At the Turn of the Millennium

-by Ikram Antaki-

translated by D. Ohmans
© copyright 2016

Text imprint Mexico City, Editorial Joaquín Mortiz, ©2001

                                        Ikram Antaki
                         (Damascus 1948 - Mexico City 2000)

She was born into a family of jurists, humanists and book lovers. Her mother
worked on 19th century Russian literature all her life and her grandfather (who
was the last governor of Antioquia) saved thousands of Armenians from
extermination in 1915, during the Ottoman seige. The Antaki family saga can be
traced back to the 11th century, due to which Ikram knew herself to be the
inheritor and continuation of an important ancestral story.
     At the age of four she entered a school of French Franciscan sisters, from
whom she simultaneously learned to read in Arabic and French, and remained
there until she completed high school. In 1969 she traveled to Europe, where
she studied comparative literature, linguistics and social anthropology. Her
graduate studies were in ethnology of the Arab world at the Paris 7 university
and in the École Pratique des Hautes Études.
     In 1975 she left France to go to Mexico. Ikram Antaki said she took that
decision opening a compass over a world map and, following an imaginary
horizontal line parallel to the equator, determined that Mexico was the country
furthest from Syria, that is, "it was the end of the world..." a place which
she wished to know. She arrived in Mexico City on the 14th of December.
     A year later her son Maruan was born, because of whom she had to settle in
order to combine maternity with arduous intellectual work. Ikram's capacity for
organization permitted her to dedicate herself to teaching, essays, journalism,
and radio with great success.
     From early youth she had a clear idea of what she wanted and the
discipline to do it. "At age eight I wrote in a  notebook all the titles of all
the books I was going to write when I was grown"--Ikram said--and at 13, I read
three literary or essay works per week. On reaching the end of her life she had
published 29 books and left many projects unfinished.
     Ikram Antaki always kept on the outskirts of the Mexican intellectual
circles, through she manifested her admiration for Octavio Paz. She constructed
her own road: "I now proclaim myself, in a somewhat simple manner,
conservative, although in fact it is not exactly so; in practice I follow the
words of Averroes: 'be progressive in all that refers to science and thought,
be conservative in that which refers to human affairs.'"
     At the end, Ikram Antaki was completely dedicated to fulfilling the most
ambitious theme of her life: "I have discovered, in this nation, that I am 'a
good teacher,' not only 'a writer,' someone who knows some things and who does
not want to conceal them, but rather to share it.


Was the 31st of December of the year 2000 really the end of the millennium? The
specialists are in agreement in saying the Jesus was born five or six years
before the official beginning of the Christian era, that is, we have already
been in the third millennium for a good while. This date impresses the
imagination, serves as a pretext for marketing the Apocalypse, is the occasion
to meditate on the notion of the end of times, upon the philosophic
significance of time, and to draw conclusions from two thousand years of
Christian civilization.
     The theme of the end of times emerges directly from the Bible, which as
opposed to Greek and oriental wisdom, invents the notion of linear time, with
an origin and an ending. This conception of time influenced the development of
western civilization. The book of Genesis seeks to relate the origin of
the world: different stories, among which is found the Apocalypse of
John, describes the end of times. This book speaks too of a period of a
thousand years that precedes the end of times, in which the devil would be
enchained and one would see the triumph of Christ on earth. This prediction
characterized the spirit throughout the past two thousand years: it deals with
a millennialist vigil which revived passions, fears, hopes; every event has
been interpreted as a signal of the realization of a prophecy. They are
typically religious beliefs and fears. Nevertheless, we have a retreat from the
Christian world, a secularization of society; the profane world confronts other
eschatological fears, related to the religious theme. Every murky epoch
engenders its own phantasms. We see coincidence between a period of great
turbulence and a change of millennium. While the orientals follow their
conception of cyclical time, the Hindus consider that we live in a period of
destruction and the Kaliyuga adumbrates a new golden age, we are going to look
at questions of calendars, at the notion of the end of times and concerning
the matter of time in itself.

                              Chapter I
                    The end of times

The history of the universe is counted in billions of years and the end of
times has already occurred many times, each time a great catastrophe has struck
the planet. We are some rescued survivors, beneficiaries of those great
extinctions. We owe our existence to those ends of the world, not only to the
disappearance of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but also, for example, to
the end of the Permian, which eliminated from the map 95 percent of all species
on the surface of the earth. I refuse to see in the apparition of humans the
result of any intention, man being no more than an epiphenomenon of evolution.
On reaching the end of the millennium, there is nothing to fear, nothing
special is going to happen. In the past, in the religious civilizations, the
people felt a real terror of apocalyptic catastrophes. In our secular age, what
scares us is an information strike: what might possibly have occurred if the
computers had interpreted the 00 of the year 2000 as a return to 1900? Except
for that, the people celebrated and there were some accidents due to alcohol.
     The year 2000 was a special date for reasons that have to do with the
history of the calendar, and was a leap-year. In our current calendar, a leap
year occurs every 100 years between two centuries, yet every 400 years the 29th
of February is established at the turn of the century. This extra day existed
only once until now in the year 1600, after the Gregorian calendar had been
adopted. Why was such an eccentric system adopted? Nature provides us three
principal cycles: the rotation of the Earth upon itself, which defines the
length of the days; the rotation of the Moon around the Earth, that defines the
lunar months; and the rotation of the Earth around the Sun, that defines the
duration of a year. These three modes of calculation are necessary. Why are
calendars made? In order to predict natural regularities. However, between
those three cycles it is impossible to establish a simple arithmetical relation
that permits harmonizing them. Easter is a particularly complex case, because
the date is determined as a function of two calendars, the solar and the lunar,
and weeks do not correspond to any natural cycle: the group of seven days is
totally arbitrary. So then, a year of 366 days is called a "leap-year,"
formerly "bisextile," due to the two sixes (66) and occurs every four years;
the leap-years are in the calendar like the jokers in a deck. The lunar
calendar is called selenic, has ordinary years of 354 days and, sometimes,
exceptionally long years of 384 days. The lunar cycle lasts 19 years and seven
of these 19 years have 13 months; for example, the Hebrew calendar inserts a
13th month of 30 days in the third, the sixth, the eighth, the 11th, the 14th,
the 17th, and the 19th years of the selenic cycle. From that we can draw a
conclusion as to whether God exists, or has a highly developed sense of humor,
or is a nullity for mathematics, or is incomprehensible to the human spirit.
     Why is the year 2000 so impressive? We attribute a psychological
significance to it. The human spirit seems to need cycles which have a meaning
in a mathematical system. Our arithmetical system is of base ten, yet it is not
certain that this is related to our ten fingers, and evolutionary chance might
have given us a different number of fingers. The first vertebrates had six,
seven or eight fingers on each limb; the Mayans used the base 20, with cycles
of 1,600 and 2,400 years; with such a system, the number 2,000 would have no
particular significance. The Aztecs used a base of 52.
     There is an old debate that is re-opened every 100 years, to determine
whether the new century starts with the year '00 or the year '01. The beginning
of the 20th century was celebrated on the 1st of January of 1901; now the
celebrations took place at the turn of the year 2000. This debate is trivial,
meaningless, but engages the whole world. The reason why this problem of
calculation appeared at once ridiculous and fascinating: in the 6th century,
when the modern calendar was established by the monk Dionysius Exiguus, and
pope John I asked him to prepare a Christian chronology of human history,
starting with the date when the arrival of Christ occurred. Dionysius was
accustomed to date events ab urbe condita, beginning with the founding
of Rome; thus he located the date of birth of Christ as the 25th day of
December of the year 753, and then the beginning of the Christian era eight
days later, the 1st of January of the year 754, the day of Christ's
circumcision. January 1st was also the start of the year in the Roman calendar,
but Dionysius did not use the "year 0" when he had the Christian era begin on
the 1st of January of 754. That day, then, became the 1st of January of the
year 1 and therefore our centuries begin at '01, not at '00. If Dionysius had
called the founding date the 1st of January of the year 0, all the discussions
would have been ended, yet he could not do it. Why? Because the western
mathematicians of his epoch had not yet developed a functional concept of the
zero. The Egyptians had used it sporadically, the Chinese knew the concept but
not the number, and the Mayans knew but did not use it. Our present zero would
only come to be invented by Hindu and Arab mathematicians between the 8th and
9th centuries. The option of the 1st of the first month of the year 1 is a
convention, and is neither just nor false. To opt for a convention brings long-
term consequences.
     With a mathematical base of 10, the number 100 seems more interesting than
101, and 1900 was more interesting than 1901. All of this has no meaning, no
importance, is imaginary and trivial. A calendar is that. Aside from that, the
people argued endlessly, there being those who wanted to have the change of
century coincide with the change in the numerals and those who liked
mathematical exactitude. It is an amusing discussion, though a little
ridiculous, because it shows us the small weaknesses of human reason.
Previously, at each turn of a century, the people tended to choose the year 00
and the clerics imposed the year 01; it is a distinction between popular
culture and an elitist conception.
      Now then, why do we give importance to the number 1,000? From the point
of view of the natural cycles it has no significance, its symbolic weight being
based solely on the fact than numerous passages in the Bible make an analogy
between a thousand years for us and a day for God. For the writers of the
Bible, those passages were not to designate a precise duration, but instead
served to exalt the glory of the Lord. In classical Christian theology, the
millennium did not designate a period in human history, for its advent
begins with the Apocalypse. The prophets never managed to come to agreement
about the true date of this end of times. The prospect of the final cataclysm
can have explosive effects in the society, can come to erase prohibitions and
then, how to keep on living? Sometimes a deceived apocalyptic hope is prolonged
in dramatic social struggles.
     The Romantic historians of the 19th century adored the idea of the terrors
of the year 1000. The rationalists detested it, the pope Sylvester II--who
reigned from 999 to 1003--not even mentioning the subject, nor do references
exist in the royal chronicles. It seems there was no general panic. Yet there
is not only a fearsome dimension to millennialism, but a hopeful dimension
exists as well. All the religions emerge from consciousness of mortality and,
the majority of times, the eschatological doctrine carries a promise of
resurrection. It is agreeable to know that one is going to revive; nevertheless
if that hope is too strong, the people leave the things of this existence
undone. Thus the Khosas, in South Africa, allowed being reduced to slavery
without protesting because they awaited the return of their ancestors and the
advent of a new order. This occurred various times. The adepts of the sect,
Heaven's Gate believed they were headed toward eternal life. These hopes
are common in primitive civilizations. The tendency to see everything that is
going badly is a symptom of the hyper-sophisticated cultures, which no longer
have the ingenuous enthusiasm of children.
     Apocalyptic movements are, in general, social movements. Apocalyptic
fervor is the terrain of choice of the miserable, the oppressed, the
dispossessed, the mystic revolutionaries, the desperadoes, the self-proclaimed
saviors. We have not been here on Earth for long, the human species being very
young, having only 200 thousand years of age. From a cultural viewpoint we have
no more than five thousand years, the language and the technology at their
beginnings. Two hundred thousand years is an incredibly short period.
     In the 19th century, the wise men discovered deep time: one has to deal in
millions of billions of years. They then begin to measure the scale of geologic
time and to become aware of the reality of evolution. When the geological scale
was established, they located the limits of the eras in the epochs that
corresponded with massive extinctions, because they are the moments where the
greatest changes that were produced are located. Such limits are not arbitrary:
they are the great fractures in evolution. That is not a long tranquil river:
great catastrophes have been produced, and numerous ends of the world have
occurred and can occur anew. The Bible does not speak of either geological eras
nor of extinctions; the flood exists, yet the origin of this myth cannot be
based upon knowledge of the real history of the planet, because the writers of
the Bible did not have that wisdom.
     In Antiquity they believed that fossils were remains of animals or of
antediluvian persons. It was thought, for a long time, that the size of men
had diminished over the length of history. It was the 15th century, and
Leonardo da Vinci lamented the circulation of those crazy ideas. One must have
a certain consciousness to comprehend that a fossil represents a period in the
history of the living. Until the 19th century no one knew that. The first bones
of a dinosaur were discovered in 1825; before that, nobody knew of their
     There are clearly identifiable moments in the history of life, during
which great transformations of the fauna were produced: the great catastrophe
in the Permian 250 million years ago, the extinction of the dinosaurs 65
million years ago. After an extinction, life remains convalescent throughout
four or five million years, later retaking its rights. Extinction is the normal
destiny of all species. To disappear is the norm, to survive is the exception.
The criteria of geologic time cannot be applied to our destiny, a question of
temporal scale and of proportion. The Earth is not in danger, and has already
known great explosions and has repelled them; but, for us, this scale of time
is not pertinent. Our temporality is the duration of our lives. For a geologist
a millennium is the blink of an eye; for human experience, it is an
inconceivable duration. Our spirit does not succeed in apprehending durations
with no common measure with the length of our life; yet since we do not manage
to conceive the origin of phenomena, we speak of eternity; and since we cannot
manage to conceive of an end to space, we speak of the infinite; yet we do not
really comprehend what these mean.
     Where is the frontier between man and the animal? We speak of the
privilege of consciousness. Some animals are capable of it, although slightly.
If consciousness is the capacity to recognize someone, to feel compassion for
those who are nearby, then dogs have it. If it is the capacity to utilize
language in an abstract manner, then we are unique in having it. Our spirit
gives us an incommensurable power. The appearance of human consciousness is the
most sensational invention in the history of evolution. It is an accidental,
unforeseeable invention, and which will never occur again, probably. Yet we have
to relativize human arrogance. It is a fact that we think we dominate the
world, but the bacterias were here before us and will survive us. Thus it is a
question of the criterion: if we value consciousness, we make of humanity the
love of the world; if we value long duration and great numbers, the bacterias
out-do us. Among the mammals, the most successful actually is the rat. So that
we must devolve our human pretensions to their just measure.
     This is a philosophical debate that Umberto Eco broached in his book
The Name of the Rose, where he demonstrates a very fine comprehension
of the principle of different temporal perspectives. The action takes place in
the midst of the enormous dispute of the double papacy, in the time of the
great quarrel between Avignon and Rome. When in the novel crimes begin to be
committed, the whole world was persuaded that they related to intrigues linked
with this greater controversy, and the hypothesis seemed reasonable. In the
20th century, the majority of the people did not even know there had been popes
in Avignon. In the United States, 99 percent of the students totally ignore
this famous episode. Umberto Eco takes the measure of this phenomenon and his
detective, William of Baskerville, understands that the assassinations have
nothing to do with reality, since they are linked to the fact that the
monastery library contains the only example of Aristotle's Comedy, a
work having been lost for centuries. To take account of the importance of this
fact, one must have a wide vision that covers various centuries. That book
today has no importance, interests no one, yet, in the fullness of time, will
be infinitely more important than all the ephemeral events of history. The only
ones who understand this are Baskerville and the thief who tries to destroy the
work. It is for this that the villain in Eco's work is so interesting: he is
erudite, and does not support the idea of destroying the text. If he had no
scruples, he would burn it, yet he cannot, and thus he eats it; he incorporate
it, and it is splendid.
     Let us return to aliveness: it can be defined as an historical phenomenon,
which derives from the appearance on the earth, billions of years ago, of a
system of reproduction, DNA, that transmits errors and which confers on the
living, evolution through natural selection, the formation of populations, and
transformations of the metabolism. All the living forms that exist today
descend from a single origin; thus only can we give an account of this
phenomenon. Living things must have historical continuity, to grow and
reproduce, inherit. Our planet is 4,500 million years old, and the presence of
life has been for 3,700 million years. With time, the impossible becomes
improbable and the improbable becomes almost certain. Even a very improbable
event can be very quickly produced. Chance decides the manner by which the
living forms and circumstances will expand. Those who think that there is a
pre-established plan that leads, necessarily, to growth in complexity, are
mistaken. The great schema of the history of life contradicts this theory: half
of the history of life is the story of a unicellular organism, and five sixth
parts of the story of life occurred before there was even a form of animal
existence. There is no new ramification in the history of life after the great
flowering of the Cambrian. The majority of the lineages that had existed now
disappeared, and those which survived are all very ancient. On the tree of
evolution, only certain branches have survived, with immense spaces between
them. The extinctions must be explained or why some species have survived be
explained. A species that disappears departs from the record. Every one of
those massive extinctions is unique. There is no general law, the causes are
varied and particular. We have only had five massive extinctions, very few for
establishing a law of the series. No massive extinction has completely
extinguished life. At the end of the Permian, absolute destruction was grazed:
95 percent of the species disappeared.
     But the human temporal scale is the only one that we should take into
account in our discourse. We should occupy ourselves with the quality of our
lives and the lives of other species, here and now. We can predict an eclipse
of the Sun: in contrast, human history is unforeseeable, because it is not
governed by the laws of nature. The philosophical problem, I believe, is the
following: I have no way of knowing if contingency is the result of our
ignorance or whether chance really exists in nature. The most deterministic of
all the wise men in history, Laplace, would say: "give me the position and
the movement of every particle in the universe at a given instant and I will be
able to foretell the future with certainty." Later, Laplace invented the theory
of probability: if everything were determined, why would it be needed? Laplace
responded to this question: "everything is determined, but we cannot know
everything." Elsewhere, Ilya Prigogine is persuaded that determinism is an
illusion. I have a tendency to think like him. Contingency appears not only due
to our ignorance. Indeterminacy exists, but it is a philosophical question to
which a scientific response cannot be brought.
     We have a new vision of the past. What will the archaeologists of the year
3000 say when they discover our great information libraries? Our age wants to
gather all the archives of the past, yet when we think carefully about it, we
see that the greater part of ancient Greek culture has disappeared. We have the
luck of having preserved Aristotle and Plato, but of the pre-Socratic texts
there remain only fragments. We have lost more things than we have saved. What
type of fossils are we going to leave to our descendent's? Darwin said that our
fossil archives resemble a library of which only pages, some words, some
letters remain, We evolve toward an ocean of forgetfulness, yet those few
messages traveled across time. We ignore the major part of what has existed.
The story of evolution is a narrative, not a series of consequences of a
natural law. We have the sensation of living in a very special time, a decisive
moment in human history yet, at bottom, all human beings, in every time, must
have had this impression. At the turn of the 19th century they said they lived
in the most exalted of epochs: trains, telephone, telegraph.


We have to evaluate the historical significance of the eschatological anxieties
and hopes of our contemporaries, recurrent in the immense literature of the
millenarian movements. John's Apocalypse is the founder of these fears,
but Augustine declared that the Millennium already passed. This is the
Judeo-Christian tradition: there is a beginning and an end. God has created the
world, life, mankind, and he is found subject to time. Later, one day, God
will decide to interrupt the cosmic adventure, the adventure of terrestrial
life, and it will be the end of the world.
     Starting with the exile in Babylon, in the 6th century B.C., the Jews have
conceived their venture as directed toward the appearance of a savior and
liberator messiah. Around the 2nd century B.C. there appeared in Judaism the
idea of judgment of the dead, as recompense for the just and punishment for
the bad. Without expounding it formally, this conception implies a sort of
afterlife, a final resurrection. God shows Ezekiel how to give life to dry
bones. Thus we see appear, among the Jews, the notion of a judgment, a horizon
beyond mortality, as a reward or an eternal punishment. Christianity situated
itself in the prolongation of this intuition.
     In all the Gospels it is affirmed, in a formal manner, that something
exists beyond mortality and history. Christianity sharpened considerably what
had been barely formulated. For the Hebrews, and in later Judaism, the
messianic hope is not necessarily for a man, but can be for a pacified state of
the world. Islam is based upon the same tendency. In this sense it is an heir
to the Judeo-Christian tradition, and postulates, formally, an end of times, a
resurrection and a final judgment. In the history of the world there thus can
be isolated the block of the three religions of the Book who believe in a
vectorial conception of time, with a beginning and an end, as against a
cyclical conception, which we see in Asia for example. For Christianity this
means the end of history. Humanity has fulfilled its role, accounts are drawn
and one moves to eternal life. It is the end of times, not the end of humanity:
it is eternity.
     Augustine's fundamental idea in The City of God is that time is a
place of insecurity and is dangerous because it offers the possibility, at
once, of improvement and corruption. It is a place of passage, uncertain, where
anything can happen, the best and the worst. But once time is stopped and
history ends, now there is no way to sin or to do evil. If one notices, the
entire venture of Freemasonry is also conceived, symbolically, as the search
for the lost word: starting from the moment when we were thrown into the world
and into time, the word seems to be suspended. Time, in Augustinian thought,
corresponds to the word, and only can be expressed in a veiled manner. One must
await the end of time for total revelation to be heard. This is fully inscribed
into Judeo-Christian thought. Paul says: "Now we see things imperfectly, but
then we will see everything with perfect clarity." The labyrinths in the great
cathedrals illustrate the thought of Augustine. Life is winding, but finally
there is one exit, one only.
     For Jews, Christians and Muslims, a pilgrimage is a voyage oriented
towards a precise objective, not allowing looking to left or right or becoming
distracted. Time is the test, and we aspire to the moment when we shall be
able to escape. Can we perhaps say that the more history advances, the more it
moves towards its fulfillment? For Christianity and Islam it is not written
that mankind will continue to improve itself. It is only certain that at a
precise moment, which God alone knows, history will stop and God will come to
judge all humanity and separate the good grain from the bad. Yet they do not
say we move in a progression. This idea is found is some Fathers of the Church,
especially Saint Irenaeus, who thought that humanity was moving towards a
flowering. Nevertheless, this conception is globally absent in western
theology. Saint Augustine did not have an optimistic view of man. In The
City of God, the good and the bad are totally mixed and this mix will only
end in the final judgment, which is to say that over the length of history
everything can happen, the best and the worst. There are no certainties. The
Christians do not await the realization of an earthly paradise, they found
their hopes upon a post mortem destiny beyond history. The religions,
generally speaking, and Christianity more than the others, start from the
conviction that in life there are more challenges than moments of happiness,
but that all suffering, the inequalities and evils will cease further beyond
time. It is a utopia, in a deep sense of the word. Other utopias, that want to
realize a perfect world on Earth, lead to atrocities. What Jews, Christians and
Muslims believe is that suffering and mortality shall not have the last word.
It is the common thought of the religions of the Book. As opposed to other
philosophical or religious systems, the Bible does not provide and explanation
for the existence of evil, but carries the hope that evil, in all its forms,
will be definitively eliminated at the end of times. Only then, mankind will
comprehend the meaning of the suffering. The significance of the theory of
original sin is that beginning from the moment when there was a man, there was
evil, jealousy, pride, and crime. Thus sin has existed since the first man and
it is this, undoubtedly, that the myth of original sin means. Also, since the
origin there was love and goodness, yet we are more aware of the bad, because
the good does not make noise. The success of the eastern religions in the West
is explained by the fact that they provide explanations of the problem of evil,
of suffering, that is: if one is blind, it is because they are paying for bad
acts committed in a previous life. Such that one need not rebel against the
conditions of life they have, for they are deserved from a previous life.
Personally this causality which is based upon the law of karma does not
satisfy me. Judeo-Christianity and Islam do not reason in this manner, refusing
to offer a simplistic explanation of evil. The question of evil and of unjust
suffering of the innocent is the theme of the most startling book of the Old
Testament: the Book of Job. This text urges us not to seek reasons for
the existence of evil, but recommends having the humility not to seek
explanations if they do not exist. We all find ourselves someday in Job's
situation. It is an essential text, which puts the fathomless mysteries of the
universe and the incomprehensible character of suffering into relief. The West
and in certain eras, Christianity insisted upon pain, sacrifice and redemptive
suffering. There has been a turning towards pain. Jesus accepted passing
through suffering, without ever having looked for it. Over centuries, Christian
iconography presented a resuscitated and glorious Christ; later, the images of
Christ suffering on the cross were imposed in the West. Franciscan spirituality
multiplied the images of crucifixion.
     Christian theology has distinguished between individual judgment,
immediately following one's demise, and a general judgment of humanity at the
end of times. Then there will be a cosmic event called parusia, which is the
resuscitated and glorious return of Christ, who comes to judge the living and
the dead. The criterion of judgment will not be theological, but instead that
of love and of service. What differentiates the judgment that intervenes at
the end of times, and which concerns each individual, from the particular
judgment of the soul after life? There will not be a change in sentencing
at the end of times, there will only be sort of general recapitulation in which
humanity as a whole will give account. In the first centuries of the church,
these theological questions were discussed. It was asked whether the elect,
after life and before final judgment, enjoyed the totality of the bliss of
paradise or whether there was a territory, a time of waiting. This conception
was rejected by the church in the 14th century, under the popes of Avignon.
Another detail that agitated Christianity was that of bodily resurrection. The
particular judgment is of the soul. What might paradise look like? The creation
then would not be separated from the divine world and this would signify the
end of history. Reiteration concerning the existence of a paradise in the
beyond does not seem to have been very present in Judaism. It is more
accentuated in the Koran, which insists there will be a final judgment, a
reward, a punishment. Paradise in the beyond is always described as a garden
of Eden, with very concrete pleasures.
     Before Islam, Christianity announced, in the clearest manner, final
judgment and the reincarnation of the flesh. However, the Gospels and other
texts of the New Testament give no description of the beyond. There is a
Christian discretion before the mystery of the beyond. Augustine postulates
the existence of a place of eternal suffering. Purgatory is another solution
that was imagined by Origen, though the word and the place did not appear until
the 12th century. The notion of purgative pain is very old and preceded the
place and the noun. According to Origen, with the exception of the saints, all
mankind is subject, after their lives, to a recycling fate, to successive
purifications realized through hope. The whole world will undergo them, and
hell will cease to exist. Theology very quickly imagined two possible
solutions, that of Origen and that of Irenaeus, in order to abandon the idea of
a place of eternal suffering. At the end of times, in all cases, whether one
adopts the solution of Irenaeus, that of Origen or that of Augustine, there is
a step from history to eternity.
     The New Testament presents the arrival of Jesus as the event that
inaugurates the end of times. Jesus arrives at "the end of times." The
realization of the eschatological promises, those concerning the ultimate fate
of mankind and the world, begins. The Christians distinguish two advents of
Christ: the first was his birth; the second will be the parusia. With the
first we enter the last days of history, which will terminate with the second
coming of Christ.
     Enoch and Elijah are two mysterious characters of the Old Testament. It
is thought they will return just before the end of times. Enoch is one of the
most enigmatic characters in the Bible; he is one of the first descendants of
Adam and Eve. According to the tale of Genesis, Enoch lived 365 years
and did not die. Elijah was a great prophet who lived until the 9th century
B.C. and did not die either, but was elevated into the sky in a chariot of fire
in sight of his disciple Elisha. Two characters who have in common having been
carried into heaven without knowing mortality. A Jewish tradition then develops
around the idea that these two personages shall return at the end of times to
prepare the arrival of the messiah. Many Jewish religious groups awaited the
return of these two characters. Therefore they asked John the Baptist: are you
Elijah? It was also believed that Jesus was Elijah. The Apocalypse of
John, which concludes the New Testament, resumes this theme of the two prophets
at the end of times. According to the Apocalypse, a great eschatological
combat will precede the return of Christ. During this battle, God will send two
witnesses who will testify to the truth, and later be killed by the Beast, who
is the incarnation of evil. The names of Enoch and of Elijah are not explicitly
mentioned, but Christian tradition has assimilated them as the two witnesses of
the end of times, especially in the Middle Ages.
     The Apocalypse attributed to John is not the only text of the New
Testament that evokes the end of times. In the epoch of Jesus, this literary
genre flourished. The current idea was that the celestial and eternal Jerusalem
would not be attained if there had not been a prior definitive combat between
good and evil. The signals announcing the end of times are the wars, the
earthquakes, the anguish, the generalized iniquity: then the end will come. Upon
discovering America, Christopher Columbus had the certainty of living in the end
times. Some interpreted the creation of Israel, in 1948, as the imminence of
the end of times. Throughout history, westerners did not stop reading the
surprising or dramatic events of their era as signs of the end of times. Some
occurrences, like pestilence, the great schism of the 14th and 15th centuries,
the religious wars, were interpreted through the prism of the apocalyptic
     The millennial beliefs inspired by the Apocalypse, this text marked
the history of the West. Who is its author? Tradition attributes the book to
John, the author of the fourth Gospel and of various epistles. It would be,
properly speaking, a collective work of the Christian circles of Ephesus, heirs
to John?s teachings. It was written at the end of the 1st century, around the
year 90, during the persecutions of Domitian. The Beast is Rome, which
persecutes. Apocalypse signifies "revelation," to unveil that which is hidden.
What is the plot of the book? It is directed at the seven churches of Asia,
which are named; it announces the final judgment of humanity, preceded by three
sequences: first, there is a time of testing: cataclysms, catastrophes; later, a
period of earthly peace of a thousand years; finally, a last period, very brief
but terrible, the final battle between good and evil, which immediately precedes
the end of times,  the final judgment and eternity. They were certain that the
good would prevail, that history would end well. The Apocalypse is
thought of as a book of malediction, when it represents, in fact, a book of
hope, of consolation. It is the last of the revealed books. In the West it was
difficult to accept the Apocalypse among the canonical books due to this
millenarian question, the thousand years of happiness upon the earth. The
religious authorities thought that that interpretation could alienate the
faithful from their spiritual preoccupations. This hope can be described as a
“nostalgia for the future.”
     The people’s dreams comprise a part of their history and explain many of
their Acts. When one speaks of millenarianism, they generally think of the
expectation of catastrophes that will mark the year 1000 or 2000. It does not
deal with this, but instead with a belief in a thousand years of earthly
paradise. The confusion persists between the fear of the end of a millennium and
millenarianism, which represents hope.
     The origin of millenarianism is found in Babylon and in Iran. The first
Jewish text that suggests a period of a thousand years is found in the Book
of Jubilees, some hundred years before Jesus Christ.
     In the Old Testament, there were many prophecies that announced a radiant
future for the Jewish people. Among the texts of the Old Testament that have
profoundly marked Christian millenarianism, there is that of the dream which
Daniel explains to Nebuchadnezzar. That which fundamentally constitutes the
millenarian belief is the conviction that within the time that we live, with its
disgraces and its crimes, and eternity, after the final judgment, is located an
intermediate period of peace and happiness upon the earth. This reign will be
preceded and followed by cataclysms and wars. The Christians of the first
centuries adopted millenarianism, among them including saint Justin, a
Palestinian martyred in Rome about 165; Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, dead in 202;
Tertulian, dead in 222; the great writer Lactantius, the pagan orator converted
to Christianity, who later became the tutor of Constantine's son. The primitive
church adopted these beliefs. Of course, there were always opponents of
millenarianism: saint Augustine contributed to regress of millenarianism,
although at the beginning he believed in it. Later he proposed a symbolic
reading of the Apocalypse. The official agents of the church ratified
Augustine's interpretations.
     At the end of the 5th century, the pope Gelacius puts the Apocalypse
among the canonical writings, though he demonstrates suspicion towards the
millenarian writings of Tertulian, Justin and Lactantius. A long time passed in
the orthodox church before it would admit the Apocalypse among its
canonical writings. This was accomplished in the 14th century, after much
reticence. Thus millenarianism was marginalized since the 5th century. It later
re-appeared in the 12th century, with the Calabrian monk Joaquín de Flore.
For him history is divided into three periods: the time before grace, the time
of grace and the time that we await. This means: the time of the Mosaic law
before Christ, the era of the Father; later, the time marked by the arrival of
Christ beneath the words of the Gospel, the era of the Son; and, lastly, the
time in which spiritual intelligence triumphs, the age of the Holy Spirit.
     Joaquín breaks with the Augustinian interpretation of the official
church and returns to to eschatology of the first Christian generations. This
monk aroused an at times violent revolution for posterity. Indeed, he struck at
the ecclesiastical institution. The Franciscans spread the Joaquinist ideas and
his influence overflowed all the media. Dante called him a prophet, Christopher
Columbus and Tomasso Campanella cited him.
     There is another eschatological tradition. In the 4th century and later in
the 7th century, some prophetic texts were written that were called, the
Sibylline Oracles. They circulated throughout the middle ages. As in
traditional millenarianism, these spoke of a golden Christian age prior to the
last judgment. That nourished the spirit of the Crusades. It was also one of the
leading ideas of Christopher Columbus. According to this, the Christian kings
would have been the sovereigns during the last days. Millenarianism and violence
were often at hand. Throughout history, certain groups have tried to impose the
millennium by force. This is the story which Marguerite Yourcener evokes in her
Opus Nigrum. Portugal was one of the nations most affected by the
millenarian utopia thanks to the Jesuit Antonio Vieira (1608-1697) who was born
in Brazil and figures among the greatest names in Baroque literature. In his
travels to the extremes of the Earth Vieira saw the principle of millenarian
advent. Lisbon then would be in the center of this empire of Christ upon the
Earth, the pope would be the only spiritual pastor of humanity, and the emperor
of Portugal, become an emperor of the world, would be the universal arbiter.
     The development of Protestantism allowed the millenarian currents to be
more openly manifested, despite that Luther and Calvin faithfully followed the
Augustinian interpretation of the Apocalypse. Generally, a relationship
existed between millenarianism and heresy. America also provided oxygen for the
millenarian hope. The first Franciscans who arrived in México in 1524 were
saturated with Joaquinism. The two best-known Franciscans of the spiritual
conquest of México in the 16th century, Motolinía and Mendieta, had a
mission to reconstruct the golden age of the primitive Church in America. The
first Puritans who were established in the north were convinced that the
Americas would extend the universal reign of Christ. The region continues,
until today, impregnated by these ideas. American millenarianism has comprised
one of the components of the United States identity. The millenarian thesis has
engendered utopias. There are relations between both. These relations between
the two types of discourse appear in the work of the Italian Dominican Tommaso
Campanella (1568-1639). There exists also a deep lineage between the millenarian
belief and the modern ideology of progress, which is the lay, secular version of
millenarianism. The difference is that, for the millenarianists, the passage of
the thousand years of terrestrial happiness emerges after an era of
catastrophes; however, the notion of progress is a gradual march of humanity.
What they have in common is that humanity moves towards earthly betterment. The
radiant future is on the horizon.
     The great theorists of socialism in the 19th century were also inspired by
the millenarian thesis. We have observed a metamorphosis and laicization of
millenarianism, although it subsists under its traditional religious form. The
same thing that inspired the utopian, positivist or socialist currents comprises
 one of the important elements in the doctrine of the Mormons, of the Seventh
Day Adventists, or the Jehovah's Witnesses. Another millenarianism is New
     The thousand years of the Apocalypse forged the idea that at the end
of each millennium something important would occur. This leads to eschatological
hopes or the fears of the end of the world. That which germinated in the brains
of the ecclesiastics, in the monasteries, did not provoke, however, the great
fear of the year 1000. The terror of the year 1000 is only a legend. This legend
was born at the end of the 15th century, when they wanted to oppose the light of
predestination to the darkness of the preceding period. That period was
presented as a time of apprehension and one spoke of the fears of the year 1000.
Later, the great epoch of legend will be the 19th century, which began with the
same idea of opposing the light of the present to the fog of the past. One
should note that that era which we call renaissance today, marked by so many
discoveries, was lived as an aged time near to the end of history. This is the
paradox: if humanity has reached a peak, as much in knowledge and the arts as in
iniquity and sin, then judgment day should be next. The discovery of America
gave new breath to the eschatological hopes, the conquest going to permit the
conversion of until then ignored peoples. Humanity as a whole was going to
become Christian, since the end of times was imminent. The majority of the
Puritans were millenarianists. The Jesuits founded in Paraguay, in the 17th and
18th centuries, some absolutely millenarian Guarani republics. The fears and
hopes were diminished by the second half of the 17th century. Protestantism had
interpreted the Apocalypse as taking arms against Catholicism; the pope
was the Beast of the Apocalypse. Rome was the modern Babylon. Then the
church suppressed that discourse which was aimed at itself. Closer to ourselves,
in the year 2000, we saw the collective suicides of the sun temple sects, or of
Heaven's Gate. This reveals the concerns of some fragile spirits.


We observe the end of some grammatical times. What is that? Grammatical times
are a thorough attempt by our spirits specifically to imagine all possible
forms, all the relationships into which we enter with time. Contradictions
exist: on one side, evolution advances in the sense of a simplification of
language, while our own lives accelerate. We have become incapable of perceiving
some nuances. Relationships with time vary according to language. We ask
ourselves about the diverse ways that mankind has had to conjugate time in
different languages and eras. The present does not exist in Hebrew, nor does it
exist for scientists. What is infinitely brief we cannot encounter; we cannot
uncover the essence of the present, hold it, measure it.
     For the Hindus we are in Kali Yuga, the age of destruction. It is an
unstoppable movement. Once again, Shiva wins, always wins. The world that we
know will disappear, but it will not be the first disappearance. It is vain to
try to oppose oneself to this destruction. The great difficulty lies in
maintaining the order of the world and the correctness of our actions; both are
intimately related. For the indians, in India, the idea of measuring time is
strange; one does not measure a circular phenomenon. We observe a brutal
downfall of every idea of civilization, the disappearance of all social
relations. The laws, which are the bones of society, have stopped being
practiced; wars, ruptures will follow. The texts speak of a degeneration of the
human species. The consequence of abandonment of the laws is generalized misery.
In cyclical time, some values and elements of world order cannot disappear. We
see two great divinities, Vishnu and Shiva, and a creator principle, Brahma. In
fact, this latter intervenes very little. Vishnu and Shiva are in constant
rivalry, one preserves the world, the other tries to destroy it. Everything that
has been created must be destroyed and afterwards everything will commence
     Many epochs have known impending doom. This feeling is embedded in us and
emerges from time to time. Dreams have a memory function. It is impossible to
assimilate Indian or Chinese or Mayan thought to our western concepts. Indian
time cannot be reduced to ours. Vishnu is here to maintain the order of the
world. When the world goes sufficiently badly, he comes and assumes a
terrestrial form. His transformations correspond to that which we think we know
about evolution of species: first, they occur in an aquatic form, a fish; later
an amphibian, the tortoise; later a mammal, a boar; the fourth form is a man
with a lion's head, a hybrid. The Indian texts have us descend from animals. The
fifth form is a complete human being, yet small and humpbacked. Subsequently
comes the man of the machete, a woodsman; the last two transformations are Rama
and Krishna, the heroes. The ninth transformation will not come soon; we have
reached the unworkable, to be a person with a horse's head.
     Hinduism tries to make Buddha this ninth form, but Buddha lived long enough
to reject these attempts at divinization of his person. Christ did not have this
opportunity, only preaching some two and a half years. The Zen masters explain
to their disciples: if they meet the Buddha, kill him; that means: kill whatever
pretends to be Buddha. Find their own path. This attitude allowed resisting the
temptation at deification. The majority of traditions speak of the arrival of a
providential being, whose manifestation will precede the fulfillment of time.
All the great religions counsel to be ready in the hope of an imminent event.
The times being consummated, this brutal and absurd world can no longer last.
     We do not know if the John who wrote the Apocalypse is also the one
to whom the fourth Gospel is attributed. More likely it concerns two different
persons. The Gospel according to saint John is less old. It also is the only one
to speak of certain greater events, such as the resurrection of Lazarus.
Matthew, a disciple from the first period, does not cite this event. In other
traditions, this providential character is deleted, and is converted into an
occult hope. That is more or less what occurred in Portugal with the secret
king, or in Shiite Iran with the hidden imam. These personages, in accordance
with the state of the world, have decided to leave it; they await their hour.
Why does an entire people, at a given moment of their history, feel threatened
with disappearance? Where does this sensation come from of human ventures about
to terminate? Does it come from an accumulation of misfortunes and fears or from
a sort of acute consciousness of the scandalous imperfection of the world? And,
how is the urgent situation to be transformed into a lasting configuration? This
prolongation of the ephemeral is a very rich theme in the history of religion.
To survive one must organize, establish a church, an administration, rules,
hierarchies. From there arise the problems linked with temporal power. The state
of urgency disappears. This attitude is found in almost all parts of the 15th
and 16th centuries, and later goes away to return under attenuated forms.
Various times in the 19th century some local prophets announce the end of the
world on a precise date, this being classic prophecy.
     Two attitudes exist: the hope of eternal life or the disenchanted
expectation of the end; they are opposite attitudes, yet inseparable. We see a
tribe of poor devils who peruse the Internet to escape the emptiness of their
maladaptation. Chronological precision is a constant feature of the wise men. We
find this type of invitation to embark towards the beyond in the gnostic
literature at the beginnings of the Christian era. Whatever may be the progress
that civilization registers and the evolution of consciousness and of the laws,
and our practice in cyberspace, for some there is the certainty that times are
going to end. Why not in everyone? Because a normal person, situated in time,
who knows where they came from and has a past, remembers their life and what
they have learned. They also have a present, an identity, a future, projects,
and know they are going to die. A normal person is capable of telling their
story and locating themself in time, yet a society has more difficulty admitting
that it is mortal. Societies are unaware of the circumstances where they
appeared. They begin to measure real duration of history in the 16th century; at
that point time entered into history. The 16th century is also the epoch which
sees the disappearance of the myth of the golden age, that idyllic time of
     Perhaps the Big Bang is not the start of the universe, but instead the
beginning of our possibility of speaking of the universe. Before this
"beginning" we could say nothing. One can imagine something before the beginning
of time, yet it is inconceivable: one cannot speak of time before there is
anything to support time, or matter. Everything is subject to time, everything
of which we can speak. The scientists make this assertion: if there exist at
least ten or 11 dimensions of space, or even more, until now there is only one
single dimension of time, everything "aging," with one sole exception: the
elementary particles. To be subject to time means that there is transformation.
The particles are not transformed, and an electron or neutron have never been
seen to die. The particles are freed, available for a new venture. No one has
even seen these elementary particles: their tracks are detected. Time is an
attribute not of elementary matter, but of its form. When the particles begin to
form into atoms, and the atoms into molecules, then time appears. Whatever might
be the forms in which the universe and the bodies that comprise it may be
displayed, time carries them in a single action, while the very matter that
constitutes them continues indifferently.
     It seems to me that this irreversibility of time, which is applied only to
forms, to systems, and not to elemental matter, can be interpreted in two ways:
the first consists in saying that time is only an illusion; Einstein wrote in a
letter citing Étienne Klein: "for we physicists, the distinction between
past, present and future is only a tenacious illusion." For Prigogine, however,
the arrow of time exists, although the apparent insensibility of the particles
seems to lead us to believe the contrary. Time "existed" even before the
beginning of the universe. Is there perhaps an analogy between this and the
myths of the origins? The cosmogonies do not take the origin of the world into
account. They assume a divine will to impose order upon the chaos. The ritual
shall be the proclamation willing that order defeat chaos. With the "creation,"
form defeats the unformed, but the price that must be paid for this bet on form,
on order, is time, that is to say, mortality. All form is mortal, and mortality
is born along with life.
     Not every people have had the need of a creation, with some rare traditions
existing, for example: the aborigines of Australia, for whom the world is given
as having existed for all eternity. Yet the majority of traditions present a
founding myth. Even in cyclical Indian thought there was a beginning; in one of
the traditions, at the beginning music appeared, a series of vibrations which,
over immeasurable time, propagated through the cosmos. These waves began to form
sounds, those sounds formed modulations, and from those modulations came the
voices that formulated the "om," the fundamental sound. Little by little, the
Vedas were articulated. The cosmos was that which formulated them. At the same
time, an egg appears in the cosmos, which exploded. The creative principle
emerged from that. It was displaced and its members have formed the different
parts of the universe. This universe, as in the Aztec tradition, must be
reformed. There are analogous founding myths in a great number of traditions.
     Let us begin to reflect on the surprising density of the ancient pedestal
upon which we rest. The history of mankind is so short in comparison with other
species... The idea of the creation, in its extreme simplification, is
manifestly false, and is still imposed because we suffer from a true incapacity
to understand no matter how late the time. There is a time starting when one can
think of the universe and talk about it. When we speak of the end of times, we
speak of human times. In a sense, the end of times is the triumph of time. In
the midst of time we have created multiple times; previously, our life was
divided into periods or stations; we have erased these differences and have made
uniform the little moments of our life. There exists life and there exists an
afterwards, paradise or hell. In the oriental tradition we find nirvana. No one
knows very well what it is, the notion being more complex than that of our
paradise. In nirvana there is no longer consciousness. There is nothing. Now
then, nothing permits affirming that an absolute time exists prior to the world
and its forms. Every time of humanity has left its track. We always err when we
judge our era; we cannot retreat to judge our own time. An editorial is neither
a thought nor a joint viewpoint, it is a shudder. No social model has changed
us. The human being is always true to herself; as deceptive as she has always
been. The progress of man through culture is only an illusion. We have changed,
not become better. In a century world population has multiplied by seven. We
have lost our mythic referents. We have found ourselves alone in space and time:
nothing before, nothing after; passing between two nothings.
     Our violence reminds us of the Ratopolis syndrome, our initial animality.
The principle is this: rats are put into a certain habitat, their numbers
increase but also their food ration; starting at a certain number, even though
they have food and drink, they savagely kill one another. Meanwhile, inequality
increases: at the end of the 17th century, the rich countries and the poor
countries were in an unequal relation of one to five. At the end of the 20th
century, the relation is one rich person to four thousand. Our best inventions
do not manage to improve us. The only nation in the world that has managed to
use TV pedagogically is India. Indira Gandhi and her ministers imposed
educational programs over 20 years. The Indian people have made considerable
progress in knowledge. What has happened in Mexico is more properly the
contrary. We question whether we really are worthy of communicating or whether,
more likely, we are not susceptible to transmit as much damage as good from one
to another.
     Today we comprehend that wisdom necessarily brings ignorance with it. If we
wish to possess precise knowledge in one field, there is not time to know the
others. We need references, we swing from the past. To live without the past is
like walking on a thread over a vacuum, without a net. If the present does not
suit us, we have no escape route. As against those greater problems, the turn
of the millennium is no more than an arithmetical festivity. Pessimism is not
rule: Hölderlin said that "where the danger is, also grows the saving
power." I do not like to bet on ignorance: everything can neither be ignored,
nor everything known. Yet the time of closure, of isolation, has ended. Nor do I
like to believe that the opening to the world is only an opening to the United
States. The north Americans are lowering the cultural level to an exercise of
commercial trade. I prefer to open myself to the other chambers of the world.
For a medieval peasant, the idea of going around the world was incongruous.
Today even those who are not rich know something of the Orient. It startles us
to learn that for Buddhism, the notion of impermanence is an intimate component
of all things. Knowledge of our fragility is not longstanding.
     It was not until 1921 that the Sun stopped being considered the center of
the world, only one year before the first Big Bang theory would be enunciated.
The universe has attained proportions in the 20th century that touch the
inconceivable. How to imagine a distance of ten thousand million light years?
The planet shudders to the extent that the universe affirms its dimension. We
who thought the Earth was the whole world, discover that it does not even
represent a grain of sand in that endless beach that is the universe. The
universe is ungraspable, yet is identical to ourselves, is composed of the same
matter as our own, the same elementary particles and the same atoms. That which
seems lost in the distance, in an unmeasured space, is re-encountered in the
     Stephen Jay Gould says that the discovery of deep time, in the 19th
century, is the major scientific discovery of all time. To conquer space, I must
conquer time. Space and time are two Siamese twins, and it is impossible to
summon one without the other coming. Nevertheless, this pair is rare, because
one, time, is unique, while the other, space, is multiple. The scientists have
never been able to experience a second dimension to time; whereas, beyond the
three habitual dimensions that we all know, now one speaks of 10 or 11
dimensions for space. The scientists are much more dreamers than they were
previously. After which, during past centuries, they defined science as a
rigorous activity, today they recognize that the frontiers between what can be
known scientifically and the rest are much less clear than a hundred years ago.
They speak of peculiar things, like dark matter, which is something different
from anti-matter, or the shadow universe. Science, which has made immense
discoveries in the 20th century, has also lost its arrogance. That is good. This
science, which its adepts have made modest, also recognizes its zones of
silence and is quiet in them. In fact, what has been reduced is not space, it is
our aptitude to traverse it. Shrunken time causes space to appear shorter.
Perhaps virtual space is a space? The image of synthesis is only a mathematical
project. Virtual space does not have a real existence; however, past time is
real to the computer. The space is virtual, but time keeps being real. The old
couple have separated.
     The 20th century amused itself making us fight with time. These paradoxes
could mean that time is a creation of consciousness. The 6th century was a
"crossroads" epoch, in which men, in the West, little by little became conscious
of time and of space. Western civilization was established within time. This
time shall be called history. Mankind in the past lived solely in their time, in
their delimited era. The greatest author of science fiction is Marcel Proust,
the last word on the last page of his work Remembrance of things past is
"time." We can become friends of space. We continue to be slaves of time.
Everything that we say, do , think, is necessarily inscribed in time. The
Mythologies of Lévy-Strauss ends with the word "nothing." In a
certain time there will remain nothing. Nothing of what we have imagined, of
what we have constructed, of what we have thought, of what we have remembered,
of what we have dreamed. There will not even remain a memory of this
destruction. This whole library of human works, of human thoughts... The
universe also is embedded in time, Like ourselves, it will have an end.
     The astronomer Carl Sagan imagined the idea of the cosmic year, which
consists in spreading the history of the universe over a year. The Big Bang is
located on the 1st of January and you have the dinosaurs in November. The
appearance of Homo Sapiens will be several minutes before midnight on
the 31st of December. We are young in the world, recently arrived into time. If
we prolong the cosmic year, the "nothing" of Lévy-Strauss, the true end of
times, it is predicted for the month of April of the following year, but only as
concerns our solar system. In 4,200 million years, the Sun will have burnt all
its energy and the Earth will be uninhabitable. It will be the end of our world,
but also the world's end. We can distinguish three definitions of the end of
times: the first is the end of the human species, to which we belong; the second
is the end of all forms of life on Earth; after that, we pass to a final level,
in which the destruction goes beyond the Earth, to the set of planets of the
solar system and even to the destruction of the universe in its totality.
     All this does not have very much to do with religions. Religions are a slow
human invention. We know well enough how they appeared, how the first cults were
timidly established and later developed, how the first gods assumed diverse
forms and functions, how they shrank and ended by being only one. Yet a moment
always arrives, in this slow elaboration, when we stop believing in what we have
imagined in the past. A little as if we were to believe in the reality of our
ancient dreams. Man invented the gods, and later God. But the more passionate
question is this: how has this high perversion of the human spirit led, and
continues to lead, to the affirmation of transcendent realities? Even more: how,
after affirming that these realities escape us, since they are transcendental,
beyond the reach of our spirit, how after this, we begin to describe them, to
dissect them, to establish God's attributes, the hierarchy of the angels?
Einstein said of these questions that not only had the science not been
resolved, but that they continue at the center of all intellectual activity. He
also said that a person not capable of questioning them would be incapable of
living. Wanting to confront these questions is like wanting to empty the ocean
with a cup, with the same patience and the same efficacy. The religions do not
posit questions, they answer them. They are the very negation of due diligence.
Buddhism avoids this impulse, is perhaps the only tradition that makes a real
effort in this sense.
     We see the effects of time, but nobody can say they have ever seen time
itself. We are a house of time. Our body carries its marks, as if one dealt with
wilderness tracks. We are the witnesses, the proof of time. Bergson spoke of his
duration, of subjective time. Although since saint Augustine time has been
considered our great master, our western culture has produced few true
reflections upon time.


The world is open. Every individual re-invents it according to how she reads it.
Our propensity to decree that we live in the most dangerous era for the future
of the species is an evil shared by the entirety of the human community. I do
not believe that the people should be more worried at the approach of the third
millennium, it being the press who wants to create a psychosis. There have
been people waiting for the end of the world. There was not, as I indicated,
terror in the year 1000. The millenarian panics have been manifested before or
after. There may have been manifestations of fear here and there, aroused by
heretical sects, but the church suppressed the phenomena to avoid contributing
to the discomfort.
     Against all the millenarian tendency, the church returned to Augustine's
interpretation: the thousand years of happiness, of which the Apocalypse
speaks, were already there; the thousand only signifies a very long time.
Augustine ruined the millenarian utopia and, in the theological arena,
vanquished millenarianism. It is no longer a theological problem. It is always
a popular movement. A millenarian emperor has never been seen, for it always
concerns dissatisfied individuals seeking change. The apocalyptic movements are
revolutionary movements, and at all time the church involved itself, yet it
tried to bury the year 1000. The people laugh at imaginary fears, and the
journalists are those who invent them. I repeat, there are always reactionaries
of fear, but the guardian of ideology and of memory, the church, does whatever
possible to quiet them.
     At the end of the second millennium, the guardians of the ideology and of
memory are the media, and they do whatever possible to cover the subject. From
an excess of records, our descendants might arrive at the conclusion that all
humanity was terrorized. The church had as its slogan: "do not make noise"; the
motto of the media is: "make the most noise possible." Is there perhaps some
coincidence between a crisis of civilization and the turn of the millennium? It
is an occasion to reflect on our history. If someone feels themselves aging,
think of making your will and a recounting of your life. It is a pretext for
knowing when we have fallen ill and which are the means for getting out of
     Many epochs have been perceived by those living in them as the end of
civilization. The end of a century always produces a sensation of exhaustion.
The end of the 19th century, that of the 18th, and now the enchantment of that
triple zero that we have lived, it was the fiesta of the numerologists.
One can make numbers say anything. There was an interpretive paranoia, such as
for example: to associate an earthquake or hurricane with the year 2000. We ask
whether it was the year 2000 or the fall of the Berlin wall which engendered
those behaviors.
     The great ideologies fall. Mankind, who is a religious animal by
definition, has only four options:  they can adopt a philosophical position
--this is an aristocratic option--, can prefer the official religion, can join
a sect, or can opt for a non-repressive sect. Religion is less protective than
an ideology, such as Nazism or Marxism, which resolves every moment of life.
A sect permits abdicating one's own will to obey the will of a guru; it is in
those media where they speak of a new age, and it is probably the consequence of
the fall of the great ideologies. The fourth option is that of a less repressive
sect, less demanding than a religion and more amusing than a philosophy, like
New Age, the absolute syncretism that accepts the truth of every position
without the need for rational control. They accept everything, flying saucers,
macrobiotics and Buddhism. One assembles their own menu, and thus it is
something like a do it yourself religion.
     When the utopia of '68 entered into crisis and the moment of
perestroika arrived, in many countries the revolutionaries converted to
mysticism: now that we cannot change the world, then we shall establish the need
for another reality, without coherence mattering. If we are going to seek the
roots of the movement of '68 in California, we find in germ all the elements of
New Age: "flower power," peyote, Don Juan de Castaneda; many 68'ers are
Buddhists today or New Age followers.
     Millenarian thought is today more characteristic of the lay world than the
Christian world. The lay world tries to ignore it, but there it is: in his
Apocalypse, John speaks of the sea that turns to blood, the stars that
fall from the sky, the locusts that come forth from the abyss, the armies of Gog
and Magog which advance and the Beast that emerges from the sea. We have our
apocalyptic fears today: a hole in the ozone cap, the proliferation of nuclear
wastes, climate change, the thawing of the poles, the disappearance of certain
species. For religious thought, the end of times is an episode that leads to
the "radiant" city. For lay thought, it is the end of everything. The carpe
diem comes to an end. Mankind has a sharp sense of the continuity of history
and of community, a non-religious manner of considering the end. In lay society
we find this thought in the occult layers. However, even the last of the
believers, the most humble, the least instructed, is convinced that mortality is
only a step. Judeo-Christianity has invented history as a journey, and that
journey centers upon successive steps. The only thing that will disappear on
the day of final judgment is purgatory. Purgatory is a recent invention. The
function of the Apocalypse is not to speak of the end of the world, but
instead to try to evoke the celestial Jerusalem.
     Today, an entire literature tries to put into relation the tragic events
which we experience with some passages of the Bible. In every century some
events have been interpreted in relation to the apocalyptic text: the comet, the
cow that has two heads, are interpreted as warning signs of the dramatic end of
the human species. This need to think of the end of the world is a sort of
optical illusion, linked to the fact that men are mortal. Human beings are the
only animals who know that they are going to die. Mankind transfers this
fundamental idea to their notion of the universe. Experience has taught us we
are going to die, yet we do not have this same experience concerning the
universe, because no one has survived the end of the universe. This
transposition is a logical error: one cannot apply to the world the laws that
the world imposes on its objects. All cosmogony proceeds from a personification
of the universe, considered like a great living being. Yet the universe is not
an animal. The astrophysicists tell us that the universe exists since 13 billion
years ago, and that it will exist, perhaps, another few hundred billions. The
end of times is not the end of time. You and I are destined to die, humanity
too, probably, and the galaxies that we know. But this does not mean that the
universe is going to disappear. This is the positive meaning in the message of
the Apocalypse, even for those who do not believe it. Furthermore, our
ideas about the universe continue to be very imprecise. We know almost
everything about the human body, yet we know almost nothing about the real
dimensions of the universe. Therefore, we turn toward the mythologies, the
occultist theories, the irrational approaches. This universe is a being without
beginning or end, which makes it almost impossible to anthropomorphize. To say
that time has a single direction is not the same as to say that it has an end.
The matter resembles that concerning the eternity of the world, which was
debated in the Middle Ages. Saint Thomas was interested in demonstrating that
the world was not eternal, because, if it were, the idea of a creator God would
become useless. He had to conclude that the possibility did not exist to
rationally demonstrate that the world is not eternal. It cannot be proved.
     The inclination toward interpretive delirium is linked to a relation that
the West maintains with linear time. Every tendency toward interpretive
paranoia, all esoteric and occultist thought, all thought considered as that of
the "tradition," all New Age and anti-modern thought, which at times calls
itself post-modern, refuses to recognize the reality of the arrow of time. Many
occultists move towards Oriental thought, which does not give the arrow of time
as much importance as we do. For some Oriental religions or philosophies, these
relations of cause-and-effect are surface phenomena that have nothing to do with
a metaphysics of an eternal cycle or of eternal return. But occultist Western
thought applies this contempt for the arrow of time to other phenomena.
     Contemporary science is the daughter of a Judeo-Christian vision of the
world. The arrow of time does not exist in the ancient mythologies: it is an
invention of Christianity, the heir of traditional Judaism. We must think of an
earthly history that goes from the present to the future, with no return
possible; we must think that later a celestial history begins. In contrast, the
esoteric thought that re-appears after the Renaissance is thought of the eternal
return. According to this thought, everything that can be said has already been
said in the most distant antiquity, and one needs only to rediscover a hidden
wisdom. According to this thought, there is not progress in knowledge. In
Polynesia, in Melanesia, when the European navies appeared, these people
imagined that some divinities disembarked to bestow happiness on them. This is a
millenarian attitude. For the ancient Mexicans, Cortés and his soldiers
incarnated some gods arrived from the sea. Cortés took advantage of this
credulity of the Mexicans and destroyed their civilization without any remorse.
This civilization died because of its own millenarian illusion. The ancient
Mexicans had no notion of progress; by contrast, modernity has been constructed
upon the notion of progress. This is its great myth.
     Our Western civilization was born starting from the idea of a certain
direction for history. Yet there are two ways of understanding the notion of
progress: one is never to go backwards; the other is that everything which comes
later is better than that which existed before. The two ideas are not identical.
The 19th century divinized the idea of progress as an infinite perfecting. This
idea is the great sin of modern civilization. Our century has understood that
progress is not necessarily continuous. One can know regress. The 19th century
marks, at the same time, the great celebration of progress and the beginning of
a profound moral crisis. It produced a fundamentalism of progress. Ecology may
represent the most important moment in this questioning of progress.
     In 1999 we had the information apocalypse, the "Millennium Bug," which,
supposedly, threatened all the computers on the planet on the first day of
January of the year 2000. The true problem was not how to solve it, for it dealt
simply with a question of money, but instead, how could such a thing have
happened? How could such a dumb error have been committed by the geniuses who
invented contemporary informatics? Those same men who have radically transformed
our manner of thinking, working, communicating. They were not Neanderthal men
who had an imprecise idea of the past and of the future, but men who knew
history, who had learned that the centuries have the habit of succeeding one
another. How did they not perceive, at least for 20 years, that maybe their
"software" would not function after the year 2000? There are only two possible
explanations: the first is that they knew perfectly what they were doing, but
their concern was to sell a convenient product in the 1980's. They did it, then,
without worrying about the future. Twenty years was a temporal distance that did
not correspond to the dimensions of their investment, moral and financial. The
second explanation is that the informaticians were so accustomed to an economy
based upon the short term, that they did not think that what they sold at the
beginning of the 1980's would be still functioning in December of 1999. If they
reasoned thusly, they committed a fatal error. They forgot that all the
hardware and all the software could be replaced, but that memory,
as such, keeps being forever the same.
     Since the 1980's, a bank might have changed its machines and its
information programs various times, but each new program would have had to fed
with the preceding memory. This represents an inability to think for the long
run. The biggest imbecility in history was that of Napoleon, who sold Louisiana
to finance his expedition to Russia. Louisiana was the more cultivated region,
occupying the length of the Mississippi. The problem has become a symptom of the
difficult relation between memory, as the treasury of the past, and the future.
If there is a problem at this beginning of the third millennium, it is the loss
of historical memory. They will tell me: "The Internet puts at my disposal
something like the total memory of humanity." Over centuries, our culture
defined itself by an uninterrupted accumulation of knowledge. We have learned
the solar system of Ptolemy, later that of Galileo, later that of Kepler; but
the history of civilizations is a succession of holes, into which tons of
knowledge disappears. The Greeks were incapable of recovering the mathematical
knowledge of the Egyptians, which caused the flowering of occultism, that is
based upon the idea of recovering the lost ancient wisdoms. Later, the Middle
Ages lost all the Greek science, half of Aristotle, a good part of Plato. In
each age they lost part of the previous knowledge. On occasion they can recover
some fragments of the lost wisdom; most times we remain impotent before the
losses. Social and cultural memory has the function of filtering, not of
preserving. We do not lament, for example, Mesopotamian mathematics. Sometimes
there is censorship, as in the Inquisition, as with Stalin, or with
"politically correct" sectarians, but the function of individual or collective
memory is to filter.
     Culture is comprised of memory and of forgetting. It is a difficult
equilibrium. Nothing survives without memory. Societies have always reckoned on
the conservation of memory, starting with the role of the elder of the tribe. He
transmitted the legends to the young generations, and it was thus that the group
maintained its identity. Every civilization encounters its identity when a great
poet composes its founding myth. But when, in a society, censorship erases part
of the memory, that society enters into crisis. Memory is found amputated,
alienated. Memory should be respected, even when it may be cruel. To remember is
to choose; if one were to remember everything, it would be like Funes of Borges,
who remembered every leaf of every tree that he had seen in his life, and every
letter of every sentence of all the books which he had read, and now could
neither act nor move. That which characterizes the transmission of memory is
filtration and, along with it, generalization. The unconscious is a garbage can,
into which one immediately tosses what does not work. The culture, the society,
it amounts to the same. The Internet, or the World Wide Web, is an immense
Funes. Until now society had done filtering for us, by means of manual and
     With the Web, all knowledge, all possible information, even the least
appropriate, is at our disposal. The question is, who is to filter? Imagining
that we are seeking information about the cultivation of coffee, the Web is
going to give me a list of 14 million sites where the word coffee is used. Our
society is moving towards having an electronic head constructed after the model
of the head of Funes the Memorious. The inability to filter is the inability to
discriminate; 14 million sites is the same as none. We cannot choose. This
memory of everything overwhelms us. We have enlarged our capacities of
accumulation of memory, but we still have not found the new parameter for
filtration. An art of forgetting must be created. It is impossible to invent a
technique for forgetting, because it is impossible to forget voluntarily. In
the Renaissance art of mnemonics there is a chapter on means to forget--which
is laughable--yet forgetting is accidental and involuntary. It can be favored by
an excess of information, but forgetting depends on chance, and cannot
be programmed. The morality confronting the Web is that we have not a single
rule to select the information, nor any rule to forget what does not merit being
remembered. We only have certain criteria of selection available to the degree
we are intellectually prepared to confront the test. Let me explain: I need
information about Kant, so I activate the Web and find an incredible amount of
information on his philosophy. If I have a good philosophical background, I
shall be capable of eliminated the foolishness, the fanatics, the sites that
produce information at the first-grade level. Little by little, I select some
ten valid sites. But I can do so because I am a specialist, have behind me a
life of study. The others, the innocents who seek on the Web what there is to
know about Kant, will be more lost than the village boy who only finds in the
house of the priest an old history of philosophy written by a Jesuit of the 18th
century. In the absence of a party or a religion, the people revert to sects to
find an authority that will take charge of filtering their information. The
freedom to choose from a multiplicity of information is positive for the
intellectually rich, those who are capable of exercising critical
discrimination, not for the poor. We are moving toward a new division of
classes, founded now not on money, but instead upon the capacity to exercise a
critical spirit and to choose among information.
     What solutions are there before this globalization of memory? An
apprenticeship in selection. Before total information, a la Funes, everybody has
one option. Previously there existed privileged options: the Catholic option,
the Marxist option, the reactionary option. One could predict how information
would be selected according to whether the reference text was the Bible or
Capital; now, everyone makes a totally unpredictable choice. Six billion
inhabitants of the Earth, six billion ideological options. The result is some
identities with the mediation of the group. I do not know whether such a society
has a possibility of functioning. The individual demands criteria, hierarchy.
Nothing in our personal life is capable of constructing criteria, so we accept
the filter of the collective memory. Imagine that we are asked to forget
everything that we have learned about astronomy. Everyone, over the course of
their life, would have the duty of reconstituting the planetary system by
observing the passage of the Sun; it would be senseless. We require that a
preceding culture has filtered that knowledge and has given us a coherent
description of the planetary system. It does not matter if it is erroneous. They
lived tranquilly for millennia confiding in the Ptolomaic system; the Earth kept
turning and nobody died. Later, Galileo understood something further, which
allowed us to go to the Moon. Yet we could have been able to live very well
with a false system, beginning from the moment that it is coherent. Marginal
critiques will be made, epicycles will be added. It is impossible to ask of each
human that they construct such a system in the course of their life. Today, even
though each may be given the totality of knowledge, even if we imagine that in
the midst of this labyrinth every individual is capable of constructing their
own memory, we would have a society of six billion memories, a society that
would speak six billion different languages.
     I shall say something very cruel to the autodidacts. True geniuses can be
found among them, yet they always lack something. The advantage of regular
education, with its filters, is that of presenting knowledge in the degree to
which we can absorb it. The tower of Babel was formed by people who spoke 70
different languages, but the Web is going to produce millions of different
     What do the denialists (those who deny the Nazi crimes) do? They do that:
they relate in a personal manner all the elements of information that circulate
in the historical encyclopedia,  discarding some, highlighting others. They do
not follow collective criteria. This perverse logic can become the logic of the
Web. Each person will produce their own criteria to select information, that is,
history a la carte. It will be the day when all common norms will disappear,
because each person will be able to invent their own reading of historical and
scientific events, with no common basis remaining to give sense to our
collective adventure. Then the problem arises of the storage and conservation of
an ever heavier memory. Suppose one manages to put together an accessible
standard memory, an encyclopedia of encyclopedias. How to preserve it? In the
form of a book? No. That was possible in the time of Diderot, not afterwards. In
the middle of the 19th century they stopped making paper from rags and began to
produce it starting from wood, of cellulose. Then the problem of the acidity
factor emerged. A text printed in the 15th century is still fresh. A current
book has an average life expectancy of 70 years. The works from the 1940's and
1950's are in pieces. How to save the information? With microfilms? It is very
expensive, having to record page by page, and there are libraries that have
millions of books. We never could process all the books, and a selection would
have to be made. Who would make it? How would the committee charged with that be
selected? Who would dare decide that López should survive and that
Pérez should be eliminated? The true choice of memory follows the rhythm of
the generations. It is an entire society which debates and decides what should
survive. The accumulation of all those memories will serve, perhaps, to preserve
some references, not to fall into the illusion of absolute novelty. There is
never absolute novelty. If a new vision of the world were suddenly proposed to
us that contained the global set of knowledge, we would be incapable of
assimilating it. Knowledge is reformist, not revolutionary. It proceeds through
discrete changes, maintaining the whole in balance. The renovator's part should
always be articulated along with the conservator's part.
     At the end of the 20th century we had the sensation of experiencing a
general questioning of all the inherited knowledge of the preceding centuries.
The jolts were considerable, and we asked ourselves whether we had more doubts
than other centuries; yet the 17th century had more doubts than ourselves. The
difference from that which occurs today is that that disillusion then only
affected a small class of wise persons and intellectuals. The peasants ignored
it, it seeming to them that there was permanence. Today too there are some
permanent certainties. We leave aside the revolutionary sects and the crazies:
we know that our way of building houses is valid starting from the moment when
they remain standing for a lapse of time. No one has yet proposed new rules for
singing scales. Our century is not the only one that knew tremors in the edifice
of knowledge, but we are going faster. There were other epochs when the limits
between the imaginary and the real were very tenuous. The Greeks and the Romans
mixed reality and fiction without any line of demarcation. The people of the
Middle Ages saw unicorns in the forest. Modernity has accustomed us to set a
line of separation between the imaginary and the real. Today the people, at
times, do not perceive the difference between a virtual reality and a real
reality. For example: a Japanese phenomenon, a woman named Yoko, who became a
celebrated star. Yoko does not exist, was produced by a computer, combining
elements that were supposed  to represent the optimum. Yoko appears on
television, talks with other guests, is very popular, and many people write to
her; the virtual is not that which hitherto was called "the collective
imagination." No one has yet written letters to Little Red Riding Hood, yet they
have written letters to Yoko.
     Regarding the problem of the violence on television, it is now not a
confusion between the virtual and the real, but instead of imitation. If there
are two suicides on the front page of the newspapers, there will be a third the
following day. The violence on television engenders a mimetic violence. Another
form of violence exists, which is virtual: it is that contained in animated
cartoons or in video games. This is the true confusion between the virtual and
the real. In a certain sense, to be on the media is already to belong to the
virtual world.
     The 20th century already ended. How was it different from those that
preceded it? They have killed in previous centuries with less remorse, with more
banality. In our century, the massacres have had an industrial organization. The
previous ones required a more direct cruelty. Our cruelty is more cowardly,
without grandeur. Hypocrisy is a constant of the moral conscience, because it
consists in recognizing the good and appreciating it even while one is
committing evil. Our century ponders the great crimes of the past, and the great
threat to the future is that for the first time in the history of humanity we
have the possibility of destroying the planet. Our manner of transforming nature
is also tragic, without negotiating with her. The process of destruction of the
environment began with the invention of fire, with the first blow that was given
to the flint to change its form. Starting from the moment when mankind
acts upon the world, they transform and destroy it. The Earth is the planet plus
the species which live on it. The planet had millions of years to accustom
itself to the constructions of bees. We change our technology every six months.
Our problem consists in making a pact with the Earth, which we need. We should
test up to what point it can support us. One has to negotiate. Deodorant in
aerosol was changed to that in a bar, this being an example of a negotiation
well-conducted. That of gasoline automobiles has not been achieved yet. We have
reflection inscribed with the short-term: all the inventions conceived at the
end of the 20th century are based on the principle of the short-term. The
negotiation should be founded on common sense, yet that is contrary to our
elemental impulses. At the precise moment when the danger becomes immediate
and mortal, the recourse to negotiation will seem impossible. Among the wishes
for the next century and millennium, should be the hope for a new ethic for this
     The reign of the craze for the new object is less than 50 years old. We
shall return, little by little, to a less wasteful civilization. The progress is
not linear. A society should determine a certain number of prohibitions that are
the result of prolonged negotiations. The central principle of the negotiation
is contractual realism. Now then, apart from atomic energy and television, all
the great inventions are prior to the 20th century as far as their fundamental
principles are concerned, including the computer, radio, electricity, aviation,
the automobile. Since the 19th century we have a society founded upon
technology; the great revolution of our century is not technological, but
social. A new type of relationship between persons has appeared. In the 19th
century, when the airplane, the automobile and electricity were invented, the
relations between parents and children, between men and women, were identical
to those of the Middle Ages. The children worked. There was no true change in
customs. The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels was a shout of revolt, an
unheard provocation. Today those values have become universal. One of the
reasons for the fall of communism is not only because it was badly applied, but
because its claims had already become co-opted by advanced capitalism. The
global threats have drawn us together, have given us the feeling of all being in
the same boat. This feeling of having equal dignity is absolutely new. Yet the
emergence of a new moral conscience does not always necessarily correspond to
new moral behavior. A distance exists between proclaimed values and everyday
     Christianity has not changed the moral conscience of the West. An ideology
is a set of ideas that offer a certain vision of the world and of the avenues
for action. We have seen the fall of the great ideologies which demanded
participation in the construction of society. From there an abandonment and
return to religions to rediscover the collective adventure, not out of profound
religious sentiment, but instead by adherence to acceptable ideals of
coexistence in the midst of fraternity. Because there is no communal sense that
supports mankind above the emptiness, the crisis is terrible. The disgrace of
our century is having wanted to realize these utopias in the most scientific
manner possible. The "radiant" cities of the architects have ended in fiascoes.
Likewise the perfect societies of communism. The Utopia conceived by
Thomas More is Orwell's 1984. The 20th century was the century of the
industrialization of utopia. What makes the Holocaust horrendous is that it was
part of a utopian global project. The Crusades had no theories, nor plan of
extermination; what inspired them was a primitive anti-Semitism and a certain
contempt for the human person in general. The genocide of the Jews by the Nazis
is part of a plan for realization of a perfect society. Our era has seen the end
of the Christian hope, and later the end of the secular hope for a radiant
future. Emmanuel Mounier spoke of "a tragic optimism"; this consists in
attaining successive small improvements.
     Why write books if we do not know there will be somebody to read them in
several thousand years? Our identity is founded on a long collective memory. We
have passed from inanimate matter to animated matter, to the material of
thought. It is the theory of Teilhard de Chardin on the process of homonization.
We have prolonged the duration of life, produced new prostheses. Today more
well-formed spirits exist than before, so there exists progress from that point
of view. There is a quantitative growth of the possible. Yet looks at what
Aristotle understood without having the media and the encyclopedias that are
available to us. The difference is that they dealt then with isolated geniuses.
Today a much greater quantity of individuals accedes to knowledge. Regarding
philosophy, that which stimulates questioning has changed, yet the fundamental
problem is always the same. Today we have a pretext to draw up accounts. If I am
a believer, I shall find it sublime that God asked his own son to be sacrificed
for the salvation of all mankind. This is Christianity's specificity. But if I
consider God not to exist, the question becomes even more sublime. I should ask
myself how a part of humanity has had sufficient imagination to invent a God
become man, and who accepts allowing himself to die out of love for humanity.
How humanity has been capable of conceiving such a sublime idea. Previously they
invented gods who devoured their children, adulterous, evil gods; later the idea
of sacrifice out of love was conceived. The invention of Christianity is a
lovely justification for the existence of our species.


The philosophers explain to us that lies give precious indices for those that
want to evaluate history and the meaning of cultural events: the truth about
events is enough to be, whereas lies have to be invented. Lies become unique
phenomena, while truths can be rediscovered. From this basic principle arose
Marx's jest, that great events generally happen twice, first under the form of
tragedy, second under the form of farce.
     Celestial mechanics produces certain real cycles (days, lunar months,
years) which have been recognized by almost all the human calendars. But we have
also constructed bigger cycles, like the centuries and the millennia, whose
assigned duration is totally arbitrary. Nothing in physical or biological nature
functions in centuries of ten or 100 years; thus all our worries, the whole
debate about 2000, are the consequence of our decision to resort to a decimal
arithmetical system and to Arabic numbers, which impose a visual change at
certain dates (the four numbers or digits change from 1999 to 2000). It can be
said that the decimal system has a biological basis: we have ten fingers. Yet
that is solely by chance, the first vertebrates having six or eight fingers on
each extremity. Thus we take that property of arithmetical notation and add two
human characteristics to it: first, a psychological need for order in an
apparently chaotic world, the hope of discovering meaning; later, the myths, the
eschatological belief founded upon the Apocalypse, chapter XX, according
to which Jesus will return for a thousand years of happiness. Another
insignificant debate is that about 2000-2001 and, nevertheless, it is charged
with human passions. Our fascination with the millennium illustrates one of the
fundamental characteristics of human nature: we seek structures, order. We also
tell stories. We need to find meaning in that which does not have it, concocting
a fable. The natural world conforms to the scheme prefigured in our stories. We
end by fabricating false explanations for our stories and trying to impose them
on people who believe in other fables. Millions of persons for some delusions.
There is a strange obsession with this insignificant event which is the
transition of the millennium. Giordano Bruno was burned in the public square,
in 1600, for the crime of having questioned one of the fables of history. Our
stories function as chains. No human struggle is more noble than that which
undertakes to break the chains.
     As against the general opinion that exists among the people who have not
read it, the Apocalypse was written more to bring hope than to terrorize.
The century ending had been that of exile, away from our traditional security.
The references are erased. On one side we have Chesterton's observation, who
says: "When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he
believes anything." On the other side, we note that "wisdom entails ignorance."
Space may be plural, but time is one, so why worry about a strange species that
has only been here for 200 thousand years, while for bacteria it is 3,500
million years? Not everything is determined. The laws of physics give a general
picture upon which nature can embroider. The unpredictable exists; determinism
and liberty maintain a certain equilibrium. Did creation perhaps have a meaning?
Does human life perhaps have one too? They are questions to which science has
not been able to respond. Science is on another register. This turn of the
millennium only has meaning to mark 2000 years of Christianity. It concerns the
passage to the third millennium of the Christian era. The historian is not a
futurologist, can only tell stories about the past and find characteristics
susceptible to being enacted in the future. One must remind the forgetful it is
not chance that modern science as well as human rights were born on Christian
lands. Christianity has shown an extraordinary capacity for renewal and
adaptation throughout time and space. From the viewpoint of Christian history,
we are at the end of a time: that of conformity, that of a religion inherited
from the family; since we are entering into the Christianity of the baptism of
     The "conclusion" is a human device, is the final fruit of our rhetoric. The
universe has no conclusion, nor does history. We have not spoken of time but
instead of the forms of grasping it. We have the sovereign conviction of living
within a particular, exceptional fragment of time. For some 200 years, since the
start of the great acceleration, every generation has affirmed that now nothing
will ever be like it was before. It was the time of times, the fatal crux, the
rupture. The last of the prophets are the cyberprophets: everything will come
from shared information.
     The old world falls, long live the virtual. Our problems will be resolved
at last, our worries will end, our old sins will be impractical. Of course, this
fashion will pass, is already passing. Some return to solitude and slowness. The
idea of annihilation is linked to the superficial reaction of "enough, this
cannot go on," a feeling that acceleration becomes more acute because every
engine that is tried, explodes. What will remain of our small and varied times?
Undoubtedly we shall live longer. This will modify our relation not with time,
but with duration. We shall conserve ourselves thanks to multiple prostheses,
which means that, if mortality erases, birth, prohibited by the immortals, also
will erase. It will be the end of evolution, of this time that slowly produces
us. It is a common vision within science fiction: the demise of mortality. A
radical change in our relationship to the only time that matters to us, that of
our own life. I imagine, in a neighboring galaxy, on a very large planet, an
intelligent species. Throughout the millennia it has managed to adapt itself to
the gravitation and has developed a civilization which we do not know.
Unfortunately, the occupants of this planet have not managed to extirpate from
themselves the fearsome defects that accompany intelligence. They are greedy,
conquistadors, brutal, and wholly odious. Therefore, the superior authorities of
the galaxy (whom the people of the planet call gods) decided to destroy all life
and start it again in another place. They prepare a total weapon, the ray of the
gods. By pain of prayer and of sacrifice, the occupants of the planet manage to
pacify the authorities. They are going to give them a truce. But the weapon has
already been launched into space, and it is impossible to make it return or
stop it, only to deflect it. The terrible weapon approaches and, at the last
instant, passes to one side. Everyone breathes, it follows its wild path, leaves
its solar system, penetrates ours and hits the Earth. Nothing remains of us.
Time continues, imperturbable, and on the saved planet, life continues. The
business, the expeditions, the fears continue.
     Mankind cannot manage to conceive that things happen by chance.
Furthermore, they have a holy horror of chance. For this reason they always need
to invent stories that explain what has happened. The atmosphere of the end of
times favors the syndrome of the plot present in classical mythology: the fall
of Troy is the consequence of a commercial conflict between Greece and Asia
Minor, yet is presented as the fruit of a confederacy fomented by the gods. This
syndrome is at the root of all attempts to explain unexpected or extraordinary
events. The theory of the plot is the mythological version of the explanation of
chance. When a phenomenon cannot be understood, the human spirit searches for an
explanation. Our century has produced many plots. We shall keep looking for
them. The culture lets something go only to recover it later. It filters memory.
Some phenomena owe nothing to the plot. What are we seeing? The end of a Europe
of national states, for example. The national state is a recent invention: a
century and a half for Italy and Germany. That which is less solid is crumbling.
There is a permanent commercial and cultural interchange. We are seeing the end
of representative democracy. To govern, a chief is chosen for their media
qualities. The choice of the citizens is tied to the society of spectacle, and
not a political option. We are witnessing the end of ethics. All moral doctrines
propose a model of behavior that should strive to imitate the saint, the wise
man, the guru, the hero; yet television proposes the normal person as the model.
The case of Lady Di is exemplary: normality in the media universe sets the
scene. Ethical success will hence have no relation to the search for virtue, but
instead with visibility.

                              Chapter II
                    The events and discoveries

What are the greatest events or discoveries of humanity over the last 50 years?
We start from the post-war euphoria. The science that fascinates. In 50 years,
all fields of research like states of mind have evolved. Triumphant science has
ended. We have entered upon a long period of doubts. The good and the bad
concern us, the better and the worse. Every organism, every nation, is endowed
with structures of reflection. The problem does not come from the instrument but
instead from she who uses it. How did the world look 50 years ago? The war and
its displacement of populations have created habits of independence. Many
members of a single family go in search of another roof whereas before the war
they would have contented themselves with a place in their own home. Progress
triumphs. The frontiers explode: that of velocity, with the first jet engines;
that of space, with the great telescopes that can capture the image of nebulae
several billion light years away. Two years before the fifty, in 1948, the anti-
inflammatory effect of cortisone is discovered; the Big Bang theory is
elaborated and that of the stationary universe; the emission of X-rays by the
sun is discovered; the system of radiocarbon dating is introduced; the
transistor is invented and the theoretical foundation is laid which will give
rise in 1962 to holography, when the laser beam become available. The first
photographic apparatus with instantaneous developing also dates from 1948. In
1949 Miranda is discovered, the smallest moon of Uranus, and Nereida, a new
moon of Neptune; the knowledge of the atom is made more complex with discoveries
about the meson. In 1950, the great telescope of Mount Palomar explores the
universe and Edwin Hubble writes: "let us go on to discover the zone from which
matter emerges." In 1951 the first observation of the hydrogen neutron in the
interstellar clouds occurs; the first universal electronic calculator is
produced. In 1952 Everest is conquered and the first hydrogen bomb explodes in
the Marshall islands. In 1953, Watson and Gick elucidate the double helix
structure of DNA; Miller synthesizes the amino acids reconstituting the physico-
chemical conditions present on the Earth before the birth of life; and 20th
Century Fox launches cinemascope. In 1954 the vaccine is discovered against
poliomyelitis; the first civil nuclear power plant in the world is opened, in
Obninsk, in the Soviet Union; the first nuclear propulsion submarine, the
Nautilus, is constructed. In 1955 Einstein dies; the oral contraceptive pill is
discovered; the structure of the insulin molecule is established; it is
discovered that bees possess and internal clock. In 1956 the hormone for growth
is isolated; fabrics start to have the names of medicines: dacron, nylon, rayon,
orlon and, like the medicines, require a guide for their use; wash and
wear; manufacture of the transistor in series begins, and its developers
receive the Nobel prize. 1957 is the year of the first modified animals, the
first steps towards cloning; the first transplant of bone marrow; the mechanism
of slow and rapid eye movement sleep is discovered. In 1958 Sputnik is
launched, and mankind if liberated from the planet; the compatibility groups
which determine whether a transplant can be accepted by the organism are
discovered; a new technique of medical imagery is discovered, the gamma camera;
for the first time it is recognized that smoking predisposes one to cancer; a
doubt emerges, is humanity perhaps poisoning the atmosphere? In 1959 Mongolism
is explained by means of the extra 21st chromosome; the hidden side of the moon
is photographed; the Australopithecus is promoted to the rank of hominid, and
the electroencephalogram progresses. In 1960 the first quasar is discovered; the
first laser is built; children are set to studying modern mathematics; set
theory appears. In 1961 the mechanism for the functioning of genes is
elucidated; chaos and the butterfly effect are discovered; Gagarin make his
first space flight; the first fossil of Homo habilis is discovered. In
1962 the word, informatics is invented; 30 years before Spielberg, Dombrowski
revives and some 180 million year-old bacteria and causes them to multiply. In
1963 the first geo-stationary telecommunications satellite is produced. In 1964
the omega atomic particle (omega-minus) is discovered; the mechanisms
and the regulation of cholesterol and the metabolism of the fatty acids (the
Nobel prize); the tone telephone. In 1965 thermal radiation is discovered; the
Mariner 4 achieves its first flight over Mars. In 1966 the genetic code is
deciphered; the concept of quarks, constituent elements of protons and neutrons,
appears. In 1967 pulsars, the astronomical clocks in the sky, are discovered. In
1968 DNA is synthesized in vitro from a virus; also the theory of
tectonic plates is elaborated which explains the derivation of the continents.
In 1969 man walks upon the Moon; the first antibody is analyzed; enzymes are
first synthesized and hormonal receptors are first identified. In 1970 bar codes
are invented. In 1971 the scanner is invented; Salyut 1, the first manned space
station, is established; and the microprocessor is first commercialized;
automatic cashiers are installed. In 1972 we learned of the mathematical theory
of catastrophes; fiber optics are manufactured; the first pocket electronic
calculator appears; the video disk, "laservision" is invented. In 1973 the first
genetic manipulation occurs, the first artificial gene synthesized; the
existence of black holes is affirmed; Pioneer 10 makes its first flight over
Jupiter; the first microcomputer and the first color photocopier appears. In
1974 the first message from humanity to other civilizations of the cosmos is
sent from the radio-telescope at Arecibo; Mariner 10 accomplishes its first
flight over Mercury; the Internet is born. In 1975 a new medical discipline
appears, "sexology"; the theory of fractals also appears. In 1976 a vaccination
against hepatitis B is discovered and they discover the genes for cancer; after
conquering the Moon, mankind is reminded it is only potential disease and
triumphant technology gives way to biological salvation, and mankind observes
that the majority of cancers are not of viral origin, but instead are due to the
environment. In 1977 the existence of quarks is confirmed with the discovery of
the Upsilon particle. In 1978 the first test tube baby, Louise Brown, is born
after an in vitro fertilization; we see the first medical imaging use of
magnetic nuclear resonance. 1979 is the year of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, and of
Pioneer 11; in that same year the first observation of gluons, some particles
associated with strong interactions, also occurs; the first compact disk
appears, created by Phillips; IBM introduces the first laser printer-copier and
commercializes the IBM PC computer. In 1980 the film, Tron is screened, the
first full-length story with virtual images; computers are everywhere: in
chemistry, in fashion, in the cinema. In 1981 the hypothesis of the expansion of
the universe emerges. In 1982 the first successful transplant of an artificial
heart is performed; four terrible letters appear: AIDS; the first ultra-rapid
pulsar is discovered. In 1983 new pirates emerge: the "hackers," and with them
the computer becomes like a two-edged sword that the children can manipulate.
In 1984 the technique of genetic tracing appears. In 1985, with cable and
satellite, communication is freed from space; the calculating power of computers
abolished time; the true richness of the 20th century is information; the
hypothesis arises of the existence of a cosmic band of low energy that would
vibrate in the center of the galaxy; a hole is discovered in the ozone layer
above the Antarctic. In 1986 the production of lamb twins by transference of
the nucleus of the fertilized egg is announced; reactor 4 at Chernobyl explodes
and the Challenger fails, and AIDS advances: 1986 is a black year. In
1987, after the Challenger explosion, and for the first time since 1981, no
North American astronaut will go into space; in France the specialists create,
in the laboratory, some matter which existed a hundredth of a second after the
birth of the universe; an abortion pill is manufactured; the phenomenon of
gravitational illusion foreseen by the theory of general relativity is
experimentally confirmed; the most brilliant supernova ever observed is
discovered and a ceramic superconductor, at -180 degrees, is found. In 1988,
they speak of the memory of water: water will conserve the memory of the
biologically active molecules with which it might have been in contact, this
thesis suggesting the existence of molecular effects without molecules. In 1989
the Berlin wall falls and it is also the year of in international polemic
concerning cold fusion; Voyager 2 flies past the planet Neptune; the first
microprocessor is commercialized which has more than a million elementary bits;
and the computer virus appears. 1990 is the year of the first genetic therapy;
the placement in orbit of the space telescope Hubble; the elevation of the
average temperature of the Earth is recognized; some technocrats seek to
optimize production by resorting to cannibal cows; mad cow disease appears. 1991
is the year of the commercialization of the compact disk created by Phillips. In
1992 the first maps of the human chromosomes are established; the mini-disk
created by Sony and the digital cassette created by Phillips are commercialized.
In 1993 the first international bioethics commission is created. In 1994 the
first map of the human genome set is established; the astronomers seek the dark
matter of the universe. In 1995 an extra-solar planet is discovered. In 1996 the
first steps in the anti-world are taken with the creation of new atoms of anti-
hydrogen; it is the year of the first photograph of a black hole by Hubble
which, indifferent to the affairs of mankind, discovers 80 billion galaxies.
1997 is the year of Dolly, the first clone of a mammal; the ethics are at the
center of every discussion.
     Three eras: yesterday, today and tomorrow. What are the events, the
discoveries, that have marked our epoch? In the first place: the discovery of
the DNA double helix. In second: the generalized use of microprocessors. In
third: the advent of the space age. Considering it a little further, I see
Chernobyl and the 50 million induced cancers over several dozen years. We do
not control our genius. I see cloning, which becomes an inexorable movement that
is now irreversible. The techniques of cloning are going to expand everywhere.
Who is going to control the madness? Anti-matter was discovered more than half a
century ago, yet its domestication is most dangerous, because if it comes to
encounter matter it will destroy it liberating an enormous quantity of energy.
It must be manipulated without touching it and the only thing that can be made
from it is energy in unheard quantities. Superconductivity opens new
possibilities to store this energy. Yet now I am taking of the future; I return
to the past. The most important event is definitely the discovery of DNA, which
has laid the basis for a revolution that installed biology in the forefront of
the sciences. At the same time, humanism, which was at the heart of politics and
religion, has weakened. The new biology perceives man as an interesting, yet
extraordinary, accident of evolution. The structure of DNA is revealed in 1953,
and a little later the genetic code will be deciphered and the transfer of its
information will be demonstrated from the DNA to the proteins via the RNA
messenger. This discovery, with the limiting enzymes, would permit DNA to be
modified, opening the way for the active science which is biology.
     Now then, in the social domain, I believe that our era has been marked by
several economic revolutions. First, we have seen mass production. This
mechanization has created jobs at the same time it has considerably reduced the
number of farmers. Such a revolution occurred at the beginning of the 20th
century, yet it is starting from the Fifties that mass consumption became
common. This revolution has reached all sectors of the society. Later came the
miracle of industrial efficiency. Another great social event is the emergency
for primitive peoples. The West is confronting an existential crisis, its
economy being so sophisticated that it condemns people to unemployment. It takes
from them that which has been considered, for a long time, as a virtue: work. It
is work which has constructed the conquering West. Primitive peoples have
another form of being, thinking and living. What projections can we make? They
will answer: artificial intelligence; yet Bill Gates says: "I do not think that
in my lifetime we shall see the equivalent of an intelligent computer appear."
The man knows what he is talking about. There are fields in which one can make
predictions for 50 years, like the technology of airplanes and electricity; for
informatics it is difficult to predict more than 20 years. In that length of
time we should resolve difficult problems like word recognition and synthesis,
visual recognition, comprehension of natural language and writing, the creation
of realistic virtual media. The obstacle is intelligence. The questions are
posited in the following manner: how much common sense can
we build into the machine? 20 years ago people thought that it was easy to
resolve the problem yet, in fact, no true progress has occurred in what concerns
artificial intelligence. It must be recognized that it has evolved in only a
very limited manner and has not resolved the majority of the problems posited
in the Sixties. PC's continue to be truly stupid apparatuses, with no computer
capable of reading a story and understanding what it concerns. It is thus a much
more complicated problem. And if a final frontier exists, is this it? What more
can we expect? We can re-create vanished species: Jurassic Park. Our future
could be marked by the discovery of primitive life on other planets. The book by
Arthur Clarke, published in 1997 and titled "3001: The Final Odyssey," begins in
the following manner:

     Call them the Firstborn. Though they were not remotely human, they were
     flesh and blood, and when they looked out across the deeps of space, they
     felt awe and wonder - and loneliness. As soon as they possessed the power,
     they began to seek for fellowship among the stars. In their explorations,
     they encountered life in many forms, and watched the workings of evolution
     on a thousand worlds. They saw how often the first faint sparks of
     intelligence flickered and died in the cosmic night. And because, in all
     the Galaxy they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged
     its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fields of stars; they
     sowed, and sometimes they reaped.

     I do not want to play at being a Cassandra, yet I see an incapacity of ours
to develop an energetic politics of the atom; the rejection--often hysterical--
has drowned the use of nuclear. It is possible that in the next century the
accumulated effects of the combustion of fossil energy gravely affect our
civilization. We shall see the regression of aging. That happens through the
control, and later the disappearance, of the diseases related to age, and
through progress in knowledge of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of aging.
We shall see, also, the industrial beginnings of genetic engineering: the
production of insulin by manipulating bacteria, transgenic corn. A hundred
diseases will be eradicated through genetic therapy. I think that the most
spectacular advances will come from this field. We will have the possibility of
modeling plants and animals by computer, so as to later create them genetically.
Another field is the exploration of the brain: knowledge of the spirit will be a
deeper adventure than space or biotechnological exploration. Freeman Dyson
postulates the idea that there exists a rudimentary form of the spirit in atoms.
Many biologists see molecules as simple machines. DNA molecules remain stable
over millions of years, but we also know that the atoms of this DNA obey the
laws of quantum mechanics, which is ruled by probabilities, not by certainties.
One might say that experience compels the atom to choose between different
paths. The atom seems like an active agent, not like an inert object, since it
possesses an intrinsic aptitude to have options. Dyson maintains the hypothesis
that this rudiment of spirit could become a human spirit if it were multiplied
by 1036 (which is the number of atoms contained in a human brain) and
is accordingly expanded. Then imagine that an essential element of human
consciousness might be a sort of structure that functions in the brain as an
amplifier for the molecules which have quantum options. In this fashion we keep
discovering that the universe is stranger than we supposed.
     In another field, the information revolution splits into two. We have
completed the first phase, that of the machine. These machines underlie what can
be done. We enter upon the second phase, that of connection. The question now is
not knowing how an object functions, but instead knowing what object it works
with. Alone, it is not very useful, and should be inserted in a communication
net. This revolution of connection is found in the very interior of objects. The
Internet is an element of this general connection. One must think also of the
aborted advancements: the wrist video phone, the electronic newspaper, the
machines that we control by voice; all that already exists. We know how to
program computers to write what we dictate. We have had them since the
beginning of the Eighties, but they did not have the requisite development.

                              Chapter III
                           The ideas

Great thinkers and ideas from the 20th century exist that will have a certain
projection into the 21st century: Francis Crick, James Watson, Edward Lorenz,
Claude Elwood Shannon, Conwy Lloyd Morgan, Carl Sagan, Kurt Gödel, Hans
Jonas, John von Neumann, René Thom, Gregory Pincus, Albert Einstein, Werner
Heisenberg...are the names of those who generated the major ideas of the 20th
century. It is not a matter of personal opinion: for example, the Heisenberg
inequalities inspired the principle of uncertainty; Gödel's incompleteness
theorem has become synonymous with the limitation of human thought. We are going
to start with:

1. The idea of relativity. We hear it said: "all is relative, as Einstein
said." This is an affirmation at once erroneous and contradictory. Einstein
never said such a thing. The principle of relativity has been invoked in support
of philosophical or ideological theses with which it has nothing to do. The
Einsteinian conceptions should be used as an argument to support the critiques
of the absolute value of ideas or of norms. The proximity of the terms,
relativity and relativism grounds the confusion. Einstein's ideas date from 1905
and are reserved to expert circles. Later the acceded to public notoriety and
Einstein was considered as one who announces, in the name of science, the
dissolution of all values, the disappearance of absolutes, of morality, of
religion and of the social order, in the name of an exacerbated relativism.
Mussolini even came to utilize relativity as an argument against the "scientism"
of Marxist socialism, and spoke of "the downfall of the myth of science as a
source of absolute truths." Relativity has become as much a source of
inspiration as a process of justification, and is applied to everything. It is
to go beyond the relative character of the pronouncements of physics, which
constitute the essence of the assumed principle of relativity. These
pronouncements have an absolute character. The formal identity of the laws of
physics is absolute. Physicists speak today of the "principle of invariability."
Einstein himself said the term, relativity was not the most appropriate. It has
disseminated a serious misunderstanding. The philosophers have been reproached
for their poor comprehension of the theories of physics and their metaphorical
abuse of this terminology. Certain ways of speaking lead to the error.
Philosophy interpreted thermodynamics, relativity and quantum physics in a
subjective manner. "Scientific relativism" is never relative, comprising not
relativity of the truth but instead the truth of the relative. The scandal of
relativity stems from a fundamental misunderstanding. It is not the content of
Einstein's theories that has shaken opinion, but the result of consciousness of
the human experience. The theory of relativity has involuntarily given birth to
errors and extrapolations that go beyond the field of physics. The communists
wanted to attribute to Einstein: "there is no eternal truth, everything is
relative..." Marx has injured the heart of the social privileges that were
thought eternal; nothing is absolute, everything changes, and the merit of
Einstein is having found a mathematical basis in physics for this philosophy of
the world. This extrapolation has more ancient roots, in a skeptical current of
human thought, which extends from Pirrón to Montaigne. Ancient science
worked with the idea of dependence between the laws of physics and the
viewpoint which they had of the world. Later Galileo had the extreme
intellectual audacity to consider various viewpoints as simultaneously
admissible. It is to him, and not to Einstein, that the idea of relativity is
owed. Descartes formulated the very similar principle of inertia. Newtonian
mechanics formulated the equivalent of references to inertia. In his article
from 1905, Einstein did not use the term relativity. He introduces it the
following year. The Austrian physicist Ernst Mach denied pertinence to the
Newtonian idea of an absolute space and time. The term "relativism" settled into
the vocabulary over the course of the last third of the 19th century. Auguste
Comte insists upon the opposition between the relative and the absolute. The
idea of the relativity of knowledge spread. Poincaré was the first, in 1904
using the term, "principle of relativity." He maintained that "in our world, all
certainty is a lie; from there sprang the popular interpretations that "all is

2. The idea of incompleteness. What led to considering the theorems of 
Gödel as the affirmation of limitation in human thought? Regis Debray says:
"Gödel's theorem destroys the very idea of system." The artist Escher draws
hands that are drawing. This concerns all philosophical, artistic and political
systems: thought cannot think itself, our intelligence is limited... Yet if no
theory is possible, then everything becomes possible: from there to magic. How
did it change from mathematical incompleteness, which asserts the impossibility
of a formal system containing its own justification, to the affirmation of the
inadequacy of thought itself? Kurt Gödel lived from 1906 to 1978. They say
that he demonstrated the limitations of human thought. He only demonstrated the
limitations of the formal processes. These limitations are applied to deductive
approaches; they deny the project of artificial intelligence. The theorem is
only applicable if we respond correctly to certain basic criteria, such as that
of non-contradiction, for example: the first theorem negates the step from "not
knowing" to "knowing that not." How to know there will not be a later answer
when investigation is furthered? There is no way of knowing that. There is no
possible prediction. One can foresee case by case, yet every systematic agenda
will lead inevitably to errors. The theories present a precise formalism, but
this is never the case outside of mathematics. The formalization of mathematics
is a reality in principle that has become a possibility thanks to the computer.
We have programs available capable of writing a complete formal demonstration
starting from human language. The only intelligence here is that of the
demonstrator, who has conceived the program. Thus the incompleteness, the
impossibility of a self-justification, requiring the precision of language of
the formal systems, cannot be applied to politics, to paintings, to poetry.
Spinoza wanted to make a purely formal ethics, and on the first page breaks with
formalism. The first theorem of incompleteness is a form developed from the
paradox of the liar; when a liar says, "I lie," is it perhaps the truth? The
second theorem states that a theory cannot speak about itself, and must leave
itself to be able to comment. A demonstration of the coherence of a theory
cannot be constructed from within that same theory. It can talk about it, but
not know itself. Outside of mathematics, we cannot check our glasses and at the
same time keep them on our nose; the definition of a painting is not that
painting. System, later meta-system, later meta meta-system, et cetera... The
viewpoint which dominates our days is that we have a stable external world, of
which we are at once part and observers. Previously it was thought that truth
and proof were identical, that the truth was the "probable." But completeness
and incompleteness are internal properties. Not all logic is disprovable. We see
here an attempt to escape from realism. Formal coherence is a form of immanence,
which is the non-immanence of the poor. The intelligence does not exist without
error, even without obstinacy in the error, yet, who will take the risk of
endowing the computer with this characteristic of human thought? The
incompleteness theorem announces a primary impossibility, not indicating the
way. The reception of Gödel's theorem of incompleteness surprisingly
reveals the positive faith in a possible total description of the world by means
of scientific pronouncements. It was thought that an impotence of mathematical
logic would emerge, a limitation of human knowledge. It was thought that all
system, political, philosophical, et cetera, was invalidated by this theorem.
Regis Debray enunciates the laws of incompleteness of political systems. Yet the
analogy does not work. The incompleteness theorem says nothing about this. There
is a failure of the absolutist expressions of formalism. Gödel leaves space
for creativity. A fundamental problem is that of self-reference, there being a
long tradition of philosophic inquiry that deals with references to itself, and
self-reference always causes problems. When Epiménides of Crete affirms
that all Cretins are liars, he underlines the conflict between the discourse and
its context: when the discourse attempts to proclaim a truth concerning itself,
the paradox of the liar reveals the difficulty of the self-reference. The
Delphic oracle says, "know yourself" and Socrates considers this as the first
task of philosophy. This knowledge is applied to everything that tries to posit
a truth about the world. As an element of that world, it must justify itself. If
it is presented as a truth from the start, it fails; comprehension is always
postponed to the next level of interpretation. A free subject is capable of
assimilating two distinct levels of truth. The static character of formal
systems deprives her of the possibility of reflection.

3. The idea of information. Information fills our everyday life. The word
had become banal. Information is "that which is communicated." An omnipresence
of information exists in contemporary society that coincides with the
proliferation of communication technology. The theory of information was
elaborated by the north American engineer Claude Elwood Shannon, in 1948. It is
one more chapter in the theory of probabilities. 1948 was the year of the
invention of the transistor. Later came the prodigious development of
semiconductors. The theory of information is completely indifferent to the
meaning of the messages. We used to think that meaning was the very essence of
information. Yet no, the function of the messenger is limited to the mere
transference of an object: a letter, for example. The techniques of coding are
one of the major applications of Shannon's information theory. The information
which this object carries has no bearing upon the media that transport it. In
communications the engineer is only concerned with the quantity of information
that must be transmitted. A physical object has multiple attributes: form,
texture, color, internal structure... But data about its mass suffices for
mechanics to be able to describe its trajectory. At the same time, the multiple
qualifying attributes of the information, such as its veracity, do not matter to
the engineer, for whom only the quantitative description matters. Upon what is
the measurement of information founded? It would be pointless to transmit a
message known in advance by its recipient. To define the quantity of information
that a message possesses, its unforeseeability is joined with its improbability.
Probability theory acquired the status of exact science; but the common
acceptance of the word information is very far from its scientific acceptance.
In a game, the lottery for instance: the probability of the events is
calculable, and experimentally verifiable. The movements carry a defined
quantity of information. There is a subjective value to the information
unrelated to the medium. An event carries information in a mediated sense: when
a famous person dies, emotion dominates. The measure of information associated
with the event is the same as with the demise of someone unknown, which the
newspapers do not announce. If a daily puts in eight columns, "Today is Easter,"
the quantity of information is nil, and only the subjective emotion subsists. If
we remove the associated meaning and the emotion, does the information perhaps
accede to scientific status? Disenchantment is a necessary stage in a scientific
idea. Information should not be confounded with its meaning; a certain quantity
of information is the necessary support for a meaning, yet its use continues to
be free. The quantity of information only measures a container; to confuse
meaning and information is to confound the wine and the bottle. Rolf Landauer
claims that information is a physical measure. Information relates to all beings
that live in its exterior world and allow it to locate itself in it: that is the
function of the senses. A living being is nourished at once by the information
that it receives from the most distant past, by means of its genome, and by its
actual medium, through the senses. The word, information is repeated in
discussions. The theory of information permits distinguishing between the
message that carries it and the meaning which it gives to it.
     If one measures the merit of a founding father by the sum of errors and
betrayals that their thought suffered, Shannon is the founding father of the
science of communications, yet he deplored the superficial use of his results:
"the theory of information, at the start, was a technical instrument consigned
to the telecommunications engineer." In its origin, the concept of information
pertained to the philosophic vocabulary and designated the act of communicating
a form.

4. The idea of extraterrestrial life. The existence of extraterrestrial
life is the privileged terrain of the imagination, but, at the beginning of the
Sixties, in the Apollo program, this question took a concrete turn. In the year
1961, the astronomers Cocconi and Morrison publish a method of listening to
extraterrestrial signals based on the reception of radio waves. Frank Drake
presents a formula that would allow the number of technologically advanced
civilizations in our galaxy to be estimated. In 1965 the CETI (Communication
with Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) Committee emerges, which in the Seventies
will become SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence). If we can receive
signals, then equally we can send them. In 1974, thanks to the radio-telescope
at Arecibo in Puerto Rico, a signal is emitted in the direction of the Hercules
star cluster; and the probes Pioneer 10 and 11 cross the solar system with a
message engraved upon a metallic plate. Are we perhaps alone in the universe?
The search for the origin of earthly life is conducted to know the conditions
favorable to the appearance and development of living organisms. Since the 2d
World War, the advances in biology, telecommunications, space studies...have
sensitized the public to the possibility of extraterrestrial life. This same
period saw the development of the myth of flying saucers, in which fear of the
unknown is crystallized. In an opposite movement, works of science fiction have
gained scientific verisimilitude.
     Some try to detect signs of biochemical activity stemming from extra-solar
planets and are convinced that that which appears as the miracle of life on
Earth might be reproduced elsewhere. Does life perhaps become ineluctable
beginning with the moment when the chemical conditions are favorable? Does one
perhaps have a unique model based on molecular information of the DNA or RNA
types and of cells? The biologists tend to think that a form of evolved life not
based upon carbon chemistry, in an aqueous medium, has little possibility of
existing. Be that as it may, now a vision of the universe is affirmed according
to which mankind is no longer at the apex of the organization of matter. It is
difficult for us to disengage from the human model, while we assume very hostile
intentions among the extraterrestrials. Prejudices lead us to think that the
entire extraterrestrial world resembles the Earth. The theory of convergence of
forms exists. In an opposite sense, a non-chemical form of intelligent life is
considered. But we have an anthropological principle according to which the
progressive organization of the universe had as its only end the appearance of
     The most ancient traces of questioning concerning a plurality of worlds
date from Aristotle, in his treatment of the heavens. In his letter to
Herodotus, Epicurus says: "there exist an infinity of worlds similar and
different from our own." After the work of Copernicus, the Earth again becomes a
planet among others, which could also be earths, and if the Earth is not the
center of the world, then neither is humanity. Giordano Bruno fervently defended
the hypothesis of an infinity of inhabited worlds; Fontanelle published, in
1686, his conversations about the plurality of worlds, where he describes the
inhabitants of each planet.

5. The idea of the environment. This term does not mean some ecosystem or
other, but instead the reality created by the impact of our activities upon the
biosphere. Between the Sixties and the Seventies the term "environment" was
adopted in place of "slice of life," which was that employed by geographers and
urbanists for over a century. The problems of the medium are usually
imperceptible to the senses, like the effect of warming, the ozone cap
and the erosion of biodiversity. They are not common sense. Today they require
the protective role of the public authorities. The environment has marked the
introduction of science into the political domain. Scientific and political
ideas have never been totally separated throughout the history of societies.
Aristotle justified slavery because it made democratic equality possible. These
ideas were inseparable from the cosmological hierarchy. Today the sciences of
nature intervene directly in the political scene. We have inherited from the
Bible and from Christianity the idea according to which nature marked the
relations of man with God. Galileo's physics, later that of Newton, reinforced
this idea by isolating physics, making it foreign to human action, as if we were
to belong to an order superior and external to nature. Yet humanity is one of
the species constituting the biosphere, on which is depends; this re-inserts
mankind into the heart of nature. The system has permitted life to maintain
itself for 3,500 million years. Aristotelian physics and modern physics
preserved the image of a stable nature. Today the instability of nature is
evident, there being no more stability than that produced by a multitude of
transitory equilibria. Nature is of a fragile order. We need to renounce the
ancestral myth that nature is prolific: natural resources are finite. Another
determining change: we used to think that the certainty of our knowledge would
lead to technical dominion over phenomena. We are ignorant. There are many
problems with the medium that we "knew" that have resulted in surprises. The
current generation is responsible for the survival of the generations to come.
We think of the need to go beyond the limits of the morality of proximity; each
one of us can influence the fate of an indefinite number of individuals. The
idea of caution must be posited in the place where that of progress is found.
     The public associates ecology with the idea of defense of a nature
assaulted by mankind. There are conflictual relations between mankind and
nature, and a strain of thought exists that speaks of the institution of rights
of nature. The wild state is cultivated, apocalyptic catastrophism. Humanity
should question itself. The word nature comes from the Latin nascere.
Nature is opposed to the supernatural: nature is a set of phenomena which are
self-produced in a regular manner without divine intervention. Myth discerned in
earthquakes the effects of the divine wrath of Poseidon, who moved the waters
upon which the earth rested. Aristotle opposes natural to artificial; later
nature and culture are opposed. In the Bible and in the Koran no equivalent is
seen to the word nature, and only the idea of creation is found.

6. The idea of catastrophe. During the Sixties studies of the mathematics
of singularities are advanced. These are applied to mathematical objects:
surfaces, measures. The methodology of the theory of catastrophes is applied in
diverse fields: a dog's aggressiveness, a stock market crash, prison riots. The
mathematicians denounce exaggerated pretensions in these applications which lack
methodological rigor. Situations are to complex to be analyzed on the basis of
reductionist methods. For the public, the word evokes unforeseen events, tragic
at times. We see a period of catastrophe-mania. Catastrophists flourish like an
esoteric fashion. Catastrophe is permanent. In mathematics, a catastrophe is a
model that causes discontinuities to appear; it is a tradition inaugurated by
Poincaré at the end of the 19th century. This viewpoint encompasses every
situation in some simple models; elementary catastrophes are found. When the
number of control parameters is less or equal to five, the elementary
catastrophes are of finite number; when the number of control parameters is
equal to or greater than six, there are an infinity of catastrophes. In the
Seventies, the theory fell victim to passions, as the model was applied to the
hypothesis of nuclear conflict, to the appearance of a revolution. Fear
crystallized into a sentiment of superstition. It is said: never two without
three; one speaks of the law of series, and the predictive theory grows of
modeling the dangers and risks of the natural, industrial world, et cetera. It
would have been more precise to have called it the theory of changes of form or
the theory of discontinuities, when the theory would have remained abstract
mathematics instead of proceeding to cause havoc in everyday reality. René
Thom proposes models that attribute all morphogenesis to a conflict, to a
struggle between two or more attractors. Like the majority of the pre-Socratics,
Heraclitus sought to discover a unique foundation for the All and conceived this
foundation in dynamic terms: "Conflict is universal, justice is a struggle, all
things are engendered through struggle and necessity." The future results from
struggle. Heraclitus states: "combat is the father of all things." Apparent
stability comes from a dynamic of contraries that produce equilibrium. There is
a powerful legacy from antiquity, being the most topological and least analytic

7. The idea of decision. In the 17th century, game theory occupied
spirits such as Pascal, Fermat or Leibniz. It was seen that futile questions
lent themselves better to study, thus mathematical research centered, at first,
upon fictitious situations that comprise a society's games, before being applied
to the economy and defense. Beginning at the moment when the number of players
is greater than two, or even if it is only two, their interests are not strictly
opposed, that is to say, the gains of one are not equal to the losses of the
other. There is a mixture of cooperation and rivalry. There is a risk of
instability, that is the problem. What rules are prescribed to establish
alliances and to anticipate the possible causes of their revocation? With this
theory we are able to understand how, over the 40 years that the cold war
lasted, the leaders of the two camps, the USSR and the United States, tried to
limit the number and independence of the nuclear powers: while more approached a
condition of confrontation, the politics of dissuasion, that is, of rational
calculation with the goal of persuading the other not to utilize their nuclear
potential, was more dominant. Since the end of the Eighties, we have left this
historical phase.
     Besides the state of confrontation, game theory does not necessarily lose
its political utility. Starting from the moment I leave the elementary case of
conflict, I enter into situations where divergence and convergence of interests
are mixed. If I ignore this fact and persist in a frontal opposition, without
seeking allies, I weaken my position; if I give too much confidence to my allies
without comprehending that all alliance is instability, I commit another error.
It is the dilemma of the two thieves, arrested by the police and separately
interrogated: if neither of the two speaks, both will be freed; if one speaks,
they release her and the other goes to jail; if both speak, both will go to
jail. In a world comprised of fragile persons little to be trusted, the result
of individualist action is less good than cooperation. Here the theorem of the
hierarchy of dictators is applied: wherever a minority group behaves in a
dictatorial manner in a society, in the interior of the group there occurs an
elimination of the secondary dictators and the emergence of a single dictator.
     Game theory, far from presenting human action from the angle of a sole
necessity, seeks to explore the space and is inseparable from a philosophy of
freedom. Usually there is not a single mode, but instead various. However, once
the fundamental option is carried out and the rules of the game are chosen, an
inflexible logic weighs upon the decisions. When economic activity is
globalized, the homes within the economic power form an ever more single net
where influences are propagated through the channel of technology and of
monetary fluctuations.
     Game theory is an application of intelligent causality. Intelligent
causality regarding mankind is consistent with the laws of nature. In the fight
against infectious agents one tends to consider the malicious strategy of the
viruses, not because they concede that they have a consciousness or
intelligence, but because one struggles most effectively against an adversary
when they are able of imagining their means of action, their behavior, their
mutations. Game theory does not necessarily grant consciousness or certain
projects to the adversary, but instead suppose that that adversary effectively
will do everything which it is capable of doing. The fundamental hypothesis of
game theory starts from the games in society and the social situations that it
presents: the result of my action depends on what the others do. We can be
mistaken about the nature of problems. Problems are very numerous, so it is
almost impossible to escape toward that which does not conduce to error.
     The theory of games is of ancient origin; the idea of mathematically
treating economic, judicial, military problems, dates from the Egyptians and
from the Greeks. In the middle of the 17th century we saw this situation: Pascal
imagines all possible future situations and methodically returns by means of
calculus from the future towards the present. This theory is applied in all the
situations where our actions depend upon the decisions of other intelligent
actors who hide their intentions and seek to discover the intentions of the
others. Two centuries later, John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern publish, in
1944, the theory of games and of economic behavior.

8. The idea of the gene. An Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel, elaborated the
concept of the gene, though not the term. Later, Mendel's laws were
re-discovered at the beginning of the 20th century and the term "gene" was
adopted at the end of the first decade of that century. During the first half of
the century, genes were considered to be the atoms of biology: the destiny of
each individual seemed set in the structure of her genes. It was like, over many
centuries, the books of the saints contained content in a form more or less
accessible to human intelligence, the fate of humanity, and now the book of the
genome seemed to enclose that destiny; the chromosomes of crime are sought, the
genes of aggressiveness. Is there genetic determinism? Fascination with genes
mixes the rational with the irrational. This fascination is hidden behind
     The most recent discovery is that the genes, such as we know them today,
are not the origin of life but instead they are a later creation. What
characterizes life is the possibility, for complex structures, of self-
replication. Genes, by their structure, are incapable of that. The biologists
imagine that the existing living beings have to have been preceded by one or
more forms of life. The genes are only a memory, a set of instructions that
permit the reproduction of the active agents in the living. The proteins are
those active microscopic agents in the living. The concept of the gene is not a
concept which has a future. It has played a major role in the development of
biology in the 20th century, yet this role gives way to a much more precise
relation between the information contained in DNA and the synthesis of proteins
that results from it.
     The original role of the genes is questioned and the attribution of the
formation of character to the action of a single gene is a frequent error. The
expression "gene" should be prohibited from the discourse of the journalists. It
is absurd to speak of a gene for a sickness or of the gene for intelligence or
of emotionality; however, it is true that a mutation of a particular gene can
affect a given character. Genes have replaced, in popular discourse, the virtues
before attributed to the blood. Our grandparents said: "he had it in his blood";
our contemporaries speak of bad or good genes. It is a pseudo-objectification of
the qualities and of defects, of good and bad behaviors. Gene comes from the
Greek term genesis. Generation is the fact of coming to be, for which we
have Nietzsche's celebrated formula: "become who you are." If the boy becomes a
man it is because the form, man, was already there.

9. The idea of chaos. The theory of chaos shows that some deterministic
systems may be unpredictable. Popularized under the name of "butterfly effect,"
it has been abusively provided as a global explanation of the world. Since
Maxwell and Poincaré, there have always been physicists and mathematicians
aware of the existence of unstable trajectories. During the Seventies, chaos
returns into fashion. The title of "chaos theory" is improper, the people using
it imagining it capable of expressing a hidden order behind the apparent
disorders within nature. The world of life presents a chaotic spectacle, of
disorder and violence difficult to understand: foreseeability seems to have
failed. Previously there existed faith in the predictability of systems which
obeyed the laws of Newtonian dynamics, yet the discovery of the chaotic
movements in the solar system alters the mythic image of immutable stability and
of the perfection of the celestial movements. The study of chaos questions
determinism, but the fascination with the random has been converted into an
anti-scientific attitude par excellence. A fanaticism of chaos was set up. After
Newtonian mechanics it was thought that chance was prohibited in physics. Chance
was nothing more than the sum of our ignorances. The classical tradition in
mechanics uses linear methods to approximate to problems, thus suppressing all
instability, yet this approximation is only valid under certain conditions: the
immense majority of real phenomena are essentially non-linear. There is a subtle
relation between chance and determinism. All apparently stable physical systems
are susceptible to no longer being so, since a system is never totally isolated.
It is simply that the chaos of the physicists and mathematicians has little to
do with the disorder and complexity that surround us.
     Much foolishness has been uttered about order and chaos. In ancient
tradition we alway observe the chronological primacy of chaos. Chaos as the
original matter is found in many mythologies: it is a confused mass where all
the elements are mixed without order, an abyss. The abyss excites terror,
dealing not only with disorder, but with emptiness. Thus, in the
Confessions of St. Augustine we read: "But this earth itself which thou
hadst made was unformed matter; it was invisible and unformed, and darkness was
over the abyss."

10. The idea of emergence. "The whole is more than the sum of its parts."
The idea of emergence questions our analytical methods, dealing with
comprehension of the complex phenomena which resist traditional methods of
analysis. The English philosopher John Stuart Mill was one of the first, in
1843, to utilize the concept of emergence. It attempts to reorganize the
relationships among entities in the heart of certain ever more complex
structures. After the second World War notice was taken of the importance of
the idea of emergence in the treatment of socioeconomic problems, in problems
of the environment and in models of long-term development. There are phenomena
that are found on the frontier between the natural sciences and social sciences.
     The notion of emergence only can be understood in a holistic framework; the
term "holism" derives from the Greek holos (complete). Holism will be the
organizing principle of the universe. For Anaxágoras, "in everything there
is a share of everything, and nothing can be isolated." In the beginning, all
things were mixed up and confused, later to be dissociated and ordered by the
Noûs (the intellect). For Plato, nature and the state form an
indissoluble whole. In Plotinus, the universe is a living whole, where existence
results from the incessant succession of the phases. According to the idea of
Sunia (empty) in Buddhism, an independent phenomenon, that is not
connected to other phenomena, could not exist. According to Spinoza's ontology,
everything finite is destined to produce an effect upon another finite thing;
this causality is infinitely repeated. The most immediate source of contemporary
holistic thought derives from Hegel, for whom "Das Wahre ist das Ganze" (the
truth is the whole). 
     There are interactions between phenomena, among the parts, ecosystems,
societies. It is a globalist, systemic idea. That interaction engenders
qualities not necessarily belonging to the parts; new, unforeseen phenomena
emerge. Every problem is susceptible to being decomposed into a certain number
of less complex sub-problems; the explanation of a system's properties resides
in the analysis of its components. In the emergent method, the analytical
decomposition of a problem runs the risk of transforming the object studied.
Certain characteristics belong to the totality of a system and derive from the
relations among the components, but each level of organization carries specific
emergent properties. The controversy between the emergent and the reductionist
point of view was established; for example, to understand an animal community,
it is necessary to refer to the population, true, yet also to the ecosystem.
     Between the end of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th, the notion
of emergence was integrated in the science as the principle of uncertainty and
of non-separability. To consider reality as constituted of separate unities
became erroneous. Cybernetics too considers it not possible to study, in an
analytic manner, some systems whose internal relations are highly complex. In
psychology, the idea of emergence gave birth to gestaltpsychologie,
according to which a phenomenon is only authentic when it is perceived in its
totality. The neurosciences tackled consciousness, which is a phenomenon
radically foreign to its constituents and which emerges from a complex
structure, the neural network. Anthropology defines a culture as a complex
entity, whose different elements (law, customs, the economy, et cetera) interact
among themselves. The concept of system is converted into the key to the social
sciences. It is impossible to interpret a social fact solely in economic terms:
any social fact is whole, at once religious, artistic, moral, juridical... The
holistic and emergent vision of the world is present in the majority of the
sciences. The idea of emergence, like the study of chaos or the theory of
catastrophes, has contributed to widen the fields of observation of the
different scientific disciplines, causing a need for multi-disciplinary
approaches to appear. The objects of science do not necessarily have definite
limits in space and in time, but instead result from an activity of the spirit.
Reductionism and emergence forever confront the, why? Because it is poorly
understood. Some analogies diminish the clarity of the notions of system and of
complexity. To say, "the whole is more than the sum of its parts" is pertinent;
to say, "everything is in everything" is erroneous.

11. The idea of uncertainty. Of course, we are referring to the
uncertainty principle of Heisenberg. What happened here? Are physics, the exact
sciences, the inflexible mathematical formulas, precise experiences, perhaps
promoting uncertainty to the point of transforming it into a principle? The
principle of uncertainty concerns the elements of the physical universe: atoms,
electrons, photons of light... And speak of the interaction between the
measuring instrument and the object measured. The same measurement, repeated,
can lead to different results. In the biological sciences, the intervention of
the observer modifies the object observed even reaching the point of destroying
it. In the social sciences, the observer herself is part of the entity observed.
The indeterminacy is revealed at the moment of the mediation: the consciousness
of the physicist will interact with the measured object. During the Thirties,
Niels Bohr introduces some of these reflections, while he resists human
intervention in the course of atomic processes. But other scientists, like David
Bohm and Oliver Costa de Beauregard, have attempted to take some steps towards
metaphysics. And small monsters were born from the evocation of the famous
principle. The physicists found themselves before a questioning of all their
certainties, even of the most firmly established concepts. The very assumptions
were re-examined that underlie scientific knowledge and the extrapolations were
rather phantasmagoric. Heisenberg accounted for the meaning of the inequalities
as follows: "it is impossible simultaneously to determine the position and the
velocity of an atomic particle." There is a perturbation introduced by the
operation of measurement onto the object measured. This perturbation caused by
the measurement has shaken the dogma of the existence of an "external reality
independent of the observer," which was the foundation of classical science.
     "Heisenberg's uncertainty principle" is a very common expression today. It
is, however, unfortunate: it is not about a principle, but a simple consequence
of the axioms of quantum mechanics. Nor does it concern uncertainty, but instead
indeterminacy. The phrase has become a symbol, has given rise to varied and
rapturous interpretations. After the physicists, the philosophers, the artists,
the politicians... All have ventured into the quantum metaphor, usually invoking
the uncertainty principle out of context, sometimes in a disconcerting, poetic
manner. Its use has been ideologized. Yet if indeed Heisenberg's principle of
uncertainty has given rise to so many interpretations outside the realm of
physics, it makes us return, nevertheless, to discussions relative to the
problem of determinism. It is as if there were to exist in nature a moment of
irrationality, as if there were events with no possible law, left solely by
chance. This type of interpretation recalls the De rerum natura of
Lucretius, wherein the author introduces the notion of "clinamen" to explain the
constituting of the world. Clinamen is understood as the condition of
possibility for the world.
     We have had to abandon our mental habits, the Cartesian legacy, the "clear
and distinct ideas," in favor of a more subtle logic. Despite all the
uncertainties, two fixed points subsist for pursuing our exploration of the
world, two solid supports: the rigor of mathematics and the rigor of experience.

12. The idea of sexualization. Any woman born before 1950 will say that
the major event in the biological and medical sciences for her generation was
the "discovery" of the pill. This has radically changed the life of women. They
have the possibility of controlling their fedundity and of dissociating
sexuality from procreation. The relations between men and women changed. Later,
the endocrinologists and the biochemists have had to abandon the idea that there
were only two sexual hormones, the masculine and the feminine, produced by
specific organs, the testicle and the ovary, which have a specific function:
sexual differentiation. The ovaries and the testicles produce the two types of
hormones, and the adrenal glands produce it too; estrogens and androgens are
close neighbors on the chemical plane and involve the same metabolism. It was
discovered that, on the hormonal level, men and women are only distinguished by
the relation between those hormones. Sex is thus defined starting from the
hormonal values, which are very variable according to the individuals and their
ages. Furthermore, there is individual hormonal variability.
     Two conceptions of sex have always existed: that of one single sex, and
that which makes the two sexes appear as radically different. The first
conception comes from antiquity; there is only one sex, the masculine,
represented by his visible external genitals. For Aristotle, the social roles of
men and women, like their body, are natural truths that do not need to be
justified. The male brings the creative principle and the female the material.
Aristotle founds the inferiority of the woman with respect to the man as based
on a natural hierarchy. This is the "unisex" model, in which the female sex is
seen as the uncompleted state of the masculine sex. Later, the 18th century sees
the two sexes appear as radically opposed. The ovaries are no longer considered
as feminine testicles, the vagina is given its name, and it is no longer thought
that menstruation is a means to evacuate humors. Today sex is hardly needed to
manufacture an embryo; cloning is the exact reproduction of the set of
hereditary characters. One deals with asexual reproduction. Reproduction, which
at last deserves that name which signifies a repetition of the same, now does
not require the two sexes, and a sole individual suffices, whose own sex matters
little now that the other is not needed. In the existing state of things, this
insignificant sex is necessarily feminine, given that an oocyte is still
indispensable to obtain an egg, and later an embryo. A uterus is equally
indispensable for the gestation. Ever less sex, and ever more technology. The
confusion of the genders is transformed into the prolongation, on the social
plane, of the lack of relation between sexuality and reproduction. We are very
far from the sentence of Simone de Beauvoir: "one is not born, but rather
becomes, a woman."


Freud viewed civilization as an intermittent phenomenon. Existing thought swims
in frank complexity. The positivists would say: "leave speaking to the facts."
"The drama is that facts do not speak," Poincaré responded to them. We have
renounced the triumphant formulations of reason, however, we have not renounced
the work of intelligibility. Husserl was fascinated by scientific integrity, and
attempted to constitute phenomenology as a rigorous, scientific method. When one
has meditated upon the basis of mathematics, they note that not even there can
intuition be eliminated. Husserl held the ambition to forge a means to describe
phenomena with full exactness. What happens is that technical scientific
familiarity brings us nearer to things. Wittgenstein deserves a special place in
the story of philosophy. This immense philosopher, one of the greatest of the
20th century, is a man with one question: the relations of language with the
world. In the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the only work that he
published during his lifetime, he says that words paint the world, that language
is thus something like hieroglyphic writing. Wittgenstein thinks it is worth
more to embody a behavior than to put it into words.
     Those Europeans, heirs of a refined culture, have been displaced today by
the well-meaning barbarians of the New World. They might have been aghast at the
beastialization of the masses. They would have asked how it is that reason has
been able to regress so much, how it could transform itself into "rational
myths" where science, technology and progress have produced conformity and the
quenching of thought. Today we have neither world wars nor revolutions yet, in
normal periods, a critical attitude is rarely present. All truth is born from
pressure. Every society organizes its regions of truth; it tries to show, at
the same time, how one must treat the acceptable and the marginal. Power
functions not according to right but according to technique, not according to
law but according to normalization, not by punishment but instead by control.
And power is not only that which prohibits, it is essentially that which
induces. Nothing is outside power. We no require everything real to be rational,
which is something that the past century has taught us. At the same time we have
a construction, called the state, with its system of liberal justice, as opposed
to the authoritarianisms, that is the work and legacy of modernity. Liberal
justice would not know how to recognize cultural or collective rights without
self-contradiction. The state should preserve its neutrality and prohibit itself
from intervening in the cultural field, since it is impossible for a consensus
in these matters to exist. In the very name of the principle of equity, the
state should avoid promoting the culture of a given group. And all this must be
subsumed under the new requirements of a thought trying to recover its popular
     The interdisciplinary rule is inscribed ever more deeply in the heart of
the disciplines. The flowering of contemporary thought covers seven grand
themes, seven grand questions for our era: the ideology, the modernity, the
society, the culture, the economy, the knowledge and, last, the unity of the
world. To all there must be included in the process the homogenization of the
world political space, where the idea of universality is being confronted by the
revival of particularisms. Intellectual space is being delimited by the
upheavals in communications, science, geopolitics. A triple wound exists in the
20th century, provoked by relativity, quantum mechanics and chaos theory.
Mankind has lost the operating principles of synthesis that previously
guaranteed the coherence of our representations. A synthetic vision must be
reconstructed. What is it that we may know? What may we hope? Is perhaps the
modern scientist the equivalent of the classical philosopher of antiquity? She
might be. Can reason perhaps only develop interpretations of the world?
     Today's fecundity is due to two major mutations: first, there are no longer
gurus of thought; second, there are no longer great unifying theories, like
Marxism. The field has opened to a more collective and diversified practice,
nourished by interchanges. We see a reconciliation between the exact sciences,
the human sciences and philosophy, a new alliance. A sociology of the sciences,
for example, has been born in England. Interdisciplinarity has led to a
globalization of the particularized disciplines, allocated so as to return
knowledge to its original vocation: to conceive mankind's inscription on the
world. It turns out that scientific argumentation produces the irrational, so
one must grasp and understand the moments when it runs the risk of
irrationality, must seek its indicators: extrapolation, the transposition of
concepts from one class of objects to another; the absence of strict definition
to formalize this or that problem; the move from one level of discourse to
another, from scientific questions to philosophical problems, for example; the
transformation of analogy or metaphor into explanation. The criteria of
irrationality must be defined. Knowledge is a total moral fact, not a purely
rational discourse in which the irrational is inserted transforming "that which
must be explained" into the principle of explanation.
     Modern thought has attempted to separate objective, neutral thought from
humanity's other cultural productions, as if it were not part of them. Science
would thus extend its history like a fabric protected from all ideological and
social conditioning. Its liberation from the irrational might have been the
decisive factor in its progress. Yet we have the example of Newton, at once
father of modern science and heir to the "occult" sciences. The myth of a
science which transcends other modalities of knowing crumbled, in its place
appearing the profound relations that scientific rationality has had with pre-
logical thought throughout its history. We had the crisis of the founding of
science. The study of the "disordered" states and processes of matter suggests a
topic with strange connotations: fractals, chaos... An ancient mythic
plot appears: it is the return of the god Chaos.
     There is no inherent logic in scientific progress, each paradigm
implicitly determining a vision of the world that renders obsolete the one
offered by the previous paradigm, each scientific revolution corresponding to a
profound upheaval in mentalities. A new scientific truth, says Max Planck, does
not triumph because it manages to convince its adversaries, but instead because
those end by dying and a new generation, for whom this truth has become
familiar, come to replace them.

                              Chapter IV
                    The masters of the world

A French seminar published an interview concerning the 50 most influential men
on the planet: among them there was not one head of state nor government, not
one minister or deputy, nor anyone elected in whatever country.
     Another seminar dedicated its main agenda to the most influential person in
the world: they did not pick Clinton, instead Bill Gates, the owner of
Microsoft, which dominates the strategic information markets and prepares to
control the information superhighway.
     The globalization of the interchange of signs has been seen to accelerate
due to scientific and technological transformations. It has led to the explosion
of two principal nervous systems of modern societies: the financial markets and
the information networks.
     In the world of finance we already have four basic qualities: globalism,
permanence, non-materiality, and immediateness. They are almost divine
attributes that give rise to a new cult, to a new religion: that of the market.
They exchange, instantaneously, and in uninterrupted 24-hour form, data from one
side of the earth to the other. The principal exchanges are interrelated and
function non-stop. And the actors for this functioning are some youths attached
to their electronic screens: they are the clergy of the market, who interpret
the new economic rationality that governs every reality (social, political, et
     Often, financial markets function in a blind manner, utilizing parameters
borrowed from witchcraft of from wild psychology, as when they speak of the
"economy of rumor," or of "the analysis of gregarious behavior" or "the study of
mimetic contagion." Owing to its new characteristics, the financial markets have
perfected some types of new products, extremely complex and volatile, which few
experts understand well, that gives them a considerable advantage in
transactions. Only a dozen individuals in the world know how to perform
activation on the value of money, and are considered the "masters of the
market." A word of theirs causes lowering of the dollar or the fall of the Tokyo
Exchange. Accordingly, at the whim of variations in the exchange rates,
transactions on the monetary markets reach 200 billion dollars, which is 60
times the amount traded in manufactured goods or services.
     Before the potency of these mastodons of finance, what power do states
have? Almost none, as the Mexican crisis has demonstrated. What weight can the
reserves have, accumulated by the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Italy,
United Kingdom, and Canada (the seven richest nations of the world) as against
the financial power of the private funds (the majority Anglo-Saxon or Japanese)?
Almost none.
     For example: in the most important financial effort ever agreed in favor of
a nation--Mexico--in modern economic history, the great states of the planet
(including the United States), the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund managed to gather among themselves close to 50 billion dollars. A
considerable sum. Very well, the top three United States pension funds (the Big
Three): Fidelity Investments, Vanguard Group and Capital Research and
Management alone control 500 billion dollars. The administrators of these funds
concentrate financial power in their hands of unheard of magnitude, which no
economic minister nor any governor of a central bank possesses.
     In a market that has become instantaneous and global, every brutal
displacement by those giants of finance can lead to the economic destabilization
of any nation.
     The leading politicians of the principal planetary powers, together with
the 850 persons who make the most important economic decisions in the world, at
the Davos Forum, said that they feared the superhuman power of those fund
administrators, who have been totally liberated from governments and who act at
their fancy upon the cyberspace of geofinance. This already comprises a sort of
new frontier. A new territory upon which depends the fate of a
good part of the world. Without a social contract, without sanction, without
laws... With the sole exception of those who determine the principal
protagonists, to their advantage.
     George Soros declared: "markets vote every day," "it is markets that give
meaning to the state." Raymond Barre replied: "the world cannot be left in the
hands of a mass of irresponsible 30 year-olds who only think about money."
     The international finance system does not possess the institutional means
capable of confronting the challenges of globalization and the general opening
of markets. The reality of world power escapes mostly to the states.
Globalization implies the emergence of new powers that transcend the structures
of the state.
     Neither Jeffrey Vinik, of Fidelity Investments; nor Larry Rong, of China
Trust and International Investment; nor Albert Allen, of ATT; nor Soros, nor
other masters of the world, have submitted their projects to universal suffrage.
Democracy is not for them. They are situated above the discussions, are
indifferent to the concepts of public good, social happiness, liberty, equality.
They do not waste time. Their money, their products, their ideas, traverse the
cyberfrontiers of the market without impediments. Political power is only the
third power; first comes economic power, then media power and, when one has both
of these, to assume political power now is no more than a simple formality.
     Here there are no great clandestine states, nor sub-plots in the shadows.
The conquistadors act in plain daylight, take political power hostage
and subject the nations to their laws. Before they were called "king steel," or
"of cotton," or the "seven sisters of oil." These great families share the power
with the banks, the finance ministers, the techno-bureaucracy of the richest
countries, the military-industrial complexes. But the step from an economy
starting from national capitalisms, acting on a world scale, to a globalization
characterized by the liberalization of the markets, is modifying the nature and
the physiognomy of the masters of the world economy.
     Power resides ever more in ownership of raw materials and is translated
into immaterial factors (high technology, information, communication, publicity,
finance). The economy de-materializes. Power is displaced from the producer to
the consumer. Among the 20 leading industrial enterprises of the world six
figure in microelectronics and informatics (there was not even one until 20
years ago). They are emergent power structures, dominated by elites outside of
the forms of political and social representation and legitimacy of the states.
The dynamic of these oligarchies obeys a pure logic of conquest and encourages
the generalization of illegal practices, even growing criminalization within the
economy. The recent history of the world is that of the return of the
conquistadors, of the appearance of new barbarisms. We are far from having
powers founded upon the moral authority conferred from advanced scientific and
technological knowledge.
     The growth of a world market in capital and of financial services totally
escapes control on the part of the states. We see the abdication of the
political, there being megasystems in the service of the immediate interests of
certain financial groups.
     Resistances exist to this evolution, yet they are small in number and
little organized. We have entered on a new era of conquest, like in the 15th
century. In the Renaissance, the principal actors were the states; today they
are the financial groupings, who do not seek either the diffusion of a
civilization or that of a religion or a culture.
     Never have the masters of the world been so few in number. Their allies
are: first, the aspects of techno-science that legitimize the spirit of
conquest in the name of technical advancement; second, the national and
international techno-bureaucracy, educated in the same schools, with the
same culture and the same sensibility of progressive symbolism; and third, the
popularizers of rhetoric, that is to say, the media.
     Predators have always existed, but their nature is now different. Nothing
justifies nor legitimizes the social, political and cultural disasters that they
create. Reduced to the role of impotent spectator, the "political"
registers decisions taken in other arenas. The border between predation and
illegality shrinks (as the disaster of the United States savings banks
demonstrates, or that of Maxwell's empire, or the real estate crisis, or the
debacle of Barings bank or of Credit Lyonnais).
     Are these tendencies perhaps uncontrollable? There exist remedies,
possible courses of action. Let us see:
  • The re-establishment of national and international controls.
  • The imposition of a world tax on the movements of capital.
  • The elimination of secret banking and of the fiscal paradises.
  • The coordinated fight against speculation and tax evasion.
  • To undertake international actions with "clean hands."
  • The generalization of democratic control, through strengthening the existing parliaments.
  • The creation of new representative forums on a continental and world scale.
  • The support of non-governmental associative movements.
  • The re-affirmation of the primacy of the political at all levels.
  • The creation of new international institutions such as: a council for economic security; a high world event concerning information security; an entity capable of administering public goods, such as the water, for instance. Chapter V The tendencies We should identify the grand tendencies of the century that begins, not as if we were astrologers or seers, but it is necessary to foresee the future. Paraphrasing Auguste Comte: "to know is to foresee." For that one must analyze the great tendencies that connect us with the 20th century, establishing a relationship between the past and the future. To foresee the future it is indispensable to ground oneself with knowledge of the past. The events to come are strongly linked to those past facts. The meaningful elements and the problems must be identified while at the same time being conscious of the dangers. The future is totally unpredictable, but what cannot be foreseen are the unique, specific events. For example: it is not important, for an insurance company, to know if our house is going to burn down next week; however, all the insured should take into account the risk of fire that exists. For me, as the owner, it is crucial to know if there will be a fire in my house during the coming days. Another example: 20 girls and boys are going camping together, and strong possibilities exist that they will pair off. Those girls would like to know who is going to join whom, yet for a researcher this question is of no interest, for what counts is the probability that it will happen. What we can do is discuss the problems such as they appear today and identify some probabilities. Sometimes these will be very high, at other times will be impeded by events unforeseeable now. The 20th century was a short century, beginning in 1914 with the first world war and ending in 1991 with the dismantling of the USSR. For about ten years we have been living in the new century. Do we perhaps already have the material to speak of it? Are the distinctive traits already identifiable? Are we simply in a period of transition? To choose a particular date is a convention, not something for which one must fight. We can only know that a period has ended when sufficient time for it has passed. For instance: between 1945 and the start of the Seventies, the world economy only experienced relatively minor fluctuations; from 1973 onwards, we had a period of profound turbulence: the crises of 1980-82, of 1990-91, of 1997-98. One must be prudent with their predictions. We already have a certain idea of what the new era will be because some of its economic and political characteristics have been manifested. In many aspects, we already live in the new century. In terms of international politics and of ideologies, the demise of the communist regimes of the east have constituted a true historical rupture. Marx has caused me to become conscious that history is something without which we could not comprehend what occurs in the world. History can be seen and analyzed as a whole. It does not have laws, it has a structure. It is the tale of the evolution of human society over a long period. In my youth, the professors were not interested in a history of this type. Sociology, and anthropology, are branches equally tied to the evolution of societies. I should recognize this debt to Marx, even when Marxism appears to be buried. The understanding of an historical period is not permanent, human society being a structure that evolves, capable of changing. The present is not its point of arrival. The modes of functioning of a social system must be analyzed, for they generate or stop generating the forces of change. Let us take the example of China: this nation, despite the presence of numerous factors of economic and technological progress, has obstructed change. That which happened must be analyzed, not merely discovered. We should explain the convergence of different elements in the heart of a society. Does history perhaps repeat itself? The war in the Balkans was a war of the old type, a prolongation of the Balkan wars and a sub-product of the first world war. This conflict has seen the fall of the multinational empires, the end of the Hapsburgs and of the Ottomans, while the October revolution preserved the unity of the Czarist empire. The general nature of war gives rise to a more fundamental problem than the reasons which cause it, how to ask whether or not it was just. The way in which war has changed must be understood: first, might a war between the great world powers still be possible? No, while the United States is the only superpower; China might attain a military capacity that permits it to rival the United States yet, up to now, a new world war is improbable. Second, might a nuclear war be possible? Yes, because technology has facilitated the acquisition of nuclear arms; the elimination of the risk of a world conflict does not exclude the prospect of nuclear wars. Third, conventional wars between states has never stopped, except in the zones where two superpowers are directly opposed and avoided the risk of a nuclear catastrophe. Armed confrontations continued even in the period of the nuclear nightmare. The probability of more wars is thus raised. Now then, there are zones where they are improbable, such as Latin America. It should be remembered that on this continent no army has crossed the borders of an enemy state during the course of the 20th century, except for the Chaco war, between Bolivia and Paraguay (1932-35) and some border conflicts like those occurring between Peru and Ecuador or between El Salvador and Honduras. In Latin America there were massacres, civil wars, but no war between states. The novelty is that the line of demarcation between internal conflicts and international conflicts, between war and peace, has shrunk. The internal antagonism becomes an external war. Previously it was impossible that foreign armies might cross frontiers to resolve an internal conflict. This is the novelty. During the cold war we had relative stability in the world, founded upon a gold standard: no one crosses the borders of a sovereign state so as not to disrupt the balance. The end of the cold war culminated with this self- limitation. The ancient rules of war and peace, which distinguished between internal and international conflicts, have been erased. There are also enormous differences in the manner of making war, due to technological advances. Technology is accompanied by a more precise and selective destructive power, such that the distinction between combatants and non-combatants is re-established which had disappeared over the course of the 20th century, when the guerrillas increasingly attacked the civilians. We also have a more frequent and more irresponsible recourse for destruction. Advanced technology at once increases the risks of armed conflicts and underestimates those risks. Now that killing has lessened, one might think it is a more civilized way of making war, but the damages are greater. People who do not have access to the technology in question establish the difference; in Kosovo, two types of war took place simultaneously. In the past, the guerrillas were armed with rifles and machine guns; today they have portable anti-aircraft weapons. It is a consequence of the cold war that the world has been inundated with sophisticated armaments. Since there was no real war between the powers during this period, the end of the cold war left an ample available arsenal. At the same time, armed groups appear with no relation to a government, yet ready to fight. A distinction is born between the wars among states or organized movements, on one hand and, on the other, the private wars between individuals or particular groups. In the 20th century, armed conflicts were affairs between states or organizations; they were not organized by private enterprises nor mercenary chiefs. Until the 17th century, states rented the armies; today we have a return to private enterprise in war, in those parts of the world where the states are found in decomposition, as in Africa. We also have recent tendencies to do away with conscription. The general evolution tends to settle on a personal, professional military. This process opens space for the private enterprises, a gray zone where specialized military professionals and private security firms collaborate. The arms, the transport, supply of the troops will be ever more private. This phenomenon results from a disintegration of the power of the state, revives the ancient figure of the "man of war," which had not existed since the 15th and 16th centuries. We see the extraordinary wealth of the private enterprises. A certain number of individuals or organizations can possess as much money as a state, and since they are less structured and controlled by a state, armed conflicts are more dangerous for the civilian populations. The role of public opinion has become decisive. Another consequence of the end of the cold war is the weakening of control and censorship of information by governments. The term, "genocide" has been abused, and has lost its meaning, like the term fascism. Genocide is a plan of elimination of an ethnic group in its totality. They tell us that globalization should have announced the end of the nation-state and here we see it resurgent, adorned with all the ethnic or religious justifications that come from the Middle Ages. We should distinguish two meanings of the term nation-state: on one side, it means a territorial state in the heart of which the population (the nation) maintains a sovereign power; it is the concept of nation-state born of the French revolution and of the American; it is a political, not an ethnic or linguistic, definition of the state. The other meaning is more recent, being the idea that every territorial state belongs to a particular people with ethnic, linguistic and cultural characteristics, and that that comprises the nation. The two forms of nation- state are in crisis. In Yugoslavia, we saw the decay of a state wherein different nations in an ethnic sense co-existed, and its transformation into various states each one of which tries to exclude the other nations. When we speak of self-determination of peoples, we do not refer to a profound aspiration of society. When a multinational state divides, the territorial communities are obliged to discover new relations and loyalties. When the empires disappear, the nationalities are obliged to find alternate solutions. They often ask us: how to invent a story to create nationalism, a consensus around a regime? National myths are not born spontaneously, are not part of historical memory, nor of a living tradition. An existing situation is justified by events that have nothing to do with the present but instead what something meant six centuries or two thousand years ago, which serves to replace everything which occurred in the meantime. An heroic and militant history is reconstructed and all the remaining elements are left outside, so as to concentrate on that which legitimates the founding of a national ideology. The past is re-drawn so as to correctly present a political line and cause it to appear as what we want it to be. The elites which govern impose their version of history, and of literature. When a new state is created, a new educational system is established. The people, then, seeing these historical reconstructions, need permanent, fundamental references. This has an enormous psychological importance for the individuals and for the communities. The people need this anteriority to be able to affirm, we are here, at home, the others arrived later; we have been here forever. Thus it is something like a profane version of eternity. To be able to proclaim oneselves the owner of a lengthy past represents a privilege from the perspective of social psychology. Despite its recent character, nationalism invariably asserts a very distant past. Antiquity satisfies this need for permanence. We see the disintegration of the state, the decay of institutional and juridical structures, replaced by the law of the gangs, of violent ethnic groups. What will the future be of the state in the 21st century? The wave that brought the construction of the nation-states has dominated the world since the 16th century up to the decade of the Sixties. This evolution took place independently of the ideological nature of the state, has occurred in all regimes (liberal, conservative, fascist) without distinction. When this state process reaches its apogee, few things escape its control. There are, first, a civil citizenry, then a political citizenry, finally a social citizenry. The state had a monopoly over the law, then over national politics; it controlled the army, administered industry, planned the whole of the economy. Until before the 19th century, no state was capable of performing a credible census. It was practically impossible to provide an efficient system to control the rural population; and it became very difficult to know the precise positions of the national borders. The state grew in precision, knowledge and technical capacity. During the 19th century, all the powerful states of the world disarmed their populations, and imposed public order and the voluntary loyalty of the citizens towards the state. Every citizen identified themself with the collectivity. Voluntary obedience to the state was an essential element. In the years following 1960, the apparatus of the state had enormous powers. What happened later? It is not that the state may have lost power, but instead that it lost the monopoly over the means of coercion. The citizenry were less inclined to obey the laws of the state. Compare the attitude of the accused communists before the United States tribunals: they invoked the Fifth Amendment, pursued as a matter of law; the New Left, however, rejects the set of procedures without further recognizing the fundamental principles. The force of the state reached its apogee when social protest was institutionalized, which ended in the Seventies, yet this does not mean that states have disintegrated. There are places where every form of state tends to disappear, such as in Africa and in western and central Asia. Until the fall of communism they had one state. The disintegration of some states is found to be linked to the loss of their monopoly over the means of coercion; in its place we find armed factions in confrontation to attain a certain equilibrium, like in the feudal epoch. In Africa, the decay of the state is the result of the fall of the imperial colonies. What is happening in these regions resembles what happened in western Europe at the fall of the Roman empire: the central authority had disappeared; in some instances, the local chiefs succeeded in maintaining themselves; in others, the country was conquered by foreign tribes. Over a long period, vast regions were deprived of state structures. This situation is occurring again. The absence of obedience by the public to their governments will make the world more difficult to administer. Citizens obey an effective government, whatever it may be. whether they approve or not. It is the reason for the success of the majority of the European powers in the administration of wide colonial empires. Very few populations resisted. The peoples who lived in societies without states rejected compliance, as in the case of Afghanistan or with the Kurds or the Berbers; the peoples who rebelled are those who resisted all forms of government, their own or foreign. The public lost their disposition to accept a superior authority. Should we fear the decay of the nation-state? Is the end of the international system of states worrying? One can fear a global economy and culture can be globalized; we undoubtedly have global technology and a unified science yet, in the political domain, we are always in a pluralist world subdivided into states that are dissimilar. Three quarters of the population of the Earth live in about 25 states of more than 50 million inhabitants. The economy can act in the absence of global institutions, but I do not think that politics can function in an analogous vacuum. We do not have global political institutions, the United Nations only acquiring its power from the existing states... And the question persists of the weakening of the nation-state. The cold war caused the shadow of the fatal catastrophe--nuclear war--to weigh upon the world. The disaster did not occur. This situation no longer exists, for now it is the uncertainty. This system rested upon the existence of national actors in stellar roles. We knew what was permitted and what was prohibited. Today the rules have eroded: the principle of non-intervention, the prohibition of transgressing borders. Are we perhaps entering on a new American century? After the second World War, the United States represented half the economic production of all the other nations combined. The United States will be less important demographically, and figure less in world productive capacity. I do not believe it will manage to continue being the industrial engine of the world, in the same way that Great Britain ceased being the primary capitalist power. Industrialization has been generalized to wide regions of the world. Under the cultural hegemony of the United States, the English language has played a growing role. The development of informatics will continue. Concerning the historical phenomenon, the "America" of the 20th century was founded on a revolutionary ideology; not only is it a state, but it seeks to transform the world according to a particular model, wishing to present itself as a universal model. In the 21st century, the world will again be too vast and complex, so may not be able to be dominated by a single state. There has always been a hegemonic power, today the United States. The British hegemony was very heavy, economically, culturally and militarily. The United States is the first country in history in a position of claiming world hegemony. There was neither Spanish hegemony in the 16th century, nor French hegemony in the 17th. One has seen powers dominating a continent. Libertarian individualism could not serve as the basis for a politics of power, because it is, by definition, contrary to collective values, such as nationalism and the other projects capable of mobilizing the people. The logic of individualism suits the market. May it not be more secure for the world to have only one power? The British hegemony of the 19th century is the model that gave inspiration to the Americans. Pax americana comes from pax britannica and that from pax romana. The United States never thought in terms of colonization outside of the Americas; the occupation of Puerto Rico and of the Philippines were historical accidents. The United States is megalomaniac, but will have to, in the next century, take into account the limits of the possible. They will continue being a superpower for a long time, yet the demonstration of force does not suffice to govern the world. What new superpower might appear in the 21st century? China, undoubtedly; in a distant future. The American advantage is too strong, China being above all a territorial power. India, Pakistan...their interest is also regional. India provides one advantage: authentic originality in the fields of technology and of intellectual investigation. India's great problem is found in the weakness of the structures and administrative capabilities of the state, and in the fragility of its political system. The Pope has expressed his disagreement with American domination, after its having directed its attacks against communism. John Paul II seems to be the last revolutionary figure on Earth. His rule marks a return to a more traditional conception of the church, as opposed to the era of relatively liberal Catholicism of the Sixties and Seventies. If religion has a future, it will be by remaining on the fringe of fashions, without changing. John Paul II is the last great ideologue to criticize capitalism as such, which is atypical. The globalization of the economy comprises the greatest characteristic. It is not the result of a determinate act, but instead of an historical process that will continue its evolution and will seek to extend itself to the entire globe. Yet diversity imposes certain limits. Globalization collides against the power of the states. It does not affect all fields in the same manner: there is a natural historic tendency to globalize technology, communications, the economy, yet not politics. There is a reduction or elimination of commercial barriers between states; there is liberalization of the capital markets. But the world has already experienced these phenomena, and capitalism before 1914 already possessed these two characteristics. Globalization cannot be identified with the creation of a global economy, as something beyond the economy is needed. Globalization assumes, above all, elimination of the technical obstacles in the field of transport and of communications. An example: the disappearance of seasonal agricultural products is a result of globalization; the international division of labor no longer functions; the diffusion of technological information and of communications are a major innovation; a radical imbalance has been created between the world economy, production and the flux of financial transactions. Appearance and reality must be distinguished. The public seem not to be affected any more by their geographic situation, but that is not yet globalization. Some are rich, others are poor; some are free, others are in jail. Globalization means a wider access, yet not equal. Nature resources are divided in an unequal manner, and the world is differentiated and not egalitarian. Money is the common denominator. The technical side of globalization requires standardization and homogenization. The 21st century shall determine the acceptable limits of this unification in relation to the diversity of the world. At the technological level, homogenization is powerful. The problem of the 21st century will be the resistances to these uniformities. Have the states perhaps lost their prerogatives? Globalization is an irreversible dynamic, independent of governmental action: thus unlike ideology. We admit that the capitalist economy generates a growth rate superior to any other system, but the distribution of that wealth constitutes a problem. Globalization can follow different pathways. The historical reason that has led to an unbalanced evolution of world industry was the refusal of the United States and of Germany to accept free trade and their decision to protect their industries from the British economy. The intelligent capitalists understood that they had to reject market fundamentalism. Nobody today expects the final crisis of capitalism. We saw a return to a certain protectionism. We do not deny that globalization may have brought wealth and employment to a mass of previously poor persons. Travel throughout the world contributes to changing the world, with circulation of persons, of products and of information. The world has become richer. Russia may be the only nation where the theory of the market has been tested until bankruptcy, where the logic of the market has been unreservedly applied with disastrous results. It is a total regression of the historical tendencies: the life expectancy of males has retreated ten years over the course of the years 1990-2000. The rules of the market suppose a certain type of society without these rules, and the result is catastrophic. A large part of the Russian tragedy derives from the decay of state institutions and from the low social cohesion. Let us compare China and Russia. China has not decayed because neither the state nor the party have abandoned their responsibilities. It is not enough to confine the market to the less important sectors of the economy. Ten years after Tienanmen, this country has a powerful economy. In the developed nations goods and capital can circulate freely, as opposed to what happens with the labor force. We observe mega-mergers of enterprises in search of a monopoly position. An economy founded on competence tends toward monopoly, yet this phenomenon knows limits due to political resistance. The logic of free trade implies total freedom of the factors of production, except for one: work. There is today in the world less freedom of circulation of the labor force than before 1914. It is erroneous to assume that globalization is uncontrollable. A conflict exists between the forces of capitalism and the political forces, with tension between those two logics. We hear the demand for a certain control, yet, who should impose those regulations? The nation-states, or the international organs? The international organs only exist thanks to the states, and the International Monetary Fund depends upon the states, which comprise the only true political authority. In the realm of political structures a natural tendency towards globalization resembling that which occurs in the economic sphere does not exist. The problematic of political decision will dominate the 21st century. One must ask how the world would be if the states stopped putting limits on the transnational economy. We imagine a planet where the basis unity were not that of the states, but of the enterprises; we try to conceive of a world no longer divided geographically but instead composed of 200 multinationals, surrounded by powerful economic entities and by a third circle of small businesses. There is a stability to the political map of the world based on states, whereas the stability of the protagonists of the world economy cannot be guaranteed. There is an evident tension between the states and the transnational economy. Two systems which today co-exist and should adapt to each other, but that the interference into the sovereignty of a state has limits. The governments treat enterprises as if they were states; meanwhile the stronger the state, the better the results. The existing situation carries dangers because the great powers only take effective measures in case of crisis. The United States is no longer sufficiently powerful to impose a new economic order. On the other hand, it must be noted that, if indeed the 20th century killed more than any other century, it closes with a more numerous population and in a better condition. Another aspect of the world economy is the step from manufacturing industry to a service economy. Post-industrial society corresponds to a world where ideas sell better than things. To speak of the post-industrial era is mistaken, since the goods and services produced in the industrial age continue being produced even today. They are being manufactured in greater quantities, are diffused more widely and require less work. The workforce is diminishing. A new means must be found of sharing the benefits of the wealth produced by a restricted number of persons. There are two forms for that: the first is the method applied in the past; the people are offered employment, a salary in exchange for their work. Today the number of unemployed has increased enormously, and this is not the same problem as the growth of production; this latter has been resolved, the difficulty being how to share the wealth. The only method that we know is redistribution organized by the state. The magnitude of wealth today as the disposal of a few individuals is incredible. There are those who can singly fund a presidential campaign. What will happen to the left in the 21st century? The meaning of the word left has changed. The right does not embody the revolutionary inheritance, yet have internalized some of its elements. Initially, the left had fought to overthrow the monarchical, absolutist, aristocratic governments, in favor of bourgeois, liberal, constitutional institutions. The Whigs, in England, formed the liberal party; a distinction was made between the party of change and the party of stability, between progress and the established order. This terminology persists: the left keeps calling itself progressive, yet the dominant bourgeoisie does not oppose the changes, for the nature of conservatism has changed. Aversion to change persists only in the Roman Catholic church. Now then, a powerful conservative current has emerged favorable to radical social changes, at the same time that another new conservative current wishes to maintain the status quo or a move backwards. On the left, there co-exist a curious mix of progressive traditions allied with forces that are not progressive. The distinction between the party of order and stability, and the party of progress, is no longer real. During the 19th century, the left was defined by the separation between the masses and the dominant classes. In the 20th century, the left formed around the labor movement and the socialist parties. There was a mixture of juridical, political and social claims. The left attained several of its objectives: democracy, universal suffrage, the eight- hour day, other material conditions and systems of social protection. Yet the effective success of the left has weakened its program. There exists a left that desires a radical change, the end of capitalism, but socialism was not a critique of capitalist reality but a real project for a different society. With the creation of the welfare state, they realized practically everything for which they had hoped. Those movements were not involved in a struggle for social transformation. To nationalize industry is not in itself a revolutionary act. The intellectual crisis of the left is lodged in the crisis between the revolutionaries and the social democrats. The left traverses a crisis that we attribute to the realization of its goals and to the betterment of work conditions. Their program is no longer adapted to the new reality, can no longer propose the construction of a different society; thus it is that its social democratic wing limits itself to defending what is already accomplished. The new left does not have a project for society. The left has been incarnated in a collective experience, and private interests have damaged the values of the left. It is difficult to involve the public in collective actions; while they are poor, they are responsive because they can obtain nothing outside of collective action, but when they emerge from necessity, they gain more by pursuing their own interests. Of the liberty-equality-fraternity trilogy, this last does not count for much now. We know what we want from freedom. Equality today means social services, health, education, basic necessities. The are obligations of the state, of the public sphere. Society cannot fulfill itself by exclusively following the private interest. There are public goods, there is a general interest. The market is an essential component of the economy, decisive for the creation of riches. Yet we cannot accept a society based solely on a market system. The decisions that are taken are more empirical than of principle. There exists a left loyal to the classical conception of redistribution and today a social Christian tradition, a liberal current upon a Christian basis. For the right, competition arouses the fear necessary to assert personal talent in a context of equality of opportunities; for the left, it seeks to maintain the corporatist advantages and privileges, including those of the labor aristocracy and those of their syndicates. The former direct themselves to youth, the second to the retired. A good part of the left has become a force which seeks conservationism. The traditional left was born a hundred years ago as a movement of the workers in industry, finding itself today in a society that is characterized by a diminution of manual labor and of direct employment. How will one be able to speak with the independent workers? Or how to respond to the extraordinary development of jobs such as in public relations or as communications consultants. If the public only uses its power to select goods or express their opinions through mediated polls, what remains of their citizenship? This evolution destroys citizenship. The establishment today of direct relations between the lowest level of the system and its most elevated point leaves no room for politics as organization of the public space, aimed at reaching collective objectives. But today there is still space for demagogic and populist demonstrations, around particular figures or celebrities who arouse emotion. The crisis of democracy is seen in a mediated populism, in a plebiscite founded upon a pact with the media and that turns against politics. The mediated system substitutes for politics. The media establish an immediate relationship with each person. The symbolic importance of the electoral process which mobilizes the citizens is essential to guarantee the society's cohesion and confer upon it the sense of being a community with its rights and duties. Will the great political figures of the new century possess such ethical and moral agility? There we touch the root of the problem, which is the quality of the political directors: few are truly on a high level. No historian should underestimate the fact that a Hollywood actor should have become president of the United States. The succession of the directors of democratic states creates problems. In traditional societies there existed proven mechanisms, such as the hereditary system, or the practice of designated successor, or the selection process at the heart of the political organization. Difficulties emerge in the case of direct election, for here there are a series of criteria: the necessary abilities for the function, and the quality of the leader. In the strong and stable nations it ultimately matters little who the president is. Since 1867, seven presidents have been assassinated or obliged to quit before the end of their term in the United States. They were replaced by persons who had not been designated for this function; those traumas did not modify the history of the United States. The locomotive advanced smoothly, and could not derail. The pursuit of happiness is an aspiration common to human beings. For the public, after surpassing the frontier of poverty, after satisfying their primary needs, the necessity arises to be happy. The price of the happiness may be the loss of norms, of value systems, of rules in lifestyle. Beyond the frontier of subsistence, an improvement in income, an option for diversion, do not necessarily signify satisfaction. The torments commence of envy, social competition, comparing one's wealth with that of others; all that changes the meaning of happiness. There is better social mobility, the children are better educated, are more cultivated, richer than their parents. Does this perhaps make the public happier? At times we see signs of a real satisfaction, yet all that posits the question about happiness. We see a rupture with the traditional values and models, which engenders suffering in those with nothing to do. The elites have always had the tendency to share a world culture. There exists today a process of planetary cultural leveling, a world expansion of popular culture. Ninety percent of the films projected in the world are United States productions; to that must be added "rock" music, football, the cult of celebrities. The inventions of the 20th century--photography, movies, radio, TV, records, and available everywhere. One thing marks the difference between the classical culture of the 19th century and modern popular culture: classical culture diffused a European model which has been adopted everywhere. At the end of the 20th century, popular culture is syncretic, integrating diverse sources: the "blues" of the American blacks, "country and western," Latin, Indian, the African. Popular culture produces worldwide icons, yet, despite the expansion of a world popular culture, there is a certain resistance. Assimilation tends to dominate. The diversity of languages is an obstacle to globalization. One must avoid confounding globalization, which is a real and vast phenomenon, with cosmopolitanism, which is extremely limited. No one has reason to live if they do not possess something for which it is worthwhile to die. Collective values are found in full decadence. An aspect directly linked with globalization is the precariousness of employment and the flexibility of the workforce. In the modern capitalist economy, the only factor whose productivity or cost is hard to augment or diminish is the human being. There is a very strong pressure to try to eliminate her from the process of production. This phenomenon will be one of the big problems of the 21st century. Increasingly, the idea prevails that traditional motivations, like the family or the value of work, that in the past guaranteed the society's cohesion and the efficacy of the economy, are no longer needed. These foundations of our society are perturbed and the effects are disastrous. Today nobody wants to invest in an enterprise that will only operate in ten years. The only existing logic is immediate gain, and hence financial speculation. The question is to know how long capitalism can function in this manner. Many activities, such as science, cannot be organized on an immediate basis or according to the laws of market competition. Market values are an effective system for certain activities, such as speculation or the leisure industry, but, while human beings are necessary and have not been eliminated from the production process, it is impossible to ignore their motivation. A new cosmetics of welfare is born. As the world becomes richer, it becomes less egalitarian. The emblems of wealth have changed. Today, what really symbolizes fortune is a private plane. Discretion and exclusivity are the new markers that characterize wealth. In the past, the symbols of the social hierarchy were based upon visibility, were recognizable. Education constituted an essential factor in the social hierarchy. The emancipation of women is one of the essential historic events of the 20th century, yet it only involved part of the world and some layers of the population. The increase in the rate of women's activity owes much to the war. A serious problem is the extreme difficulty encountered by women in reconciling professional life and family life. This has nothing to do with discrimination, but is simply linked to the law of nature, and explains why women are less numerous than men at the top of the professional hierarchy. On the other hand, a sexual division of labor has alway existed: the men go to war, the women give birth. The Sixties introduced another change: birth control. This is an historic event, with the mechanism of reproduction of the human species being transformed in only one generation. The technologies of information have introduced enormous changes. I am a skeptic regarding the radicality of these mutations and regarding the capacity of the modern economy to function without reference to social traditions. Human beings do not like being without someone with whom to talk. Personal contacts comprise an essential element. The technological utopia is unconcerned regarding social relations. A society is not constructed on a cost-benefit basis. One of the principal characteristics of the modern world is that immigration is impeded, and another is ecology. No one before the middle of the 19th century had been worried about the sources of non-renewable energy, such as coal. Few had been disturbed about the exhaustion of the petroleum reserves before the end of the second World War. The 20th century was that of the ordinary people. Which personage, which office, which place would best symbolize the century of the ordinary person? At the start of the 20th century we had proposed a peasant, who then represented the typical human: an individual who lived from agriculture. That is no longer the case at the end of the century. A member of the working class might be selected, yet its size and its influence have also been reduced. There are two worlds that do not communicate among themselves. When they meet, what the poor world can see of the rich world is, above all, its superiority, the affirmation of one's self-interest, its wealth, its technology, its power. There are ever more men and women abandoned to a situation where neither norms nor perspective nor common values exist any longer, within which they do not know how to conduct their individual and collective existence. "I remember it only as the most terrible century in western history," said Isaiah Berlin. Conclusion At the turn of the millennium, we see that the new technologies do not seem to sum to a coherent project. We observe urban degradation and that of the environment. On the world stage we note the return of contagious diseases. We seem fascinated by the spirit of catastrophe. Mankind at the turn of the millennium finds itself before a complex world, incapable of predicting any future (even in the field of the exact sciences) because prognostication of future events depends on multiple and complex factors. To analyze them is a task which is found to be quite beyond the capacity of the human spirit. In the field of science and in technology, the Fifties and the Sixties had the fascination of the nuclear. It was thought that nuclear would replace all other energies, reduce its costs; electricity would cost practically nothing, nuclear bringing abundance. They could not have foreseen in those years the problems of the wastes, nor the stimuli in the other fields for energy. It was thought that the airplane would be the saving agent, would abolish borders and bring peoples together, which is how Victor Hugo thought in a past century. The shutting of frontiers was not foreseen, the cultural retrenchment of people. Today scientific unfolding presents us two faces: one positive and the other dangerous. We have placed unmeasured hope in medicine, yet the unfolding has also caused public idiocy to flourish, like the memory of water or sensationalist utopias. From there to the virtual millenarianism of the Great Computer, that took the place of the all-powerful god. We see premature announcements, like the AIDS vaccine. We see sub-estimates. We seem incapable of taking into account the interactions of the different fields of science, the social, the political, the cultural, in addition to chance. Today, when we again read the predictions of the year 1960, we take note of considerable distortions. They said the thermal energy of the sea would be captured; that everyone would have their own helicopter in the garden; that we would have crops without land to nourish humanity; that we would live 200 years thanks to hormonal medication. Yet in that same year, 1960, in the predictions there was not even one computer in sight. And the ex-director of IBM affirmed that outside of some specialized applications, microchips would never arouse a strong demand. In that first year of the Sixties it was said that genetic manipulation would come to create monsters; that we would have a war between the species; that human borders would be erased; that technologies would go from disintegration of matter towards final disintegration. The fact is that we solely see in the future the signals conforming to our present understandings. Our convictions justify our actions, our dreams, our imagination. Futuristic dreams, at times, stimulate socio-economic progress; yet tomorrow, like yesterday, the discoveries will be the work of elites, not of the masses. Skepticism comes from reflection upon the past, but in the past can be seen either a continual march toward progress, or an uncertain and branching march, unpredictable, full of failures and retreats. We are capable only of approximate regularities. The grand historical theories failed, and their pretensions of global explanations failed. Today we know that no acquisition is definitive. Every century re-interprets the past, every generation projects its vision of the future and of the past. Prediction is worthless, for it is impossible to establish a model, and all that we can predict are eventual problems and possible solutions. A catalog of potentialities is the reign of the principle of uncertainty. I opt for a different perspective on that which we have presented. This attitude awakens the fury of those who cannot stand that which touches their dogmatic edifice. This attitude awakens old reflexes for ex-communion. The debate concerning the future is as violent as the debate about the present, and this blockage comes not only from the rational difficulties. No epoch has known how to foresee the important changes of the following epoch. This was the error of sociology, that it elaborated dogmatic models. The sociologist started from dogma. But the task is not to predict the future, but much more to explain the present structure of society, to know what changes are produced and to try to explain why they seem to go in this direction or that. Sociology is reduced to pure empirical knowledge. There are different ways of speaking of the future: the 230 types of traditional fortune telling; prophecy, whose golden rule is obscurity; science fiction, which is limited to the reasonable field of the imaginary; and utopia, whose eclipse is significant. Today we have a more recent method: planning. It is characterized by the professionalization of the activity of prediction; its goal is to prepare opinion. It recaptures the role of the official oracles in the Greco-Roman world, utilizing modern methods such as statistics, probability, mediation, polls. One must anticipate to be effective and the spirit must be prepared, so it is a manipulation of the future in service to the present. The idea of planning was born in 1929, in the United States. It consisted of and alliance between prediction and action. In 1948 the Rand Corporation was created, which worked on a plurality of possible futures, permitting the elaboration of solutions to confront different eventualities. Beginning in 1975, the House of Representatives required all the commissions to perform according to the works of planning. This became an institution and was democratized. Why plan? In order to dominate the future by means of compromises between foreseeable tendencies and desirable outcomes. It is an equilibrium between foresight and action. Concerted acting takes into account the probable tendencies. Planning has become a professional activity, in which scientific methods refined by mathematics are used. Potential scenarios are presented, are extrapolated, and that extrapolation is related to the observation of a series of past phenomena, so as to apply conclusions to other fields. The models become substitutes for the reality. The general linear model exists, the regression model, the stochastic linear models, the econometric models, the stochastic multivariate models...all founded upon complex mathematics. The trustworthiness of the method depends on the quality of the information. In fact, this departs from the "law of large numbers." Like all technical mathematics, probabilistic reasoning is only a method to give rigor and coherence to certain deductions. Its limits must be recognized. Prudence is the rule. These models provide assistance in light of a decision. Their role is not foresight, but instead to avoid disastrous situations thanks to appropriate actions. They derive from the field of practice, not from the field of knowledge. Natural errors do exist. They should be kept modest. Their degree of trustworthiness is quite good, yet they are frustrating to the great public, who await certainties about the future and are deceived into having to content themselves with some "possibles." Could they perhaps be more bold without falling into charlatanism? The commercial success of planning shows that it responds to the urges of the public. The work by Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, sold seven million copies. Planning has seemed contaminated by the pessimistic atmosphere at this turn of the century. We see a negative evolution in the environment, in the geo- political context, in economic growth, in demographic growth, in employment, in work, in the decay of states. Only the field of technology appears to be positive, yet it requires more personnel, more qualification, more renovation, more capital, and a greater complexity than that of the human brain. Furthermore its impact is negative upon the global employment level. We have never had so many means of prediction, yet never have we encountered so much uncertainty about the future. The predictions of yore were illusions, yet they provided certainties. We no longer have those illusions. Beside the disillusioned which we are, there remain the voluntary optimists, who want to make one believe that "if their advice is followed" things will go well. They are usually politicians, directors, those responsible for some sectors. There also remain the irrational optimists, who support themselves with their "deep conviction": their religious faith, their humanitarian faith, their God or their man (who has deceived many). They only fool those who consent to be fooled. Prophecies have announced catastrophe, yet they are the prelude to a great happiness. The end of the world is optimistic or absolutely pessimistic: it ultimately announces paradise. The real novelty is the absence of general long- term predictions that are moderately serious. In the short term, the polls give the future political scenarios. In the long run we have nothing. It is the sign of a certain social maturity. Humanity is becoming adult. Optimism indulges in an infantile, puerile attitude, which always leads to bitter deceptions. We should accept confronting a hard world, unpredictable and maybe, even, absurd.
  • Index

    Ikram Antaki (Damascus 1948 - Mexico City 2000)


    The end of times

    The events and discoveries

    The ideas

    The masters of the world

    The tendencies