Podcast 346 – “Critical Intelligence”


Guest speaker: Bruce Damer

A brief history of Palenque Norte (video)


Bruce Damer takes the 2012 Palenque Norte audience at the Burning Man Festival on a far flung journey into what he calls his practice of “global multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-technic shamanism” where you “put yourself on the shelf” and dive deeply into the worlds of Pentagon think tanks, NASA mission designers, the tribal cultures of Pakistan, the Swiss, Egyptologists, IT professionals, and Christian Evangelicals, to come back with the true alchemical gold. With apologies to Terence McKenna, he says “there is no dominator culture” and that if we aren’t careful we can collectively fall for cartoon epistemologies, chase chains of weaker and weaker claims, and become a victims of our own delusions, and fall prey to others’ unsubstantiated theories. Bruce advises everyone to become their own best skeptic and develop “critical intelligence”. If someone says something that strikes you as flaky or just doesn’t feel right, Bruce suggests that you think it through before you pass on their meme.


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Check out all of the projects Bruce talks about at his personal site at: www.damer.com

Dr. Bruce’s Levity Zone Podcast

Posted in Bruce Damer, Burning Man, Future, Palenque Norte.


  1. Enjoyed this podcast and appreciated Bruce sharing so much of his personal life and experiences. However,as Eric Smith stated in his comment, the contributions of Lauren M, motley,especially Joseph Tracy, and one should add Sasha, added to the discussion.That Bruce sure can bring out the comments; witness Podcast #316!

  2. Lauren M, motley, and Joseph Tracy…thank you very much for your very level-headed, well-thought-out and valuable contributions to this discussion. The points you three made absolutely needed to be added to this discussion.

  3. There are some pretty serious problems with the silly notion that there is no dominator culture. What we know of recorded human history reveals hierarchical power structures in which a few dominate in wealth and decision making power and often use that power to take ever more from those who are weaker or less skilled in the technos of war and economic exploitation. These patterns enter every aspect of what we call culture, and exact vast suffering and injury to the planet. To acknowledge this reality does not mean we imagine some evil other that must be destroyed or unified global conspiracy or secret that explains all our problems. It is simply a pattern that continues because it benefits those who adapt to it.

    “If only there were vile people … committing evil deeds, and if it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them,” Solzhenitsyn wrote. “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Alexander Solzhenitsyn
    What T McKenna meant by saying nobody is in charge is not that nobody is in charge of anything, and not that nobody has greater decision making power in the global systems of governance, commerce or polity, but that nobody and no group is in charge of everything . The world is simply too large and too wild for that kind of control.
    It is revealing that Bruce is defending this statement that there is no dominator culture after revealing in apparent response to Lauren’s well crafted and very persuasive comment that he had forgotten where the term came from, ascribing it directly to McKenna without knowing its origin or doing his homework as he urges others to do before accepting or passing on the truth of a given theory or statement.
    The fact that many people( it is silly and false to say all people), as Kaushil says contribute to the current pattern of wars and exploitation by enjoying its benefits and ignoring its cruelties is hardly a philosophic revelation and does not negate the role of this dominator pattern as a social reality. The fact that the army, for example, had members who wanted to avoid the Iraq war did not stop them from engaging in large scale acts of violence, along with media deception and war profiteering. My point is that it is the dominator hierarchies of news propagandists, military command structure, corporate war profiteers, and unconstitutional executive power that were crucial to allowing this war and to actually carrying it out.
    Finally the fact that there is not a single unified centralized conspiracy that produced the Iraq war or that is in charge of the world, does not in any way negate the fact that there are many groups and individuals who conspire to achieve greater power, and often use criminal means to do so and often succeed in making very cruel systems. The neo-cons role in the Iraq war is one example among many. The fact that there is plethora of particularly weird and idiotic conspiracy theorists does not mean that there are no plans afoot about which people should be aware and actively resisting. The fact that our own habits and selfishness is a big part of our problems must also be faced. These are not exclusive truths.
    I personally sense that the point of what Bruce is saying is that we need to trust and exemplify something more like what Eisler calls the partnership model, what some think of as the wisdom of Love, or just plain friendliness, and carry that model with an open mind and heart into our various contacts in the world and really listen to what is going on and perhaps through genuine empathy and respect we will find that we are able to share truth in such a way that it can be heard. I fully agree with that and try, albeit falteringly to live out of that place.
    Now I’m going to walk out on thinner ice. Bruce. I do not subscribe without large skepticism to the 9-11 truther theories, but nothing you said provided any substantive refutation of their questions, and one must ask as you urge others to ask whether you are really qualified as a structural engineer or investigative researcher to negate the legitimacy of those questions or the research that points to a cover-up. The question of an inside job is certainly a very weird iceberg which will probably melt before we know what it signifies. But I think Americans should at least take a look at that question before dismissing it out of hand. I, for one would like better answers to the questions raised and this does not point to such answers, but seems to rely on authority and a vague statement about tube steel.

  4. how can you explain the massive shift of wealth to the very rich without accepting that some groups have more power and influence in the material world , and so they to a degree dominate. I think Bruce in respect your explanation of the Iraq war is at least in complete.It was an act of Empire and yes it did not go to plan but that does not mean that the instigators were not part of a dominating culture. A dominating culture to exist does have to be completeley totalitarian.
    Personally I do not see any contradiction between Mckenna ‘s idea of a dominator culture and no ones in charge. There is certainly groups/ classes pulling string in the material world that affect us all.

  5. Thanks Bruce for the very interesting talk. I agree that some of Mckenna’s memes were whacky, especially the 2012 Timewave Zero meme, which seems to be a New Age form of Christian Eschatology.

    However there seems to be a trend of people being disillusioned with Mckenna or turning against Mckenna now post 2012. It seems that these people either bought into to much of what Mckenna said without critically thinking enough about it, some then going in the other direction and overly criticizing Mckenna, or they were skeptical from the beginning and are using this as an example to be critical of Mckenna in general, and I think are going somewhat over the top on being overly critical of all his other ideas, even if they had merit or not.

    I think that indeed Mckenna did go over the top and unscientifically put forth memes like Timewave Zero which were in fact misleading, but Mckenna also put forth some memes which were imo not only accurate, but prophetic, and were a valuable warning about not only events to come, but a warning of what we need to overcome in order to move forward… One of those memes as others have mentioned is the dominator culture meme.

    Imo as others have mentioned here, the dominator culture is very clear over the last decade. It may not have an overriding control aspect, but that’s not what most cultures have, a culture is a way a society interacts, operates, and functions. If one looks at the trend of our society this is a major aspect of it. Those with hunger for power and resources used a primal desire for dominance and revenge which they found seething in the post 9/11 atmosphere and used it for their means just as other war mongers have from Time immemorial.

    Imo the dominator Culture can actually be viewed directly through the archaeological record, and this is not a new phenomenon, but rather a phenomenon that our culture has inherited over millenium, in fact as far back as perhaps our common ancestors with chimpanzees, which is why the hierarchical war grouping patterns of chimpanzees can really be used to understand modern day humans who have inherited similar genetic strategies of survival. I’m not suggesting that its the ‘other’ here. I’m suggesting its a part of all of us inherited through our ancestor’s struggle for survival, but that it should be acknowledged and that we should somehow find a way to deal with it successfully instead of self-destructively, as has been the trend for so much of humanity’s time on Earth…

  6. Thanks Lauren for this excellent explanation of Eisler’s term “dominator culture”. It may be that Terence gave us a greatly oversimplified reading of this term. On a takeoff from the expression “no one is in control”, we might now say “control is created by every one of us”.

  7. I’m seeing some confusion about the meaning of the term dominator culture. So I’m going try my best to express what I think and understand it means to its originator, Riane Eisler, and therefore, in effect what it meant to Terence Mckenna because he used it as a direct reference to Rianes coining of the term, although, of course with his own flavour.

    Also, her ideas are soooo important, and very relevant to saloners interests I think.

    Dominator culture is not referring to a group of people, or an idea that there is a group of people in control of us all. It’s not referring to a conspiracy. Quite the opposite in my opinion…

    Dominator culture means… exactly that, it’s a culture; It’s a mindset where some are on top, and some are underneath. It’s a paradigm where power is upheld through force, violence and fear. And it is used to control and subjugate. It’s a mindset that is pretty engrained and is perpetuated by those beneath as well as those on top. A mindset that can and usually does exist in all facets of human life, from our most intimate relationships, to the relationship between the human species and the planet.

    But, I don’t think the existence of a culture of domination is in question. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who has been through the school system, observed the current relationship of humans to the environment, or ever watched the news.

    And I don’t think that is the entire point that Eisler was trying to make by inventing the term. But rather, that an alternative exists, has existed, and can exist. This she termed the partnership model, and it means a power structure that is not top down, but horizontal. Balanced. Equal. Power that is not imposed through fear, violence and domination, but instead, every individual is empowered through mutual trust, communication, expression, creativity, compassion and respect for life.

    In a world that completely embodied the partnership model, there would be no wars at all.
    I think that war is the ultimate outcome of a dominator model.

    And there would probably be no paranoid conspiracy theories. This kind dualistic thinking and fear based thinking is the very essence of dominator culture. And I agree with Bruce that it perpetuates violence.

    But I doubt I do any justice to Riane Eislers insights. The Chalice and the Blade. I emplore y’all to read it who haven’t yet!!!

    Thanks Lorenzo and Bruce and everyone for being a part of this super awesome discussion!

    [COMMENT by Lorenzo: “The Chalice and the Blade”, I agree, is an extremely important book . . . one of the few that I’ve read more than once.]


  8. Oh and I did read the Chalice and the Blade back in the day and thought it excellent. I should re-read it to be current on this discussion I expect.

  9. .. as to the Iraq war, what I witnessed was less of a all knowing and highly effective Domonator culture than a fumbling forward of pushing special interests, delusional and grandiose thinking, lack of insight and knowledge or a desire for such, and just plain group stupidity and hubris “because we can”. The same could be said for the other side in the conflict. In the end the decision to attack, then the decision to invade, came down to competing power point presentations, one in Arabic, the other in federalize English. I feel strongly from experience and observation that Terence’s statement that “the horrible truth is no one is in control” is a better teaching than his “Dominator culture” lifted from the pop culture of the time.

  10. As to the existence (or not) of a “dominator culture” I ask that you listen to the voice of Dr. R. P. Kaushik in my fifth “Dr. Bruce’s Levity Zone” podcast at:
    At about 20 minutes in he addresses an audience question about the creation of pattern in human history (of war, death). He develops the argument that the pattern of power accumulation and its use is something we all contribute to collectively and individually to “preserve our comforts”. I agree with Dr. Kaushik and feel that the dominator argument that it’s an “us versus them” is far too simplistic and is meaningless. We all contribute to the situation we find ourselves in today. And we all have the power and responsibility to make changes. Everyone, even those with tremendous financial accumulation and influence, are still human beings and are connected into the net of being. Demonizing any group sets up a pattern that leads to violence, which removes any sense or sensibility of enlightened thought or compassionate action.

  11. Thank you all so much for your kind and thought provoking comments, which have me now considering and reconsidering an intelligent (or at least a good stab in the ether) response. Stand by!

  12. I just listened to this talk and it was excellent. I loved the part when Bruce was talking about working in other contries and dipping in and out of other peoples and organisations ways of seeing things. It made me laugh when he said he is immune to the news!

  13. Bruce says there’s no dominator culture and no group is in charge… and yet around the :50 minute mark he says the Iraq war was a huge, costly fiasco that started the early decline of the American empire and was brought about by only a handful of people. There’s your dominators, Bruce… they took control of the system and worked above the level-headed Pentagon generals. Open your eyes!

  14. Fantastic talk!

    But I just wanted to talk about the ‘dominator culture’.
    The term was first used by Riane Eisler in the (excellent) book,The Chalice and The Blade.

    I don’t see how you can deny the dominator culture exists Bruce. The dominator culture meaning the heirachicical structures of civilisation. As opposed to a partnership – or egalitarian society, that, according to Eisler have existed very few times in recorded history. Eisler points out that the ancient Minoans, and inhabitants of Catal Huyuk are some of the few examples we have of human civilisations using the partnership model.

    I highly recommend for everyone to read The Chalice and the Blade. Also there is a recorded talk given by T M and Raine Eisler at a three day workshop that they co-lead. They touch on a few of these topics. I know you can find it on you tube under “man and women at the end of history” It’s one of my all time favourite Mckenna appearances.

  15. To paraphrase: Seeing yourself as someone else; reminded me of the practice of Buddhist compassion at least how I remember it. It worked for me with a work colleague/manager who I could never seem to get on with but at the height of my practice/meditation one day it just happened.
    It was as if I knew exactly how my colleague felt, what he was thinking at that moment in conversation and what he was going to say next!
    We never did became friends and I fell of the wagon of Buddhist practice and thinking but this seems to me where Bruce is coming from.

    Putting yourself on the self: I think some situations may require far too great a compromise for this to work for everyone in all situations. Bruce’s examples are all positive but some situations may not be so.

    Really enjoyed thanks.

  16. Also thought this was an amazing podcast. Very interesting to think about the fine dividing line between things like personal experiences, shared experiences, true woo/bullshit detector shields/conspiracy theory/science, and developing a sense of discrimination based on this. “Putting yourself on the shelf” can indeed be used in many, many situations, taking a step back, thinking for yourself, and questioning authority! Well done Bruce and Lorenzo!

  17. Seems many people go through the conspiracy “hole” some stay there for a long time some come out the other side, but this is something I see many bump into, it is paralyzing and self defeating. So, it is good to shed light on whether or not we are seeing things correctly or throwing our own detritus onto our outlook, that said the many eyes of experience, practice, and real solutions that work serve all of us to gain a more expansive picture on how things truly work vs. how things look like they work. Many narratives are simply fictions today and all of us want the real deal, the real solutions to navigate toward a more symbiotic existence with workable solutions and creative paths to extricate ourselves from the “painted corner” narratives that are all too numerous.

  18. Greatly appreciated Harris and fun-da-mental… the information about the “gang” hieroglyphics came from a 2001 presentation we were privy to by Egyptologist Mark Lehner, see his Wikipedia page and references at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Lehner

    And Harris, yes those who are lost (for years sometime) to these various conspiracies and elaborate and entrapping memetic structures are valuable human beings lost both to society and to themselves.

    For everyone here… for more of this sort of inquiry, I am treating these subjects over in my new podcast “Dr. Bruce’s Levity Zone” which Lorenzo mentioned at the end. Its all at:

    Don’t leave the Salon of course, plenty more to come, but please join me also over in Dr.Bruce!

  19. This was an amazing podcast. I have had so many friends get wrapped up into conspiracies after “waking up” I was concerned they weren’t awake to anything, but only thinking more outside the box and finding whatever sounded most interesting. I have been trying to integrate into all sorts of cultures not just the counter-culture, and it has been such a great experience seeing all walks of life. Bruce Damer is a very interesting man who pierces through the veil of bullshit, but remains grounded. You can’t cross canyons without building bridges. And the quote of Terence Mckenna’s “no-one is in control”, that’s something to think about…that’s the issue. Thanks for this podcast yo

  20. Certainly a pretty interesting talk.

    However, i don’t agree with some of Bruce’ remarks on the pyramid-building.
    For example in the great pyramid, there were only 2 cartouches with the name of Cheops, and those were apparently written in a style different for the time it should have been expected.

    No hieroglpyhs which indicated a ‘race’ between different teams of volunteers.

    And by the way, the question stays more open than ever: HOW did they built these enormous buildings?!

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