The Shock & the Dream

    The Shock
&
the Dream

    By Brazzil Magazine

    THE POWER OF
    KNOWLEDGE

    The first wonder of the end of this century is the euphoric shock caused by the immense
    technical, scientific and economic advance achieved in merely one hundred years.
    None of the visionary optimists at the end of the last century ever imagined how much man
    would be able to accomplish, even before the year 2000, thanks to the power of the
    sciences and technology.

    This knowledge permitted man to dominate his surroundings and undertake an intensive
    transformation of nature into goods and services, setting up a dynamic economy,
    constructing a consumer society, and achieving a degree of well-being in health, education
    and culture that no one could have imagined at the beginning of the century.

    In 1898, noting the public’s fascination with the dawning century, a cigarette
    manufacturer hired the French painter Jean-Marc Côté to create a series of engravings of
    life as it would be in the year 2000.1

    The drawings show that Jean-Marc Côté was well informed for his time. The smokers of
    that epoch probably were dazzled by the artist’s boldness in creating flying machines,
    submarines navigating the ocean’s depths, astrologers viewing the universe through
    telescopes. But for people living in the year 2000, his visionary dreams are no more than
    the ridiculous designs of a naive artist incapable of predicting the future.

    In the year 2000, Jean-Marc Côté believed, men would be capable of building machines
    which would permit them to fly, but these apparatuses were only wings fastened to the arms
    of brave adventurers—just as Leonardo da Vinci had imagined 400 years earlier. And
    this was, by the way, less than ten years after the American Wright brothers and the
    Brazilian Alberto Santos Dumont had already come up with the technique of human flight in
    machines that were completely different from those imagined by Côté, machines which
    served as the basis for all future airplanes.

    Twenty years later, it was already possible to cross the Atlantic by air; twenty more
    years and air travel was commonplace for the average person. In another ten years humanity
    would have at its disposal tens of thousands of airplanes capable of transporting hundreds
    of passengers to all the points of the planet. Jean-Marc would not believe what he could
    see today. He would not believe, for example, the sophistication of the Hubble Space
    Telescope. Nor, moreover, could he believe that it could be suspended in space, in orbit
    around the Earth, since, for him, the telescope in the year 2000 would be the same as
    Galileo’s, only with greater dimensions.

    Only a few years after it was illustrated, each of his ideas was surpassed by reality.
    Even in the next few decades, the real world exceeded the work of his imagination.

    On July 16, 1945, the sight and sound of the first atomic bomb’s explosion in the Los
    Alamos desert astonished the entire world. Twenty-four years later man saw, for the first
    time, the image of the Earth photographed from space. A short time later a spaceship would
    send back photos of the Earth and the Moon together, suspended in sidereal space. It is
    difficult to decide which was the greater shock: the power to send a rocket into space,
    the capacity to navigate it, or the refinement necessary to take and transmit photos from
    such a distance.

    Since its beginnings, human society has covered the Earth with the products of its
    labor. But, until this century, the products were almost all designed for immediate
    consumption necessary for basic survival. Each generation consumed the same quantity of
    the same type of products as its ancestors. Beginning only in the nineteenth century, but
    especially in the twentieth, and in particular after the 1930s, economic production
    exploded in the quantity and variety of consumer goods.

    At the end of the twentieth century man looks around, both shocked and proud, at what
    he was capable of producing in only one hundred years, thanks to the power of the
    knowledge that he was able to conquer. He is overcome by pride when he compares what
    visionaries like Jules Verne and Jean-Marc Côté predicted for this century with what in
    fact was accomplished.

    The sentiment he feels is that, through his own will and inventiveness, he has become
    his own god.

    THE INTEGRATION
    OF THE WORLD

    A special outgrowth of technical achievements, world integration during this
    century is startling. The communication network that unites all peoples, making the events
    that occur in each place known simultaneously in every other place, is a surprising fact
    of life at the end of the twentieth century.

    The world was made round in the fifteenth century by the explorers. Five hundred years
    later, it was shrunk for all its inhabitants. The rounding-off was the result of an almost
    personal adventure of some crazy navigators in small caravels; the integration was a
    social adventure of almost all the inhabitants. Unlike 500 years ago, when Columbus, as
    Alejo Carpentier wrote, made round a world that was impatient to become round, this modern
    integration was a process in which everyone participated through the construction and use
    of new communication techniques. Johannes Gutenberg and Alexander Graham Bell were perhaps
    the major contributors, but their accomplishments pale beside what was done much later.

    At the dawn of the twentieth century, human society consisted of isolated islands.
    Seven centuries after Marco Polo’s voyage, four centuries after the voyages of Columbus,
    Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, the world was still the sum of its isolated
    parts—parts isolated by their culture, by their economy, and by the delay in
    information dissemination.

    In 1900, in spite of the existence of the British Empire and centuries of Iberian
    colonization, societies in different countries were markedly distinct one from the other
    and were unknown to each other. People who were poorly informed, the adventurers and the
    curious, spent years, sometimes decades, discovering and divulging what they saw, and they
    did this with a sense of estrangement, a sense of describing inhabitants of different
    worlds.

    The invention of the telegraph diminished this isolation, creating the possibility of
    almost simultaneous transmission of news. But the telegraph united only a part of the
    world, and only by short, "telegraphic" notes.

    Until the 1950s, the Earth was still only a concept of geographers, geologists, and
    astronomers. For historians, sociologists, economists, political scientists, it was merely
    the place where different nations and peoples lived in segregation, strangers to one
    other. Each people was distinct, as differentiated one from the others as had been the
    Europeans and the indigenous peoples in the New World.

    Only a few decades ago, no one imagined how much the world would be unified before the
    year 2000 into a single and simultaneous communication system with generalized access to
    the same information and to the same consumer goods, the same activities and similar
    cultural standards.

    The news of the discovery of America took decades to reach the general population of
    the Old World; the moon landing was televised live. The entire world saw the landscapes of
    Venus and Mars, transmitted by spaceships that flew over or landed on these planets.

    In a period of less than 30 years in this century, human society became integrated. The
    symbols of products and trademarks spread around the entire world; their dissemination is
    more complete than that of the Christian cross in Europe in the Middle Ages. Scarcely a
    child exists in the world today who cannot recognize the symbols of Coca-Cola, Nike, CNN,
    McDonald’s.

    Suddenly, people all over the world are united in a single information network, an
    immense global village of communications, products, tastes and ideas. With the advent of
    electronic mail, exchanging correspondence became simultaneous for a network of people who
    need not even know where their correspondents are located.

    The problems of each place became known immediately by people everywhere. No incident
    is limited to the small area where it occurs. By means of a global system of
    communications, the entire world becomes aware of what is going on simultaneously with its
    occurrence. The poorest people in the poorest countries on earth receive practically the
    same general information as the richest people in the richest countries.

    Until the last century, the names of the famous circulated only within a small group of
    the well informed. The painted portrait was restricted to closed rooms and only very
    rarely was its subject a living person. The face of Christ, perhaps the only
    internationalized portrait, was limited in circulation only to the West and the Christian
    East and represented a mythic face. It was a symbol, like the cross, not a real-life
    portrait.2 The situation began to change with the introduction of photography
    but its reach was limited.

    The movies were the great instrument of worldwide fame. But the faces disseminated were
    only those of the artists and only moviegoers could recognize them. Television radically
    amplified the recognition factor. Only in the past few years, with satellite television
    transmission integrating the whole world, each home has become part of a vast universal
    communication network, and the faces of many are now universally recognizable.

    Ideas have also become universalized through publishing networks that produce mutual
    translations of their authors, through electronic mail, fax, and television, and through a
    university circuit that often proves to be many times more integrated and many times
    larger than that of the Catholic theologians in the Middle Ages.

    Economics has become a system of actions that affect man and nature across the entire
    planet, carrying the same products to all parts of the globe, striving to satisfy a
    homogenized demand, no matter where the consumer may be located. Consumer desires have
    become universalized to such as extent that a single consumer model has been created. All
    over the planet consumers eat similar food—be it due to the universal dissemination
    of diverse cuisines, be it due to the worldwide chain of restaurants, with the same
    architecture, offering the same dishes, with the same appearance and the same taste, no
    matter where they may be located.

    The worldwide financial system has become a single system, without frontiers. The
    crisis in one market has immediate repercussions on main streets everywhere.

    The planet Earth is no longer a theoretical concept; universality became a
    consciousness and a life style, no matter where someone may live. From a social point of
    view the planet Earth is an invention of twentieth-century man, an invention that
    surprises and frightens, inspiring self-admiration and self-respect.

    THE DISINTEGRATION
    OF MAN

    While this rapid integration of the world is a positive surprise for man, the division
    of human society within the new global village is frightening. This may be the century of
    the integration of the planet, but it is also, paradoxically, the century of the spread of
    inequality and of the creation of a degree of social disintegration never before seen. The
    integration of peoples in all countries occurred almost simultaneously with a radical
    disintegration, within each country, of the state of man himself, causing the third shock
    at the end of the century: the construction of a disintegratory integration.

    To everyone’s amazement, the end of the twentieth century is a time in which men, as
    individuals, are integrating, and man, as a concept, is disintegrating.

    The Earth in the year 2000 will be a planet where everyone is in direct communication
    and part of a single culture that is, at the same time, divided into two societies,
    separated by brutal social apartheid3 estranging those who have access to the
    new technology from those condemned to continue using the old, those who benefit from the
    power of the new knowledge from those who remain excluded.

    Through the television networks, the International First World of the rich
    portrays itself as perfectly integrated. At the same time, these networks show the entire
    world how this integrated world is disintegrating socially.

    On a typical day in February 1995, on a single CNN news program, seen all over the
    world, reporters of different nationalities and races spoke, in rapid succession, of the
    problem of excess weight for the inhabitants of some countries and the problem of hunger
    in others. It was as if the disintegration of the world were being reported to a world
    united by this very news service.

    When, after the Second World War, Europe began to rebuild its economy, the widespread
    belief existed that, thanks to the economic impulse, a society of mass consumption would
    spread throughout the entire planet. When, beginning in the 1950s, the utopian
    developmentalists initiated the means of inducing economic growth in the peripheral
    countries, it was believed that, before the end of the century, the populations of these
    countries would have the same standard of living and the same level of development as the
    so-called First World countries.

    These two predictions came true, but only for part of each country’s population. The
    integrated world at the end of the twentieth century is a world that is truly
    disintegrated, a world where those enjoying abundance, wealth and luxury are separated
    from those immersed in the most alarming misery, hunger and filth imaginable.

    It was in the eighteenth century that the idea of equal rights for all became
    widespread. This was the end of the separation between the barbarians and the civilized,
    the Christians and the heretics, the aristocrats and the servants. It was a long process
    from the time of the Pharaohs, the god-men, the Sun Kings, the high priests to this
    affirmation of the idea that human beings all would have equal rights. Two hundred years
    later, humanity once again is brutally disintegrating. And in an even more fundamental
    manner.

    In earlier centuries, people were separated into isolated nations and, in each of
    these, there were differences between aristocrats and plebeians. Little difference
    existed, however, in access to the basic products of survival: food, health care,
    education. At the end of the twentieth century, with the technological advance, the
    consumer society has increased the number of people who can feel like aristocrats, almost
    gods, enjoying privileges that no pharaoh could ever imagine. But the immense majority of
    the population remains in conditions as precarious as those endured by slaves in Egypt
    4000 years ago.

    Until the last century an aristocrat had access to doctors and clinical instruments not
    so different from those available to the poorest of his subjects. The midwife who attended
    the queen had no better knowledge, instruments or hygiene than the one who ministered to a
    poor peasant woman. Dentists had no anesthesia for any of their patients. Illiteracy was
    equally widespread among the nobles and the commoners. While during famines food was
    scarce first in the houses of the plebeians, in times of abundance there was no hunger in
    any house.

    The twentieth century changed all this.

    Looking about, one can perceive that the twentieth century has amplified inequality.
    If, in the past, the medicine, transportation, and goods and services at the disposition
    of the aristocrats, the pharaohs, the rich were close to those of the epoch’s poor, today
    the consumption level of a middle-class person is radically removed from that of a
    contemporary poor person. Mere inequality has been replaced by a chasm.

    In an emergency, the rich have airplanes and helicopters at their disposal to transport
    them directly to hospitals where specialists perform miracles. On the other hand, the poor
    of the world, no matter what their country, continue to live with poor sanitation and poor
    health, with medical care not that much different from that in ancient times.

    Until the last century, the infant mortality rate was the same for all social groups in
    all countries. In only a few decades it was nearly possible to eliminate infant mortality
    in wealthy and middle-class families in the whole world, no matter what their country,
    while the infant mortality rate of the poor has remained close to that of the past,
    sometimes even worsened by pollution. The life expectancy of the pharaohs, the medieval
    kings, or a nineteenth-century wealthy person was no greater than that of any of their
    subjects or servants. Today, the life expectancy of a citizen of the International
    First World of the rich is almost twice that of a century ago, while the life
    expectancy of the poor is almost the same as before.

    The few achievements of modern medicine which have equally benefited the rich and the
    poor, such as the eradication of smallpox and polio, dealt with illnesses that struck both
    the rich and poor. In order to benefit the former, the vaccine had to be made available to
    the latter as well.

    Regardless of the wealth they may have had, in the past the cultural level of all men
    was practically equal. The few intellectuals lived in a world of illiteracy. At the
    present time, those who are born into moneyed families spend their childhood and youth
    with access to sophisticated, efficient educational and cultural materials. They attend
    universities as a natural consequence of their privileged-class birth. Meanwhile, a part
    of the population suffers from the same level of illiteracy and lack of education as in
    centuries past.

    In the past the rich greatly distinguished themselves from the poor by the size of
    their houses. Today, although the homes of the rich may not always be medieval palaces,
    they and the middle class enjoy a level of hygiene and a number of domestic appliances
    unimaginable to the richest of the ancient kings. But the poor continue to live in
    shantytowns without sanitation, in dwellings as precarious as, or even more precarious
    than, those of the past.

    The transportation systems in the past served everyone with practically the same level
    of inefficiency, the same delays, and the same discomfort, no matter the income of the
    traveler. Today, it is not necessary to be rich to enjoy the use of comfortable, rapid
    cars and airplanes. But millions still use the same primitive system of walking, or, even
    worse, owing to the great urban distances, are forced to sleep at their work sites because
    they cannot pay the cost of public transportation.

    The last, but not the least, indication of the immense inequality between people in
    this century is that many have won the right to leisure and the possibility of enjoying it
    in an immense variety of ways, including traveling throughout the integrated planet. But
    billions are obliged to work hard until the last days of their short lives and others
    vegetate in unemployment, never knowing any security of survival.

    In the countries-with-a-rich-majority, a society of abundance has been created,
    at the same time that a portion of the population, especially the youth, were thrown into
    marginality by unemployment and the lack of any future prospects.

    In the countries-with-a-poor-majority, the situation is much worse because,
    alongside the wealth of a minority elite, which often exceeds the rich of the countries-with-a-rich-majority
    in ostentation, one can observe an even more drastic impoverishment of the general
    population, which did not utilize industrial goods before and now cannot even eat.

    The segregated-internationalization of consumption troubles our conscience with
    the realization that technology is not only beginning to construct inequality, but it is
    also beginning to divide the human species into two different biological types: those who
    are not ill and those who are always ill; the strong and intelligent and the weak and
    deficient; those who live longer and those who live shorter lives.

    Man is frightened when he perceives that, thanks to the use of the marvelous
    possibilities of biotechnology, he can destroy the central unity of the species. Just as
    the Greeks saw the barbarians as different, the civilized moderns are causing a part of
    humanity to be composed of inferior barbarians. The difference now is that it is a
    technically constructed inferiority, the frontiers are no longer between nations, and the
    civilized no longer need slaves since machines have replaced the barbarians.

    Humanity at the end of the century is frightened by the disintegration of man. The
    world, which appeared to be on the road to creating an international consumer society, has
    proven to be divided between an International First World of the rich and an
    immense International Social Gulag of the poor.

    THE FAILURE
    OF UTOPIA

    Instead of integrating into a utopian planet where everyone would be rich, as was the
    idea some years ago, at the end of the century the Earth appears to have become a Third-World
    World divided between rich inhabitants—united across the borders of all the
    countries of the world into an International First World of the rich, independent
    of their country of residence—and an immense International Social Gulag—where
    the poor are spread over all countries, abandoned to their own fate, almost as if they
    belong to a different species than that of the rich. Even in those countries-with-a-rich-majority,
    some live in the Social Gulag; while in the countries-with-a-poor-majority,
    the rich have links with the privileged part of the planet.4

    This growing inequality causes a tragic shock: the perception that the technical
    advance did not serve to build a utopian society.

    Until this century utopias were localized geographically. Although the word means
    "nowhere" in Greek, literary utopias were situated in recognizable
    places—with rare exceptions like The Year 2440 by Louis-Sébastien Mercier,
    written in 1770. The ideal society was imagined to exist somewhere in the world, as if
    time were not the builder of utopia.

    At the end of the last century this changed. Utopia was located in the future, as
    something both inevitable and desired. And the future was the year 2000.

    In 1887, the North American Edward Bellamy published his novel Looking Backward:
    2000-1887,5 in which he described the idyllic world that his narrator saw
    on a visit to the year 2000. The world of which Bellamy writes is technically advanced and
    utopian. According to the book, the year 2000 would be a paradise of abundance, liberty,
    peace, tranquillity and security, thanks to the availability of marvelous technical tools.
    For those of us in the present epoch, Bellamy’s technical marvels are ridiculous and his
    utopian society is an illusion. He made a double error: the actual technical advances were
    much more surprising than what he expected, and society fell far short of achieving the
    utopia that he imagined. In many ways society has regressed.

    Technology advanced much more, and utopia, much less than he supposed.

    Bellamy imagined a society where money was unnecessary, thanks to a sort of passbook in
    which unlimited purchases were recorded for each person, satiated by the abundance. But he
    did not foresee credit cards or informatics, or that credit cards would only serve the few
    while the majority would continue imprisoned by the scarcity of merchandise and the
    exclusionary violence of traditional money. He imagined a world where people would hear
    music without leaving their houses by means of telephones transmitting live music from
    some points in each city. But he did not foresee the record, the radio, television. Nor
    did he imagine that billions would continue to be excluded from basic education.

    All men of letters at the end of the nineteenth century imagined that, thanks to the
    power of technology, this would be the century that utopia would be constructed. The
    technical advance would create a utopia in which men would be freed from their
    necessities, would eliminate violence, and would live in abundance, equality and
    solidarity. Public confidence in the power of technology was equaled only by the parallel
    certainty that a utopian civilization would be created. No one imagined anything like the
    international television networks showing the world the eyes of starving children in
    Somalia, the sad eyes of injured children in Sarajevo, the unemployment lines in the countries-with-a-rich-majority.

    Unlike what was imagined, technology did not eliminate hunger, ignorance or violence.
    In some aspects, the picture of society at the end of this century is more tragic than
    that one hundred years ago. From the point of view of the march towards utopia, in many
    ways humanity has regressed: hunger stopped being temporary; violence stopped being
    sporadic.

    When they imagined the year 2000, visionaries failed doubly: they did not foresee the
    reach of the technical advance; and they predicted that humanity’s dreams of utopia would
    come true.

    In 1993, the entire world was shocked by the photograph taken by Kevin Carter,
    disseminated by the media, which showed a little girl in Sudan, dying on the ground beside
    a vulture awaiting the moment that it could take possession of the body. A man at the
    beginning of the century would be amazed by Kevin Carter’s photographic equipment and,
    even more, by the fact that the photo appeared simultaneously and instantaneously all over
    the world.

    But the subject matter of the photograph would be an even greater source of amazement
    to him.

    One hundred years ago, no one could imagine that humanity, with such modern equipment
    at its disposal, would still be subject to such hunger and degradation. The photographer
    was also shocked. With the photo he won prizes and fame. A short time later, he killed
    himself, making it clear that one of the causes was his deep depression brought on by the
    reality that he had been photographing. Here is an example of a man shocked by the end of
    the twentieth century.

    The world today is much different from the scientific and technical dreams of the past
    and just as far, or even farther, from utopia as at any other time in history. Practically
    no part of the utopian dream for the year 2000—the end of necessities, the reduction
    of inequality, the existence of peace and tranquillity—has come true. Although almost
    banished in some countries, misery became even more profound for a part of the population;
    wars could be fought with even more catastrophic arms; violence is widespread. In the
    countries which have advanced socially, violence, existential emptiness, the need for
    drugs, and general indifference to the tragedy of other human beings have all increased.

    As if in contraposition to the utopian point of view, when one thinks of the twentieth
    century, it is with memories of Hiroshima, the Holocaust, Nazism, the brutality of the
    Latin American dictatorships, the ethnic war in the ex-Yugoslavia, the famine in Somalia,
    the generalized urban violence, the one hundred million unemployed, the youth in the rich
    countries with no prospects for the future, and disappointment with the socialist utopian
    which has been transformed into the menace of a czarist Nazism with a nuclear arsenal.

    The planet is a whirlwind of misery. The utopian dream died before the end of the
    century, as if before its time, and was incapable of accomplishing what it had promised
    one hundred years earlier. Hillel Schwartz confirmed that, "Were it not for the
    grandeur of the year 2000, this fin de siècle must seem about as hollow as that of
    the 1390s or 1690s."*

    At its beginning, the twentieth century was called by, among others, Paul Valéry, the
    "century of centuries."6 Such was the general sense of optimism about
    the end of the century. The only doubt concerned when the utopia would begin, in 2000 or
    2001.

    Instead of the utopia expected, the end of the twentieth century brought the shock of
    social catastrophe.

    THE REVELATION
    OF THE BLAME

    Like Prometheus, man at the end of this century is being destroyed by the inventions he
    created. Shamefaced, he surveys his surroundings, frightened by the failure and the horror
    of the human society he constructed. The possible explanation for these errors of judgment
    is even more frightening: technology itself may be at fault for the disaster. The
    revelation that the technical success itself is to blame for the failure of
    utopia is shocking.

    The geniuses of the past based their predictions and dreams upon an earlier type of
    technical advance, which had a different aim than that of twentieth-century technology.

    One hundred years ago, humanity’s technical creativity was focused upon the process of
    production. Men invented faster, cheaper, easier methods of producing the same products
    that earlier generations had been using for centuries: clothing, food, housing, musical
    instruments. Productivity grew but the necessities remained stable. Production technology
    advanced and productivity increased without changing either the types of products or the
    standards of consumption.

    In the past century there was already an enormous difference between a modern plow and
    one made one hundred years earlier; but cereal production continued to have nearly the
    same importance in society’s overall production level, and daily personal cereal
    consumption remained approximately the same as in the past. Between the eighteenth and
    nineteenth century, the loom was radically modified, considerably increasing textile
    production, but cloth continued to be one of the economy’s few products. And the raw
    material for textile production had remained basically the same for many centuries.

    At the beginning of the century a Rio de Janeiro magazine caricatured the marvels of
    modern times with the drawing of a machine which made hats from entire rabbits. The
    authors of this idea imagined that products would remain the same and only the manner of
    making them would change.

    They had no idea that hats would go out of style and that knowledge would be used to
    invent new products instead of new ways of automatically continuing to produce the same
    goods.

    The optimistic nineteenth-century predictions for the end of the twentieth century are
    an obvious outgrowth of this type of thinking about the technical advance.

    The economy was producing goods that would, in a short time, be available to everyone;
    society, therefore, would naturally break the aristocrats’ monopoly on the privilege of
    consuming. Nineteenth-century thinkers concluded that machines would produce more and more
    of the same products, inevitably generating their abundance.

    No one imagined that instead of finding new and more efficient ways of producing the
    same things, twentieth-century man would reorient his creativity to invent new products.

    In its twentieth-century manifestation, the technical advance deferred abundance,
    instead of achieving it. The physical limitations to growth made abundance impossible. The
    egalitarian utopia died.

    The visionaries at the end of the nineteenth century, who were optimistic about the
    power of technology, erred in their prognostications when they considered technology as a
    mere element in the increase of production, and not as an instrument to increase
    necessities.

    The Vicious Cycle
    of Scarcity

    Moment
    of Technical Advance
    Creation of
    Product
    Form of Production Distancing of
    Abundance
    1 Curious Invention Nonexistent Total Scarcity
    2 Invention of Product Inefficient Total Scarcity
    3 Same Product Invention of Efficient
    Method of Production
    Reduction of Scarcity
    4 Same Product Invention of Method
    of Mass Production
    Approximation to
    Abundance
    5 Invention of New
    Products
    Same Method of
    Production
    Distancing from Abundance
    6 Growing Invention
    of New Products
    Little Advance in the
    Method of Production
    Growth of Scarcity
    7 Growing Invention
    of New Products
    Robotics Abundance Limited
    by the Physical
    Limitations to
    Growth

    ETHICAL
    MODERNITY

    What has happened to humanity in these last few centuries can be explained by necessity
    and also by chance: the necessity of the species to survive in its struggle with the rest
    of nature; and the chance association of the Enlightenment with the Industrial Revolution,
    of the dreams of liberty and equality with the material power of technology.

    What happens in the next centuries can continue to be a product of chance, or free will
    can also enter into the historical process.

    If we continue to be guided by necessity and chance, this will either lead to the
    material degradation of all human beings in the struggle for survival, or to ethical
    degradation through the partition of the species, a species which has the mind of gods and
    a heart of stone, the logic of superior beings, and the instinct of inferior species.

    The industrial civilization that emerged from the marriage of the libertarian and
    egalitarian values of the Enlightenment and the technical power of the Industrial
    Revolution will in the future be replaced by a new civilization that will be either:

    · based upon ethical modernity, maintaining the humanistic values of equal
    rights and liberty for all, while subordinating desires and technical power to the ethical
    values of humanism, of equality and of liberty, or

    · based upon the continuation of technical modernity, but with a new
    social apartheid ethic, with a humanism restricted to the few, and with unlimited
    technical power, but only a part of humanity would have the right to unlimited desires and
    to the values of equality and liberty. The rest would be excluded from this concept of
    humanity.

    Humanity is at an ethical crossroads with two possible choices: its partition or its
    reunification. The shocks at the end of the century make a dream possible for all of us:
    We can be the instruments of a modernity based upon ethical values and social desires,
    instead of a modernity based merely upon technical advance and economic growth. We can
    formulate the idea of an ethic that reclaims the Enlightenment values, the desire for
    equality and the belief in the power of technology as elements of liberation.

    When we wake up to ethics, perhaps we will discover a new road for the twenty-first
    century: a road where, thanks to ethics, technology will return to its original utopian
    promise—the creation of a civilization where social desires will be subordinated to
    the ethical values of universal humanism.

     

    1 Côté’s engravings were lost for many years. Isaac Asimov published them
    after they fell into his hands. See the wonderful edition: Futuredays: A
    Nineteenth-Century Vision of the Year 2000. Illustrations by Jean-Marc Côté.
    Commentary by Isaac Asimov (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1986).

    2 The much-criticized statement by one of the Beatles that they were more
    popular than Jesus was, understandably, a shock to world public opinion in the 1960s. But
    they meant that, because of their constant exposure on television, including in
    non-Christian countries, theirs became the most recognizable photographs in the world.

    3 The term "apartação, or "social apartheid," was
    used for the first time in this sense by the author in his book O que é apartação: O
    apartheid social no Brasil [Social apartheid in Brazil] (São Paulo: Brasiliense,
    1993). The idea is to create a term to describe the development of contemporary societies,
    separated by class, and not by race, as in the term "racial apartheid."

    4 One of the shocks of the end of the century is evident in the language
    crisis: Words are losing their earlier meanings; new concepts are arising and their
    definitions are still not universally accepted. Social apartheid is one of these
    new concepts with a definition that is still vague. A number of new words are appearing in
    connection with this term. Many of them, like Third-World World, International
    First World, International Social Gulag, country-with-a-rich-majority, country-with-a-poor-majority,
    are discussed in the author’s book Apartação: um dicionário [Social apartheid: a
    dictionary], initially published by INESC (Brasília, May 1994), and latter, as a special
    section in the newspaper O Povo (Fortaleza, May 1995).

    5 Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (Boston: Houghton
    Mifflin Company, 1887).

    * Hillel Schwartz, Century’s End: A Cultural History of the Fin de
    Siècle from the 990s through the 1990s (New York: Doubleday, 1990), p. 200
    (translator’s note).

    6 Apud Hillel Schwartz, op. cit., p. 190.

    Excerpted from A Cortina de Ouro—Os Sustos do Final do Século e
    um Sonho para o Próximo (São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 1995).

    Cristovam Buarque ( cbuarque@brnet.com.br
    ) is the Brazilian author of fifteen books of essays and fiction. He is a professor at the
    University of Brasília, where he was the Rector from 1985 to 1989. From 1995 to 1999 he
    was the Governor of the Federal District of Brasília.

    Translated by Linda Jerome ( LinJerome@cs.com
    ). Translation ã Linda Jerome.

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