• Victor V. Motti

A call for civilizational futurists

Updated: Mar 21

Nowruz, known as the Persian New Year, is celebrated worldwide by various communities from Asia on 20/21 March each year in the Gregorian/Western/Christian calendar.

The word Nowruz is a combination of the Persian words Now—meaning "new"—and ruz—meaning "day". It is a secular holiday and marks a key day in nature, the day of the vernal equinox, the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere of the planet.

Inspired by Nowruz and in order to celebrate this New Day I will be working over the next few months on a key topic — the futures of civilizations. But let me give you first a brief background of the importance of the rising interest in civilizational futures.

In some regions of the planet, in particular outside of the influence of the Western powers, history books are full of the shining past narrative and glorious empires that were built on either a nation, union of nations, a religion or language as a source of common identity expanding through many of today nation-states and boundaries.

In those contexts the official vision documents are the key product of futures studies and require all citizens and government agencies, even corporations in the private sector, to commit to a revival of the deceased empires as a grand strategy to sometimes counter the dominance of the US empire in addition to other Western powers.

Even a specific category of futurists are playing the role of background actors who should be following the high ranking officials, to push forward the plan of empire building reflecting the long deceased past empires. Depending on your framing you might call them imperialist futurists (which is sometimes offensive), or more commonly they are called "civilizational futurists" (a more euphemistic term).

By reference to the civilization it is generally understood those unrelated or challenging against the Western civilization. I have used a narrative in my book on Alternative Planetary Futures, chapter five, to describe such efforts, from West to East of Asia, as putting makeup on the dead bodies and in a sense have criticized to do past studies in the disguise of futures studies. I must admit that the neo-imperialist futurists areas of interest have nothing to do with challenging modernity. Their movement is simply political in nature, seeking dominance, expansion, and absolute power based on an exclusive source of identity, and they could be as modern as the Western civilization. However, I should reiterate that attempts to resurrect dead civilizations and in particular neo-empire building projects are simply ignorant of the facts, and a baseless false hope, which only wastes big money and people energy.

I don't believe in the myth of the shining past or gold old days/ages/eras and instead have a deep nostalgia for the evolving and flourishing future. In my book on Alternative Planetary Futures, chapter one, I have illustrated a "not modern" integral futures method called "Zurvan", that can be qualified as a civilizational yes to ourselves narrative and therefore help us avoid becoming trapped between anti or pro West sides of the battlefield and blindly following and dying for either of them. There are increasingly calls for fundamental change to address the existential risks confronting humanity as a whole in particular after the pandemic in which the world system is falling apart due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), a highly contagious and deadly infectious disease caused by a new virus.

Even before the pandemic, several centers of power were challenging each others for either survival or expansion of influence using different forms of conflicts including trade war, proxy wars, soft power, civil disobedience, etc. This tendency combined with the rise of identify politics depicted a chaotic and mostly likely gloomy dynamic looking forward. But my hope is that this alien killer and invisible enemy among us will stir some practical exercise in Alternative Planetary Futures. Right now is a good time to put an emphasis on the need for alternative images of plausible planetary futures.

I define civilization as a community which removes borders by referring to shared core values and memory of historical events. It has significant economic and political power too based on using concrete and objective measures. Adopting an evolving model of history with increasing levels of complexity, i.e. upward moving cyclic pattern of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction, we need new studies for building new civilizations.

As the guest editor of a new book on this topic I will soon share with you a call for chapters and encourage you to prepare your manuscripts to be included in this new collection. The key topics that I will be interested to receive contributions and review them are:

Innovation and Knowledge: What theories of knowledge and interdisciplinary collaborations are helpful in order to enrich imagination and to deepen the analysis and synthesis of alternative futures for building new civilizations? Obstacles and Biases: What political, cultural, biological, and psychological barriers and biases might blind us to consider a comprehensive range of alternative blueprints or road-maps for building the new civilizations? Research Agenda and Measure of Progress: What new research agenda in the areas of education, law, governance, and economy should we actively pursued toward the aim of building new civilizations and what new measures of performance, progress or evaluation are required? I will be looking for chapters that offer serious reflection on these issues—especially but not only if they are based on experience with and concerns of the younger generation, born in the 21st century, and those living outside the dominant narratives—in order to enrich the scholarship in this scale aimed at interdisciplinary theoretical maturity and recommendation of practical solutions.


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