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Darcy Ribeiro’s futures in a world without future

Coauthor Andrés Kozel

“We are condemned to accept the need to experiment with the human, assuming the risks that this entails” and “an error will entail the risk of leading the entire super tribe, finally unified, to disaster”. At the end of 1973, Darcy Ribeiro, the famous Brazilian anthropologist and essayist whose 100th anniversary of birth will be celebrated this year, hinted in his text entitled Venutopias 2003 that to produce the cultural equivalents of the new technological inventions, the human being would have to be disassembled and reassembled. The “new man” will be a programmed man: thus will be “the grandchildren of our grandchildren”, abominable from our parameters, but perhaps stronger and more efficient, freer and more creative. For the first time in history, man will not be the product of necessity, but the result of a project.

In the 1960s and 1970s, several Latin American thinkers were interested in the future and, in particular, in the impact of technological advances on human life. Some did so in a register closely linked to planning; others in a more critical spirit.

We can mention the “Technocracy and cybernetics” chapter of the History of Our Idea of the World by José Gaos, which was part of a seminar given at the Colegio de México. We can also mention Oscar Varsavsky and his idea of constructive and political futurology, linked to a national project; or the Bariloche Model, coordinated by Amilcar Herrera, who discussed with great lucidity the report The Limits to Growth, which was commissioned by the Club of Rome at the same time.

From another angle, let us recall an essay such as Democracy and Authoritarianism in Modern Society, in which Gino Germani formulated shocking questions about the future of democracy. These questions are extremely topical.

In this context, Darcy Ribeiro’s numerous forecasts about the future in different registers and cultivating different accents, led us to survey his attempts, to try to contextualize them and to interpret them. So, we wrote a book entitled Os futuros de Darcy (Darcy’s futures) which is currently being published by Elefante Publishing House.

Basically, we distinguish two Darcys. The first is more optimistic, convinced of the imminence of the “necessary revolution”. A second one, less optimistic, more perplexed and crossed by uncertainties, cultured of the “small utopia” in the short term and much more skeptical in the long term.

The breaking point can be located between 1972 and 1976 when there was a coincidence with several facts that happened to him. From the coup d’État in Chile and then in Peru to his illness and his return to Brazil. What is interesting is that the displacement did not imply a massive dismantling of previous points of view. From the point of view of the study of ideas, Darcy’s work presents itself as an apt terrain for analyzing asynchronisms, coexistences, and tensions: an extraordinary display of intellectual work historically conditioned, like all intellectual work, and with a high theoretical value.

In 1972, Darcy coined an emphatic and shocking formula: “the abominable new man”. He raises the question of how there can be lives worth living; without a project for the rational management of history, perhaps the man does not know what to do or what to fight for…

In his text Venutopias 2003, written just after the coup d’état that deposed Salvador Allende, at the end of 1973, Darcy takes up these themes and suggests that it will be increasingly necessary to seek artificial means to produce balanced personalities.

There is also a substantive novelty in this 1973 text: that of proposing for Venezuela an “aesthetic utopia” inspired by the Makiritare Indians. With this, Darcy “returns” to Venezuelans the pastoral existence “to which we have always aspired”, the “desire for beauty” and the “access to wisdom”. It seems to us that this is the first time that this assessment appears in Darcy’s work. Thus, a new and fundamental component emerges that we can call, following it closely, “pastoral utopia”.

In our days, Darcy could be approximate to the approaches of a figure like Ailton Krenak. But he could also be approximate, no doubt, to all those thinkers who work on themes associated with transhumanism and posthumanism, considering it a partly inevitable horizon, partly abominable, partly promising.

In “Cultural Revolutions”, the last part of his essay The Emerging Civilization, 1984, Darcy addresses several of the challenges arising from the ongoing technological revolution: the green movement, the feminist movement, and the peace movement. He relates to the feminist movement the “irremediable anachronism” of the basic constructs of personality and the basic organizers of human behavior: perhaps they are mortally wounded, and we are obliged to remake them.

Again, one wonders whether we will be able to reinvent the human condition itself. As for peace and war, Darcy argues that not only is the prospect of terminal war a threat; but so is the advent of a new and gloomy Pax Romana.

He also highlights the inability of the world economy to implement general prosperity. This mad, unbalanced and paranoid economy generates a huge army of surplus labor. The bonds of dependency are reinforced. The peoples of the Third World yearn for a small, modest, and unattainable utopia. Their existence allows him to imagine a revolution of the poor. However, the author soon recognizes that left to its own devices, pauperism does not make social revolutions.

Once the revolutionary possibility is ruled out, Darcy addresses another threat: the advent of an era of hunger and stupefaction within the framework of an obsolete and hard-hearted civilization. Against this backdrop, the life of poor people will be a battle for very concrete ideas. A beautiful and arduous battle. Once again, he seems to have speculated quite well.

Many of Darcy’s considerations, theoretical, prophetic, and cathartic, can be related to very current elaborations that question the impact of the very new technologies on subjectivity, politics and culture. We think, for example, of Éric Sadin, Byung-Chul Han, and Yuval Harari. It is no exaggeration to say that, in several of his predictions, Darcy was right or very close to being right. At least in the sense of locating, with surprising accuracy, most of the issues that, three or four decades later, define the agendas of the debate.

And perhaps the most impressive issue about Darcy is that, in the face of all these tensions, he never lost his incredible life force.  All his writings, even his darkest, exude an exceptional combination of wisdom, passion, enthusiasm, and joie de vivre.

Sometimes, cathartically returned the Darcy who projected Brazil and Latin America as the “New Tropical Rome”, that “new mestizo and tropical civilization” open to all races and cultures, located in the most beautiful and luminous province of the Earth. It is all this complexity that we seek to bring to the debate with our book, in a conjuncture marked by the absence of alternatives and by the obsession with the present.

Andrés Kozel is PhD. in Latin American Studies from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Professor at the Universidad Nacional de San Martín (Unsam).

Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva


Professor of political science at the Federal Univ. of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO). Vice-Director of Wirapuru, Revista Latinoamericana de Estudio de las Ideas. Post-doctorate at the Inst. of Advanced Studies of the Univ. of Santiago de Chile.


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