Posted by Charles Cameron on August 29th, 2010 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
You Westerners have your watches, but we Taliban have time.
I am delighted to contribute to the Afghanistan 2050 discussion here on Chicago Boyz, back in 2010.
I was in fact briefly in Afghanistan myself in the early ’70s, almost 40 years ago, before the Russian invasion and long after the “Empire” Brits had left, on something of an informal global pilgrimage. I have fond memories of visiting the great standing Buddha of Bamiyan, climbing the stairs behind him and looking out across the valley from atop his head. I had been reading the poet Jalaluddin Rumi in AJ Arberry’s translations for several years, and was aware that Balkh was Rumi’s birthplace — so Afghanistan already had a niche of sacred affection in my heart. And from that visit, brief as it was, I recall particularly a tiny white mosque by a spring in the middle of miles of desert somewhere east of Herat, with its luscious yet tiny garden, I remember the worn faces of old men in Kandahar and Kabul – I have in short, fond memories of the place, and therefore a sense both that some things change there, and some things stay the same.
According to Islamic belief, Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets, the last in the series — and what is left to those of us who wish to foresee Afghanistan or the world in 2050 is therefore “the long view”, guesswork, scenario planning, futurism, perhaps even science fiction. I have worn the “futurist” hat myself in the past — and even the science fiction beret, very briefly and without much success. From my POV here in 2010 and without even the benefit of 2020 vision, I see Afghanistan 2050 obscured by what Nassim Nicholas Taleb might call a veil of black swans – unexpected events leading to future world-lines we cannot as yet even imagine. Forty years ago, I had never even heard of a computer game. A version of Microsoft Flight Simulator was found in a Taliban safe house eight or ten years ago… and there are now US Army training games, jihadist games, and games of peace…
Let me clothe my speculations, then, in science fiction, openly presented as such, about “branching world-lines” and the ways in which possible futures branch out from the experienced present and often ill-remembered past… I’ll take Everett’s “Many-Worlds” theory as my framework, and throw in a very slight shift of the long pendulum – I see us backing away from the intensive cultivation of material goods and values which has characterized the last few centuries, and very gradually turning towards a more introspective, contemplative sense of the world and our place in it.
Oh – and I will use the names of some of my own mentors in place of the future thinkers whose work I quote, in a quiet tip of the hat to some previous exponents of the ideas I propose…
Historians — on the world-line this is written from, and consequently in those cognate worldlines in which you are reading me — tend to date the by now (2050) clear shift in priorities (if not in actualization) currently emerging along these world-lines to the 2020 joint publication in Nature and Physical Review G of Dogen’s confirmation of the Everett-Klee Transformation Hypothesis, which stated (in its minimal formulation) that free choice is the mechanism by which a human individual switches tracks in a given “present moment” from a “past” world-line to a particular “future” world-line, branching “in that moment” from the first.
Gupta’s 2024 dissertation at the revived Nalanda University suggesting that “morality decisioning” (a horrible phrase, now thankfully forgotten) was the key to shifting from more suffering-dense, competitive and warlike to less suffering-dense, more collaborative and peaceable world-lines was quickly followed by the recognitions that meditative (Snyder, 2025) and liturgical (Hopkins, 2025) practices were among the most powerful methodologies, certainly complementing and perhaps even surpassing “good works” by considerable margins in widely repeated tests of “world-hopping” as the practice of side-stepping from one line to another came to be called.
By 2030, “play” (Hesse, Huizinga) and “dream” (Bateson, Rheingold) were understood to be crucial to culture and peacemaking respectively, and the process of revaluing human “progress” in light of “moral branching world-line theory” (mBWT) was well under way. It was not, however, until 2037 that Niebuhr and Arendt’s proposal of a method for the cross-pollination of world-lines gave scientific legitimacy to the notion of a sacrificial (“bodhisattvic”) choice to cross over from low-suffering pasts into more suffering-dense futures — with a view to “seeding” those more suffering-dense world-lines with hints of “liberation or salvation via moral and contemplative change”.
On those world-lines which derive from this “low-suffering / high liberation” end of the spectrum, therefore, a contemplative “immediacy in the moment” has given rise to a lowering of the sense of linguistic distinctions and analytic dominance over “what is” – and therefore such distinctions as the drawing of lines on maps have less sway than was previously the case – the Durand Line dividing “Afghanistan” from “Pakistan” being a case in point. It is now understood by most parties on these timelines that such administrative distinctions have an honorable and colorful place in the way the world works, but in no way trump the generosity of spirit that kin feels for kin. Thus we have Pashtun and Baloch spheres that cross Afghan and Pakistan borders (with similar cross weavings at other borders from Iran to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and even China).
The popular religion of the area still has strands of Deoband and even the influence of Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, but affection for the Sufi poets and philosophers — for Ansari of Herat, Rumi of Balkh, and Rahman Baba — has grown or re-grown, along with increased interest in other religious and meditative traditions, the scholarly and tolerant Islam of al-Andalus and the Buddhism which was once native to Afghanistan not least among them.
Politics and sport are much the same as ever – and deeply intertwined. Buzkashi is still the national game and model for politics, horsemanship the mark of inherent nobility, and soccer the subtle international sport at which young boys in Afghanistan and the world over learn contest, collaboration, and respect for the skilled opponent.
There are, of course, other, darker world-lines, and daring souls who travel them, teaching peace in its many guises – as good business, good Islam, good Christianity, even good mental health. It is not easy for our historians to access them, for martyrdom of one kind or another, voluntarily chosen or egregiously inflicted, decimates those who would travel the realms of inflamed hatred. And there are even world-lines in which the world has already ended, not infrequently in some conflagration triggered by fervent believers that the end of time was overdue – self-fulfilling prophecy as maladaptive strategy. These world-lines cannot even be reached by historians – only inferred.
We, however, remain. Our futures are ours to make — and history, the arts and the sciences between them have shown us that a turning towards the good, the generous, the noble, the beautiful, and the true is possible.
And still our present branches into possible futures. And still with hearts and minds, we choose.
Charles Cameron is former Principal Researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University and Senior Analyst at The Arlington Institute. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, under AE Harvey, and specializes in forensic theology with a particular interest in millennial, eschatological and apocalyptic religious sects of all stripes. He has also published poetry, professed anthropology and literature, and designed a family of games for lateral and creative thinkers. He presently guest-blogs almost regularly on Zenpundit. You can contact him as “hipbone” with the ISP “earthlink.net”.