Futurism has betrayed the future New technologies developed in an atmosphere of free enterprise were supposed to overcome the problems that we faced on a civilizational scale. Western societies emerged from the terror of the Second World War with ambitions to remake the world and open possibilities for humanity that lay in wholly new worlds. We once stood at the threshold of the atomic age expecting the century to end with oil and coal fuel replaced by nuclear power and energy sources unimaginable at the time. Instead, our civilization runs our planet into the grave, choking and overheating our ecologies into collapse. We once stood at the threshold of the space age, watching the first transmissions from humans standing on a world beyond the Earth, certain of a future spreading across planets and stars. Instead, we abandon cosmic ambition for …
Manifesto of the New Futurism
Setting a New Direction for Futurist Thinking as the Crash of the Anthropocene Looms Read More »
Futurism has betrayed the future
New technologies developed in an atmosphere of free enterprise were supposed to overcome the problems that we faced on a civilizational scale. Western societies emerged from the terror of the Second World War with ambitions to remake the world and open possibilities for humanity that lay in wholly new worlds.
We once stood at the threshold of the atomic age expecting the century to end with oil and coal fuel replaced by nuclear power and energy sources unimaginable at the time. Instead, our civilization runs our planet into the grave, choking and overheating our ecologies into collapse. We once stood at the threshold of the space age, watching the first transmissions from humans standing on a world beyond the Earth, certain of a future spreading across planets and stars. Instead, we abandon cosmic ambition for orbital tourism and pollute our upper atmosphere with junk and scrap.
We once stood at the threshold of the internet age, a platform for social connection that would empower creativity and progress for the world. Instead, we have become raw material for monopolists’ data mines and victims of dizzying propaganda that makes us hate each other. The technological innovation that promised bright new possibilities for everyone now forges lifeboats for billionaires to escape or hide from a populace growing more bloodthirsty as they approach a searing death.
If dystopia is the death of futurism, then futurism lies in a deep, watery grave. But if the futurism of lies is dead, then a futurism that speaks truth can live. Futurism lied most profoundly when it told us that technology would conquer new frontiers of knowledge, space, and power. A futurism that has genuine value for our present understands what this lie achieved: it overshadowed the destructive power of technological conquest and the suffering it left in its wake. When technology promises to deliver paradise, the treasure’s gleam dazzles you, and obscures the violence in its shadows that, in times of crisis or stagnation, threatens to consume you and everything you depend on.
So our futurism is critical, because we envision a technology guided by justice. It is a technology that redeems itself. Redemption is a restoration, though nothing as unrealistic as a literal restoration of any pre-technological order. Even after catastrophe, what human societies persist will be post-industrial and post-technological. The shadow of the anthropocene will loom long, however short the era may last.
Justice casts the scope of our futurism across time. We recognize history’s legacy in us, and learn from the errors and crimes of conquest in technology’s progress. Redeeming the past is reviving and empowering the traditions, knowledge, technology, and ideas of indigenous and worldwide cultures. Ours is a futurism developing in community with cultures, traditions, and sciences that have been suppressed during our time of colonial conquest. We seek solutions in learning from each other’s knowledge.
When the atomic age began, we imagined the future as a proliferation of creative technological possibilities. Decades later, technology become relentless has collapsed so many imagined and possible futures into impossibility. Our futurism must revitalize futures consigned to the past, so that we can conceive of potential and possibility again. A civilization facing destruction on a global scale is haunted by the crimes of its past and the ruined and abandoned possibilities for the future. These discarded futures left behind in the name of a hollow progress are ghosts whispering that human dreams and ambitions were always ever lies. But there can be a futurism that redresses the crimes and mourns what should have been as constituting the ethical conscience that binds, for the first time, justice with progress.
Foundations of the Future
Futurism to match the challenges of our time will build itself from four cornerstones. Our imaginations and engineering must produce technologies through which humanity can prosper in symbiosis with our planet’s ecologies. Where the old futurism dreams of bending nature to the determined human will, we envision a more radical human future where nature and technology flow and develop together.
The communities and governments of a new futurism must match the dynamism of its technology and infrastructure. The people of such communities must be observant and knowledgeable about all the systems and processes that constitute their everyday lives. We must approach the world without ignorance, and thoughtfully. We must be able to interpret, from the smallest signs, the state of play among the technological and the planetary. Most importantly, we must do so accurately, perceiving which differences most profoundly make differences in the world. Futurism that turns loose a thousand possibilities envisions a society adaptable and diverse as change itself. It is a free society, but whose people hold such nobility that they choose responsibility for their place and effects. We become free, but have the knowledge and virtue to choose nobler possibilities than the base and abusive.
No one can sensibly deny that all people have within them the capacity for abuse and violence. But a society whose values see a purpose in such cruelty inevitably destroys its potential for creativity and progress. A people may encourage some class or classes among themselves to cultivate joy in harming others, whether for the battlefields or the boardrooms. The purpose will seem reasonable at first: all people can easily conceive of becoming prey for whoever has cultivated their cruelty. But a lifestyle of violence breeds contempt for all others, and those who have brutalized themselves naturally confuse the brutal for the good, and visit it on others.
This is why a genuine futurism orients its moralities around the kindness that cultivates solidarity and mutual support. Social connections knitted with mutual respect and care in everyday and institutional relationships more easily fight off the predation of the happily cruel, since they never encouraged a set of their own people to see more in common with their violent enemies than their neighbours.
A true futurism contains, among the conditions that make it possible, a spark that some stricter people may call irrational: hope. It is a presumption that a future is possible for each of us, not merely a few lucky survivors or transhuman machine-men. This is no faith like a religion, whose dogmas presume their outcome’s certainty. All things are finite and no success is guaranteed. Perhaps so many futurisms fail because their advocates confuse faith with inevitability. As heralds and causes of a planetary extinction, let’s not have such an ego that we presume our survival as if necessary. Whatever destruction we may have already set in motion needs no witness. Yet if success lacks a guarantee, so does defeat. Overcoming the challenges of our time, even as they dwarf us, already the most planetary animal: this is the purpose of futurism.
Futurism has betrayed humanity. We shall build our future now.
– Adam Riggio, Editor, 25th Century Magazine