I’ve had this conversation (translation: rambled lengthily at them) with so many friends recently that I guess I should blog it. I’m still working on 2012, and here’s the deal: for all that I am a neopagan with what most might consider pretty fruity-tooty religious beliefs, I’m having trouble buying a word of it. (“It,” in this instance, is the possibility that in six years some massive event of global consciousness-shifting is going to take place and create a do-or-die moment for humanity.)

It’s not that I think Pinchbeck is dishonest, or a scam artist – I am utterly prepared to believe that he believes what he’s saying – it’s that so much of what he has experienced or believes he has experienced is so subjective as to be almost useless when communicated to another person. For all that I have seen and experienced things that defy normal explanation (such as the story of the ghost of Wilson Library, for those who know me) and in which I believe just as surely as I believe in the chair in which I sit as I write this, I also know that those experiences are so subjective, so interpreted and reinterpreted by my own psyche and so mediated by my own ability to perceive and then process and retell those perceptions, that it would actually be sort of silly for me to expect anyone else to really believe me when I tell them.

At SwingOut this year, Bascha asked me to tell the gentleman friend of one of our fraternity sisters the story of one of these events. I do love to hear myself talk about myself – I have a blog, this is self-evident – and so I agreed, but when I was done, and he said, “See, this bothers me, because you seem like a credible person but I’m very skeptical about these sorts of events,” I clapped him on the arm and said, “Do be skeptical. I don’t expect you to believe a word of it, and if it were someone else standing here telling that story, I wouldn’t believe a word of it, either, because I am simply not the sort of person who believes in the imperceptible arcana of the world based on someone else’s word. Do not believe this story just because I’ve told you. I don’t gain or lose anything by your belief or disbelief, so by all means, cling to your skepticism, because it is far more valuable.”

I mean, that’s the only sane perspective I can come up with. Yeah, I’ve seen crazy shit. So do crazy people. I don’t think anyone necessarily gains from knowing that I’ve seen crazy shit – or, rather, from knowing that I believe I’ve seen crazy shit. If we went around taking everyone at their word on things no one else can or does see, it would take two seconds for us to be neck-deep in the worst possible hybrid of Moonie Scientologist Baptists. Seriously, it would be extremely bad. Individual people can believe whatever they want based on their individual experiences, imaginings and interpretations, and that is good and healthy because it indicates that they are at least midlly curious about the world around them, but in groups – and especially as a society – I think it is vital that we base our decisions and actions solely on the evidence available to us. Doing otherwise is what gets us James Watt saying environmental restrictions don’t really matter since Jesus is due back any day now, or Bush saying that God told him to invade Iraq. We don’t need the complex business of trying to hold together any society of two or more people muddled by things not all of them see or believe. So, skepticism: it’s a good thing.

Of course, much of 2012 is about the alienation many people feel from the world around them and the other people in it – in the context of advocating a breakdown of that alienation – and such skepticism may simply be another tool of maintaining that alienation. I don’t really have an answer to that, but I also don’t really feel that I need one. See, the nature of personal revelation – and I don’t doubt that many people have them, as these are the stuff of every religion and philosophy, even the ones without gods – is just that: it is personal. The idea of the koan – the Buddhist parables that challenge the seeker to discover the wisdom within them – may be the most applicable demonstration of this. Koans are meant to be tough nuts to crack, as it were. They are meant to be immune to a simple, rational explanation of them. The wisdom within them can only be received as a sudden revelation after contemplation and study. Even though the koan is passed from teacher to student in a form that can be rationally and objectively agreed upon, the lesson of the koan comes to each student in a moment of intensely personal insight. There is no explaining them. There is no Cliff’s Notes version of enlightenment. Revelations, and the signs and synchronicities that lead someone to look at the world in a unique way that shows them something they hadn’t seen before, are as much what the observer brings to the experience as they are the experience itself, perhaps even more observer than experience.

So, I sit and read 2012 and I think, “Well, that’s great, but give me something I can measure, something I can see and touch and poke and prod and photograph and bring out into the light of shared experience.” But I don’t get that, and I’m too skeptical to just take anyone’s word on pretty much anything, and at the same time that attitude is precisely opposite that which the author seems to recommend.

I will note that Pinchbeck is just as ready to call someone on it when he thinks they’re BSing or otherwise espousing some philosophy with something less than full honesty or full faculties. There are times when he comes out and says that he dismissed entirely someone’s claim or someone’s way of thinking. Much of what he shares of his own experience is told in a way that makes plain his knowledge that this was his experience and no one else’s. He’s an entertaining writer and a great storyteller. He seems earnest. It’s just… I’m skeptical. I don’t buy into the idea of huge life-changing events. It all smacks, frankly, of millenialism. Perhaps I’m simply too soiled by the skepticism and materialism of the world to open my mind to his way of thinking, but on the other hand, I’m not denying that there may be aspects of the world which we do not currently understand or comprehend – I can think of times in my life when I felt I had brushed against the Unseen & Unknown, myself. However, I haven’t brushed against his version of the Unseen & Unknown, and so while I find it an interesting story, and an intriguing idea, I don’t really plan to live my life in expectation that anything he says may happen in the future.

I guess, bottom line, what I hope comes to people who read his book is that they set it aside at the end with the feeling that it was interesting to hear his take on things. If hearing his take on things makes them more open to the Unseen & Unknown in their own lives, when it appears, then great. Maybe that’s his entire purpose with the book, I simply don’t know. On the other hand, the Unseen & Unknown do not appear to all people. Plenty of – perhaps most? – folks go through their lives without feeling they’ve ever encountered anything more than plain ol’ consensual reality, and that’s just the way it is. Maybe that demonstrates that people need thinkers out on the fringe of experience, such as Pinchbeck, to blow the dust off their ability to experience the Unseen & Unknown.

Or maybe that just means the rest of us are crazy.