The Evolution of Consciousness with John Perkins
Today, on the occasion of the Meltingpot Forum where both of us were invited to speak, I met with John Perkins. He is a famous bestselling author in the US, and the least I can say is that he’s a colorful character.
Referring to himself as an “economic hit man”, John Perkins spent the 70s and part of the 80s as an adviser for a strategic-consulting firm. His job, he says, consisted in giving biased advice to leaders of developing countries so that they would get into huge debt and make questionable infrastructure investments. Such manipulations would only benefit a few global companies and wealthy families. Moreover, beyond his own façade of neutrality, Perkins claims he worked in synergy with other influence agents: self-selling politicians would have received bribes, free escort services and other gifts whereas those trying to refuse the American offer would have been targeted by the CIA.
Since then, Perkins repented of his activities and authored a number of books to tell the world. In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2004), followed by The Secret History of the American Empire (2006) up to a more recent edition of his Confessions (2016), he explains at length how “economic hit men” cover one-sided contracts with unrealistic projections, occasionally serve as off-the-book spies, and how much local middle classes and the poor suffer from that.
Perkins’ books and post-advising career as a lecturer tell of passionate whistleblowing. His autobiographies mix with History—with a capital H. His knowledge also relates to my own research, as the predatory policies he denounces would be a key factor of the instability we are living in. Due to his rather busy schedule, our meeting has been brief. It was dense, too, and left me yearning for more.
Watch the Interview
A Cultural, or Metapolitical, Battle
The easiest route would have been to ask John Perkins about his career. This, however, has been done a number of times already, and John’s own books and accounts are all over the place. Therefore, I decided to ask him about themes related to the Meltingpot Forum—namely, the evolution of consciousness.
There is a cultural battle going on, John says. A battle to win souls and hearts by making certain facts known or unknown. A metapolitical endeavour, as the prominent cultural thinker Antonio Gramsci said, the individual consciousness being beyond (meta-) the public business (politeia), yet being crucial as to how politics and economics play out. We may “mold the future through individual consciousness”, John claims, and this truth would be at the root of the information war going on.
“I was a hit man for a major consulting firm”, my guest tells me blunly. “As a chief economist there… my job consisted in ripping off the world for American corporations.” Since then, John made up for the time he spent wearing the same tie: not only did he author aforementioned whistleblowing books, but also several ones on chamanism, his “passion”, which he spent years practicing.
“A shaman saved my life at the beginning of the 70s, when I was a young Peace Corps volunteer in the Amazon. Since then, I keep coming back there” every so often.
John distingues two orders of reality. One is the objective, wordless, independent reality. “You don’t have to mention that we are seated on a sofa or that your camera is filming us” for these to exist. This is in line with the traditional idea of reality as what does not go away, no matter whether you believe it or not. However, a second order of reality exists as well: a realm created by our words. A reality made of perceptions and ideas, where each and every consciousness influences others.
This distinction is not exactly new. Many old-school philosophers tried to base the second order of reality on the first. As soon as the eighteenth century, cheeky thinkers claimed that God was no more than a invention of the human mind, and the human mind a byproduct of physiological mechanisms. Much later, during the 80s, Canadian philosopher Patricia Churchland made a case for reducing the mind to an illusion hiding the sole physical brain.
However, John gives the idea an important twist: instead of trying to reduce the psycho-social to the physical, he believes that our created reality is the one that ends up shaping the uncreated. In other words, our beliefs, choices, consciousness, can exert pressure over dumb matter—whereas the latter should never be used as an an excuse to let the former loose.
The Evolution of Consciousness
The economic system we are living in is not natural. It may be partly natural, but is also partly created, especially since it works from human agents and not dumb matter. The least we can say is that this economic system does not work very well. It creates chronic poverty, protects predatory policies. John dubbed it a “death economy”, as it would be “based to a large extent on warfare or the threat of warfare.” The big corporations’ economy relies all too much on militarization and destructing precious, sometimes even irreplaceable natural resources. A soulless maximization of goods, profits, correlated to an exclusive focus on abstract or mathematical growth—no matter the human, or perhaps rather inhuman, consequences. A reign of quantity and greed that debases everything truly valuable on the long term.
This is what we have to change from. We are more than hunters of bucks. Instead of living in a destructive, unfulfilling quantity economy, we should create a “life economy.” Something able to “clean up pollution, regenerating destroyed environments”, using eco-friendly technologies such as the recycling of time-worn plastics or my own resilient home. Solar energy, wind energy and minimized heat loss indeed allow me to respect Mother Nature while living on my own instead of consuming man-made energy. John noticed that, and he praises my house as being part of the solution. “This is long-term thinking, just as the world thought” before GDP became a new god.
When I ask John how consciousness could evolve to cause actual change, he answers that the evolution is “already happening.” He hopes that artificial intelligence will allow us to reach a new stage. Although he believes it will never really emulate, much less supplant human intelligence—in contrast with other experts I met with—he also think a sufficiently developed AI would show a detached, dispassionated worldview. Thus, AI may supplement humanity and allow us to perceive the world with more objectivity.
The evolution of consciousness may help solving crises. We could hope that AI will help us to “look at the crises more objectively and come up with the necessary solutions.” If the trend leads to a satisfying level of evolution, we may get a bias-free AI, able to find “undisputable” solutions to crises. No more ego or “nationalistic bias”, no more simplistic or fraudulent media framing creating a biased perspective. The AI will “see” beyond such human illusions and may thus suggest equilibrated solutions. John hopes the authorities will accept AI’s help and solutions. And, who knows, he adds—perhaps AI will help solving climate change too.
May the brain itself evolve? Or DNA itself? “I don’t know, I’m not a neuroscientist”, John says. In truth, even neuroscientists have a hard time dissecting the intricate workings of the brain. It is even harder to say how they determinate consciousness. But consciousness itself is evolving for sure. It is enough to focus on it, and mostly on the paradigms or ideas around, to witness evolution. Remember the Copernician revolution, also a founding example of postmodern thought: if you change your idea of the universe, it has consequences on almost anything in life. The discovery of the Earth orbiting around the Sun, rather than the opposite, likely didn’t create a biological change in the human brain but led European societies to a revolution. Likewise, transitioning from a quantity economy or “death economy” to a “life economy” would have a tremendous impact, even if nothing did change in the biology of the brain.
The newest revolution, John claims, is already happening. People are massively unsatisfied with the status quo and this would reflect both on the Left and Right. The Left would wish to try a socialist, Bernie Sanders-type approach, whereas the Right wishes for authority. At bottom, though, both sides have become reformist, and the status quo is being attacked from both sides of the political chessboard. Clearly, “what was done before was not enough.”
Some Advice for the Future
If we are to talk about consciousness, and by the time I am meeting with John he hasn’t delivered his Meltingpot lecture yet, we should aim at turning our talk into more than mere words. And here my occupational hazard kicks in: could we engineer change? Starting by taking the reins of our own consciousness?
John’s answer lies in a time-proven recipe: self-suggestion. Once again, this may not be that new, but all too often we forget about the “good old recipes” which work better than fashionable stuff. After a good night of sleep, “when you wake up, write down your dream.” More importantly, rewrite it so that what matters becomes a pattern. Include a mantra in your rewriting, John advises, such as “we can, we will create a life economy, and I’ll be part of it.” Political framing works through repetition and conditioning, and if we are the one conditioning ourself, we get freer than if we let someone else do that to us.
“Now”, at a one-person scale, “creating a life economy may mean recycling more, checking whether products are eco-friendly or not while shopping. Or, perhaps, write a book that will change everything. Or run for Prime Minister. Just tailor that so that it becomes suited to your own needs.
As for some good advice to the young, or whoever wishes to be ready for the future, John shares a couple of pieces of advice:
1) Be flexible. “Things changed radically in my lifetime.” As history keeps accelerating, this will likely be even truer for millennials. “I have a 10 years old grandson, and the best advice I could give him is, it’s unstable out there, so you should better prepare!”
2) Follow your heart. Do what really appeals to you. “As Joseph Campbell would say, follow your bliss. If you want to write, write. If you want to be an engineer, be an engineer.” In a typically optimistic fashion, John believes that someone’s inner, deeper calling, goes hand in hand with the imperative to create a humane and sustainable economy.