words by willow defebaugh
photograph by michael hauptman
What does it mean to see beyond? How do we create new futures? The Overview takes a holistic look at the latest issue of Atmos.
“Science fiction is simply a way to practice the future together. I suspect that is what many of you are up to, practicing futures together, practicing justice together, living into new stories.”
When I was in college, I took a course on the concept of apocalypse. I was shocked to discover how pervasive doomsday stories are across cultures. Whether through science fiction or divination, prophecy or philosophy, our species is obsessed with endings—including today, when it feels like armageddon is always looming. Who hasn’t, at one point or another, felt like we are living in the end of days? In our personal lives, we are equally transfixed, always trying to jump to the end of our stories.
This is one of many reasons why the successive tragedies of the last few years have been so challenging: without a definitive end in sight, it has been difficult to see beyond. This was the origin of our new issue, Volume 06: Beyond. We wanted to look past the horizon for a glimmer of hope, imagining what lies on the other side of the oppressive forces choking our world. We set out to compile a compendium that might shift the pendulum, asking the artists, writers, and activists in our community to share their visions of the future.
A few of the results you may have already seen in our cover stories released this week. The first was my conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Powers, who reminded me that if we are to write a new story for life on Earth, we will need an end to the alienation that has permeated our species: “If you are that alienated from where you live and who you live among, if you are so completely persuaded by this idea that growth is the same thing as accumulation and vice versa, then you will never be well.”
A common theme that emerged in the issue was the importance of righting and returning to the past in order to create a different future. That means centering Indigenous wisdom and traditional knowledge. In “Course Correction,” Abby Abinanti, Chief Judge of the Yurok Tribe, illustrates how our destiny is interwoven with that of the land—and what it can teach us about justice. And in “Seeding Sanctity,” practitioners of the nature-based faith Santeria illuminate how environmentalism is an inherent aspect of their spirituality.
So what role does technology play in humanity’s next chapter? With the space race unfolding as we started this issue, we wanted to address this question from every angle. On one hand, writer Kendra Pierre-Louis explores what the hit TV series The Expanse can teach us about the dangers of space colonization and history repeating itself. On the other hand, Grimes tells sci-fi author Nnedi Okorafor how miraculous it is to consider that Earth could be the birthplace of consciousness in the universe—and the start of its spread.
Like many of you, I have concerns about space colonization. A large part of me believes that we should focus on fixing our problems here before we look to other planets so that we don’t repeat our mistakes. But when it comes to complex topics, I believe it’s the role of the media to present perspectives that challenge our own. And it was interesting to consider that maybe this moment, which feels so apocalyptic, is the start of something much bigger than us. Maybe to see beyond is to know that we are always at the beginning of our story.
The truth is, none of us know how our stories will end, because every moment we are writing them anew. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how to live one day at a time. Hope doesn’t lie elusively in the future: it’s here in the present. It’s in the movements that are growing, the hearts and minds that are changing, the seeds of transformation now being sown—all of the stories you’re about to read. It’s been right here, all along.
After a year of global upheaval, one question is on all our minds: What lies beyond the horizon? We know we need a new future, but what does it hold? What exists on the other side of disaster capitalism and colonization? What wisdom awaits beyond binary thinking and Western views of time and space? What does the cosmos contain beyond life on our planet? For Volume 06: Beyond we are imagining a world free from the constructs that have confined our planet and its people for too long.