In the Valley of the Sun and the Moon

The sun and moon are not just symbols — they reflect the lived experience of inequality today

Earlier this month, President Biden noted, “This year, the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration, for we are emerging from the darkness of years; a year of pandemic and isolation; a year of pain, fear, and heartbreaking loss.” He was careful to point out that COVID-19 hadn’t yet been fully vanquished, but his speech reflected the mood of the US: life was reopening, returning to normal. 

This same month, COVID-19 deaths in India have reached 4 million; South Korea and Uruguay, once stalwarts, have gone into lockdown; and the world has been grappling with rising cases pretty much everywhere. This month in particular has been a jarring reminder of global inequality — as Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the WHO reminded us in April: “Vaccine equity is the challenge of our time. And we are failing.”

And then, just like that, “the war has changed,” according to the CDC this Friday. The Delta variant is spreading rapidly in the US, affecting even communities with higher rates of vaccination. Indoor masks are coming back. Lockdowns are coming back. Another crest of cases appears likely around the world over the next few months. Increasingly, the “reopening” of US life may have been more like a lunch break.

We live in a time of dualities. There is a Mexican image that’s long resonated with me, luna y sol, or sun and moon, which is the image I chose for this edition of the newsletter. It can be found in various forms, remixed and recreated by different artists. There’s one in particular that stands out to me: in 1965, Rufino Tamayo assembled Dualidad (Duality) a mural for Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology that shows the sun and moon in duality, represented with a serpent and a jaguar, respectively. As Tamayo described of his piece, “It is a struggle of the elements that give rise to life. On the one hand, there is the good, wisdom. On the other hand, there is the evil, darkness.” [my translation].

The sun and the moon appear as symbols in many cultures, for obvious reasons — even with the advent of electric lighting, these two celestial forces dominate our lives. In Chinese writing, the sun (ri, 日) and moon (yue, 月) come together to indicate understanding (ming, 明). In the Western Tarot tradition, the Sun and Moon cards form part of a celestial trio, alongside the Star, representing forms of knowing and knowledge. The wedjat eyes in ancient Egypt represented the sun and the moon — the lunar eye of Horus for healing and the solar eye of Re/Ra for protection.

This summer, the sun and the moon are not just symbols or signs — they shape our own dualities in very material ways. Billionaires are in space, and we find ourselves in a new moon race, with countries like China, India, Israel and South Korea all planning moon missions. In the United States, private companies like SpaceX can now aim for the moon. This moon race is one of political ambition, yes, but it is also one of capital: oxygen, water, helium-3 and rare or precious metals are likely all available on the moon, helping power both onward trips to deep space and earthly needs back home.

If the ultra-wealthy have the moon, the rest of us have the sun. We’re facing a reckoning with climate change, with fires, floods and heat domes sweeping through some of the world’s most populous cities. The heat of the sun wreaks havoc in the context of increased carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. And like the spread of COVID-19, climate change’s effects are uneven, often breaking through existing fault lines of inequality.

Welcome to the valley of the sun and the moon. Like any valley, the mountains that trap us are also our way out: we have many mountains to climb before we emerge from these devastating conditions. The question now, as Tamayo reminds us, is whether we use this moment as an opportunity for wisdom, or we find ourselves continuing into further dark moments.

Future Thought 👁️‍🗨️🔮

How will we remember this tumultuous period of 2020-2021, this time governed by the sun and the moon? Pandemics have always functioned as a sort of societal reset, forcing a reckoning in social values and systems in the face of tremendous suffering. What signs and signals are we facing today that give us a glimpse toward what might come next?

Futurist Amy Web has a nice introduction to signals and futurism. While futurism is often quantitative, modern futures work, she reminds us, emerged from the world of storytelling:

H.G. Wells, who was a novelist and journalist, developed something he called “predictive writing.” While Wells is known best for his novella The Time Machine, his most important work was actually a series of articles about the future called “Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought.” Using signals from the present, he wrote about next-order implications of science and technology on everyday life, imagining a national highway system, automated machines to replace was was then the human servant class, and even prefab houses. Eventually, he described the rise and collapse of capitalism.

The Institute for the Future reminds us that futurism is often best in collaboration: “Signals are to foresight practitioners what paint is to an artist. While one can certainly signal-scan alone, there are advantages to scanning with a group.”

With that in mind, I like to occupy the world of narrative, and some of the best exercises I’ve participated in have focused on collaborations around narrative. Here are things I look for as I think about the future:

  • Narrative shift: Is there a new, dominant narrative that’s different from the before times (pre 2020) and now? Racial justice and climate change are obvious ones — what else is changing?

  • Narrative tension: Narrative change is difficult. It can be uncomfortable and downright anxiety-provoking. Often, narrative shifts are accompanied by tension and pushback.

  • Narrative emergence: What are the small narratives emerging in smaller communities that have potential to shape the narratives of tomorrow?

Working on these signals together with a community, what do you see coming?

On My Radar 📡

  • Creative strategist Samantha Culp is working on a new narrative history of the rise of futurism for Crown Books. Follow her newsletter, Border Studies, to see her amazing curating brain in action. One recent gem:  "Altogether Alone" by Hirth Martinez, “a piece of smooth bossa-nova-inflected pop that also happens to be about a UFO visitation?”

  • Colori dei Romani: I mosaici dalle Collezioni Capitoline (Colors of the Romans: Mosaics from the Capitoline Collections), a new exhibition at the Montemartini Power Station in Rome, helps nudge us away from the outdated view that the Romans lived in black and white. (Hyperallergic)

  • Art critic and Hyperallergic Editor-in-Chief Hrag Vartanian is on TikTok and ready to see your work.

  • Some incredible writing here from Vann R. Newkirk II on heat as a human rights issue: “Thousands of miles separate the fields of Honduras and the continental breakfasts in the States. But these are terminals of a single, continuous system. Heat bears down most on the global working poor and developing countries, while their wealthier planetmates are able to evade the worst of the warming. What’s more, consumption by those wealthier folks helps create the warming, which in turn robs the poor of opportunity and walls off economic mobility.” (The Atlantic)

New from Me 💁🏻🆕

The Logic of the Filing Cabinet Is Everywhere (The Atlantic)

The 20th century also saw an emergent information paradigm shaped by corporate capitalism, which emphasized maximizing profit and minimizing the time workers spent on tasks. Offices once kept their information in books—think Ebenezer Scrooge with his quill pen, updating his thick ledger on Christmas. The filing cabinet changed all that, encouraging what Robertson calls “granular certainty,” or “the drive to break more and more of life and its everyday routines into discrete, observable, and manageable parts.” This represented an important conceptualization: Information became a practical unit of knowledge that could be standardized, classified, and effortlessly stored and retrieved.

Yellow Canary Land 🐤 is a monthly look at the future of global media and technology. It’s ostensibly about some distant tomorrow, but really, it’s about how the forces of our yesterdays and todays are likely to shape the times to come. Don’t expect a lot of emails, but do expect a lot of thought put into each one.

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