection in peace was exponentially different. And I think if we gave people the opportunity, like you said, I think school is like a conditioning, babysitting thing right now. I think Sir Ken Robinson talks about this in a very… I had the honor of meeting him and we got to talk for awhile, brilliant guy, and communicates very well about the failures of our education system. If we really encourage and enabled creativity, which means, hey, if AI can do all the menial stuff, then we can focus on what actually matters. But yeah, I think that’s where we have to go.
– [Damien] Well, we got so much evidence now about the underlying causes of mental health, everything from systemic things like depression, to the really serious issues, schizophrenia, into addiction issues, the addictions which are just kind of rippling for our society. And I think you understand these even better than I do, and I think creativity is widely understood, is the answer to all of this, ’cause human beings can bear so much if it has meaning from a perspective of Vervaeke’s meaning crisis, again. And it’s not about everybody being a YouTuber, but I think this is not the greatest trying to creativity out there. A trend that we see in society so much is the person who is burnt out and they just wanna go and be on a phone and dig some stuff up on the phone, ’cause you’re once again, actually related to something really meaningful that you’re having an impact on. I see it in anger about the lockdowns in COVID, ’cause people are being removed from their meaning. And I think our conservative friends are much better at being closely related to this. That business that you’re running, which has been shut down, that’s not just a job somewhere, it’s the thing that you have built and it’s your meaning in life. And you have every right to be angry if you’re made to shut it down, even if it is for ultimately for the best. So we need our creativity in the broadest sense and that’s one of the values we can take from our conservative structures that we lost, I think.
– [Zubin] Yeah, once again, it’s pulling truth from wherever it is and integrating it and respecting it and saying, hey, instead of calling people Covidiots or Covidians on each side of this thing, can we understand that there is some truth here and some meaning to be found in all of this. And in the healthcare world, there’s recently been quite a bit of writing that we’ve lost millions of jobs in healthcare, but some of those are layoffs, but a lot of them are resignations. And the reason people give is, well, I have been forced to do a job that I care deeply about that called me without resources, without protection and without hope because when our ICUs are overwhelmed and people are dying and we have nothing for that stage of the disease, all we’re seeing is death. And this is where the frustration comes up with people who maybe choose not to vaccinate and they end up in the ICU and they’re asking for ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine and so on. And it’s generating this kind of moral distress in healthcare workers and they’re leaving. And there was a story in “The Atlantic” recently where they quoted a emergency physician who said, she quit finally after years, she thought she was gonna be a lifetime ER doc, she quit, she couldn’t do it anymore. And she was walking in a pumpkin patch with her children for Halloween and she just started sobbing, just burst into tears. And they asked her why was that? And she goes, “I realized I was happy. I was connected to meaning here with my kids in this pumpkin patch and I’d been so disconnected. I hadn’t felt that in so long.” ‘Cause you put up the walls and so on. And so part of the story, like you said, the creativity is not like going on YouTube and being a jackass, although that can be fun. It’s as simple as doing what is authentically you, being able to do as authentically you, that gives you meaning and connection. I think you live longer when you do that, your blood pressure’s lower, your cortisol is lower, your mental health is better, your relationships are better. Yeah.
– [Damien] I mean, I’m not a medical professional, so I can only make assumptions based on the many industries that I see and interact with, through my professional work. That everyone is more and more abstracted away from the source of meaning in the thing that they were doing. So because of needs for efficiencies, profit seeking, merging organizations together, and just the sheer size of the companies that we’re building and the infrastructure layers of society that we put together, more and more people, and of course this is an old problem. This is like the root of Marxism here that what we are are doing as a nurse, for instance, it might simply be untenable to do it in an infrastructure of that size. When the psychological reward for doing it is about a relationship to some number of people, a world of people that you can work with. And this is where the modern has been very bad at integrating what we need to bring from the other stages. ‘Cause the nurses is an ancient archetype in our stories and we can’t expect it to just be industrialized and people to be able to adapt to them.
– [Zubin] Man, you said you weren’t in healthcare? I think you understand it better than many people who run healthcare that treat nurses as a commodity, as a labor cost, not as a sacred, ancient connection with a Latin root, that means to nurture or doctor from the Latin root to teach. And we’ve lost to some degree in the mechanization of healthcare, what I call health 2.0, this idea that we’re an assembly line and we take these modern abstractions and apply them to healthcare. To some extent there’s truth there, right? Everything is true, but partial, but the shadow is quite deep and the failures of it become apparent. So what is health 3.0, that integral, holistic, inclusive technology enabled, but not technology enslaved type of human relationship driven healthcare, and that’s my term for integral healthcare, I call it health 3.0. So that’s what we’re trying to push for in our movement. And one thing that you mentioned again, is this idea of creator, how do you make a living doing that? Well now with technology, you can have subscribers that will pay to be part of a thing. You can teach a course and people will pay to get some of your hard earned wisdom over the years. And so there are ways to do things that are new, that I think will enable creator culture into the future as well.
– [Damien] I’m an optimist as well about where we might go as a human species. And if you’re in the disruptive industry building world, I think the question might be what would now disrupt healthcare, for instance, just as an example? And it’s not more modernist systems of healthcare, it is integral healthcare, that’s actually gonna give you the profitable next step for the industry, ’cause that’s how you’re gonna see where new technologies come in that are gonna make your whatever, billion dollar piece of kit you bought irrelevant because some integral answer will do this much better. So I’m hoping that the disruptive mindset will take us to the integral. That’s my optimistic correction.
– [Zubin] No, I think you’re absolutely right, and the one caveat I’ll say is that disruption cannot be at the same stage of development as modern, it has to be like you said, an integral disruption, something that we even have trouble wrapping our heads around yet because not a lot of us are that integral, but I think it’s crucial and we won’t even recognize it. One interesting thing in “Dune”, just to kinda bring it full circle . So “Dune” ’cause I’ve taken a lot of your time brother, the doctor in “Dune” Dr. Yueh, the way that he treats Paul Atreides in the movie and in the book, it’s a world 10,000 years in the future, or something where the year 10,000 where artificial intelligence, been outlawed due to a massive disaster in the past where they basically took over humans. And so even doctors don’t use a ton of equipment, he touches and manipulates Paul basically using the force for lack of a better term, but there’s some human technology he’s using that is transcendent of that equipment, and he’s able to diagnose and treat doing that. And I think medicine is gonna start to assume more of a mix of technology and this transcendent, energetic human component that we don’t fully understand. So that’s my guess if I were a betting man.
– [Damien] Well you know pre/trans fallacy from Wilberian thinking that what we are coming to will look a lot like the past. But we’d only gotten confused, but there is also usefulness in saying that we may go back to something quite similar to where we were. And they found some of the frozen ice man bodies, they’re found like in the Alps. So they found like one body and he was like 15,000 years old and he defrosted. So they still had the skin from his body and it’s covered in tattoos with all of the pressure points from acupuncture. So they were doing this 15,000 years ago ’cause I mean for start, what else did you have? Also, there was a knowledge and an insight there. And I think as this is going very into speculation from where we are, but as we start to understand, I’m a yoga practitioner as well, the real energy systems that underlie our body, we might well find ourselves a hundred or 500 years from now with this completely transformed understanding of the body. That means our Dr. Yueh is just using some kind of force to heal us. And this is the beauty of science fiction that we can think out into that space.
– [Zubin] I love it, man. And after this meditation retreat where I experienced some energetic stuff, even in the body, nothing is off the table anymore, and I was the hardest core skeptic of this stuff, that I’ve made videos ridiculing this stuff. And I wanna end with one last thing about the pre/trans fallacy for people who don’t know, I think this is very important actually, especially in healthcare because people get this confused. So the pre/trans fallacy, as I understand is that prerational thinking or prescientific thinking looks a certain way, right? It seems magical and so on. Transrational thinking where we have science, we transcend and include science, and there’s also this new thing that has to do with human consciousness actually can look and be confused with that kind of magical thinking. But actually it’s transrational, it transcends and includes all that, and it’s actually very, very awesome, but the problem is it can look like spooky woo woo, and I think that’s where I think modern medicine needs to really start to integrate and grapple with those things rather than discounting them outright. And also we have to look out for the quacks and the quackery and all the pseudoscience and misinformation. So that’s my take on that. Anything you wanted to talk about that we skipped over in this rambling interview that I loved?
– [Damien] What you were saying there about the medical quacks, we could expand that point to all the people who’ve made the pre/trans fallacy and maybe some people are doing that deliberately out there. So advocating a kind of return to living and maybe living in huts, for instance, that’s how we would all be happy if we became hunter-gatherers again, that’s kind of an emerging narrative that you can see. And it’s like, it will only be happy if that story also includes antibiotics and smart phones, ’cause we’re addicted to them. So the pre/trans fallacy is an important idea and it’s important to our storytelling and on their force as well. That the bigger point is that we still have to be rational, we can’t give away reason and rationality, we have to include those as well into our program.
– [Zubin] I’m really glad you mentioned that because I would be a fool if I didn’t mention like something like vaccines. The pre/trans fallacy can be turned around and say that you know what, vaccines are garbage, we need to go back to natural infection as an immune generator because that’s how we did it for millions of years. Yeah, and millions of people died, kids died. So we incorporate what we’ve learned on the journey of the human species and we can transcend and say, okay, there’s ways to do it, and yes, there’s some downsides, so we have to work on those, but you don’t toss that out. So absolutely brilliant. Damien- What’s that?
– [Damien] We can’t just retreat to all our old methods. That’s the way I’d summarize it. We can’t just go back to the old story, we’ve gotta go forward.
– [Zubin] How did you just manage to bring it fully into story? I guess that’s what you do. I love it, man, this was really, I learned a ton, and to think these things out with somebody like you, who really has made a life’s work of doing this is such an honor, so thank you for taking the time. And I’d love to talk to you again, if you’re game, specifically about certain science fiction pieces, this is just the nerd in me, I just would love to do this. And I think the takeaway for the audience, especially my healthcare audience in particular, is story matters, our collective mythology matters, our stages of development matter, how we treat others matters, love is important. These are all themes tied into the new mythos that the 21st century is gonna need, and we’re all gonna be a part of it. Any other thoughts, Damien?
– [Damien] No, just thank you so much Zubin, you’re incredibly generous interviewer and you listen so closely, well, when I’ve been speaking. And that’s very important because I’ve discovered things in our conversation and that’s been fantastic.
– [Zubin] And I really appreciate that, it’s easy to listen when someone’s speaking wisdom. Damien, I will link to your website and all your resources and your courses and pieces of work, and I’ll also link to the Rebel Wisdom interview you did because I thought that was just wonderful about “Dune”. And guys, share the show, if you wanna become a supporter to support creatives like Damien and myself, feel free, the links are always everywhere and I love you guys, we are out. Thanks brother, really appreciate it.
– [Damien] Thank you so much.