When in April 2019 Notre-Dam in Paris was burning it was a very tragic and horrible incident to watch for me as a cosmopolitan. However, I also observed, as a resident in the Middle East, that despite breaking news coverage over the Western media, there were some other media channels that treated the incident not that much important because they and their audiences were remote both geographically and culturally from that context. They simply didn’t care.
That made me wonder what humans value across the world over space-time and also if we should anticipate some significant change in this regard. More specifically, are there any relationships between the symbolic value of Notre-Dame Cathedral in the Western civilization and the possible application of futures studies? The answer might come not only from futures studies but also past studies, i.e. history.
Fortunately, lately while working on my recent book titled: A Transformation Journey to Creative and Alternative Planetary Futures, I was immersed in some research on philosophical anthropology in particular related to mythology-theology, a formidable and vast field that you can spend your whole life and career studying its many variants over big space-time.
One of the key references for me was a Persian language book written by Sherwin Vakili in 2015 on the Interpretation of Gathas (the original hymns by Zoroaster) also known as Zend commentaries on the texts of the Avesta. Zoroaster as a pioneer philosopher-prophet, has been credited to be a revolutionary thinker because he led his followers in the Airyanem Vaejah into a new era. As a matter of fact, a revolution of human consciousness happened by Zoroaster alone. He stood against the nomad people surrounding him, and led them like a healer into agriculture and settled civilization. He in particular challenged the then prevailing circular time of aimless repetitions of seasons in favor of a more linear and progressive time. His original saying in the book of Gathas depicts those who are against settlement, civilization, and prefer a nomadic life as liars, deceitful, and destroyers, whereas people who favor a progressive time conception as righteous, who build upon the past, improve the Earth, and move forward, they are followers of truth and Asha, the laws of nature.
Vakili, in particular, demonstrates that the humanity has been following certain models or metaphors during different eras as it moved through history of successive mythology-theology.
When there were nomad communities, the key characteristics of the gods where reflected in and associated with biology, family relations, mating of males and females, and delivering babies from parents. For example, Pangu in Chinese mythology, Orisis myth in ancient Egypt, or Zurvan and Brahma in Indo-Iranian mythologies. Back then creativity and complexity or god like powers were revered in life related phenomenon. They were immediate experiences of humans in day to day life.
When that era ended and we saw the settlement, agriculture and industry, humans began to celebrate their gods in cities following another model, that is of buildings, a master of architecture or craftsmanship of pottery takes the role of representing the highest level of creativity and complexity and god like powers. For example, Third Temple in Jewish theology-mythology, Kaaba (House of Allah) in Islamic theology-mythology, or the Geush Tasha, the master fashioner, or architect of creation, of the Giti (the physical world), in Zoroastrian theology-mythology, and creation of man from clay in many different theology-mythology sets which appeared later. In brief the art of architecture, sculpture, etc links the humanity to the deities. Humans admire gods or desire to be like them or unite with them in such a glory. Therefore, giving enormous symbolic value to buildings and crafts in this era is used to define a timeless identity, of anything of symbolic value. The association of magnificent timeless buildings and the gods as architects or artisans during the era of human settlement as opposed to glorifying the gods based on the procreation power and blood relationships during the nomadic era is very strong.
This makes me wonder what will happen next in the distant future when we enter through a combined cyclic-linear conception of time into the next level of creativity and complexity. Even if we do not believe in astrology like pre-modern societies influenced by mythology-theology, we could ask what will be god like powers in the next 2,000 years, which is nearly the duration of an astrological age, or even when one cycle of twelve ages of more than 25,000 years completes and the planetary consciousness shifts into the next era of complexity and creativity on the Earth and beyond it. When everything of value might be characterized not as related to buildings in settled communities but again to placeless and temporary things or even intangibles such as computer codes and algorithms.
If the future generations will be always moving, enabled by cheap access to renewable energy everywhere, obviously not tied to oil wells, with less border restrictions by nationalist parties and less language barrier, and people can have jobs and lifestyles like a digital nomad or freelance with fluid identity as opposed to its binary of solid identity then what they might value, what could be the god like powers for them. Will their culture be defined on important permanent buildings and houses of gods? Will they stop giving much symbolic value to the gods as the architect or designer with a blueprint and begin instead exploring new territories of new theology-mythology informed by modern science and technology? Are we or our posterity prepared for a zeitgeist of revering placelessness and temporary things and stories in aesthetics and of anything of value to humanity? Aren’t the rising Algocracy and today users who post photos and videos that vanish after 24 hours on social media themselves a harbinger of a much dramatic change in the future. A possible range of answers to such questions could be worthwhile research agenda to explore.
About the author:
Victor V. Motti is a Middle East based senior adviser of strategic foresight and anticipation. He is also the Director of the World Futures Studies Federation. His new book A Transformation Journey to Creative and Alternative Planetary Futures was published in early 2019 in the UK.