Daniel Pinchbeck: Qanon, Burning Man, the failure of Neoliberalism, and the Occult

Cultural Intelligence
Daniel Pinchbeck

Qanon, Burning Man, the failure of Neoliberalism, and the Occult

If Trump wins agains, one main reason will be that the Democrats forfeited their working class base more than a decade ago. Clinton and Obama embraced the empty promises and “social vaporware” of the tech sector, along with the financialized capitalism model of Wall Street. These forces worked together to eliminate millions of jobs while promising a future of increased automation, self-driving trucks, etc. Rich neoliberal technocrats love this vision, but working people hate it. Workers need jobs to survive in the current system. Automation robs them of their future livelihood.

I have written a lot about Burning Man in the last decades, going from a major proponent to a critic of the festival over time. There are many things I love about Burning Man (which is canceled for this year due to Covid), but I also feel it crystallized the Libertarian, Neo-spiritual ideology of the Silicon Valley elite into something like a smug pseudo-religion. I went there for the first time in 2000. During my early years at the festival, I noticed a tension between two ideologies: mystical anarchism the hedonistic libertarian Capitalism. The mystical anarchists wanted to go beyond an ethos of purely personal liberation, endless repetitive partying and self-congratulation. They wanted to take that energy into the world as a socially and ecologically redemptive force. Burners Without Borders was one great example. The hedonistic Libertarians — in general, the wealthier contingent — ended up taking control of the festival. They only wanted to continue the party. Flashy million dollar art cars became like yachts in Ibiza: Status symbols of coolness.

Excess was always part of the in joke. Finally that joke wasn't funny anymore. But the “Burners” didn’t notice. Partying became an addiction for many, with the disassociative Ketamine the drug of choice. Meanwhile, the world was starting to collapse around us — only most hadn’t realized it yet.

Much like Facebook and  many tech companies, Burning Man was largely built by financially unrewarded volunteer labor, while the “brand” was controlled by a small group who enriched themselves and treated it as not so different than any other entertainment conglomerate. Those who got to determine the main action at the festival were the wealthy elite, who could build million dollar domes and art projects. It became a mirror of the mainstream society, stratified by class. I deeply appreciate that Burning Man brings so many brilliant minds and influencers together in an arena where it is possible to meet them and talk with them about our future direction as a species. What I learned from these conversations was that terrible futurist ideas about the Singularity and transhumanism had taken hold.

I helped start a grassroots transformational movement, the Evolver Network, from 2009 – 2013. We hoped to harness the positive aspects of what seemed emergent in the festival culture at Burning Man and elsewhere. The new paradigm  included healing modalities, shamanism, esoteric disciplines, consciousness, etc, but also permaculture, local economies, and a DIY community-building ethos that was proto-political. Many of the camps and “Neo-tribes” at Burning Man are, in themselves, miracles of self-organization and intelligent social design. The camps evolve like indigenous communities, working as functional meritocracies, with leaders emerging organically, as communities identify and empower their master problem solvers. This is actually “practical anarchism,” made up of fluidic, dispersive structures based on rational authority. I wanted to help bring this emergent model of social organization into local communities across the US and internationally.

Even in 2008, I felt that the United States desperately needed a new visionary ideology and collective social mission as an antidote to the increasing wealth stratification and “gig economy.” I also saw that the social elite in the US were abandoning the middle of the country for NY, LA, and SF — and that millions of people in the “flyover states” were festering in resentment which was slowly building into a fury. In my idealistic vision, I imagined this social elite, charged up from their ecstatic and proto-utopian communion at Burning Man and elsewhere, taking it on as a spiritual mission to transform society as a whole. We could have reversed wealth stratification by building autonomous and independent local communities (using local currencies, Local Exchange Trading Systems, etc). Tech could have been employed to help this in a holistic, non-paternalistic, way.

Instead, of course, the opposite happened. Obama turned out to be a disaster, brutally betraying the hopes of the working people who rallied in great numbers for him. We can ask if this was simply a structural issue, in that the military/Wall St/industrial institutional complex in the US had so much power and inertia that nobody could change it, or if it was partly a question of Obama's actual character compared to the idealization of him. I tend to think both but certainly the latter played a part: After 2008, Obama had tens of millions of people ready to volunteer in a nationwide movement to transform American society and make it more participatory and democratic. He disbanded his volunteer army rather than empowering it.

Eventually, Obama's failure to address our core issues, and essentially the Neo-liberal “progressives” utter corruption by Wall St and seduction by the social vaporware ideology of the Tech Sector led to its dialectical antidote: Trumpism. Basically, by voting for Trump, the masses are voting for the willful destruction of American society in its present form. The Apocalyptic ideology of Christian evangelicals, who fall behind Trump despite his personal history, adds fuel to the fire.


Now we are seeing the rapid cancerous growth and surprise mutations of a new culture virus: Qanon. Qanon is not only infecting the Right Wing working class, it is making rapid inroads into the post-New Age or festival / “consciousness community”. Anthropologically, this is both fascinating and terrifying to watch. What makes it terrifying, frankly, is that one can sense a kind of irrational fanaticism and fervor behind it that seems similar to the weird delusional occult ideologies that culminated in the Nazi Holocaust.

Qanon takes the deep wellsprings of anger against the neoliberal progressive and mainstream liberal establishment in the US and transmutes it into something depraved and Satanic. It is quickly moving from cult to religion. It is weaponizing people's sensible moral feelings about child abuse and pedophilia, and making this the core of a new ideology. The problem is that there are elements of truth mixed up within it in very confusing ways. The weaponizing of Qanon and other conspiracy theories (like those around George Soros and Bill Gates) is an intentional Psy Op benefitting the hidden international criminal syndicate propping up Trumpism and the forward-march of cynical authoritarianism around the world.

What is to be done?

I tried to answer that question in depth in my 2017 book, How Soon Is Now, and also in my recent online course, Building Our Regenerative Future. I addressed it also, philosophically and metaphysically, in my 2006 book, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl.

In general, the “Big Lie” cannot be counteracted with lesser forms of hypocrisy and modulated cynicism. People need to reach a bedrock foundation of truth together — we need to rebuild our consensus reality from the ground up, phenomenologically, politically, spiritually, and ecologically. The problematics of gender, patriarchy, and human sexuality also need to be authentically addressed, as part of a new cooperative movement. The “destiny” of technology also needs to be corrected, philosophically: We need to redirect the creative and technical capacities of human society toward a new vision, based on a new humane and empathic ethos.

We do need the current ossified institutional structures to break down and collapse, as they are currently doing. But if these structures collapse too quickly and without an alternative in place, this will only lead to worse catastrophe.

I also feel compelled to state what I know to be true: There is an occult, esoteric aspect to reality: This is not something specious or fake. It is as real as anything else. However, the occult and esoteric domains function according to their own laws and principles. These must be learned, understood, and transmitted, at least to a small or elite contingent of humanity. I find the suppression of occultism (the domain of the Psyche in Jungian terms) by the mainstream liberal / materialist orthodoxy to be one critical issue, at this point. Until we can find a coherent way to speak with each other about these hidden aspects of reality, we are unable to respond effectively to what is underway. This is why I am so excited about How to Explore Other Worlds and why I sincerely you will join us for this adventure.


We must realize that occult forces and agendas (“powers and principalities”) move through our world, making use of human agents and drawing energy from our emotions, intentions, and actions. As indigenous people like the Kogi have been warning us, there is a deeper intrinsic relationship between our internal state of being (our level of spiritual and self development) as individuals, and the reality we see reflected around us in the apparent material realm.

Everything we experience is interdependently co-arising, out of a primordial unity which this universe will eventually subside back into. Therefore our individual karma and actions are inextricably connected to everyone and everything else. As primate beings emerging from more primitive forms of social organization that functioned well enough for us at previous evolutionary stages, humans tend to see the world in terms of our immediate self-interest, which extends to our family or clan/tribe/community. Nation-state organization relies on this in-group / out-group primate mentality through the ideology of patriotism, which can be used to mobilize men for warfare or other forms of organized violence.

For humanity to survive, enough of us must integrate and anchor this mystical and occult realization and make the shift from a self-interested or clan-based mentality to thinking and acting with a truly planetary frame of reference. We must come to see ourselves as sentient agents of a larger biospheric collective, encompassing all life on Earth, and work, in the Buckminster Fuller mode, for the comprehensive success of everyone. People often realize this, at least briefly, when they have their initial deep psychedelic experiences, as with ayahuasca, mushrooms, or LSD. The problem is that they need a cultural / initiatory context or container which supports them in fully integrating the influx of new knowledge and wisdom that comes into them during these journeys. Otherwise, the ego structure finds ways to distort these revelations for its own purposes, in a variety of subtle ways. This is how the Neo-spiritual and psychedelic movement have gone off track.

Fascism is a kind of low-grade occultism: It satisfies the ego mind's desire for a simplistic unity and gets rid of all the nagging paradoxes and contradictions of reality. Trump, himself, is an occultist. He grew up in the Church of Norman Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking (a pragmatic American form of occultism), and lives according to this philosophy to an extraordinary degree, combined with a nihilistic belief that “nothing matters,” as he has stated he believes. In a strange dark way, this gives him more access to something real than many of his political opponents, who play by outmoded rules. He truly doesn't give a shit not just on a materialist but also on a metaphysical level.

If we are going to build a movement that leads us beyond this present impasse which may be fatal for most of humanity (due to the imminent ecological collapse), it has to begin with the truth of our human condition, as conduits of an infinite consciousness that takes individuated forms to explore its possibilities. We also have to realize ourselves, not as members of a county or self-interested clan, but catalytic agents of the biosphere itself, with a responsibility to protect and steward all forms of life (as indigenous people know). By evaluating our individual skills and talents objectively, we can discover how to apply ourselves to the mission of salvaging and redeeming our Earthly situation.

This movement must recognize that capital is a form of energy — based on a set of beliefs, money is reified ideology. Through a mass awakening, we can reinvent and redirect our creative, technical, and financial toward life-sustaining and life-supporting goals. If we can’t accomplish this quickly, the future does not look bright for our species. Right now, this opportunity still exists. I hope we take it.

If you like my writing and my ideas and want me to flourish and produce more work, you are welcome to contribute to my Patreon, which is here. Also check out the new web magazine, www.liminal.news, I am developing with the staunch Gebser-ite and all-around mensch, Jeremy Johnson.

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