Constant’s “New Babylon” utopia is not so far-fetched


New Babylon - Source: cup2013.wordpress.com/tag/constant-nieuwenhuys

Symbolic view of Constant’s “New Babylon” – Source: cup2013.wordpress.com/tag/constant-nieuwenhuys

Imagine a brave new world with the following attributes:

  • Living time” would replace “work time;”
  • Humankind would be collectively liberated from work and free to engage in creativity;
  • Citizens would pass their time in perpetual tourism;
  • Fixed residence would be replaced by temporary accommodation as citizens roam the Earth;
  • Transportation would become joy riding;
  • Citizens would live in hotel-like accommodations that would be clustered at intervals across the Earth on raised platforms;
  • The platforms would be between 55-110 acres in area and approximately 16 meters above the surface of the planet;
  • Below the platforms would be areas of agriculture, nature preserves, and historic buildings and monuments;
  • A cybernetic society where total automation would make authority superfluous;
  • The automated factories would be underground to avoid pollution;
  • Citizens would be freed from work, as labor would be completed by computers and robots;
  • Free time and creativity would be optimally developed;
  • The creation of “anti-functional space” for “useless activities;” and
  • That these changes would take place sometime in the next 50-100 years.

SOURCE: PROVO: Amsterdam’s Anarchist Revolt, by Richard Kempton, pages 117-118

Source: amazon.com

Source: amazon.com

 

Constant Nieuwenhuys - Source: cup2013.wordpress.com/tag/constant-nieuwenhuys

Constant Nieuwenhuys – Source: cup2013.wordpress.com/tag/constant-nieuwenhuys

The attributes listed above were the futuristic vision of Dutch artist and anarchist Constant Nieuwenhuys (a.k.a. Constant). His utopian ideals were identified as New Babylon and were first conceived in 1956. Certainly, during the height of the Cold War, they must have seemed ridiculous and far-fetched. But, sitting here nearly six decades later, many of his predictions have come to fruition in the 21st century, though perhaps not exactly in the way he had hoped. For example:

  •  There are a number of employers, particularly in the technology sector, where employees are allowed to creatively explore new avenues outside the realm of what those in 1956 would consider “work.”
  • Perpetual tourism is very doable in the 21st century given the interconnectedness of the world. Furthermore, there are a fair number of people who do just that, or something akin to it as they travel about the country/world via motor home, yacht, or private jet. Even those who telecommute while on vacation or sabbatical could be included in this equation. For those of us who cannot afford perpetual tourism, one only need the internet.
  • Unique temporary accommodations span the planet, whether they be a boutique hotel as shown below in Norway, hostels, bed and breakfast inns, all-suite hotels, extreme getaway lodges, one-with-nature hotels, grand downtown palaces, reincarnated lighthouses, or the motor inn at the next interchange;
  • Fixed residence is less imperative all the time given the place-freeing resources of the internet, Skype, gmail, smart phones, wi-fi, mobile data, overnight mail, etc. As we have detached from land lines, we can also now detach from a specific place.
  • Heaven knows computers and robots have replaced humans in many work functions over the past half-century.
  • The internet has opened an entire new world of possibilities allowing free time and creativity to be optimized. This blog is just one example. the internet has also leveled the playing field to a large extent allowing individuals and businesses from all over the planet to compete.
  • A perspective view of New Babylon provided in an image below very much resembles corporate campuses found around the globe.
  • As the open office concept has swept the world, one could argue that it is the modern equivalent of “anti-functional space.” Instead of space being dedicated to specific functions, all functions take place simultaneously in the same confined area. Whether this is home to “useless activities” or not would depend on one’s perspective.
  • Telecommuting could be considered the ultimate in “anti-functional” space.
Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway - Source: inhabitat.com/less-is-more-at-norways-juvet-landscape-hotel

Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway – Source: inhabitat.com/less-is-more-at-norways-juvet-landscape-hotel

However, one could also argue against Constant’s premise, in that the digital revolution has enslaved humankind versus freeing it for the joys of play. Humans are now often tethered to technology and the latest new-fangled gadgets like the proverbial ball and chain. One just need observe the long lines waiting to buy the latest version of an iPhone to see this in every day practice. Creativity may have expanded, but at what cost? The loss of face-to-face personal interaction seems to be one of the greatest casualties. Instead Siri and its digital relatives serve as our friends, foes, lovers, etc.

Perspective drawing of New Babylon - resembles many corporate campuses - Source: cup2013.wordpress.com/tag/constant-nieuwenhuys

Perspective drawing of “New Babylon” – resembles many corporate campuses – Source: cup2013.wordpress.com/tag/constant-nieuwenhuys

Secondly, in his hope for an anarchist’s dream world, Constant appears to have incorrectly anticipated that technology would make authority unnecessary and obsolete. Instead, as is readily apparent, authority has turned the tables on humankind by using technology to its advantage for monitoring us at nearly every turn. Yes, much of this is based on security concerns, but that does not qualm the discomfort expressed by the likes of the ACLU, Sir Arthur ClarkeGeorge Orwell, Edward Snowden, Harold Finch (fictional character), and many others, that much of the planet’s citizenry is perpetually under surveillance and what is being done with all this gathered information?

Source: moviespictures.org/biography/Finch,_Harold

Harold Finch – Source: moviespictures.org/biography/Finch,_Harold

Perhaps, Constant would take heart in the notion that his anarchical ideals against authority are being upheld by technologically savvy groups such as Anonymous. But, one must acknowledge the impressive accuracy of his intuitive foresight into the future of humankind. The most challenging question remaining is whether we, as human beings, decide to accept the our modern-day digital society as what it has become; would we prefer it as Constant had foreshadowed; or would we prefer some other incarnation?

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Source: en.wikipedia.org

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