Martín Caparrós: ​​“The future has become a threat” | Culture


The writer and journalist Martín Caparrós (Buenos Aires, 66 years old) has just published The world then. A story of the present (Ed. Random House), a book as interesting as it is disturbing about the present narrated from the 22nd century — a “reverse utopia” as he describes it in “the tradition of Montesquieu and Voltaire” — and written with the perspective of a historian — “One creates literature to be able to be what one is not,” he justifies. The chapters were published in installments in this journal, of which he is a contributor, although it is a revised and augmented version with brief profiles at the end of each part. The interview with Martín Caparrós, who has been in a wheelchair for a few months due to a neurological disease and who has received awards this year such as the Ortega y Gasset or the Roger Callois for the best Latin American book for America, It takes place in his house in Torrelodones (Madrid).

Ask. The book includes scourges such as hunger, inequality, the climate crisis and also war. Includes Ukraine, but not the conflict between Israel and Hamas…

Answer. Now we are impressed by those two wars, but if we compare the intensity and number of victims and countries involved in the 20th century, this issue is minor. It is ugly to compare in those terms, but imagine that in the entire Israel-Palestine conflict there have not been 20,000 deaths and on any given day in the Marne trenches more people died. It is the success of Oppenheimer effect: that such brutal weapons were going to be a deterrent in some way and it is happening. Despite what it seems, we are in one of the most peaceful moments in history.

Q. Being of Jewish origin, how do you experience the conflict?

R. According to Jewish law, I am Jewish because my mother was. In my family we never practiced any religion, my father was of Catholic origin, we were always perfectly atheist and more communist than anything else, but I do identify with a long history that includes my great-grandmother murdered in the Treblinka extermination camp. What I do believe is that the fact of being Jewish has nothing to do with the fact of being pro-Israel, much less pro an extreme right-wing government like the one that now governs that country. It seems terrible to me what they are doing and also that there are Islamic fundamentalists who kill people. It’s one of those wars where there are no good guys. Sometimes I think that the last war in which there were good guys was the Spanish Civil War or Vietnam. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is unsolvable: there are two peoples who want to occupy the same territory. They both believe that the other wants to finish them off.

Q. And how do you see Javier Milei’s victory in Argentina?

R. He didn’t win the election for what he really is. He won because she knew how to represent like no one else the rage of millions of Argentines in the face of a situation that has not stopped deteriorating for 30 years. That the response to the Argentine disaster is this crazy man with the chainsaw is disappointing.

Q. Among the great themes of the book is artificial intelligence (AI).

R. I’m not scared of artificial intelligence. It’s fashionable to be scared of everything.

  Martín Caparrós, in the studio of his home in Madrid.
Martín Caparrós, in the studio of his home in Madrid.Claudio Alvarez

Q. Fear runs through the entire book. Is that the defining characteristic of our society?

R. Fear of the future, of environmental deterioration, of political problems, of demographics, of the other. Societies have periods in which the future stops being a promise and becomes a threat. Until now, we relied on technical improvements, but with AI it also entered the threat category.

Q. He also points out that the media no longer have a monopoly on news.

R. Yes. We must focus on telling better and thinking better because they are the two things that social networks cannot do because they are not prepared for it and they are not interested. It is true that each medium speaks to its parish, but I think this was stronger 50 years ago when each family bought a newspaper. On the other hand, now one can compare and choose, although I am surprised that a way has not been found to systematize this, a kind of Spotify of the media.

Q. The narrator places the end of the Western age and the beginning of the Eastern age in our days…

R. It occurred to me that a historian in 100 years could realize that a new way of calling these last three centuries had been sought, and it seems clear to me that it is an era hegemonized by the West. The world has become a kind of replica of the West in terms of political organization, culture, technology, machines, urban planning. Even those countries that are now emerging or re-emerging like China or India that also do so with Western ways. In the book I say that one of the data that could be used to date the end of the Western era is that a year and a half ago, for the first time in history, China’s GDP was greater than that of the United States. China and the India has more than a third of the world’s population and is ahead of the rest of the world.

Q. The historian’s conclusion is not pessimistic. Her last sentence is that the world is wonderful.

R. I can be as pessimistic as I want in the very short term. I may be hypercritical, but in the medium term I am optimistic, we live better and better. We have the tools to live much better and we don’t do it. Of course, it is our fault and our shame. But it is undeniable that we live better than at any time in our history.

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