Two months ago I received word that an old and valued acquaintance had died. He was the futurist author, F.M. Esfandiary — who in the mid-1970’s– had legally changed his name to FM-2030. He was, he said, “a 21st Century person who was accidentally launched in the 20th.” He confessed to having “a deep nostalgia for the future.”
I’d sometimes felt vaguely the same, I told him, imagining that I was either a 19th century person (the poetry and philosophy I’d absorbed had come mostly from that century) or a 21st century one, inasmuch as I didn’t expect my own visions to seriously materialize at least until then.
I’d met FM early one evening in 1977 on Christopher Street after hearing him speak Persian (Farsi). We’d struck up a unique conversation and, as it turned out, he was related to a family—the Esfandiarys— with whom—in Washington, D.C.– I’d once lived for several months when I was only fifteen. The Esfandiarys had been diplomats and were the aunts and uncles of the later-deposed Iranian Shah. In their company I’d learned a profound respect for Persian culture which I continue to celebrate to this day.
I exchanged numbers with FM and we met later in the week. We exchanged books. Mine, titled Men’s Liberation: A New Definition of Masculinity—jived, I discovered—with some of FMs ideas, especially when he was discussing relationships.
I told him how I’d regularly followed events in Iran. Today, I reflect hopefully while its overwhelmingly youthful citizenry prepares again to struggle on behalf of its own freedoms. I admire these Iranian youths for this willingness they have to demand that they be allowed to live their own lives. But it is also what I would have expected of them.
This Iran, a magical realm, FM-2030’s homeland, with 2,500 years of history in its wake, has always had a hidden part of its soul awaiting a glorious resurrection on some futuristic shore.
Only 20 years have now passed since the first waves of a national rebellion in Iran that were, in the history of revolutions, the largest mass non-violent uprisings in modern history. The Iranians waged a peaceful, direct-action struggle in the 1970s through a movement whose secular leaders were thereafter killed by a merciless clergy that installed its own fundamentalist ideologues as Iran’s leaders.
In 1966, FM-2030 had written a prophetic book titled Identity Card, a gripping Kafkaesque novel that prefigured 1970s revolutionary ferment in Iran. Iranians abroad, I think, uniformly love their native land, and they know, as I do, that the Iranian people on their home front today are itching to end all obsessive meddling in their personal lives by the mullahs’ obedient squads of killer-fundamentalist goons.
A prolific writer, FM-2030’s visionary powers—which were considerable— were focused ever on the world’s future development. And like other Iranian visionaries I’ve known, he was wonderfully at one with his ideas; so much so, in fact, that he never married because he was scornful of the idea that humans might belong to other humans. His visions were a far cry from those of Shiite mullahs, no doubt.
He believed that synthetic parts would some day make us immortal, and thus he arranged for his body’s current immersion in liquid nitrogen, housed in an Arizona thermos tank.
FM-2030’s vision, says transhumanist thinker, Natasha Vita-More, “continues to inspire even the most complacent of minds by revving-up the volume on imagination. His unique way of putting together ideas about the future has been a catalytic force.”
Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, said that FM-2030 has been “the exhilarating voice of a new, non-mystical consciousness …. FM dares us to step outside our encaged historical selves and leap to a new stage of evolution.”
The New York Times called FM “A prophet of Boom …who maintains ‘we are at the beginning of an age of limitless abundance … and an age of immortality,'” while The Washington Post labels him as “a dreamer, a visionary, a social critic, a futurist with ‘a hailstorm of ideas’.”
The Village Voice tells what I remember best about F.M. Esfandiary, describing him as “a man so rational, so articulately confident that he emanates the kind of ultimate optimism–the triumph over alienation and irrationality.”
His was a larger than life presence. I thought him to have been athletic, yes, but more impressive was his strong face, his quick stride and his ready smile, plus, an infectious kindliness coupled with an eagerness to discuss the various visionary ideas we each espoused.
He exuded good will and optimism, some of the best fruits of his native Iranian roots, I thought at the time, though that was before I’d read his predictions/tributes to the developments he foresaw in the future.
Here, overwhelmingly, he predicted a civilization that would be marked by calm, awareness, energy, ecstasy, and empathy. His foresight had a wise confidence that his vision need not be marked by pessimistic dread, inasmuch as there seemed to be so much good that he glimpsed on the horizon.
He reckoned, as a strategy, I suppose, that optimism wins converts who are naturally willing to work to mid-wife a vision into being. Pessimism, on the other hand, breeds apathy only.
Barbara Marx Hubbard of The Futurist praised FM-2030 as “one of the first thinkers in history to live, teach, plan and campaign for a future for mankind.”
FM has certainly been more conscious of a future of technological potentials than most, I’d say. Certainly more than I have. At the same time, he has been admirably willing to follow through (when he discusses the effect of the techno-future on human relationships, for example) to those upheavals he foresees, unafraid to hail the last days of the hallowed conventional nuclear family units to which so many still cling today.
Addressing students at UCLA (February 11, 1985) FM-2030 spoke about responsible singleness:
“Many of the support systems, social institutions and old values that have existed to sustain the mating process are beginning to collapse–including marriage, coupling, commitment, exclusivity, continuity. Half to two-thirds of all marriages break down. Texas, a fundamentalist state, has the highest divorce rate –double that of New York. One of the fastest growing types of household is that of the step- family.
“People are marrying later and later or not at all. The fastest growing relationship lifestyle in the West is singlehood; there are 55 million single adults in this country. The U.S. now has the lowest fertility rate in its history (1.8)…”We are at the beginning of a massive recontexting of our social life. We live in this new social environment, and yet we do not have any training or preparation to deal with it. We don’t even know where to go to get such training.”
As I read FM’s words, I wonder how they must appear to more conventional social activists, especially those immersed in a political status-quo-culture instead of envisioning it from some outer cultural vantage points.
In addition to his gripping novel, Identity Card, F.M. Esfandiary has also written:
Up-Wingers: A Futurist Manifesto
Are You Transhuman?
Written by Jack Nichols and published by the Greenwich Village Gazette on September 15, 2000