Afrofuturist Writer Octavia Butler Predicted the Rise of Trump in 1998

Dear 2120,

Grasping the bigger, more significant perspectives of your era can sometimes be a challenge when all you have at your disposal is the sluggish, old human sensory apparatus. Our 2017 brains have limited processing capabilities, which makes it difficult to comprehend and analyze the total sum of everything that goes on around us. When you’re caught in the hurricane of all these overwhelming, hectic impulses and impressions, your memory is compromised and your ability to make connections between cultural, technological and political events is stretched beyond its means like a cheap balloon enlarged by the ruddy cheeks of an overzealous 7-year-old.

However, some people, particularly certain science-fiction writers, are blessed with the ability to make those connections, enabling them to process the relevant information of the present and make startlingly accurate predictions about the future. Cases in point are George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four“, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and, as it was just highlighted in the New Yorker yesterday, Octavia Butler’s 1998 novel ‘Parable of the Talents.’

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I have to admit that I’d never heard of Butler (despite Queen Beyoncé mining Octavia for inspiration on her latest album), but that’s an oversight I intend to rectify posthaste. As Abby Aguirre puts it:

‘In the ongoing contest over which dystopian classic is most applicable to our time, Octavia Butler’s “Parable” books may be unmatched.’

Lately, with the rise of Trump, people have been falling over themselves in the quest to name the classic dystopian book that most aptly describes the present ‘Trumpified’ moment. Orwell’s media-controlled totalitarianism and Huxley’s culture held captive by trivial hedonism are inevitable science-fictional touchstones, but maybe Octavia Butler’s ‘prescient vision of a zealot elected to make America great again’ (actual words) is the novel that got it right. In ‘Parable of the Talents’:

The Donner Administration has written off science, but a more immediate threat lurks: a violent movement is being whipped up by a new Presidential candidate, Andrew Steele Jarret, a Texas senator and religious zealot who is running on a platform to “make American great again.’

In 2120, you might be asking yourself why we’re not doing anything if some people can see the train hurtling at us at breakneck speed. I can only say: good question. At the moment, a lot of people don’t really seem to care what smart novelists have to say.

Monday Music: Bullion’s Blue Pedro

Dear 2120,

Thought I’d share a newish track with you. I can’t decide if it’s really stupid or really great or an interesting mix of the two – which might be what makes it really great, to be honest. It’s been a while since I’ve heard news from Bullion, and Blue Pedro is an interesting proposition to say the least. Regardless of what you think of the music, I can’t help thinking that making a track, which sounds like the next Hobbit movie (in which Gandalf and Bilbo throw caution to the wind, venturing out to sea for a rowdy knees-up with their jolly dwarf brethren) is a pretty ballsy move. After more than half a decade of moody techno ruling the airwaves, this shines a joyful little light on my Monday. Have a listen:

 

Maybe it’s just the jam you need to set your Mars-based graduation party on fire?

Designing for 2120: An Interview with Lars Holme Larsen

Dear 2120,

Permit me, if you will, to intervene in your daily routine, which might involve managing an army of problem-solving artificial intelligence serfs utilizing vast amounts of accumulated data in the efforts to overcome the many challenges thrust upon you by us, your cerebrally impaired ancestors. That is, if the futurist predictions of my next interviewee turn out to be true.

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Lars Holme Larsen.

On that note, I’d like to introduce you to my former employer and one of 2017’s very best designers: the award-winning Lars Holme Larsen, former Head of Design at KiBiSi and the current Founding Head of Design at Kilo. Other than being a world-class creative responsible for products like AIAIAI’s prize-winning TMA-2 Modular headphones, Carlsberg’s biodegradable Green Fiber Bottle and a diverse range of other bold, aesthetically sustainable design, Lars is also a very reflective man who spends a lot of time anticipating what the future might bring and how to go about meeting the inevitable challenges. You can probably guess why I’d like to talk to this guy.

A proud father of three, he has vested interests in creating a future where the next generation can grow up without having to navigate a gnarly, sci-fi-dystopian scenario. This has made Lars steer his design company, Kilo, in a socially responsible direction that could have lasting, positive impact on our resource-depleting consumption through forward-thinking, design-driven innovation.

Other than that, Lars’s products have this rad, iconic and timeless character to them. An innate, archetypal quality that comes with labouring incessantly over them and tweaking every little detail for a vast number of hours. This makes them look like they could last for the next 1000 years and survive several apocalypses. I mean, look at them:

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AIAIAI’s TMA-2 Modular Headphones.

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Bulbul’s Oblong watch. 

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The packaging for the TMA-2 Modular headphone system.

LampThe Bend lamp. 

Despite his somewhat grave concerns for the future, talking to Lars actually makes me feel sort of hopeful. Like everything’s gonna be alright. If it all goes according to the Kilo plan, at least, I’d say his game-changing take on idea- and solution-driven design will have positive repercussions that you should be able to feel all the way up to 2120.

Could you start out by introducing yourself and your design philosophy to our future readers? One thing that’s stuck with me is your concept of aesthetic sustainability.

Aesthetic sustainability is actually a philosophy that grew out of the Danish design tradition. It’s about creating a product with a certain aesthetic and quality that we perceive as appealing. We can see it as a part of our daily lives; today, tomorrow, in 5 years and in 10 years. That’s how the concept of the ‘classic’ came to be. A certain level of quality is required to survive. Or that you can update, make repairs, reupholster it and so on. I’m pretty taken with that product cycle. Designing the product that’s needed, as opposed to just designing a product. The one that you max out on all parameters, making it the best that you can get or the standard in its category.t was easier to design an aesthetically sustainable chair in the 50s because of the simple fact there weren’t that many different chairs then. Today, it’s been varied to a degree where there’s an overwhelming abundance of stuff, and you probably don’t need that many new chairs. Unless you can design a better chair.

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The Scoop chair from +Halle designed by KiBiSi.

Generally, the biggest challenge right now is the speed with which we consume. There was a time when we would get a leather jacket and a pair of jeans, and we never really had to replace them. At some point, people started going: ‘Hey, we can sell that stuff.’ That’s when you started having two fashion seasons. Then there were four seasons. And now you get the feeling that they launch something new every week. For me, that’s one of the biggest ‘stealers.’ The way we’ve taught humanity to consume. Because we’re slowly but surely digging our own grave. I come from that cycle, but I’ve tried to take Kilo into a different direction, which means that we say no to a lot of clients and invest more in products and companies that can make a difference in the world.

Carlsberg_GFB_02At step in the right direction: Designed by Kilo and made from sustainably sourced wood fiber, Carlsberg’s new Green Fiber Bottle creates 0% waste. 

So time in a crucial factor in all this? The speed of consumption is the biggest challenge in creating sustainable design?

Yes, because the cycle is accelerating. You can interrupt it in two ways; either the consumer does it, meaning that they have to refuse to consume at the current speed. The other way is for companies to find a way of slowing down the rate and still make money. The thing is that there are commercial interests invested in the contemporary cycle of consumption. If we don’t buy all the shit they throw at us it stops. But maybe it isn’t a case of one or the other, maybe it’s a case of both. Consumers should be aware of the resources that we’re sitting on, and the way we manage it. The problem is that we all want what new and what’s fresh. But do we really have to have a new phone every year?Producing these kinds of products leaves a relatively large footprint. When I look at what’s going on at the moment, I feel fortunate that I’ve been born in a good place on this planet. With good fortune, comes responsibility. And when you’re sitting on the resources, it’s only fair that you carry a bigger share of the burden and give back.

 

‘..maybe AI is actually what might save us. For example, discovering the cure for cancer is within foreseeable reach. The scientific process is accelerating, and if we get much better and effective at treating the accumulated data through AI, who’s to say that we can’t solve similar problems within a year – instead of, say, 10 or 20 years?’

 

Looking at recent development in a positive light, maybe AI is actually what might save us. For example, discovering the cure for cancer is within foreseeable reach. The scientific process is accelerating, and if we get much better and effective at treating the accumulated data through AI, who’s to say that we can’t solve similar problems within a year – instead of, say, 10 or 20 years? But ultimately, this also creates a huge problem if people don’t leave Earth. We’re 7 billion people now and we’ve fucked it up. If that number keeps on rising at the same pace without the corresponding number the other way, you’re looking at insurmountable, fundamental challenges relating to how we live. All of this makes 2120 an interesting concept. I’m basically what you could call a decent person. I don’t get a kick out of cheating, I don’t think it’s cool to trash things. I believe in working in a conscientious way with what you’ve been given within the existing framework. And I have to live with how I work, which means that certain things probably take longer – and they don’t become extreme since it’s all placed in the middle somewhere to make all the ends meet.

Is being a decent person something you think will still be relevant in 2120? Are you an optimist as far as that stuff in concerned?

A quick glance at the world would seem to suggest that values are slipping. But I believe in love as a fundamental value that ties people together. Part of this is being inclusive and getting close to other people. This is my reservation about social media; it makes you think that you’re close to other people, it makes you think that people love you – but you can be damn sure that most of them don’t.

 

‘When I design I want to create the standard by which all other designs are met. I’d like to create icons that live forever. Then again, it’s hard to say what the future brings. It’s essentially a dream.’

 

Tell me about the thoughts behind AIAIAI’s TMA-2 Modular?

The TMA-1 which we designed in 2009 has now been transformed into TMA-2 Modular. Working from a circular approach, we’re meeting the consumer in a way which was totally new at the outset. It’s essentially about getting the user to buy into the product by constructing their own, unique headphone from a range of components. This flexibility creates less waste since we don’t have to go keep coming out with entire headphones in a steady succession. We can just introduce new parts and components. This means that consumers don’t have to throw an entire product on the scrap heap, they can just upgrade, making it a concept that’s much less harmful to the environment while simultaneously being better for the bottom line.

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To me, that’s an ingenious way of securing the product’s relevance for the future – by making environmental concerns and business interests coalesce.

Yes, to a certain degree. But when we’re all running around with an implant in our jaw, we’ll probably be looking back and saying: ’Hey man, do you remember that time when we all rocked headphones?’ By which I mean to say that this concept also has a lifespan that stops if we look further ahead. But you have to play the cards you’re dealt within your given framework. For us, this has been a way of creating an innovative solution that’s good for business while being socially conscious.

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Grime rapper, Novelist, rocking the TMA-2 Modular headphones in his London studio. 

And it’s not just about headphones. This can apply to other industries as well. Maybe it’s not that smart to just make something out of straw, you know? You have to design products that meet the market. But this is about how we conceive systems around consumption. I personally think it’s a good idea, plain and simple. Designing is about sampling different bits of culture, and I think it works when these bits come together in the right way. That’s when you get products that stand the test of time, like the TMA-1 headphone. It’s a powerful link between different bits that doesn’t go away. Ticking off all these different boxes that creates the good idea, is what it’s about for me. When I design I want to create the standard by which all other designs are met. I’d like to create icons that live forever. Then again, it’s hard to say what the future brings. It’s essentially a dream.

 

‘Nothing we make is ever 100% perfect. Reality sucks.’

 

But you have still have the ambition, right?

Of course. When we’re in the studio, we set the bar high and we go for creating unparalleled design. Still, nothing we make is ever 100% perfect. Reality sucks. There are so many parameters you have to contend with. The end result of the design process is the best you can possibly get – within the context existing at the time. If we talk about design in 2120, I don’t think TMA-2 Modular will still be around. But I think it’s in a museum somewhere. TMA-1 is at SFMOMA in their permanent design collection and I hope that the way in which TMA-2 Modular is conceived might have some kind of place in history.

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AIAIAI’s TMA-1 at SFMOMA

Which of your products do you think stands the biggest chance of making it to 2120?

Assuming we haven’t trashed the planet completely, it’s… This is going to sound lame, but the best design I’ve made are my kids. If we include them in the design category, I can tell you that they’re much more work (laughs). With respect to my other designs, I hope that some of the products we created have helped spur positive developments. In terms of relevance and the future, we’ve just designed a product called Woobi, which is an anti-pollution mask for children.

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Designing for the next gen: designed by Kilo, the Woobi Play anti-pollution mask for children filters at least 95% of dangerous airborne particulate matter. 

If we can say one thing for certain, it’s that we’re not going to get less pollution in the coming years. So that might still be around since it’s made for the next generation. Woobi is part of a general shift in our strategy, which is to stop the design of superfluous products and start to react to a rapidly changing world with appropriate products. Obviously, changing things is not going to happen from one day until the next. Considering the fashion industry and its all-consuming need for newness, behavioral change is a slow, incremental process.

Going back to artificial intelligence, is that something you could see yourself being a design partner on?

Possibly. I think that the human brain can only invent and design so much during its lifetime. If we’re to survive as a species, I don’t think it’s the human brain that will answer the pressing questions related to overcoming the daunting challenges. That will likely be facilitated by AI. The fact that you can crunch accumulated data and work at a rate, which is out of the range of human capacity presents undeniable advantages. In the efforts to fix problems that we created, but are unable to fix, I think artificial intelligence might be a significant factor.

 

‘I think design in the future will be used as a tool to solve problems and overcome challenges for humanity.’

 

This is a hard question, but what do you think good design will look like in a hundred years?

First of all, the aesthetic notion, the concept of beauty, which we currently operate with is firmly placed at the top of the Hierarchy of Needs. It’s only relevant in a world where we don’t really have any challenges. I think design in the future will be used as a tool to solve problems and overcome challenges for humanity. Going forward, our obsession with how we look and what kind of clothes we wear will be completely irrelevant.

At some point in my career it became extremely important to me to not be one of those designers that just added to the consumption party. Saying no to certain things comes with the territory when you think in those terms. I’m not an artist. I don’t have a need to create just for the sake of it. I do, however, want to take part in making things better by creating solutions for the ambitious clients that we work with.

That sounds like it might be the future of design.

I sure hope so. It might not be the easiest way to make money, but if I can balance these elements in way, so that I can make decent living for my family, and take part in creating a better world, I’m happy. In my heart of hearts I believe there’s a universality that can last into the future, and I think it’s based on creating essential solutions instead of just random solutions.

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Berghain-resident DJ, Marcel Dettmann, using the TMA-2 headphones. 

I am not an artist, I see my job more as a midwife helping the design to evolve. We only add the ingredients needed – no more, no less. I’d rather clean out and find the fundamental substance. You have to work at this. When you’ve invested enough love and hours into a given product, it starts to take on a universal and iconic character that straight-up minimalism just doesn’t have. That’s the goal; to establish that universality. An example of this is the Green Fiber Bottle we designed for Carlsberg, which is 100% biodegradable and has the potential to create lasting change by way of its circular concept. To me that has universal relevance.

Any last remarks for our readers in 2120?

In 2017, we’re at a point where things are so fucked that it can’t be about me or you – it’s about us. There’s something very wrong about the richest 1% of the world population owning the same as the 99 % remaining. Creativity has to be focused on improving lives for all of us. We need multinational companies who are interested in creating a better future, and getting consumers interested in changing things.

This interview was translated from Danish into English. Keep up with Lars’s prescient design solutions over at: www.kilodesign.dk  

Redefining Creativity in the Age of the Anthropocene

Dear 2120,

You know what time it is! As the ancient, mystical saying goes. If not, here’s a little heads up: it’s time to drop the collectivist performance art orgy with your gender-morphing pleasure automatons because I have another blast from the past ready and waiting for your future-based read-through.

This particular letter deals with ‘creativity’, a word with a very special meaning in my present. You see, being creative ranks very highly on the list of prestigious human activity here in 2017. There’s the Creators Project, a medium dedicated to praising the work of, you guessed it, creators. We have various style and design ‘bibles’ like I-D and It’s Nice That churning out whimsical, cutting-edge takes on creativity and youth culture. And then there’s countless art media whose central premise is revering artistry and creative self-expression in its myriad forms.

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Artwork via Its Nice That

What these media have in common is their intense preoccupation with the artist as singular genius. Worshipping at the altar of the auteur, they put creativity on pedestals and elevate individuals or limited groups of people to ‘Godlike geniuses’, propping them up with superior takes on the human condition.

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Young Thug with added, oversized halo in Dazed & Confused.

In itself, there’s nothing wrong with this. Isn’t making stuff that makes other people feel a lot of other stuff, sometimes even to the point of them being happy, ecstatic or reflective, a worthy pursuit? Drawing attention to this pursuit would seem a wholesome enterprise.

That is, until you consider what kind of world we’re navigating. The context in which these individualist, self-expressive tendencies are revered as the apex of human endeavour. As you’re no doubt keenly aware in 2120, it’s a world that’s straining to keep up with exponential population growth. Where increasingly scarce resources are causing unpredictable conflict and instability. A place filled to the brim with high-risk volatility, leaving little to no room for error, if we’re to turn it all around and create a 2120 in which you, my future-dwelling reader, don’t hate our oblivious, irresponsible guts. Consider this quote from journalist and documentary film maker, Adam Curtis, the director of Century of the Self:

We look back at past ages and see how things people deeply believed in at the time were actually a rigid conformity that prevented them from seeing important changes that were happening elsewhere. And I sometimes wonder whether the very idea of self-expression might be the rigid conformity of our age. It might be preventing us from seeing really radical and different ideas that are sitting out on the margins—different ideas about what real freedom is, that have little to do with our present day fetishization of the self. The problem with today’s art is that far from revealing those new ideas to us, it may be actually stopping us from seeing them.

This might be quite a difficult one to get over, but I think this is really important: however radical your message is as an artist, you are doing it through self-expression—the central dominant ideology of modern capitalism. And by doing that, you’re actually far from questioning the monster and pulling the monster down. You’re feeding the monster. Because the more people come to believe that self-expression is the end of everything, is the ultimate goal, the more the modern system of power becomes stronger, not weaker.’

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Still from Century of the Self.

While I don’t buy into everything Curtis says or the intermittent, questionable associative leap he sometimes makes, I think he’s very on-point here. Creative self-expression is maintaining the status quo, not subverting it.

For me, the takeaway is this: 2017 is not the time to fuck around with cosy, little, self-expressive experiments that may or may not go somewhere. We have neither the time, nor the resources. Every inconsequential brain fart uttered, is precious energy spent, vital resources squandered, essential opportunity wasted. In the end, it amounts to depletion instead of creation.

In light hereof, I’d like to take a moment to address my contemporaries with a proposition for a new take on contemporary creativity. A take that reintroduces art’s utilitarian dimensions, (which were often castigated and belittled in the the avant-garde manifestos of the 20th century), favoring the common, function-driven essentials over the abstract, singularly expressive. Because I’m not some borderline, loony-toon, proto-fascist with delusions of grandeur, this is intended as non-coercive, encouraging suggestions and not as a domineering manifesto to live by. It’s nothing more, nothing less than common sense. Common being the operative term here.

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Marinetti, the Italian Futurist and proto-fascist.

1) I propose that we push music, and all forms of art and design that don’t contribute to the awareness of the problems we face, firmly off its immortalizing pedestal into the categories of industry, trade and craft. Making pretty things, nice sounds or pleasant installations should no longer be considered creative. Following this logic, a musician is no longer creative by default. She/he is a maker of music performing a societal function. While the skill required to perform said function may be impressive and admirable in its own right, it’s no different to carpentry, plumbing, selling insurance or being a lawyer and should, from here on out, be treated accordingly.

Unless, of course, the music, design or art is made in our common best interest. The new creativity contributes directly to the greater good that is the betterment of everything. Whatever form it takes, it plays its part in creating a future that doesn’t suck.

2) All art and culture that’s deliberately elitist or needlessly academic, rendering it incomprehensible to people who didn’t have the money or means to go to university or art school, may be intelligent, thoroughly researched and nuanced, but in the grand scheme of things it’s also highly irrelevant. If it’s doesn’t, in some universally comprehensible way, contribute to instilling the collective agent that might, for example, recalibrate our consumption habits, then the erudite become the unimportant, the smart become the dumb.

On that note, this isn’t about dumbing things down. It’s about hitting a universal communication chord that brings on board everyone with an interest in the planet not being a worst case scenario hellhole in 30 years. Preaching to the choir is easy. Proselytizing for your convictions is where the real challenge lies.

3) In the Anthropocene, advertising made with the purpose of marketing inessential products should never, in any way, be considered creative. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. It’s a job and most of us need to make a living in late capitalism. But let’s not pretend that it matters by deeming it creative. Manipulating the truth isn’t creative. Circumventing reality to get people hooked on sugary products or sneakers isn’t creative. To that end, I propose that all high-profile advertising awards be renamed the World Championships in Spraying Air Freshener on the Rotting Corpse of Excessive Consumption.

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4) The fundamental conditions of human existence are changing. Just like Freud and Jung, the Theory of Relativity and quantum mechanics changed our core beliefs about our place in the world, bringing about momentous sociocultural shifts in the process, the Anthropocene has thrust a new reality in our unsuspecting faces and one that demands that we change with the change. In the wake of these developments, many of the avant-garde movements of the 20th century are becoming startlingly irrelevant. Who cares about the free, abstract expression and aesthetic innovations of a tiny, opaque elite in our rapidly deteriorating present? The 20th century avant-garde should be considered children of a naïve era whose recklessness and straight-up ignorance played a significant part in landing us where we are. Childhood is a necessary part of growing up. But we need to become adults and face facts, unpleasant as they may be. If we can somehow harness the modernist movements’ forward-thinking spirit for our purposes, that’s great. But it’s high time we curb our retrospective fascination with self-absorbed 20th century artists. Despite their undeniable ability for turning a lovely phrase and giving us flights of the feels. The future is collectivist and inclusive; not centred around the arbitrary whims of one person, movement or ideology.

5) Moral and cultural relativism (not to be confused with postmodernism) is the enemy of true creativity. Respecting other people’s entitlement to their viewpoint is fine. However, if that viewpoint contributes directly to the deterioration of our future, it may be entitled to exist, but it must also me fought at every turn and deemed unacceptable by the means available to us. Our era prompts artists to stand up for what they believe in and state it clearly, unequivocally and unambiguously. Playing around with discursive layers, dichotomies, shades of meaning and narrative trickery is a luxury we can’t afford. No hiding behind complexity; it’s time to man or woman up, and step the fuck up.

From your perspective in 2120, stood as I’m now envisioning you, gazing over the lush, terraformed plains of Mars, 2017 must seem like that episode of the Simpsons where they have ‘Do What You Feel Festival’ in the name of creative self-expression and Springfield starts to unravel because no one really feels like doing what they ought to be doing.

 

 

It’s a slightly deranged, comical farce where everyone runs around throwing their hands up, wearing the internet ‘shruggie’ as a badge of hapless, nihilist pride.

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Obviously, this needs to change.

What I’m proposing here is a comprehensive dethroning of inessential creativity, and a restructuring and reprioritization of all things creative. A rewriting and rechanneling of creative energy. As it stands, the word ‘creativity’ and the meaning and hierarchy it generates needs a good, old-fashioned slap upside the head.

As one of the more lucid and conscientious manifestos from the 20th century, speaking about detrimental decadence in art, puts it:

Art is always nourished, consciously or unconsciously – it’s not important – by the absolute of its age. The Contemporary artist’s soul is, in the majority of cases, empty. The Literature of decadence is a literature with no absolute. But man can take no more than a few steps like that. He cannot march forward without a faith because having no faith means having no goal. And marching without a goal is standing still. The artist who declares himself most exasperatedly skeptical and nihilistic is, generally, the one who most desperately needs a myth.

Jose

– José Carlos Mariátegui

So what constitutes creativity in The Anthropocene? Saying what it isn’t is much easier than pinpointing what it is. The thing is that we live in strange times. The transformative movements of the 20th century, like 60 radicals, the Black Panthers, second-wave feminism and the many varieties of the hippie have liberated and changed for the better the lives of millions if not billions of people. You can’t really argue with that.

Demonstration

Then again, we’re at a point in history where something equally transformative needs to happen. Our problems will not be solved by more emancipation and empowerment of the individual. You could actually argue that it has a counterproductive effect since it causes more individualism in our present self-expressive, hyper-capitalist, global setting. I think we can all agree that what’s needed is some kind of empowerment of the collective imagination. We need to get our teenage kicks to global cohesion un an unprecedented scale, to get our rocks off to holding our leaders accountable, to get lit when the moment arrives where we can all agree on one single thing: this shit’s getting out of hand and we have to rethink everything.

So what kind of language, imagery and rhetoric can make an entire globe populated by extremely varying people rally around a single cause? A cause with so many factors, so much complexity, so many loose ends and relative uncertainty that it’s impossible to sum up in a single catchphrase or sentence?

From my perspective, contemporary culture contains transformative potential. It goes without saying that this potential is in no way fully realized. Holly Herndon has the right idea when she makes an album to ‘shine a light on the cooperative nature of the modern world.’ But as much as I love her, she’s too academic, niche and, well, white about it. The Knife are onto a good thing when they deconstruct the live spectacle and its problematic hierarcy with a show focusing on collectivism and audience participation. But their overly precious theatrics and navel-gazing melodrama, make them unlikely to reach anyone but the cultural elite. Hip hop has always been a universally relatable art form and in certain cases a conscientious, no-bullshit observer of political wrongdoing and cultural oppression. But its inherent, fierce individualism mostly just furthers an every-man-for-himself-attitude that inhibits collectivist thinking. David Lynch’s productions conjures up symbols and archetypes from the collective unconscious that moves and resonates with people of all races, nationalities and ages. But his message is too impenetrable, suggestive and opaque. Rave culture makes people from all walks of life come together in time and space. But without a clearly defined objective, it fizzles out in short-lived ecstasy and transient escape from reality.

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Still from Mark Leckey’s ‘Fiorucci Made me Hardcore.’

To be honest, I haven’t a fucking clue where to begin to look for creativity that could inspire lasting transformation. But when I do, I’ll be sure to write the answer in a letter. Maybe it’s a mix of all of the above. Or maybe the answer’s just staring me in the proverbial face: the new wave of nonpartisan, sustainability activists, technology-innovators and designers are the new, true creatives.

Okay, I’ll let you get back to your orgy now. Judging by the way things are going here, you could probably use some hard-earned R&R from the clean-up job.

Trumps Are Still Running the World

Dear 2120,

Your faithful old ghost-scribe here to tell you that things just took a severe turn for the worse. Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement. Inadequate as it was, the timid commitment to keep warming below 1,5 degrees, was all we had at this point. It was our achingly frail global consensus. Experts and prominent political figures are saying that Trump can’t stop the green revolution, which has gained a steady momentum in the corporate sector over the past five years (and you know the world has gone topsy-turvy when Arnold The Terminator schools the leader of the free world on green economy), but I still can’t help thinking that this might be a pivotal moment. The message is deafeningly clear: ‘We don’t give a flying fuck what the experts think.’

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The arrogance, nihilism, irresponsibility and sheer stupidity that goes into this decision is mind-bending. Up until now, I have to admit, I thought the administration had some kind of game plan. They did get into office, after all. But it really does seem like there isn’t anyone with even a semblance of common sense or moral direction manning the wheel. In the aftermath of the confounding pull-out and its overwhelmingly dire global repercussions, I find myself agreeing with several Facebook japesters, saying that they ‘wish Fred Trump would have pulled out way back when.’

That said, maybe this is what takes. Maybe this will actually make us snap out of our smug, social media complacency and into some kind of collective action. One can only hope. I’d hate to think that I’m talking to myself here.

Blade Runner 2049

Dear 2120,

Let’s talk about 2049. Blade Runner 2049, that is. The official trailer has arrived and it looks pretty tasty.

I’m a big fan of the original ‘Blade Runner’ from 1982. I love the director, Denis Villeneuve’s work, particularly ‘Arrival’, as mentioned in an earlier post. ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, the book that both movies are based on written by visionary lunatic-savant, Philip K. Dick, makes me feel all tingly in places I never new I had. And it sounds like Jóhann Jóhannson has reimagined Vangelis’s, haunting, original score for the 21st century in a balanced way that looks to the past, while pushing the synth-saturation ever so slightly forward. It’s all a bit too good to be true, to be honest.

Conclusion: I’ll probably be devastatingly disappointed.

In Defense of Utopianism

Dear 2120,

What does the Venus Project, Silicon Valley hype men, Italian Futurism, Ray Kurzweil, David Lynch, Holly Herndon, new age prophet Terrence McKenna and the abonimable snowwoman Ayn Rand have in common? They all feature in this week’s letter on the benefits of utopianism, that’s what. If your tolerance for emotional earnestness is of the lower variety, now would be a good time to disengage your ocular viewing configuration. If, on the other hand, your interest in self-indulgent tirades from around a century ago have been piqued, I suggest you get locked into your interface because it’s about to get real.

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A 1995 visualization of you from Johnny Mnemonic

First off, I should probably come clean. It’s a precarious state of affairs, but a lot my contemporaries look at me funny when I speak in utopian terms. When I venture the offensively uncomplicated opinion that the world would be a much better place if everyone thought happier thoughts and that the solution to a lot of the problems we face is optimism instead of pessimism, I get accused of propagating the sinister, shiny-surfaced, dream-colonizing rhetoric of modern advertising.

As soon as I lift the lid on my belief that we’re bound to overcome the challenges faced by the entirety of humanity, and that we’ll do it by collectively aligning our thought patterns along more positive pathways, I’m suddenly cast in the same category as Silicon Valley hype men disguising their hidden, megalomaniac, Ayn Rand-inspired agenda with progressive, world-changing aims. Either that, or they patiently take their time to politely let me know that I’m full of shit.

You see, I surround myself with people of a certain persuasion. Creative people, writer people, academic people, people of a certain ilk of whom Tolstoy would likely say that their lives are passed in ‘idleness, amusement and dissatisfaction.’ Open to experience and informed by power-critiquing strands of postmodernist thought as they are, they seek complex answers to complex questions.

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Old man Tolstoy. 

It’s not that I blame my friends and learned acquaintances for shooting me dirty looks when I state my optimism. All things considered, I realize full well that I can sound like a bit of a dickhead. Bearing in mind how zealots, terrorists, fanatics, Italian Futurists, Steve Jobs, Bono and other self-aggrandizing fringe groups and individuals with utopian agendas furthered untold devastation, fascism and questionable, rose-tinted eyewear, my utopianism is, somewhat understandably, regarded with guarded skepticism and overbearing glances among the cognoscenti (also, in my day, this is pretty much par for the course when you dare to suggest that the human condition can ever be anything, but an interminable struggle in the presence of people who make a living thinking about things).

The funny thing is that I’m not even that happy, so it’s not as if my utopianism comes easy to me. I mean, I’m happy enough, I have a lovely girlfriend whom I love, reasonable health and all that, but for various reasons, I am, like a sizable part of my generation, what you could call ‘existentially challenged.’ With no religion or fixed belief system to give me an overarching sense of purpose, I fail to see what the big deal about existing really is. What the point is, to be accurate. In that particular respect, I’m probably not that different to my worldly buddies.

Still, despite these reservations about the sanctity of existence, I remain, forever and always, an optimist on the part of humanity. Maybe it’s the excessive Star Trek TNG-watching of my impressionable youth, which drummed it into me that we’re destined for escaping the minor quibbles of Earth to sail among the stars, forging neorealist, diplomatic relations with samey variations on humanoids who’ve somehow all mastered English.

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Or maybe it’s just that I’m so deeply embedded into the capitalist matrix’s modus operandi of ‘working hard, applying yourself and not whining about it’, which is giving me tunnel vision, effectively blinding me to the irreconcilable contradictions of our age. Whatever it is, I can’t seem to shake it. Don’t really want to, in all honesty. And I have my reasons. Reasons that I’ll now send your way because, well, you’re not even born yet, so you don’t really have a say in the matter.

1) David Lynch has my back – No, really!

I mean, it’s not like I can call up one of the most brilliant directors on the planet and get him to explicitly state that he agrees with me, but the director of Twin Peaks and the creator of tons of other genius, mind-bending stuff is a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation also known as TM. TM, if you’re unfamiliar, has as one of its core tenets that if the square root of 1% of the world’s population acted according to its beliefs, we’d be on our way to an enlightened tomorrow. Sound crazy? Stupid? Dangerous, even? Possibly. But you know what else sounds crazy, stupid, fucked-up and dangerous? The fact that we’re blithely skipping on the precipe of the biggest catastrophes mankind has ever faced without taking necessary steps to fix things. That’s literally the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard. With that in mind, I’ll take what I can get, quite frankly. And if David Lynch believes TM might provide some kind of structure or solution that makes everyone unite and come together, who am I to disagree? Some people might call it grasping for straws. I call it actively looking for alternatives to a mindset with a proven track record in failure.

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2) We fucking need it

Pardon my potty mouth, but I can’t think of a time in history when we’ve needed utopianism more than the present moment. Nuclear war, the impending collapse of ecosystems, the cannibalization of resources, loose cannons at the helm of the military-industrial complex; these are all very real threats to our way of life occurring right now in my present, while we’re sitting idly by, feeling smug about impotent Trump-roasting tweets, garnering 4 hearts and a retweet. Utopianism might feel dangerous and difficult to control, which, I suspect, is why so many are apprehensive about letting the utopian genie out of the lamp, as it were. But quite frankly: the shit is, by qualified accounts, so close to hitting the fan that you can practically smell the contents of last night’s dinner being wafted in your direction by a cool fanning system on a globally-warmed summer’s day. As prominent braniac Stephen Hawking isn’t shy about pointing out in the Guardian:

Now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it.

Adding to this dire clusterfuck is the fact that the hottest 17 years on record have all occurred since 2000. In other words, there’s literally no other way out. We have to step up. It won’t be easy or pretty, but, in my opinion, the grand, sweeping utopian, narratives of positive change need to be invoked if we’re to have a shot in hell at turning things around. For all their dewy-eyed corniness, imagined utopias are pretty much all we have at this point.

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3) Contemporary Visions of Utopia Don’t Suck in the Slightest

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Are contemporary visions of utopia really that untenable and/or quixotic as certain people claim they are? Whenever I see the proposition of a radically new model of civilization, like The Venus Project you get the inevitable cynical, smartass on social media commenting how humans are inherently selfish and that ‘communism doesn’t work.’ I’m sorry, but it’s not a case of ‘communism vs. capitalism.’ We need to break out of this reductive, simplistic, binary, fift-grade conceptualization of societal modes and get more nuanced about the essential matters determining our future.

The Venus Project isn’t without its flaws, but in the light of the rapid, accelerating decline of everything we hold dear, this bold attempt at transforming the world, has to be admired and encouraged. It has to better, in any case, than making snide, inconsequential remarks on Facebook? Or posting resigned, fatalist articles on the coming ecocide?I love you, Motherboard, but this kind of thing is doing infinitely more harm than it can ever do good

4) It might even give some of us a sense of where we’re going

If anything does actually give me a sense of purpose it’s utopianism. The notion that we’ll eventually overcome our primitive, moronic barbarisms and create a world where we function as reflective caretakers instead of mindless locusts, makes me feel like I’m taking part in something bigger than myself.

Today, part of the problem and one of the reasons, I think, that clinical depression statistics in the well-off, industrialized world are soaring is that we’re left to our own devices in personalized, atomized bubbles facilitated by intimacy-faking social media. We’ve been individualized and trapped in our own little algorithm-orchestrated worlds, which runs counter to the sense of cohesion, characterizing earlier models of society. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating a return to feudalism, or anything like that, but maybe there’s a way to incorporate the productive, collectivist social dynamics of history into our own behavior and letting it work to our advantage? It would be pretty arrogant to assume that our ancestors were all hapless cretins and that we are, in every way, the apex of civilization. As an atheist, I can even find it within myself to listen to Alain de Botton when he tells me to borrow from religion from time to time. Maybe it’s time to do some serious Spring cleaning in our inventory of ideas and philosophies.

5) Capitalist realism is obstructing our view – dismantle it and we’re free to dream big

Within the all-encompassing sphere of capitalist realism, all radicalism and novel ideas are inevitably stunted, assimilated and rendered toothless. Robbed of their original intent and radical potential, and transformed into novel ideas fuelling the voracious engine of capitalism. This is a very important point, I think. As Slavoj Zizek puts it in his Occupy Wall Street speech:

Let me tell you a wonderful old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent to work in East Germany from Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends, ‘Let’s establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say; if it is written in red ink, it is false.’ After a month, his friends get a first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: ‘Everything is wonderful here. The stores are full of good food, movie theatres show good films from the West, apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot find is red ink.’ This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want, but what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom.

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In today’s seemingly endless cycle of newness and appropriation, those who dare to dream big, agents and actors whom I would consider the utopianists of our age, like Elon Musk, David Lynch and Holly Herndon are easily reduced by cynics to savvy marketers whose ideas, new and potentially transformative as they may be, lend themselves well to the assimilation of capital – that amorphous, omnipresent system without a face that devours our resources and seems hell-bent on sending humanity on a precipitous descent into Mad Max-like instability. But here’s the thing; imagining life outside this system is crucial to the betterment of our future. Our survival as a species, even. Bringing Zizek’s red ink into existence, the language and culture in which we can express ideas that fall manifestly outside the current paradigm is a matter of life and death. As the electronic artist and self-proclaimed optimist Holly Herndon says it:

If society is ever going to progress, and move beyond certain oppressive institutions and infrastructure, then the idea of fantasy is essential.”

Going back to my pessimist friends and acquaintances, the people who were skeptical of my utopianism, I’ll grant them that complexity comes with the territory when discussing the future of everything. However, building a better future, a future that’s fair and just with the potential to liberate all of humanity from the seen and unseen reins impeding progress, doesn’t necessarily require complex, ideological frameworks. It is, quite simply, a matter of collective will. Of daring to dream the collective dream and instilling a collective fantasy – a utopia accommodating the entirety of the human experience. It’s that thing where if everyone got off their asses right now and demanded that their government took real action against climate change, we’d be on the right path tomorrow. Call me naïve or one-dimensional, but in my view, it really is that simple. In the end it’s about faith. Faith in the Tolstoyan sense that we’ll get on top of it all despite grim-looking prognoses and statistics. As a concept, faith tends to get a shitty rep with my friends because of its religious overtones. But quite honestly, what do we have if we don’t have faith? Feelings of superiority by playing the jaded misanthope at dinner parties? Also, if you think about it, why would you get up in the morning if you believe that humanity is doomed – and that it’s bound to end pretty soon? Personally, I can’t really get my head around that.

6) It’s a phase – a very scary, apocalyptic-seeming phase but a phase all the same

Look at history; you’ll find that most civilizations from the Mayans until today have been obsessed with the apocalypse. It’s very human to think that we’re special enough to be the last humans on Earth. However, being the optimist that I am, I can’t help but think that the present moment of uncertainty and instability, represents a transition phase in our history. That what we’re seeing is the death throes of the old paradigm anticipating the next stage of evolution. Whether that’s some form of Ray Kurzweil’s singularity I don’t feel brave enough to predict. I do feel brave enough, however, to show you a video featuring Terrence McKenna that sees him elucidate his leftfield take on the intensification of our world using cosmology, thermodynamics, the Mayan Calendar and other phantasmagorical, imagination-fuelling agents. McKenna’s worldview, warped as it may seem to some people – particularly the cynics of this world – is enticing to say the least. For those of you with an attention span as compromised as my own, I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting one, important point:

‘Human technologies, languages, migrations, art movements, ideologies, are not something different from nature. They’re the same download of process that we see in the movement of continents, the evolution of new species of animals – except that these human, novel emergent situations are happening much more quickly. So, I see the cosmos, if you will, as a kind of novelty-producing engine. A kind of machine, which produces complexity in all realms: physical, chemical, social, whatever. And then uses that achieved level of complexity as a platform for further complexity. Well, this explains our present circumstance. It explains the rush towards new technology and all forms of social organization in the new millennium.’

What uncle Terrence is saying here, I think, is basically that we’re not separated from nature. That the nature/culture divide is elaborately orchestrated bullshit. And that the fact that everything is speeding up and complexifying is intense as hell, but a natural process, which means that we’re not an exponentially procreating virus, but an integral part the planet. For me, that puts a different, very productive perspective on things. But I highly recommend sitting through as much his ingenious rant you have time for. I promise that’s it’s thought-provoking. Consider it psychedelic poetry, if that makes it more palatable.

Speaking of rants, that was one of the longer ones one my part. If you’re there in 2120 and you made it to the end, a tipping of the hat is in order. Brevity has never been my strong suit. What’s more, a lot of this stuff is probably so self-evident to you that it’s making you embarrassed for me. The thing is that in my time this needs to be said over and over. And the people who I think should be saying it, people who have the ears of the influencers and decision-makers of the next generation, aren’t saying it nearly enough. With brilliant, lucid and capable people like Jonathan Safran Foer holed up in a navel-gazing midlife crisis, less brilliant, less eloquent people have to step up and give it a go. This is me giving it a go. Curious as that sounds, even to me.

So if you’re listening, I’d like it noted somewhere for your future record that I gave it a try. If it all goes south, contrary to my utopian hopes and dreams, here’s written proof that I actually did something.