The New Atlantis
A Brief Introduction
I feel the need to provide a quick introduction that may help you understand how my ideas on this subject have developed over time. I am the son of Venezuelan immigrants to the United States. Although my roots here are more recent than those of many of my friends and peers, my roots in the Western Hemisphere are as deep as theirs. I feel a profound connection to our side of the world and the many groups that inhabit it.
I was born and raised in Kentucky, a state located in the American heartland and one of the earliest frontier locales for citizens of the newly formed United States. I also lived in Mexico for three years after my father accepted a position with his company that relocated us to Puebla. Interspersed throughout my life are other periods in which I traveled to various European countries and lived in China for approximately a year. All of this is meant to emphasize, simply, that I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to see the world from a perspective many have not.
Birds of a Feather
One of the phenomena I noticed growing up in the United States and Mexico was a tendency for Americans and Mexicans to emphasize how different they were from the other. This phenomenon, which can be generalized from Mexico to the rest of Latin America, partially stems from the traditional rivalries that emerge among neighbors, especially when there is a history of shared violence among them. It also, in a sense, is a remnant of the cultural rivalry among the Iberian and British maritime empires that dominated the world from 1492-1956. Early in that period, the Portuguese and the Spanish, particularly, were able to amass the first global empires, prompting English poet Samuel Johnson to write with great envy in his poem London (1738):
"Has heaven reserved, in pity to the poor,
No pathless waste or undiscovered shore,
No secret island in the boundless main,
No peaceful desert yet unclaimed by Spain?”
As the centuries passed and gave way to British dominance of the seas, the tables were finally turned as the formerly mighty Spanish and Portuguese Empires looked upon the magnitude and unprecedented industrial capacities of the British thalassocracy in awe. Though the US and other Latin American states had since separated from their mother empires, broad cultural affinities and enmities are seldom easily shaken.
Reflecting on these ideas, I have come to realize that the divide between the United States and the broader Latin American community is, to a significant degree, the result of an almost willful ignorance and denial of the common historical forces and ideas that have shaped the various countries across the hemisphere. Frankly, I do not consider what I call the "Anglo-Iberian divide” in the Americas to be a particularly accurate way of framing the relationship between the United States and the broader Latin American world. Having experienced them both and lived in China, a country truly outside of the cultural domain of the Western Hemisphere, it is not clear to me that there are significant differences between the two regions beyond divergences in technological and industrial capabilities. Given the deindustrialization of the United States over the past twenty or so years, even those gaps are not as large as they once were in many sectors.
The history of the Americas is broadly similar regardless of where you look. After populating the continents tens of thousands of years ago, Native American civilizations flourished, conquered each other, and collapsed cyclically until first contact with the Spanish set the hemisphere on a new path. European colonization followed similar patterns in both North and South America including:
settlement by European founder populations (primarily Spanish, Portuguese, and English),
tense and often contradictory relations with Native Americans that ranged from war and cultural demolition of indigenous tribes to admiration and genetic and cultural fusion with them,
the subjugation of African slaves to power early economic expansion and their eventual liberation, and
later immigration waves from other parts of Europe, Asia, and, most recently, Africa that cemented the flexibility of the national identities developing in each country.
In both North and South America, political models were either imported from Europe or designed using European philosophical ideals and placed atop populations that were highly culturally and genetically mixed, with the exact ratio fluctuating based on your location in the hemisphere. In the United States and Canada, cultures mixed more than genes, although plenty of intermarriage was also happening here. When the colonists of New England revolted against the British Crown during the Boston Tea Party, who did they emulate? They dressed as members of the Mohawk tribe because they saw in them, and in themselves, a vision of strength and untamed freedom. Sam Houston, the first president of the Republic of Texas, lived with the Cherokee tribe, speaking their language and marrying a Cherokee woman at one point in his life. Traditional Southern food is deeply West African in its origins. We know, historically, how much white Americans have treasured and adopted the cultural output of black Americans. But what is black American culture, if not the synthesis of West African and Scots-Irish cultures, as fascinatingly explored in Thomas Sowell’s Black Redneck, White Liberal? And we could certainly go on about the Native American names of 26 states and the Afro-European origins of the blues and rock and roll.
In Latin America, the mixture of cultures is more obvious because these populations are not in denial about the multiple influences that have combined in the last 500 years. More relaxed notions of intermarriage led to extensive genetic mixing (a trend, I might add, that is now also taking off in the United States). Culturally, the emergence of various types of music such as salsa, samba, and, more recently, reggaeton and foods revolving around combinations of traditional European culinary techniques with indigenous crops such as tomatoes, cacao, and maize, hint at the formation of new syncretic cultures that one could not honestly regard as fully European, Amerindian, or African. To these hybrid cultures, further layers of Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern influences have been added since the 19th century. The same can be seen in the United States.
I am not the first person to make these observations. Albert Murray, a black American scholar who wrote the eloquent essay titled The Omni Americans in 1970, commented on the historian Constance Rourke’s image of the prototypical American as being “a composite that is part Yankee, part backwoodsman and Indian, and part Negro” as opposed to the prototypical European who, according to the French philosopher Paul Valéry, is “Ancient Greek, Ancient Roman, and Judeo-Christian”. More recently, Portuguese author Bruno Maçães, in his book History Has Begun, drew parallels between the emergence of Western European culture at the frontier of the Roman Empire with the lands of German tribes and the formation of American culture in the vast lands encountered during the continuous westward expansion toward the Pacific. Once you notice that this same dynamic played itself out in the deserts of northern Mexico, the mountains of Peru, the rainforests of Brazil, and the plains of Argentina, you come to realize we have more in common than we thought.
What, then, is the conclusion that I am guiding our thinking towards? It can be summarized in a few sentences. It is time to recognize that the many countries of the Americas represent a singular civilization that is not an extension of the European West, but its successor. It was born in the conquests, struggles, and convergent assimilation experienced by the Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, and Asians who have made this continent their home. What we are witnessing now is only the beginning of what may emerge from our unprecedented cultural synthesis.
All civilizations require founding myths that allow them to grow from stable foundations. Ours is no different. To establish the base of our unique, hybrid civilization, we must change our understanding of a story told in the distant past.
An Ancient Premonition
Two thousand three hundred and eighty years ago, the first institution of higher learning in Greece was established by the philosopher Plato. Much could be said about the profound influence Plato has had on Western philosophy. My interest in him, however, does not lay in his various musings, but in a story shared in his work Timaeus. The celebrated philosopher described how the ancient Athenians— during a harsh war— had repelled “a mighty host, which, starting from a distant point in the Atlantic Ocean, was insolently advancing to attack the whole of Europe, and Asia to boot”. This host advanced across the ocean from “an island which was larger than Libya and Asia together” and in which there “existed a confederation of kings, of great and marvelous power, which held sway over all the island, and over many other islands also and parts of the continent”. The name Plato chose for this lost island was Atlantis.
For millennia, scholars, philosophers, and scientists have been fascinated by the story of Atlantis. Early European historians and explorers such as Francisco Lopez de Gomara and Alexander von Humboldt were convinced that Plato had possessed secret knowledge of the Americas. Others sought desperately to discover links between a lost Atlantean culture and the remnants of the Mayan and Aztec peoples. Unfortunately, efforts to uncover the lost civilization of Atlantis were often suffused with racism. Many Europeans looked down upon the indigenous populations of the Americas— which had been decimated by disease and conquest— unable to understand how they might have constructed such awe-inspiring cities of stone. Their attempts to find links to Atlantis were doomed to fail. The pyramids of Teotihuacan and Chichen Itzá do not have or need any connections to a lost Atlantean civilization; they stand boldly, independently, and magnificently as the products of the Mesoamerican civilizations that built them. More importantly, however, the humans searching for this lost civilization faced a chronological problem. Atlantis did not yet exist.
Now is the moment for us to return to the aforementioned Platonic tale. With every iteration of a story, small details change. Over time, those changes can lead to new reinterpretations of the events and truths of the original stories. This is how we will achieve a new civilizational founding. You see, in my retelling of Plato’s story, Atlantis is not a mythical civilization of the past, but a premonition Plato did not fully understand. It is a vision of the Pan-American future; it foresees the ascension of a vibrant, proud, and powerful civilization forged from the cultures and peoples of all corners of the Earth. It will be the mother culture that tends to the new planetary Garden of Eden, constructs the new Alexandrian Library that will house humanity’s collective knowledge and wisdom, and, most importantly, births humanity’s descendants among the stars. This is not to say that the New Atlantis will usher in a period of harmony and understanding amongst all the humans of the world. That idea is nonsense. While it is technically true that all humans are family, this notion is less than useless in the path towards breathing life into a new civilization. Humans are tribal creatures. The cerebral architecture that differentiates humans based on whether they are of the in-group or the out-group evolved over billions of years. It is not going to disappear, regardless of our deepest desires. My point, broadly speaking, is that the peoples of the Americas resemble each other more than they resemble the people of any other society. It is time to shed our collective delusions in order to reorient our energy towards a new societal project as a family.
A related vision has been proposed in the past. José Vasconcelos, a Mexican academic and politician, wrote an essay titled The Cosmic Race in 1925 claiming that the final race of man, or “Cosmic Race”, would be formed out of the separate races that inhabited the Iberian-American world. Frankly, there are numerous elements that Vasconcelos got wrong when developing his theory. First, it is heavily based on the racial pseudoscience that was endemic to the Western academic world in the early 20th century. The concept of static races, for example, has been refuted by geneticists like David Reich studying ancient and current DNA. In his 2018 book, Who We Are and How We Got Here, Reich writes that many of the “races” we observe in the present are themselves the product of intensive genetic mixture. The “classic northern European look: blue eyes, light skin, and blond hair” arose from the genetic fusion of ancient hunter-gatherers with “blue eyes, but dark skin and dark hair”, early farmers that “mostly had light skin but dark hair and brown eyes”, and blond humans migrating from “the Lake Baikal region of eastern Siberia”. Modern genetics is able to detect differences among “races”, but these groups have always been ephemeral — present for the metaphorical blink of an eye, then lost to the eons. There will be no final races or cultures, only ever-evolving ones. Just as the population of northern Eurasians Reich studies disappeared thousands of years ago, so too will the Atlantean culture I am describing one day.
José Vasconcelos’s envy of and resentment towards the United States and the broader Anglo-American world, stemming from childhood experiences detailed in Modern Art in Africa, Asia, and Latin America: An Introduction to Global Modernisms (Elaine O’Brien, et al), also blinded him to the truth. The process of cultural hybridization that characterized the Latin American experience was likewise taking place in the United States and Canada. Still, the theory of the “Cosmic Race” can play a role as an idea against which a better civilizational vision can be measured. That vision, at its most fundamental level, must recognize a certain reality regarding the humans of various hues inhabiting the Western Hemisphere:
The “red” men are no longer Native Americans.
The “white” men are no longer Europeans.
The “black” men are no longer Africans.
The “yellow” and “brown” men are no longer Asians.
These people ceased to exist in their original forms the moment their worlds collided on this vast, ancient continent. Over the churn of centuries, they have converged towards a new Atlantean center, preserving certain elements of their origins while adopting components from the other source cultures they have encountered. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. But what is the purpose— the sacred mission— of this new Atlantean civilization? This is the subject we will now explore.
Gaea, Prometheus, Ouranos
A civilization is dead if it has no mission. This is one of the reasons we find ourselves in our current moment of cultural stagnation in the Western Hemisphere. We do not know what we are doing or even what we should want to do. I have spent a considerable amount of time pondering our predicament and have arrived at a new revelation. The mission of the New Atlantis is tripartite in its nature, partially inspired by Horizon: Zero Dawn. Fashioned after three elemental figures of Greek mythology, it will animate our civilization for centuries to come.
The first of these projects, called the Gaea Initiative, is named after the Greek personification of the Earth. Its goal is to rehabilitate the terrestrial environment via terraforming practices developed through industrial, technological, and scientific advancements. The successful restoration of the Earth to a planetary Garden of Eden will serve as a redemptive act for the New Atlantis and humanity as a whole. Our current society is one wracked with greed. We poison the environment in the pursuit of ever greater, and fleeting, profits. There is a better way to increase the prosperity of our society. The Gaea Initiative will harness the energy of the atom, the sun, and other sources to provide clean and nearly limitless energy to fuel our civilization. It will unlock the secrets of the genome to return species driven to extinction by humanity to the surface of the Earth, just as Lazarus was lifted from his tomb. Finally, it will pioneer bio-regenerative techniques and methods of sustainable living that will ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated. Our planet will be beautiful once more.
The Promethean Collective is the second part of our endeavor. It is named after the Titan credited with stealing fire from the gods in order to give it to humanity for use as the first step towards civilization. It will be tasked with constructing the Alexandrian Network, a hemispheric— and later global— network of libraries, or arks, dedicated to preserving humanity’s collective wisdom and knowledge in the event of planetary catastrophe. These libraries will store humanity’s technological, industrial, scientific, and cultural achievements through both digital and physical means. The knowledge stored in these vaults must be capable of withstanding events as extreme as solar flares, asteroid impacts, and the eruptions of supervolcanoes. If our society ever collapses, the Alexandrian Network will facilitate the redevelopment of our vital capabilities, so that the other two missions may be resumed.
The final part of our tripartite Atlantean mission is perhaps the most important. It is named the Ouranos Expedition, after the primordial Greek deity of the sky— and by extension— outer space. It is rather poetic that the civilization of the New Atlantis, forged from the convergent assimilation of peoples from across the Earth, should be the best suited to send humans out into the cosmos. This mission will develop the technology and infrastructure necessary to aid human colonization efforts across the universe. The terraforming methods developed by the Gaea Initiative and the stores of knowledge maintained by the Promethean Collective will join with the navigational expertise of the Ouranos Expedition to make new planets habitable for our descendants. There are millions of new frontiers to explore in the universe and it would be a waste of precious life if we did not at least try to reach them. On the frontier, new cultures and ways of thinking can be born. Nothing can remain unchanged forever. By assisting in the habitation of new celestial bodies, the Ouranos Expedition will inevitably cause Atlantean civilization to give birth to successor cultures that will find their own paths. But though they may diverge in their own ways, they will not be disconnected from their origins. Millions of years into the future, when beings we can hardly imagine trace their lines into the distant past, they will find their paths leading back to Earth.
We are at a crossroads in this country and hemisphere. The ideologies of the past cannot build or maintain the civilization of the future. They are tearing us apart. We are approaching a world in which new civilization-states in China, India, and Africa— one billion people strong each— will play a larger role. If we hope to maintain our independence and chart a better future for humanity based on our values, we must recognize that all of us in this New Atlantis, scattered from the northernmost reaches of Canada to the southernmost tip of Argentina, are a single family. We must recognize that we have each transcended our origins if we are to form this new society. I believe New Atlantis is the social technology that will guide us into the future I hope to see: one billion Americans standing shoulder to shoulder amongst the members of the global community, pursuing ever higher, more noble goals.
Image from https://www.pinterest.com/danteclose/sci-fi-city-concept-art/