The Project of the FutureBook Arsenal

The Project of the Future

Curated by Vira Baldyniuk

In the changing transition of the present day (Interregnum as it was called by sociologist and thinker Zygmund Bauman), there are no longer any great ideas that could lead humanity for itself, there are no single rules and norms — culture creates new needs itself, unceasingly absorbs all the diversity of the world and describes incredible variants of the mankind development.

How to focus on the future, overthink it when there is a lack of strength? After all, to dream and imagine the future, as it was during the wave of hopes after the World War II and the Cold War, is becoming increasingly difficult. One of the possibilities lies in culture: it often becomes an open window through which the spirits of the future break through, destroying the past tradition, as Boris Groys wrote about Malevich’s Black Square. Culture allows for the unknown, opens the door to the unknown, but also raises questions without obvious answers — and this poetic, vision content of culture is extremely important for a person.

The future does not exist yet, there are only our forecasts and imaginary projects. The future attracts with its inconceivability, and at the same time it is not subject to cognition: usually, we realize that a certain trend becomes a decisive trace of time, and that tomorrow the current reality will be described with its coordinates, too late. The future is an eternal hope; we seek solace from traumas and suffering in it. But this is also a thirst for new challenges.

In conversations about the future, Zygmund Bauman suggested imagining ourselves passengers of a plane where the pilot booth is empty, and the airfield we have to land on is not yet built due to bureaucratic misunderstandings. This vivid analogy hints at the fact that we often lack the internal resources to see the picture as a whole, because we are all busy with searching for an oxygen mask.

The culture of the twentieth century constantly found itself in a threatened situation, with the face of Angelus Novus (New Angel) by Paul Klee, as Walter Benjamin interpreted this painting — the Angel of history, confused in front of the future, but who is driven irresistibly into the future by the storm of disasters. The philosopher spent his last money on the picture in 1921, and it traveled together with its owner until it survived him and almost disappeared from the history of culture as the rest of the Degenerate Art in the war times. Today, we see the face of the Angel thanks to the efforts of Benjamin’s friends — same sad philosophers who hoped hopelessly and saved the picture for future generations. Perhaps this is the strength of culture — to survive, to overcome the future simulated by it?

Scientists talk about the future of certain technologies and branches of science confidently, but the likely models of communities and government structures remain rather vague. By adopting a dystopian tradition of writing, scholars and journalists are chasing each other in the process of developing scenarios for the development of tomorrow’s world, and biology, medicine, information digital world look most realistic in these orderly forecasts.

In his novel The Solar Machine, published exactly a century ago, Volodymyr Vynnychenko described a society in which people fed on solar energy. There is no need to procure food, the exploitation is overcome, but new moral and ethical conditions appear in this society under which geniuses are proclaimed insane. Literature always goes further than predicting or constructing technological inventions — it sees the nature of human in any context. Instead, in real life it is difficult to predict what future communities will appeal to — religious fundamentalism against the backdrop of advanced scientific discoveries, or perhaps, to the destruction of power hierarchies and elites?

At first sight, perhaps the greatest optimists about the future are the representatives of the philosophical movement called transhumanism. They are guided by the principle “when it seems that it is the end, it turns out that it is only the beginning”. Transhumanists believe in the opportunities of a new posthuman who will be able to edit the genome of embryos, cross the borders of the solar system and overcome old age as one of the diseases. Nowadays, against the backdrop of successful rocket launches into the orbit of Mars, the average life expectancy of a person in 150 years, as predicted by scientists, does not look so fantastic. However, the critics of posthumanism are now asking: why does a person need an eternal life if there is no knowledge of pain in it, and how can one understand another’s experience without this knowledge? And if the imperative of a new person will be a constant physical improvement, then what is the value of the imperfect?

These issues become more and more relevant and require readiness to think of them in public space. This year’s focus theme The Project of the Future aims to combine joint efforts and overcome one of the most difficult challenges of crisis times — to imagine scenarios of the future.

Humanity tirelessly seeks for cure from cancer, designs cyber prostheses, discovers gravitational waves, discusses artificial intelligence. The future can not but seduce with its opportunities and hope for a better world. However, scenarios of the future are written not only by writers and scholars, but also by those who keep the knowledge of Angelus Novus for descendant.