The human factor

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. Forty-nine of openDemocracy’s distinguished contributors, from Mariano Aguirre to Slavoj Zizek, Neal Ascherson to Jonathan Zittrain – offer their predictions for the coming year. Since this is openDemocracy, we did not expect them to agree. We were not disappointed. (Part Two).
Mark Kingwell
22 December 2005


2005 witnessed the long-overdue hollowing out of the Iraqi invasion’s credibility; a new American obsession with the economic might of China; and the astonishing success – unlikely to be halted even by the landmark federal judgment in the Dover case in late December – of creationist fideism masquerading as theory in “intelligent design”. 2006 will surely continue in the same vein, with more car bombs, Asian productivity scare stories and assaults on professors who dare to mock religious “science”.

On the last, let us apply the logic of Hume’s Razor. First: what we call the appearance of design may be a judgment of our own devices. Second: why should the appearance of design offer evidence of a singular designer rather than, say, self-organisation? Third: even if there is a singular designer, why is it a supernatural entity rather than, say, space aliens? Fourth: even if it is a supernatural entity, why is it the God of the Christian scriptures rather than, say, the Greek pantheon? (The philosopher Daniel Dennett offers a simpler version: intelligent design cannot be a scientific theory because nothing changes either way if it is true or if it is false.)

So much for that – though Hume probably won’t play in Kansas. More interesting things are afoot in the world where claims of design are plausible because demonstrated. It has been a good decade for architecture – Gehry, Koolhaas, Libeskind, Foster, Alsop, Hadid, Calatrava – are now global celebrities. Architecture and civic awareness are, at long last, coming into shared focus. Notoriously, the great utopian architectural experiments of the 20th century did not create the oases of work and play imagined by Le Corbusier or Sant’Elia, resulting only in vertical slums and dead zones. More recently, they were offloaded to Asia – Taipei, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur – where they have created a cityscape that, depending on your height off the ground or place in the emerging class structure, is either futuristic or medieval.

All of which made architectural utopianism suspect. And yet, even amid the security checks and torturous justifications of torture of the “war on terror” – even under the fear and suspicion that have so deeply etched the new millennium – citizens are creating new public spaces, new monuments to human ability and innovation, and new possibilities for play and even justice. They’re wielding the tools of reason and science, building edifices and communities with the natural levers for discourse, imagination, and problem-solving.

2006 won’t witness any general triumph of reason over superstition, at least not in the United States or, a fortiori, the middle east. But every day, someone, somewhere is, without aid from any god or spirit, creating something that wasn’t there before. If humans have a future, that’s where we’ll find it.


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