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Utopia Or Oblivion: Daniel

Pinchbeck's "How Soon Is Now"

SMEAR Magazine June 30, 2017

By: Lana Power

It has never been more true what futurist architect R. Buckminster Fuller
diagnosed in 1969: that we are at a critical juncture between utopia and
oblivion. For those of us who have continued to wake up, breathe and
maintain life in recent times, it has been impossible to ignore a collective
sense of impending oblivion. Our earth is suffering, our collective ability
for self determination is under threat and our ferociously compulsive
consumption is depleting every resource, both earthly and human. All of
this is happening under the direction and authority of political and social
institutions that refuse to accept accountability. As poppy seeds inside this
great big bowl, it can be easy to feel hopeless, anxious, or even responsible
for contributing to this mess. While the latter may be true, there are
institutions that manufacture our destructive lifestyles that must also be
held responsible. We are facing systematic world collapse, therefore we
must find systematic solutions, as Daniel Pinchbeck says, we must change
the underlying rules of the game.

In his 2017 book How Soon Is Now, futurist Daniel Pinchbeck begins
with the assertion that the environmental collapse is a consequence of
centuries of an exploitative western, materialist, capitalist, nihilist and
individualist colonization of our ways of life. The draconian aspects of this
worldview feed on the vitality of our planets resources and our most
vulnerable populations in order to perpetuate its inheritance into the
future. Earths biodiversity is heavily deforested for resource extraction; its
oceans are at unprecedented acidification levels and its atmosphere is
polluted with the residue of mankinds chronic exhalation of toxicity. Our
planet, and the sacred vitality pulsing through life on Earth are being
The environmental catastrophe is an indication that our civilization can no
longer run on borrowed time. In the West, our constant access to power,
electricity, running water, internet and a global network of products all rely
on an unsustainable infrastructural design to life on Earth. We leech on the
Earth, on ourselves and on each other without ever giving back. Yet the
reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies
of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the
reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence, Pinchbeck
writes in his book. He claims that there are alternatives to inhabiting
spaceship Earth that are collective, regenerative and symbiotic in ways that
render permanence obsolete. How Soon Is Now is a meditation on how
our environmental crisis could be an initiation into the next step in human
evolution, pivoting our collective direction from oblivion towards utopia.

As contemporary life rolls forward with little regard for the future,
Futurism challenges us to consider how the design of everyday life
constructs our future as we live it. In his book, Pinchbeck presents
contemporary dilemmas such as converting to renewable energy, equitable
distribution of resources through hierarchies, reversing atmospheric
carbonation and implementing regenerative agricultural models. He
articulates how any solution requires an intersectional approach to
complex systems management in ways that will shift us together. In the
current moment, one dimensional criticism of political corruption,
neoliberalism, imperial violence, patriarchal indoctrination, climate
change denial or state despotism alone are not sufficient. We must think
about how these systems intersect into a matrix built on outdated
paradigms of scientific materialism, individualism, empty nihilism,
consumerism, and hierarchy. Resisting these intangible enemies will not
be enough a movement forward is in formulating new paradigms for
communing amongst ourselves and our environments.

According to Pinchbeck, 80 percent of emissions are produced by 20

percent of the worlds population, the wealthy and privileged people of the
developed world. While the global privileged class squanders our resources
for the sake of constantly perpetuating inefficient systems which
advantage them, we ignore the mythologies of entitlement that dominant
our sense of being. Western life is directed by a prerogative that our species
is more important than the archives of life around it. This entitlement is
like a myth woven into the fabric of our ordinary lives. Pinchbeck states:

The problem is that we come to believe in the stories we create, or the

ones that have already been created for us. We forget that an original,
formless awareness precedes any words or ideas. Meaning is always
something we make; it doesnt exist as an objective thing in the world. It
is difficult to accept fully that we are responsible for whatever we chose to

He continues that these myths condition [us] to accept corruption and

hypocrisy in society at large. [We] can accept the half-truths of politicians
and pundits because [we] are compromised [ourselves]. We fail to care for
the world as a consequence of our inauthenticity. After all, why would we
want to protect and safeguard a world that has betrayed us at its core?

Mythologies of disempowerment from our environments leave us with

nothing to feel but powerless when the systems fail from underneath us.

From a systemic perspective, I consider it no coincidence that our

environmental collapse is happening alongside a political apocalypse.
Inhabiting a world that discourages participatory sovereignty leaves us
sacrificing ourselves to institutions that often times dont know any better
than us. While we accept that doctors can define wellness, that scientists
have a monopoly of the commandments of truth, and politicians are
equipped to make decisions about our right for survival, we sacrifice our
abilities to construct the world we want to live in.

Mid-century German-Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt conceives of

political action as something that gives dignity and value to human life.
This can only be done if we demand that the stakes of reality be equally
distributed, and that we all become active in assembling participatory
systems for the interest of all. The creative energy of humankind has
nowhere to flow but into designing a collective future, or else it risks
flowing back into the weight of historical dogma, like water into an eroded
path. Futurists such as R. Buckminster Fuller and Daniel Pinchbeck
illustrate that human potential reaches beyond the confines of the past. I
contend that the place to begin in actualizing this potential for the victory
of all is in detracting ourselves from institutions of entropy and feeding
new institutions of collectivism and regeneration with our time, energy,
and participation. If any semblance of utopia exists in the realm of cosmic
possibility, the bridge to take us there is constructed with new mythologies
of how humankind navigates life on spaceship Earth.