Harry Potter and Futurist Party
For years, I have been wondering why the Futurist movement has
not been able to form a Futurist Party anywhere in the world,
especially in the U.S. where the activists of this movement have
been doing organized work as futurists for over 40 years.
was in a meeting with a number of fellow members of the World
Future Society (WFS) where we were discussing the planning for
the 2008 convention of WFS. I was one of the youngest in the crowd
and I am 55! Why can't WFS attract more young people, and why
after 40 years, it still has the financial woes of a startup association?
founder of WFS, has a long answer for these questions but his
main point is that a futurist agenda is like saving millions of
children from a catastrophe like war, and one cannot do fund-raising
for children who have not become homeless or devastated by a war
that was never fought, thanks to the action of futurists. In other
words, the success of futurism, in its current framework, is also
the root of its challenges. Moreover, Mr. Cornish makes another
interesting observation when talking of association's resources
or lack of, saying that Soviet Union with all its might is gone
but WFS is still around after 40 years.
I think for
the model that WFS has chosen over the years, Edward Cornish in
his various articles and books, has provided the best answers
for these questions as far as WFS is concerned, and these are
not the issues that I intend to discuss in this article. What
I would like to note about our meeting is that our discussions
definitely showed me that our association, as always acknowledged
by WFS, is surely a clearinghouse for various ideas about the
future. In other words, in contrast to what a futurist party would
be, WFS is not and was not intended to be an association of people
with the goal of creating any specific future.
during these 40 years, nothing would have stopped those involved
with building a clearinghouse of various futurist ideas, namely
the World Future Society, from forming a futurist party in parallel
to the WFS. Of course, I mean only those among the participants
who also believed in an association of people with the goal of
creating a specific future, which were not that few!
In fact, it
is interesting to note that WFS in its history, although did not
have anybody calling specifically for a futurist party, but it
has had some leaders who believed in taking a positive future
and organizing around those objectives, but surprisingly their
perspective never materialized in any real organization.
It is somehow
odd because parallel developments have happened frequently in
history, when educational organizations developed alongside political
parties at the inception of new philosophical thoughts, and the
two activities even helped each other reciprocally in the early
days of many schools of thought.
I have been
a member of World Future Society for over 20 years. Actually 22
years ago (in 1985), I published my major paper about futurism
Tools and also opened the first futuristic bookstore by the
name of Nova Bookstore, in Sunnyvale of California. Of course
the World Future Society's own bookstore existed before Nova,
but that was a mail order catalog.
futurism and WFS at my bookstore, in my related lecture series,
and in my newsletter Mundus Novus in those years. WFS could not
help me in any way except for providing me with their own publications
on consignment. In fact, they told me about their limitations
from day one.
When I opened
Nova Bookstore, Jeff Cornish, son of Edward Cornish who handled
distribution of The Futurist magazine and other WFS publications
at the time, told me that my project can be very difficult financially
and even be a tough burden on me personally. I concurred but noted
it was something I was personally interested to do and I continued
the project for four years until 1989. My goal was to clear my
own thoughts about the future and futurism and to find people
of the same interest. Once that was achieved, I closed the store,
because as a business, it barely made a living for me.
experience made me very much acquainted not just with the WFS,
as a clearing-house of futurist ideas, and not only with different
shades of futuristic thinking, but I even became well-informed
about the New Age Movement which was very strong in those days
in California. This is why I could very well understand the critique
of New Age movement written by Michael Marien and found his Sandbox
analogy very fitting about that movement.
I still did
not see why a futurist party has not been formed in the U.S.,
although thanks to all these endeavors, by 2004, I published my
own understanding of futurist movement with a focus on Iran, in
my book The
Futurist Iran, Futurism versus Terrorism.
ago, in 2005, I wrote an article entitled "Futurism,
Sandbox, and Political Potency" where I discussed Michael
Marien's 1983 article "The Transformation as Sandbox Syndrome."
I basically noted that futurists themselves had been trapped in
the same sandbox that he had criticized, when he reviewed New
Age movement 25 years ago. Unfortunately Michael Marien did not
provide any replies to the issues I raised in my aforementioned
I should note that I found Marien's critique of the New
Age movement very apt and authoritative. I especially appreciate
this work of his because in the past I had also written similar
critiques not only of the New Age movement but also of a similar
Sufi movement in Iran,
which calls itself futurist, but basically resembles the New Age
movement in the West.
work I continued delving more into the reason futurists stayed
in a sandbox. It seemed like although in one way or another futurists
of 20th Century saw a new post-industrial society forming in front
of our eyes, yet none offered a vision of any successful working
*model* where human beings might, could, or would live being in
charge in the upcoming new society, rather than being a victim
I mean there
were Space Trek and a lot of similar magnificent imaginative works
that popped up every day in mid 20th Century but neither those
who promoted them nor those opposing, thought of such works as
a future world models of an upcoming society where humans would
be in charge of their life. In other words, even the most optimistic
models were showing more the plight of human beings as victims
of their own success, than to be more in charge of their lives.
Thus although those imaginative works promised unbelievable technological
advancements for 21st Century, yet none would promise happy life
on Earth, let alone elsewhere in the universe.
In the last
two years, Ray Kurzweil has published some new scholarly works
which deal with issues that are in reality the roots and foundations
of futurism, when discussing his Singularity theory in light of
the leading edge science and technology, drawing on his multidisciplinary
encyclopedic knowledge of many fields of science. And recently
I read an interesting critique by Joseph Coates about Ray Kurzweil's
book Singularity is Near.
into the details of what I found in his works and what I want
to note about Coates' critique, I should note that the mention
of Harry Potter by Kurzweil in his book, has not been noticed
much by the astute reviewers, whereas in my view, it is very important
to keep that in mind, as one reviews Kurzweil's scientific discussions.
is a successful book and movie among the young generation in our
times. Contrary to the science fiction works of the 20th Century,
this work of fantasy, not being a science fiction, hardly has
anything about the latest technologies, but shows children who
are in charge of their life by having supernatural powers they
discover in themselves, not even limited to shape-shifting inner
capabilities of Harry Potter and others in the movie.
I think Harry
Potter exemplifies the kind of imagination that is desired among
the youth, which contrary to the imaginative works of the 20th
Century is a lot less analytic, and hardly cares about what the
extrapolation of current scientific and technological reality
can offer, rather it is an imaginative alternative reflecting
what the youth desires, regardless of what the extrapolation of
existing trends may offer, and maybe achievable by a rupture of
How are Kurzweil and Harry Potter related?
Let me first
note that some other new thinkers in light of the recent advancements
have been rethinking our whole understanding of the world and
this is not just limited to physicists like Stephen Hawking. For
example, the prominent quantum computer pioneer Seth Lloyd in
his Programming the Universe, offers a new computational
model for understanding the universe. Such new approaches may
help to see what Kurzweil is referring to as Singularity, can
be affirmed from the perspective of different fields.
looking at a great rupture of human civilization in the proximity
of our time period, and not just extrapolating the existing trends
limited to some change of simple technological advancement like
invention of airplane or an economic change like the industrial
revolution, rather a very fundamental rupture similar to big bang
or tool-making of the Homo Sapien Sapiens, and all that in a close
proximity of our life time, only within 20 years, i.e. an event
referred to by Kurzweil as *singularity*.
In other words,
humans or superhumans will have no need to be at the mercy of
the shackles that hitherto have kept humanity away from total
freedom, which for the first time will set humanity to be the
master of its own destiny rather than the slaves of its preconditions.
Kurzweil does not like to use the terms like transhuman or superhuman
and thinks human has meant differently in different epochs and
it is still the human in the post-Singularity world, although
with new capabilities beyond its biological limitations and in
new conditions available thanks to technologies resulting from
computer processors passing the processing power of human brain.
the authors of 18th and 19th Century, I can remember Karl
Marx, who in Grundrisse, describes his final goal of communist
society, following what he envisioned as a transition period of
socialism where people would be paid according to their work,
he depicted a society with *abundance* in distant future, where
the individual would receive according to needs but gives to the
world by doing what s/he enjoys, one day fishing, another day
doing something else.
In other words,
for Marx, communist abundance was the distant future whereas the
transitional society called socialism, with its main task of dividing
the scarce resources, was the immediate reality.
imagination of the distant future, still the human was limited
by his/her biological and Earthbound limitations, whereas for
the new 21st Century scientific thinkers like Kurzweil, and for
those in love with the fantasy creations like Harry Potter, even
such predicaments will be surpassed, and will no longer limit
the human freedom in the post-Singularity society.
Thus it is
not just abundance of basic needs, e.g. all our needs to be satisfied
like air, which is abundant on Earth, and nowhere one is charged
for Oxygen, at least not yet, rather for Kurzweil, there is more
than abundance of basic needs and he talks even of the end of
*death* as we know it, which is a fundamental limitation where
humans see the limits of their ability to be in control, even
for the most wealthy and powerful, a basic obstacle for humans
to feel the power of being in charge, rather than being at the
mercy of their preconditions.
I think this
feeling of power in the face of all calamities in the forthcoming
world, is what separates Kurzweil from even the most optimistic
futurists of the 20th Century. This is why I think his vision
of the future is very important to study, especially for those
interested to form a futurist party.
I have previously
discussed Kurzweil's impressive book, in my article entitled "Singularity
and Us". Here I would like to look at Kurzweil's analysis
in light of Joseph
Coates' critique of it, while trying to answer the main question
of this article as to what the peril and valor of the futurist
movement has been, that it is still around in the form of associations
acting as a clearing house or a think tank, although we still
do not have a futurist party formed anywhere.
is with Iran and Iranians. Basically Islamic fundamentalism won
because people were disappointed with the prospects of both solutions
of the industrial world, namely capitalism and socialism, and
Islamists showed a way beyond those unattractive solutions, well
by going back to the pre-industrial world, but still rejecting
the solutions of industrial world that were no longer attractive.
This is in a nutshell, the story of 1979 in Iran and later elsewhere
in the Middle East where socialists and liberals, with their solutions
of the industrial age, lost the power to the Islamists.
Now we futurists
have criticized industrial paths very well and our critique worked
well in the experience of the fall of Soviet Union and the Eastern
Bloc. We were right that the world is going beyond the industrial
model, when looking at the Silicon Valleys of the world and Kurzweil's
exponential model of evolution is an excellent description of
I do not care
for Joseph Coates' criticisms when he calls Kurzweil's work as
a secular religion, because he is used to some analytical trend
extrapolations as futurism and singularity theory surely is not
and cannot be one like that. Nevertheless, one thing that Coates
mentions, namely the need for an alternative answer to the economic
issue of making a living for all the people as we move towards
Singularity, is a valid critique. In other words, just talking
about abundance in the post-Singularity society, will not answer
the dilemma of income for the people in the transitional phase,
even though for Kurzweil the post-Singularity society is *near*.
I mean Joseph
Coates is right when he says an economic model is not something
for just some of the success stories of the Silicon Valley. Rather
we are talking about 6 billion people on Earth, who will be moving
from the state of *today* to the world of post-Singularity society.
Marx and Marxists
were right that they tried to come up with a model for the transitional
society. Of course, it is true that they thought their Communist
Ideal was a very *distant* future, and that was more of the reason
for them to spend so much time to define the model for a transitional
society. But we also cannot ignore the issue of transitional society
the socialists for proposing a model for transitional society,
although I also would say that socialists are to blame that they
did not think futuristically that their solution of state economy
as the model for the transitional socialist society would bring
dictatorship of those in charge of the state, who would end up
to act as proxy of the state property and behave as owners of
In fact, still
very sincere socialist labor leaders of industrial age mentality
in Iran, are in effect aligned with some factions of Islamic Republic
who oppose privatization in Iran, and they still think this failed
approach is the solution for a fair society.
was the basis of all socialist proposals from the start of Communist
Manifesto and beyond. And capitalists thinkers like Adam Smith
also had their own model of invisible hand, for better or worse,
to take care of everything. Well, enough about Industrial Age
and its solutions, we all know about them. What are we proposing?
What is the
solution of futurists? In other words, people's economic well
being is still based on their wages from work, or is based on
their income from property ownership such as stock dividend, or
from government assistance such as welfare and unemployment benefits
based on recognizing some needs.
And we know
not only work is becoming more and more knowledge-work than simply
hours of exerting mechanical labor power, but property is also
becoming more and more Intellectual Property which I have discussed
when discussing wealth
in the future and frankly the current tax laws hardly touch
this new form of property, and finally the government welfare
hardly has been successful to alleviate the woes of the people
even in the most advanced societies but lack of universal healthcare
in countries like the United States is replacing troublesome socialist
solution with pure misery.
so far, have offered two economic models for transition to the
post-Singularity society. The first model is James
Albus's National Mutual Fund, which has shown some success
in its limited applications in some countries. The other is some
model of alternative
income as I have discussed before and hardly any advanced
country is considering such a solution at this time.
solution is tackling the problem by dealing with *ownership* during
the transitional society and the other is doing it by dealing
with the issue of *income*. I think both these solutions are hardly
scratching the surface of the problem we face for offering a fair
alternative for the transitional society. I believe, I have offered
an excellent description of the problem, not the solution, is
my following paper:
Justice and the Computer Revolution
In other words,
the solutions I have noted above, not only are not enough, I should
be the first one to admit, are a long way from a comprehensive
solution for the transitional society.
I really think
that unless futurists can offer a robust solution for the transition
phase, as we move towards the post-Singularity society, the prospects
for any Futurist Party to challenge old parties of the Industrial
Age will be very limited.
countries like Iran where political parties of the Industrial
Age hardly exist, there is the need and desire for going straight
for a 21St Century political party, to compete with Islamists,
legally or clandestinely. But the problem is that unless we have
a good socio-political answer to these economic issues of the
transition phase, futurists are not going to be as effective as
one can hope for.
I think Joseph
Coates is right when he raises economic issues of the transitional
phase of society in his critique of Kurzweil's explication.
I disagree with most other consternations raised about Kurzweil's
monumental work. In fact I should note the kind of approach most
futurists have chosen in the last 40 years, which resembles more
the anxieties of ivory tower journalists rather than creators
of a new world, is responsible for the lack of deserving growth
of modern futurism, which should have been at least an order of
magnitude more than what we have seen in the last 40 years.
I should add
that even if we do not find an all-encompassing model for a fair
transition society, one thing that Kurzweil's analysis tells us
is that we are better off to pioneer the post-Singularity society,
because regardless of how we live during the transition phase,
we will have the advantage of living in a new world of abundance
once we pass the point of Singularity rather than being stuck
in the old world of scarcity, a singularity which is near and
how air is used on Earth and comparing it with how air is used
by astronauts in moon travel or at the International Space Station
(ISS), provides a good picture of the difference of a world of
abundance and that of scarcity. I believe this is enough reason
to strive to form a futurist party, although the work on working
models for the fair distribution of wealth in the transitional
society, whether before or after the founding, should remain at
the top of our priorities in any futurist party.
formation of a futurist
Written: June 27, 2007
Republished: November 1, 2007