PACIFIC SHIFT by William Irwin Thompson


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What do the dodo, Edsel, and Atlantic seaboard have in common? They're all relics of the past--or so Thompson argues here, contending that a great psycho-spiritual-economic earthquake now underway will transform human society from ""an Atlantic, European, industrial civilization to a Pacific, planetary, electronic culture."" Well-known for his oracular visions of past and future (At the Edge of History, Passages About Earth), Thompson here concentrates on the psycho-geography of civilization, discerning in human history four major ""cultural ecologies"": the city-state of the Tigris-Euphrates; the feudal Mediterranean empire; the industrial, capitalist world of the Atlantic; and the coming Pacific-Space age of cybernetics and reformed Buddhism. As an attempt to describe basic cultural metamorphoses over thousands of years, this schema seems straightforward enough. But Thompson never justifies his belief that a move to the Pacific basin means a shift ""from competition and conflict to cooperation and sharing,"" or to a new perception of the world as ""presences in an interpenetrating field"" rather than ""objects in space."" References to McLuhan, Stockhausen, Heidegger, Disney, and other modern gurus notwithstanding, this apocalyspe-tinged vision looks a bit like a false pregnancy. Is Thompson, a student of mythology, writing a new myth of an impending golden age? It's hard to tell, his message is so garbled with newagespeak--nonego, Daimon, Basic Quaternity, enantiomorphic polity, and cool technologies raise their befuddled heads on just one typical page. And Thompson places too much weight on the work of a small band of new-age comrades, a serious problem in a book purporting to deal with the great sweep of world history; he even cites projects undertaken by his own Lindisfarne Association as evidence of global transformation. Thompson does hit some targets (Reagan, Rajneeshism), and he offers a revolutionary proposal for revamping the space program into a management center for Third World problems. But these bright thoughts lie buried in a muddle of mythology and futurism. An energetic ride, but beware of the fog.

Pub Date: April 7th, 1986
Publisher: Sierra Club--dist. by Random House