F.M. Esfandiary; Futurist Predicted Immortality

F.M. Esfandiary, who legally changed his name to FM2030 because of his confidence that he would live to 100 and beyond, has died at 69.

The “chronic optimist,” who believed age was irrelevant because a person might have artificial body parts of many different ages–he had a hip that was only 2 years old–died Saturday in New York City. Esfandiary, who said immortality could be achieved by replacing worn- out organs with synthetic substitutes, died of cancer of the pancreas–one body part for which no substitute has been created and which he recently denounced as “a stupid, dumb, wretched organ.”

In the event an artificial pancreas is ever invented, however, Esfandiary will be waiting. Flora Schnall, a longtime friend who announced the futurist’s death, said his body has been cryogenically preserved by the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

“He believed,” she said, “scientific advances would lead to the revival of his body–in the future.”

The tall, affable, soft-spoken philosopher, visionary educator, lecturer and writer had been convinced that a life expectancy of 100 would be commonplace by 1998 and that, by his centenary birthday in 2030, mankind would know how to prolong life into infinity.

Far from a crackpot, Esfandiary was respected by scientists, engineers, students who took his classes and intellectuals who read his books or attended his lectures.

A quarter-century ago he was predicting things that are now happening. What he called “teleshopping” and “tele-education” are now ordinary Internet activities. And he foresaw such medical and biological breakthroughs as fertilization and gestation outside the womb and the correcting of genetic flaws.

Esfandiary taught futurist philosophy at UCLA Extension for many years and wrote opinion pieces for The Times.

On the East Coast, he taught classes at New York’s New School for Social Research, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and Florida International University, and wrote opinion pieces for the New York Times.

After writing a series of critically praised satirical novels in the 1960s–“Day of Sacrifice,” “The Beggar” and “Identity Card”– Esfandiary turned in the 1970s to serious futurist nonfiction. Among his upbeat books were “Optimism One,” “Up-Wingers,” “Are You a Transhuman?” and “Telespheres.”

Schnall said he had been working on two other books, “Countdown to Immortality” and “The Coming Age of Abundance.”

Pessimism was not in the philosopher’s vocabulary.

“We are at the beginning of an age of limitless abundance,” he asserted repeatedly. “There is no scarcity; there is only the psychology of scarcity.”

Born in Belgium, the son of an Iranian diplomat, and educated in the Middle East, Europe and the United States, Esfandiary described his own citizenship as “Universal,” explaining, “I translive all over the planet.” He had lived in 11 countries by age 17, and spoke French, Arabic, Hebrew and English. Early in his career, from 1952 to 1954, he served as a member of the Conciliation Commission for Palestine.

He considered nationality anachronistic and often said, “There are no illegal immigrants, only irrelevant borders.” Nationality, he told The Times in 1989, “should be obsolete in a world of global telecommunications, global travel and global economy.”

Political election campaigns to choose presidents and other leaders were also obsolete, he said, advocating instead that issues be decided by frequent referendums submitted to the people and voted on electronically.

A concise writer himself, Esfandiary eschewed long books, plays or concerts as “hopelessly slow for a high-tech people who want interaction and feedback.”

Although he had competed on Iran’s Olympic fencing team in 1948, Esfandiary came to disdain all competitions, from the Olympics to the Academy Awards, as “a wasteful behavior . . . that is divisive and inefficient.”

Personally preferring romantic “linkups” to legal bonds, Esfandiary predicted the disappearance of both marriage and the nuclear family.

“Among the specifics in Esfandiary’s future world,” a Times reporter wrote of the futurist’s vision some years ago, “would be sperm and egg banks where geneticists would select the children to be born–all very computerized and scientific. Children would be raised in Child Center Homes (learning via television and computers) where adults who liked children would visit. There wouldn’t be any Mom and Dad; there would be hundreds of them.”

Esfandiary, known to his friends and fans as FM2030, is survived by one brother and four sisters.

Written by Myrna Oliver and published by the Los Angeles Times on July 11, 2000