BOOKS: *Telespheres* by F.M. Esfandiary
Wed, 17 Feb 1999 05:12:49 EST

TELESPHERES by F.M. Esfandiary (1977)

Someone once described this book as " Brave New World without the guilt ". I hasten to add : and without the grammar either. It's not that Esfandiary has a bad grammar (though he does) : it's that he virtually doesn't have one. And given how essential grammar is to the logical structuring of one's thought, his is in extremely poor shape.

This short volume (about 160 pages) is not a book but a catalogue, a list of items.

Some of those items are completely obscure, because left unexplained. The words are just dropped there for their feel-good potential, but no elucidation is given : Esfandiary tries to avoid " overexplaining ", which he considers a mark of insecurity (p7). Other items are described in the most cursory, telegraphic fashion, in conformity with Esfandiary's quest for " crispness " and " maximum economy of words " (p7). The items may be connected by commas or dashes, but often they are simply listed without any punctuation : " we can at last reach out to the infinite abundance of the solar system the galaxy the universe " ; or " our planet will be cleaner safer richer roomier lovelier than ever ".

Whatever actual sentences the book actually contains look more like students' notes or tabloid prose (" Massive deposits of minerals on all continents yet to be tapped ") than the articulate expression of logical thought. At one point (p74), Esfandiary even embeds a dozen subordinate clauses just for the fun of it. On the same page, a subject in the plural (" breakthroughs ") has a verb in the singular (" is "). What was he saying page 8 ? " There is no room for sloppiness ". Hmm. All these flaws are probably due to the fact that the book was written in a hurry, since Esfandiary considers that " any book that takes more than a few months to write is not worth doing " (p8 ; didn't he mean " hours " ?). My guess is that he is prey to what Ayn Rand calls the anti-effort mentality (*he* wouldn't spend a whole decade writing a 1000 page novel), and that he doesn't want to take the trouble of actually thinking.

So don't read this book for arguments or references. " Ideas ", if his slogans qualify, are included more for their evocative value than for anything having to do with their truth or practicality. Esfandiary is a master at coining neologisms, from " Up winger ", an ingenious metaphoric phrase to characterize people with a dynamic vision who neither consider themselves right-wingers not left-wingers ; to " telespheres ", which is left undefined in the book, though one guesses it has something to do with being somewhere else than where one has been or should be or is actually doing something. Other neologisms include phaseining, transing, cybernated, rapidgrowth, antifuture, blackholing, nonflesh, unicom, mobilia, planetization, etc. See the Lextropicon for more details.

The main theme of the book seems to be that we have just emerged from the " primal/feudal/industrial " stage of civilization (not a sequence but a package deal : obviously, the term feudal is used in a metaphoric sense for is pejorative connotations) and entered what we might call the Heraclitean stagea stage in which everything is in flux, everyone is " born and reborn everyday " (jacket) and the mind seems to dissipate into Brownian motion.

In such a context, Esfandiary's advice boils down to : Never swim in the same river twice ! If you've been there before, don't go there ! Completely uproot yourself from all possible contexts- geographical (" translive ", as opposed to living in a particular place), national (be a " universal ", as opposed, I guess, to being an American or a Frenchman ) and social (be a " universal parent ", i.e. consider all children as yours, be involved with many people, break all family ties and stop " fixating " on " one set of parents " (p86)). Communities and habitations themselves have to be " instant " (p77).

What the psychological consequences of this thorough uprooting of the individual will be, he doesn't seem to consider. He does acknowledge that the consensus of the psychological community is that " a close unbroken relationship with a single mother [is] indispensable to the healthy development of the child " (p88), but rejects this dependence as an intolerable man-made condition, not a corollary of human nature. His reasoning is precisely that it's bad to have parents in the first place because of the eventual trauma of losing them. Why, losing a friend, a house or even one's personal library can also be very traumatic. So should we also do without those things ?

Everything in Esfandiary's jittery universe becomes delocalized, and all familiar concepts mutate by acquiring the " tele " prefix : teleducation, telefarming, teleconcerts, telemanagement, teledemocracy, telebanking, teleconomics, etc. What these concepts seem to have in common (though most are left in a conceptual blur) is that you're not physically present where the action takes place, or something like that. " Telegenesis " for instance is procreation by " men and women who live far away from one another and who may never even have met " (p83). (It's even more telespheric if those people are not even from the same time !)

If " overexplanation " is a vice Esfandiary studiously avoids, overconfidence isn't. He quotes a leading gerontologist as saying that " by the end of this century the aging puzzle will have been solved " (is that Dr. Bernard Strehler still aroud ?). He also believes fusion will be completely non-polluting
(p77), but I'd rather believe Pournelle on this point (" fusion is cleaner
than fission power systems, but it is not that much cleaner ", A Step Farther Out p324).

A problem with the book is that Esfandiary is obviously economically and politically illiterate (what do you expect of someone who rejects education and diplomas ?). The fact that he considers himself " apolitical " is the first indication of this- neither left nor right, neither capitalistic nor socialistic (p76). How can you have no position on what activities are legitimate government ones ? The cause in Esfandiary's case is that he doesn't even seem to make a distinction between public and private spending ! His explanation for the continued existence of poverty is some areas of the globe is not lack of ecomic freedom in those areas, but the fact that governments spend too much on armaments and (among other things) " car and truck factories " ! (p75 ; an indication of the sloppiness of the book's construction is that exactly the same " argument " is repeated p118, though the car and truck factories are now omitted.)

Though he claims to be neither a socialist nor a capitalist, Esfandiary does advocate central planning, probably at an international level (p74). He even praises the computer as the key to the feasability of such central planning (" Computers enable us for the first time to have a monitored economy. Computers make it possible for the first time to have a monitored economy. " p115
(Esfandiary doesn't quite grasp the relevance of pronouns to making one's
style crisp.)). And how " apolitical " is the provision of " an automatic minimum living expense for everyone " (p119) ?

So it's not only Brave New World, but also 1984 without the guilt.

Another blatant dictatorial measure Esfandiary advocates is the complete suppression of reproductive freedom by the licensing of parenthood according to genetic, psychiatric and financial considerations. To have a baby, you would have to go through the same kind of bureaucratic procedure as you now do to adopt one, except it wouldn't be bureaucratic because everything is telespheric, so, you see…

Other objectionable aspects of the book are its opposition to industrialization (an obsolete relic of the feudal age which causes pollution, unenmployment, ugliness and decay, among other evils (p76)) ; and to institutionalized education (which can't be right, because you have to be physically present where the education takes place and the process is not instantaneous- so it's anti-telespheric to the extreme).

*Telespheres* is nothing but an accumulation of flash-cards that may at best provide pleasant strokes to an out-of-focus extropian reader (" Immortality ? Abundance ? Yah ! Yah ! "). It is not argumentative but exhortative, like an " empowerment " tape to listen to when you sleep. But its essential vacuity and mindlessness make it a complete waste of time. So just be one step beyond Esfandiary, according to whom " the only readers [today] are skimmers " : don't read him- that's the ultimate, up wing, telespheric form of skimming and anti-education ; or just read the title and move-on- that's flow, man !

(If you do want to get a copy of this book, though, I'm willing to trade mine.
But be quick, I might have burnt it any time.)

Now since I do recognize what is supposed to be the positive element in this book (its forward-looking, pro-technology, dynamic vision), I believe we might find a replacement of a higher intellectual caliber in a recently published book, *The Future and Its Enemies* " by Reason editor and Forbes columnist Virginia Postrel ". It's in the latest Laissez-Faire Books catalogue, and it seems to be an argumentative equivalent of Esfandiary's manifesto. Does anybody have any more information about it ?


Jean-Francois Virey,
Douai, France.