Descent Into Darkness
THE FUTURIAN #1
The universe described in Milton’s Paradise Lost depicts three distinct but connected domains: heaven above, hell below, and chaos in between. Heaven is the realm of eternal and indestructible light and goodness. Hell is an unlimited and unimaginable disordered space in which evil lurks. A stark contrast between visible darkness and blinding light. The chasm of chaos is anarchy and abyss, life and death, an unorganised void. We are in this void; in-between, liminal, neither here nor there, simultaneously everywhere.
How do we know if we are descending into darkness or emerging into light? That depends on the vantage point from which we view the world: where we are, how we got here, and where we are going. Descending into darkness implies a starting position of power, privilege, and progress; followed by a falling into a state of division, disruption, and disorder. Emerging into light indicates a shift from a place of exploitation, extraction, and exploration; rising towards a space of opportunity, opulence, and optimism.
What does our Paradise Lost look like? Today, more than ever, the paradox of humanity and its sustainability are a dichotomy of concern. It has been generally accepted that our enculturation over time has made us more humane; individually and collectively. But is this really the case? “The suicide of civilization is in progress. Rationalism has been dismissed” (Albert Schweitzer, 1914). The cautionary words of Albert Schweitzer were penned over one hundred years ago, but allude so accurately to our present-day situation. The markers and trappings of the ‘here and now’ in the façade of a highly digitised era where artificial intelligence and mechanization dictate the operations of social structure, urbanisation, coefficient government, the rule of law, socio-economic well-being, and geopolitical security are seen as requisites to survival. The absence thereof will surely siren catastrophic.
What is the cost of this progress? Technology as a powerful driver of human progress could also be the force that destroys humanity. From the collapse of ancient Rome to the fall of the Mayan empire, studies by archaeologists have suggested that the cessation of civilizations were invariably dominated by five factors: uncontrolled violence; new epidemic diseases; maladministration leading to increased warfare; control and manipulation resulting in collapse of trade routes which leads to famine; and tumultuous climate change. The weight and potency of a reliance on technological, digital, and virtual worlds, connections, and systems is deeply felt.
Over the course of history various communities the world over have associated darkness with abstract notions of ignorance or immorality, with emotive experiences of frustrations and sorrow, with the natural phenomenon of night or shadows, and with the concealing of an unknown threat. More often than not, the hard-knocks of current global scenarios of social unrest, anguished sinistres, intimidating clamour for power and geopolitical dominations are all validating the perceptible image of gloom.
The Yemen Humanitarian Crisis, COVID-19 Coronavirus, Venezuelan Humanitarian and Refugee Crisis, Beirut Explosion, U.S. Civil Unrest, Southern Border Humanitarian Crisis, 2020 North American wildfire season, Vietnam and Cambodia floods, Rohingya refugee crisis, Sudan flooding, and the African and Middle East food crises, are recent catastrophes which have collaboratively painted a canvass of dysphoria.
Could paradise be found? How does an individual, community, or society emerge into light? It is no secret that most parts of the world have dark histories. Ranging from conflict to conquering, power plays to social fragmentation. It is also believed that adversity is the mother of invention. Consider the following inventions and what they have in common: sign language translation gloves, low-cost smart housing, a disease-predicting algorithm, a machine that harvests water from air, the world’s first heart transplant, the CAT scan, the Kreepy Krauly automated pool cleaner, oil from coal, drones that plant trees and deliver blood, electricity-free cooking bag, magnetic field shark barrier, Pratley’s Putty (as used on Apollo 11), prepay mobile phone, Ubuntu operating system, 3D printed bone transplant — to name a few. These were all innovations from Africa. The so-called ‘dark continent’ has long fought against problematic narratives, associations, and assumptions. It is stepping into the light.
Experts claim that Africa’s ‘window of opportunity’ is approaching (around 2050). It has a growing, young population — while much of the rest of the world seems to be aging and shrinking — which positions Africa perfectly to develop a workforce to be reckoned with. The challenge, however, is the persisting systemic issues carried over from one generation to the next. How might so-called ‘developing nations’ or ‘third world countries’ face their darkness? Now is the time to shine. Education, employment, and empowerment are all key to immersing them in light.
Our worlds are not solely of light or dark, but rather a complex combination of and a constant shifting between both. Just as day turns into night and becomes day again. Just as fire destroys and regenerates life; both illuminating and annihilating. It is the ebb and flow of hope and fear that allows us to appreciate the stars, recognise the dark between the stars, and to witness the full night sky in all its mysterious wonder. One cannot exist without the other; we need both in order to formulate meaning, purpose, and direction. It is problematic to place humanity along dark-light divides. This duality does not occur naturally. Perhaps we inhabit not light nor dark, but shadow. What if we were to dwell not in all-consuming darkness, but rather shine a light on catalysts for transformative change? How different the world would seem. If “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players,” then humans are indeed the ‘actors’ and ‘painters’ of the world’s portrait. Our futures, whether to an oasis of paradise or abyss of inferno, lay at the feet of all of humanity.
© Fazidah Ithnin and Marguerite Coetzee 2021