Why Futurism Matters Today I: As Fast As Possible, Composing, 28/07/2015

I first came up with the idea for my Utopias book from reading After the Future, a book about how the way we think of our future and human progress shapes our politics. The trippier concepts in that project will eventually revolve around these ideas of time, and how concepts of time affect what we believe about the inevitability of a better world.

Building a better world is, as far as I’m concerned, the primary goal of philosophical writing. Philosophy develops the ideas and concepts with which we can think about our potentials and ambitions for what our society, civilization, and planet can become.* This is the central mission of my upcoming book, Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity.

* I know a fair number of folks in philosophy who believe that it's about uncovering fundamental truths. Well, that may have been true when philosophy was the discipline that included all the fundamental sciences, but that's not the case anymore. If you want truth, you do some good science or good journalism. Philosophical thinking has been left to its creative possibilities, which I argue is the better for it, because it foregrounds philosophy as an engine of social and planetary progress.

The images of Fritz Lang's Metropolis articulated the desires and fears of all modernity.
Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity builds a conception of what an individual human subject is, which is better suited to living an ecologically sustainable lifestyle. When you think of yourself in the way it describes, your presumptions and instincts about how to live and what’s best will better articulate a more ecologically conscious lifestyle, and you’ll drive yourself harder to fight and change ecologically harmful systems, social & economic structures, and institutions.

Utopias will be a book that grapples with this project through a central question that’s more about method: What’s the precise power of these self-conceptions that open and close so many possibilities without our even needing to be aware of them?

Utopias will also be a very critical book about our current politics. The self-conceptions that drive contemporary Western politics are that we conceive of ourselves as technological and as free individuals in the liberal sense. 

Because it’s a philosophical book, I’m developing a peculiarly philosophical way of criticizing these aspects of current politics. I’m looking for the purest expressions of the self-conception of Technological Man and the self-conception of the Individual. I’ve found those expressions in, respectively, Italian Futurism (particularly the manifestos of Filippo Marinetti) and modern libertarianism (the trifecta of Friedrich Hayek, Robert Nozick, and Ayn Rand). 

These visions are linked in some very complex ways. Untangling them has been the task of many different writers in many different disciplines and subject areas. I’m not about to pretend that my books are the definitive word, or offer a totally comprehensive guide – only that they’re a contribution worth having, and remarkable on their individual insights and merits. 

The modern libertarian movement is based on the idea
that almost all state services, even the ones that bring
direct material benefits to people in need, are
inescapably totalitarian and must be destroyed to
protect our individual freedoms.
I think one of those insights is that my approach to criticizing destructive politics and economics targets one of the most insidious ideas of modern politics: that progressivism in all its stripes is fascist and totalitarian. 

I think it’s important that we take this seriously because millions of people actually believe that simple government-based means of trying to make society more fair – public transit, state health insurance plans, daycare subsidies, restrictions on weapon ownership and trade, regulations on investment banking, legalizing unions, even simply having a public pension fund – brings state control over the lives of free individuals, which is essentially totalitarian.

It sounds ridiculous, but these are the bedrock values of many in the American Tea Party movement, in libertarian-influenced popular thinking across the West, and the official ideology of all the think tanks that grew from the original meetings of the Mt. Pelerin Society. The freaky part is, there is a legitimate truth behind this paranoia.

Marinetti’s writing and political activism provides the clearest expression of that truth, which all progressives have to confront if we’re going to defeat new liberal conservatism for good. Marinetti was a progressive in many ways. 

His manifestos crusaded against injustices that would make him admirable to a modern progressive, and I found myself enthused and amped by his writing, even against my better judgment. 

Marinetti was against Church power and control over people’s lives, against the social infantilization and economic subjection of women, against pre-WWI Italy’s crony politics and servitude of the rich and powerful. He wanted to empower working people to control his country’s industry, largely through trade unions. He advocated for universal education, constant progress and innovation in the arts and sciences.

But Marinetti also wanted Italy to wage colonial wars to conquer huge swaths of Africa in the name of national glory. He was a deep racist who thought lesser people should be crushed under superior Italian culture. His universal education would have included regimented military training – every young boy was a stormtrooper in training. He dreamed of clearing all the forests and swamps in Europe to build superhighways, mega-cities, and factory complexes the size of Naples.

All in the name of progress. And the engine of this change would be the authoritarian hand of the state because only the state could achieve the ends of progress to a perfect society as fast as physically possible, steamrolling all resistance and even mild critics. . . . To be continued.

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