Podcast 560 – “McKenna’s Thoughts About Marshall McLuhan”


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Marshall McLuhan on the cover of Rolling Stone MagazineGuest speaker: Terence McKenna


Date this lecture was recorded: August 1993

In today’s podcast Terence McKenna waxes eloquent about the writing of Marshall McLuhan, whose work in the 1960 was considered a revolutionary break with traditional ways of thinking about media. As Wikipedia says about McLuhan, he “was a Canadian professor, philosopher, and public intellectual. His work is one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory, as well as having practical applications in the advertising and television industries. … McLuhan is known for coining the expression “the medium is the message” and the term global village, and for predicting the World Wide Web almost 30 years before it was invented.”


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  1. McLuhan’s prophetic statements are pretty inconsistent. He foresaw that women were better adapted to the jobs of a nonspecialized work world and predicted their rise to greater prominence in the work force. He also got some things wildly wrong, predicting the car as outmoded by the television. He was correct about the transparency of an electronic world but failed to see the emergence of large scale big brother spying to compensate. He predicted that the introduction of alphabetic writing would make Japan more aggressive and wipe out their culture. Not really.
    He tends to see wholesale changes resulting from media changes but that is often wrong. Law and Courts go back to a time before print culture and are a weird blend of print culture and acoustic tribal culture. Good lawyers ( are there any?) have to be masters of oral community culture because of spoken proceedings, and also of contracts and law books and print generated categories and institutional structures. Similarly carbon powered mechanical culture continues and expands long after the beginning of the “information age” and the unchecked powers of both to promote violent resource extraction continues a pattern of eco-devastation and toxicity.
    The good thing about McLuhan is the expansion of cultural self awareness, which is why McKenna was so fascinated.

  2. Wonderful insights, Ben. That makes so much sense. I have most of Lorenzo’s reserve about the Church, thought this new Pope has taken a hard turn in a good direction. I am a profound skeptic of the Bible but the actual teachings of Jesus are mostly at odds with the Bible and He seemed to my thinking inclined to avoid texts and creeds and messiahs and to want humans to take up responsibility as Children of God and bring down the empire with sharing, healing, nonviolent truth telling. This essential vision comes through to searchers in many paths – Buddhism, psychedelics, communities of friendship, shamanic, and there are many others – and it points to a the birth of a more enlightened humanity.
    What concerns me in all of these sources , and I hope my concerns are misplaced, is the idea that this positive outcome is inevitable. It just flies in the face of so much devastation, so much accumulated and highly intransigent power. Is a breakthrough in consciousness possible on such a scale as to send out waves and ripples through the whole system strong enough to reorder the planet. Is Aya part of a new beginning? For some this is happening and even translating into practical action, but there is so much resistance. McKenna seemed to epitomize with his own inner contradictions a rift that runs through the psychedelic revival. One moment he plays the skeptic, the literate erudite unbeliever, the next he is projecting a vast world-transforming singularity, hearing the logos, and setting the date of the great day. Similarly some see psychedelics as door to spirit, some as mirror, some as liberator from cultural myth. But mostly great hopes converge on this powerful rebooting of consciousness.

  3. I enjoyed this. It is hard to absorb, not because of the writing alone but because the concepts are dense and surprising, the ideas are big . He uses very literate constructions to describe our transliterate realities. The newly published The Great Derangement ( A. Ghosh)takes up some similar themes, particularly the mindset shaped by modern fiction, in his discussion of the global inability to effectively address the shared and already disastrous effects of fossil fuel use and the resulting global ecological problems.

  4. Hey, Lorenzo, I wanted to give you a way in to understanding McCluhan. The thing to know about him, is that he connected the media with Teilhard de Chardin’s cincept of a noosphere. Remember that one? It was the idea that there was a universal atmosphere of thought, or intelligence around the earth, as real as the atmosphere of oxygen. This idea was a precursor og the Internet. The thing that connects McLuhan and Chardin is that they were adherents of MYSTICAL CATHOLICISM. And here’s they key concept in Catholic mysticism: all human history is leading towards one world culture – so that when Christ returns, he can set up his kingdom over the entire earth. In this light, all technological advances are steps in the binding of the earth into one community. This is what McLuhan dubbed The Global Village. In McLuhan’s view, electronic media were creating the nervous system for this world-wide culture. In fact, all of McLuhan’s prophecies, though embraced by modern secular intellegencia, and the avant- garde of the art world, were actually a religious worldview. That’s where McKenna and McLuhan overlap, as prophets of a transformed humanity. I wish McLuhan was around to talk about Trump. My guess is he would see him as an avatar of the tribalism caused by electronic media. Anyway? I hope that connects some dots for you between these two Visionary writers,

    [COMMENT by Lorenzo: Ben, you really hit one of my hot buttons, and I fully agree with your insights. I first read (one of several readings by me) The Phenomenon of Man in 1962 while studying at the University of Notre Dame, and it became the first book in my progression away from the Catholic church. I’ve always wondered what Teilhard would have written if he wasn’t trying to reconcile his thinking with Catholic dogma. My second book, The Spirit of the Internet, was my attempt to move Teilhard’s thinking about the noosphere into the context of the Internet (which I liken to having a similar effect on us as do psychedelics).

    To move ahead into the 21st century, I highly recommend Yuval Harari’s excellent book Homo Deus. It is the first book that I’ve read since my first reading of Teilhard’s work that has had as much of an impact on my mind. If you get a chance to read Homo Deus I would enjoy hearing what you think about it.]

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