NYC

It was 1978. I was new to New York. A rich acquaintance had invited me to a housewarming party, and, as my cabdriver wound his way down increasingly potholed and dingy streets, I began wondering whether he'd got the address right. Finally he stopped at the doorway of a gloomy, unwelcoming industrial building. Two winos were crumpled on the steps, oblivious. There was no other sign of life in the whole street.

"I think you may have made a mistake", I ventured.

But he hadn't. My friend's voice called "Top Floor!" when I rang the bell, and I thought - knowing her sense of humour - "Oh this is going to be some kind of joke!" I was all ready to laugh. The elevator creaked and clanked slowly upwards, and I stepped out - into a multi-million dollar palace. The contrast with the rest of the building and the street outside couldn't have been starker.

I just didn't understand. Why would anyone spend so much money building a place like that in a neighbourhood like this? Later I got into conversation with the hostess. "Do you like it here?" I asked. "It's the best place I've ever lived", she replied. "But I mean, you know, is it an interesting neighbourhood?" "Oh, the neighbourhood? Well that's outside!" she laughed.

The incident stuck in my mind. How could you live so blind to your surroundings? How could you not think of where I live as including at least some of the space outside your four walls, some of the bits you couldn't lock up behind you? I felt this was something particular to New York: I called it "The Small Here". I realised that, like most Europeans, I was used to living in a bigger Here.

I noticed that this very local attitude to space in New York paralleled a similarly limited attitude to time. Everything was exciting, fast, current, and temporary. Enormous buildings came and went, careers rose and crashed in weeks. You rarely got the feeling that anyone had the time to think two years ahead, let alone ten or a hundred. Everyone seemed to be passing through. It was undeniably lively, but the downside was that it seemed selfish, irresponsible and randomly dangerous. I came to think of this as "The Short Now", and this suggested the possibility of its opposite - "The Long Now".

"Now" is never just a moment. The Long Now is the recognition that the precise moment you're in grows out of the past and is a seed for the future. The longer your sense of Now, the more past and future it includes. It's ironic that, at a time when humankind is at a peak of its technical powers, able to create huge global changes that will echo down the centuries, most of our social systems seem geared to increasingly short nows. Huge industries feel pressure to plan for the bottom line and the next shareholders meeting. Politicians feel forced to perform for the next election or opinion poll. The media attract bigger audiences by spurring instant and heated reactions to human interest stories while overlooking longer-term issues - the real human interest.

Meanwhile, we struggle to negotiate our way through an atmosphere of Utopian promises and dystopian threats, a minefield studded with pots of treasure. We face a future where almost anything could happen. Will we be crippled by global warming, weapons proliferation and species depletion, or liberated by space travel, world government and molecule-sized computers? We don't even want to start thinking about it. This is our peculiar form of selfishness, a studied disregard of the future. Our astonishing success as a technical civilisation has led us to complacency, to expect that things will probably just keep getting better.

But there is no reason to believe this. We might be living in the last gilded bubble of a great civilisation about to collapse into a new Dark Age, which, given our hugely amplified and widespread destructive powers, could be very dark indeed.

If we want to contribute to some sort of tenable future, we have to reach a frame of mind where it comes to seem unacceptable - gauche, uncivilised - to act in disregard of our descendants. Such changes of social outlook are quite possible - it wasn't so long ago, for example, that we accepted slavery, an idea which most of us now find repellent. We felt no compulsion to regard slaves as fellow-humans and thus placed them outside the circle of our empathy. This changed as we began to realise, perhaps it was partly the glory of their music, that they were real people, and that it was no longer acceptable that we should cripple their lives just so that ours could be freer. It just stopped feeling right.

The same type of change happened when we stopped employing kids to work in mines, or when we began to accept that women had voices too. Today we view as fellow-humans many whom our grandparents may have regarded as savages, and even feel some compulsion to share their difficulties - aid donations by individuals to others they will never meet continue to increase. These extensions of our understanding of who qualifies for our empathy, indicate that culturally, economically and emotionally we live in an increasingly Big Here, unable to lock a door behind us and pretend the rest of the world is just "outside".

We don't yet, however, live in The Long Now. Our empathy doesn't extend far forward in time. We need now to start thinking of our great-grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren, as other fellow-humans who are going to live in a real world which we are incessantly, though only semi-consciously, building. But can we accept that our actions and decisions have distant consequences, and yet still dare do anything? It was an act of complete faith to believe, in the days of slavery, that a way of life which had been materially very successful could be abandoned and replaced by another, as yet unimagined, but somehow it happened. We need to make a similar act of imagination now.

Since this act of imagination concerns our relationship to time, a Millennium is a good moment to articulate it. Can we grasp this sense of ourselves as existing in time, part of the beautiful continuum of life? Can we become inspired by the prospect of contributing to the future? Can we shame ourselves into thinking that we really do owe those who follow us some sort of consideration, just as the people of the nineteenth century shamed themselves out of slavery? Can we extend our empathy to the lives beyond ours?

I think we can. Humans are capable of a unique trick: creating realities by first imagining them, by experiencing them in their minds. When Martin Luther King said "I have a dream", he was inviting others to dream it with him. Once a dream becomes shared in that way, current reality gets measured against it and then modified towards it. As soon as we sense the possibility of a more desirable world, we begin behaving differently, as though that world is starting to come into existence, as though, in our minds at least, we're already there. The dream becomes an invisible force which pulls us forward. By this process it starts to come true. The act of imagining something makes it real.

This imaginative process can be seeded and nurtured by artists and designers, for, since the beginning of the 20th century, artists have been moving away from an idea of art as something finished, perfect, definitive and unchanging towards a view of artworks as processes or the seeds for processes - things that exist and change in time, things that are never finished. Sometimes this is quite explicit - as in Walter de Maria's "Lightning Field", a huge grid of metal poles designed to attract lightning. Many musical compositions don't have one form, but change unrepeatingly over time - many of my own pieces and Jem Finer's Artangel installation "LongPlayer" are like this. Artworks in general are increasingly regarded as seeds - seeds for processes that need a viewer's (or a whole culture's) active mind in which to develop. Increasingly working with time, culture-makers see themselves as people who start things, not finish them.

And what is possible in art becomes thinkable in life. We become our new selves first in simulacrum, through style and fashion and art, our deliberate immersions in virtual worlds. Through them we sense what it would be like to be another kind of person with other kinds of values. We rehearse new feelings and sensitivities. We imagine other ways of thinking about our world and its future.

Danny Hillis's Clock of the Long Now is a project designed to achieve such a result. It is, on the face of it, far-fetched to think that one could make a clock which will survive and work for the next 10,000 years. But the act of even trying is valuable: it puts time and the future on the agenda and encourages thinking about them. As Stewart Brand, a colleague in The Long Now Foundation, says:

“Such a clock, if sufficiently impressive and well engineered, would embody deep time for people. It should be charismatic to visit, interesting to think about, and famous enough to become iconic in the public discourse. Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think.

The 20th Century yielded its share of icons, icons like Muhammad Ali and Madonna that inspired our attempts at self-actualisation and self-reinvention. It produced icons to our careless and misdirected power - the mushroom cloud, Auschwitz, and to our capacity for compassion - Live Aid, the Red Cross.

In this, the 21st century, we may need icons more than ever before. Our conversation about time and the future must necessarily be global, so it needs to be inspired and consolidated by images that can transcend language and geography. As artists and culture-makers begin making time, change and continuity their subject-matter, they will legitimise and make emotionally attractive a new and important conversation.

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Animal rights vs. biblical literalism and unbridled science.

Another fundamental error of Christianity is that it has in an unnatural fashion sundered mankind from the animal world to which it essentially belongs and now considers mankind alone as of any account, regarding the animals as no more than things. This error is a consequence of creation out of nothing, after which the Creator, in the first and second chapters of Genesis, takes all the animals just as if they were things, and without so much as the recommendation of kind treatment which even a dog-seller usually adds when he parts with his dogs, hands them over to man for man to rule, that is to do with them what he likes; subsequently, in the second chapter, the Creator goes on to appoint him the first professor of zoology by commissioning him to give the animals the names they shall thenceforth bear, which is once more only a symbol of their total dependence on him, i.e their total lack of rights.

It can truly be said: Men are the devils of the earth, and the animals are the tormented souls. This is the consequence of that installation scene in the Garden of Eden. For the mob can be controlled only by force or by religion, and here Christianity leaves us shamefully in the lurch. I heard from a reliable source that a Protestant pastor, requested by an animal protection society to preach a sermon against cruelty to animals, replied that with the best will in the world he was unable to do so, because he could find no support in his religion. The man was honest, and he was right.

When I was studying at Göttingen, Blumenbach spoke to us very seriously about the horrors of vivisection and told us what a cruel and terrible thing it was; wherefore it should be resorted to only very seldom and for very important experiments which would bring immediate benefit, and even then it must be carried out as publicly as possible so that the cruel sacrifice on the altar of science should be of the maximum possible usefulness. Nowadays, on the contrary, every little medicine-man thinks he has the right to torment animals in the cruellest fashion in his torture chamber so as to decide problems whose answers have for long stood written in books into which he is too lazy and ignorant to stick his nose. – Special mention should be made of an abomination committed by Baron Ernst von Bibra at Nürnberg and, with incomprehensible naïveté, tanquam re bene gesta, [As if the thing were done well] narrated by him to the public in his Vergleichende Untersuchungen über das Gehirn des Menschen und der Wirbelthiere: he deliberately let two rabbits starve to death! – in order to undertake the totally idle and useless experiment of seeing whether starvation produces a proportional change in the chemical composition of the brain! For the ends of science – n'est-ce pas? Have these gentlemen of the scalpel and crucible no notion at all then that they are first and foremost men, and chemists only secondly? How can you sleep soundly knowing you have harmless animals under lock and key in order to starve them slowly to death? Don't you wake up screaming in the night?

It is obviously high time that the Jewish conception of nature, at any rate in regard to animals, should come to an end in Europe, and that the eternal being which, as it lives in us, also lives in every animal should be recognized as such, and as such treated with care and consideration. One must be blind, deaf and dumb, or completely chloroformed by the foetor judaicus, not to see that the animal is in essence absolutely the same thing that we are, and that the difference lies merely in the accident, the intellect, and not in the substance, which is the will.

The greatest benefit conferred by the railways is that they spare millions of draught-horses their miserable existence.

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Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) The Horrors and Absurdities of Religion

The path is the goal.

Para sanar o solucionar un problema se necesita una férrea voluntad. No poder hacer lo que deseamos ni poder no hacer lo que no deseamos, nos provoca una falta de autoestima profunda, causa de depresiones y enfermedades graves. El luchar incansablemente por lograr una meta que parece imposible desarrolla nuestra energía vital. Esto lo comprendieron muy bien los hechiceros medievales, creando recetarios que proponían actos imposibles de realizar, como por ejemplo un método para hacerse invisible. «Ponga a hervir un caldero de agua bendita con leña de vides blancas. Sumerja dentro un gato negro vivo, dejándolo cocer hasta que los huesos se aparten de la carne. Extraiga esos huesos con una estola de obispo y colóquese delante de una lámina de plata bruñida. Métase hueso tras hueso del gato escaldado en la boca, hasta que su imagen desaparezca del espejo de plata.» O bien un filtro para seducir a un hombre: «En un vaso modelado a mano con el barro que ha excavado el hocico de un jabalí, mezcle sangre de perro con sangre de gato más su sangre menstrual, agregue una perla molida y dele de beber a su amado diez gotas de este brebaje disueltas en una copa de vino». En el primer consejo, podríamos pensar que quizás no se habla de invisibilidad material, sino que quien debe hacerse transparente es el yo individual del aspirante a brujo. Después de tanto empeño en realizar algo tan cruel y dificil, se esfuma la personalidad individual y aparece el ser esencial, que es por esencia impersonal. En el segundo consejo cabe imaginar que si la bruja, por amor a un hombre, logra encontrar barro removido por un jabalí, asesinar a un perro, a un gato, y sacrificar dinero haciendo polvo una perla, despierta en ella tal seguridad en sí misma que se hace capaz de seducir a un ciego sordomudo. 

Ciertas curaciones en lugares lejanos declarados milagrosos son en gran parte debidas al largo y costoso viaje que debe hacer el enfermo para llegar a ellos.

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Everybody worships.

The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess of the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
If you worship money and things–if they are where you tap real meaning in life–then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth.
Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.
On one level we all know this stuff already–it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power–you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need even more power over others to keep the fear at bay.
Worship your intellect, being seen as smart–you will end up feeling stupid, always on the verge of being found out.
And so on.
Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called “real world” will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called “real world” of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.
Our own present culture has harnessed these forces ins ays that they have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it.
But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.
That is real freedom.

Reality is disappearing.

The disappearance of God has left us facing reality and the ideal prospect of transforming this real world. And we have found ourselves confronted with the undertaking of realizing the world, of making it become technically, integrally real.

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Now, the world, even freed from all illusion, does not lend itself at all to reality. The more we advance in this undertaking, the more ambiguous it becomes, the more it loses sight of itself. Reality has barely had time to exist and already it is disappearing…

It is the excess of reality that makes us stop believing in it. The saturation of the world, the technical saturation of life, the excess of possibilities, of actualization of needs and desires. How are we to believe in reality once its production has become automatic?

The real is suffocated by its own accumulation. There is no way now for the dream to be an expression of a desire since its virtual accomplishment is already present.

Deprivation of dreams, deprivation of desire. And we know what mental disorder sleep deprivation induces.

Deep down, the problem is the same as with the ‘accursed share’: the problem of the surplus – not the lack, but the excess of reality – of which we no longer know how to rid ourselves.

There is no longer any symbolic resolution, by sacrifice, of the surplus, except in accidents or by the irruption of an anomic violence which, whatever its social or political determinations, is always a challenge to this irresistible objective constraint of a normalized world.

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The eclipse of God left us up against reality. Where will the eclipse of reality leave us?