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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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