Share article

The Zombie Futurist

In the year 2000, FM-2030 was frozen in liquid nitrogen.
He is scheduled to be woken up in 2030, the year he turns 100.

Will his predictions for the future have come true?

Originally published in SCENARIO Magazine in September 2020.

In Scottsdale, Arizona lies a large building, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. It is the world’s leading facility for cryonics: a technique for submerging and suspending dead human bodies in liquid nitrogen to await later resuscitation. In one of the facility’s many chrome tanks floats the corpse of Iranian-American futurist and transhumanist, Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, aka FM-2030. He was placed there in the year 2000, at the age of 69. By contemporary medical standards, FM-2030 is dead, his cause of death being pancreatic cancer. But in the future, death may not be permanent. In fact, FM-2030 is scheduled to be revived in 2030, the year he turns 100. Whether or not that will happen depends on how far medical science has progressed at that point.

In his waking life, FM-2030 described himself as having a deep nostalgia for the future, and he laid out his vision for the 21st century in several books published in the 1970s and 80s. Many of the predictions contained in these books are guided by what FM-2030 thought to be the logical conclusions to the cultural and technological developments of his own time. Writing and working in the aftermath of the space race, he was a true believer in mankind’s cosmic destiny, which he reckoned would come to fruition some time during the 21st century. To truly escape the confines of Earthbound life, however, we would also need to leave behind outdated modes of thought that were rooted in the logic of 20th century society. For one thing, we would need to replace the old political left-right dichotomy with a division of individuals into Upwingers, meaning those who looked to the sky (the future), and Downwingers, those who looked to the Earth (the past). In his 1973 book Upwingers: A Futurist Manifesto, he invited his readers to accompany him on this journey. It reads much like the poet Marinetti’s radical text The Futurist Manifesto, published in 1909. It’s a similar rejection of the past and a call to embrace the creed of technology, speed and industry — updated for the age of computers, space exploration and biotechnology. Just as Marinetti spearheaded futurism and played a central part in its merger with fascism in the 1920s, FM-2030 saw himself as part of the vanguard his own political upwing movement.

Subscribe to FARSIGHT

Subscribe to FARSIGHT

Broaden your horizons with a Futures Membership. Stay updated on key trends and developments through receiving quarterly issues of FARSIGHT, live Futures Seminars with futurists, training, and discounts on our courses.

become a futures member

To FM-2030, the global consciousness awakening that necessitated the shift from Down to Up would also mean a break from traditional life in favour of something more suited for a fast-paced, highly functional and fluid future. Nuclear families would be replaced by ‘modular communities’ (or mobilia as FM calls them). These would be temporary, communitarian social nodes existing only for as long as they fulfilled their purpose of making individuals feel unalone for a while, and would resemble something like a combination of communes and luxury hotels. Naturally, mobilias would be transnational and transracial because, well… the future would obviously be, too. They would be places where individuals could check in and out at their convenience, with no strings attached and no social obligations slowing them down. With the nuclear family done away with, children would finally be liberated from the corrupt and primitive tradition of having kids, which to FM equalled a monopolisation of human life. Universal parenthood would be the way of the future.

Perhaps FM-2030’s most important legacy is his contribution to elevating transhumanist thought into the mainstream. As one of the first professors of futurology, he gave lectures on transhumanism at the New School in New York in the 1960s, and in his final book, Are You a Transhuman? Monitoring and Stimulating Your Personal Rate of Growth in a Rapidly Changing World, published in 1989, he invites his readers to self-assess how ready they are for this next step in human evolution. Critics today will argue that transhumanism has become an exclusive club with a high entry bar — a kind of biological escapism for the ultra-rich. They will point to the exorbitant price of having your deceased body submerged via cryogenics as proof that transhumanism is still a future for the few, not the many: At Alcor, where FM is currently floating, neuropreservation (having your severed head frozen in liquid nitrogen) will set you back around USD 80,000. A ‘Whole Body’ preservation will cost you USD 220,000. But to FM, pointing out the obvious class dimension of transhumanism would probably be an act of leftist downwinging. His conception of the future was rooted in the belief that we are all on a transhumanist trajectory, even though it might take some of us longer to get there than others. He wanted to live forever, and was positive that we all would, sooner or later. “Don’t listen to the pessimists and the cynics. They’re losers,” he told his readers.

What unites FM-2030’s various visions and ideas for the future (our present) is a kind of end-of-history techno-cosmopolitanism, just taken to new extremes. He attacks both the left and the right for being stuck in backwards (Down) modes of thought. Transcending old political divides meant embracing the Up dimension, and the vanguard of this new movement were the space scientists, radio astronomers, engineers working on transhumanist body-implant technologies, and computer scientists developing cybernetic systems that would liberate us from work and leadership government. In short, FM-2030’s utopia was one in which the transformative power of technology lifts us out of our death-oriented mindset and unlocks our limitless potential — all delivered to us by a class of technical experts motivated by ambitions that transcend petty politics. Today, this ecstatic ideology of boundless progress is not entirely dead, but it seems like a relic of older times, mostly confined to the most die-hard techno-libertarian thought bubbles.

The most striking thing about reading FM-2030 and other radical futurist thinkers of his era is that we have very few of the things that they predicted we would have by now. Near-endless lifespans? No, people still die all the time. Astro-colonies? Sorry, we defunded the space programmes. Universal parenthood? I’m afraid most children are still enslaved by their biological parents. One has to wonder how he would respond if he woke up in, say, the summer of 2020, and found that the world’s richest country was being torn apart by a raging and mismanaged pandemic and civil protests sparked by racially motivated police murders of citizens? I would venture to guess that both racism and infectious diseases are the kinds of old-fashioned problems that FM believed we would have conquered by now. He would probably also feel embarrassed that we haven’t even made it to Mars yet.

Perhaps FM-2030’s future is dead and buried, perhaps it will just take a while longer to get there. In any case, I would hate to be the one to break the news to him once he crawls out of his cryogenic slumber. After he took it all in, would he want to go back to sleep, perhaps give it a few decades more?