Thursday, April 10, 2008

2012, Singularity, Apocalypse, Oh My!

The Japanese are such great trendsetters. Like the other night I saw a TV news story about the rising popularity of male geishas. Women executives have money but no time to pursue romance, and with geishas they are treated like queens by adorable boys.

When I saw the men who do this work, I was struck by how feminine they all seemed. They looked like cute little rockers or man-boy lovers in a yaoi manga, with long spiky hair lightened and styled to perfection. They were skinny, fashionable and had great skin. One geisha they interviewed said he made $200,000 a year and also received many gifts of outfits and accessories from his patrons, as they liked him to look his best for them.

I got such a kick out of this story. Men servicing women -- gotta love it! One of my friends, when he heard this, said half-jokingly, “The end of the world must be near.” Despite being a sexual freak, he has a conservative streak as well. He had a similar reaction when Oprah was talking about teenagers holding “rainbow” parties (the girls all wear different colored lipstick, then turn off the lights and give the boys fellatio. Lights on and everyone checks out the evidence to figure out who blew who), and when Tila Tequila had her bisexual love competition on MTV. I guess we all get dated at some point LOL!

Speaking of the end of the world, this is a concept which never fails to resonate. Remember how Y2K was supposed to be it? Well just because 2000 came and went doesn’t mean we are out of the danger zone. Exploring Mayan ruins reminded me of how 2012 is coming up. That’s the end of a 5000-year cycle of the Mayan calendar, when there's supposed to be a "transition from the current Creation world into the next." I know several intelligent, successful people here in the city who are really into it. I suppose it’s rather convenient to only have to plan for another 4 years!

Then there’s the Singularity. I am a science geek so this one has fascinated me for a while. The concept is borrowed from physics and black holes, where it means an end-point where space-time as we know no longer works. In a broader sense, it’s been used to describe the exponentially increasing rate of technological progress (eg Moore’s Law), which appears to be leading us to a significant shift such as the emergence of artificial intelligence, our merging with machines, or the creation of new biological life forms.

High-profile proponents of the Singularity include inventor Ray Kurzweil, who is featured in the latest Wired, and Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, who has a good interview in the lastest Reason. And though he is not an advocate of the Singularity per se, I don’t think you can discuss the incredibly rapid pace of change we are experiencing without mentioning Craig Venter. I saw him speak recently and the work he is doing is amazing – sequencing the human genome, then going out and doubling the number of known genes and being just a few steps away from reverse-engineering life. His goal is to create artificial biological organisms to solve our energy crisis and create vaccines. Whatever you may think of what he's doing, it sure seems like people should be paying more attention!

As a spiritual seeker, I have also been in touch with what's going on in the community of meditators, practitioners of mind-body awareness and the like. I swear, even now, I don’t know what you call this arena. People don't like the term “New Age,” but is there anything better? Not everyone is Buddhist, and there really is no practice that everyone does. The one thing I'd say people in this category have in common is a focus on being in the present moment.

But anyways, when I was involved with a weekly transformative practice group, we did a lot of reading (like Eckhart Tolle’s "The Power of Now”, which I hear is Oprah’s new passion) and at times had speakers visit with us. Sometimes our teacher would let us know beforehand that the person who would be addressing us, say the esteemed Adyashanti, was considered by many to be “enlightened.” This was always said as if the word had quotes around it, as no one could entirely agree on what it meant to be enlightened. Yet from my explorations in this world, I saw that there is a growing consensus that the number of enlightened people is increasing. So here too, there is a sense that we are moving to an end point in the game.

Back to pop culture, we have both Terminator 2: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Battlestar Galactica talking about “Judgment Day” and the Apocalypse. You even had the last couple of episodes of T2 quoting from the book of Revelation in the bible. And that got me to thinking about a National Geographic article I read about the lost books of the new testament and reinterpretations of the biblical scriptures. There is one scholar, I believe it might be Dr. Bart Ehrman, who claims that the King James version of Revelations is a poor translation. Specifically, that in a passage describing the last days on earth, a word that is translated to be mean “destruction” is a mistranslation. And that the actual definition of the word is closer to “rebirth.”

Having gone to Sunday school and studied the bible quite extensively in my childhood, that really hit me. What difference would it make to people, if they saw the Apocalypse as a time of rebirth – of enlightenment! – rather than death, destruction and misery. What if we stopped thinking that one day we would suffer gloriously for our sins? I know I know, most of us don’t believe that stuff anymore. But how deeply ingrained are those notions in our collective psyche? Do they make us try less, feeling that dark days are our inevitable and just punishment?

Well maybe one day, this other more optimistic translation will be commonplace. That is, unless the robots over take first. All the more reason to carpe diem. That's right, pluck it while it's ripe!