Challenging Destiny Challenging Destiny
New Fantasy & Science Fiction

10 Visionaries of the 21st Century

editorial by David M. Switzer

This will be the last issue of Challenging Destiny for a while. Due to both personal and business challenges, I’m going to put the magazine on hiatus while I figure some things out. I hope to return the magazine to print in the not-too-distant future. It’s been 10 years since the first issue, and 12 years since we first started planning it. Thanks to everyone who has been involved in the magazine, both contributors and readers, for making it a tremendously enjoyable experience.


There are many things that are wrong with the world, and it can sometimes be overwhelming. But there are also a lot of wonderful things happening, things that you can get involved with. Some people happen to be visionaries, who can articulate specific problems and what we should do about them. Here are some of the visionaries who have inspired me, in person and/or through their books.


Noam Chomsky

Chomsky is a linguist and political activist. He is very critical of the media and of the foreign policies of the US and other governments. He’s written a plethora of books, both on linguistics and on politics. They include The Culture of Terrorism and Manufacturing Consent (with Edward S. Herman).

Chomsky points out that people in positions of power in the media are part of the privileged elite, and that media companies are sympathetic to the corporations that pay them for advertising. He also points out that most of our media contains so little space per article that it’s impossible to talk about something that’s truly new. He reveals that the US has interfered in the affairs of countries around the world -- specifically, installing leaders who would be sympathetic to US interests. Yet somehow this has escaped the notice of most of us (see the previous points).

I had the opportunity to hear Chomsky give a talk a few years ago. Much of what he says is startling, but he’s very persuasive.

From Necessary Illusions:

“To confront power is costly and difficult; high standards of evidence and argument are imposed, and critical analysis is naturally not welcomed by those who are in a position to react vigorously and to determine the array of rewards and punishments.”


the Dalai Lama

Even if you’re not Buddhist, and even if you don’t believe that Tenzin Gyatso is the fourteenth reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, he is definitely a great man. As the spiritual leader of Tibet in exile, he has advocated nonviolent resistance to China for many years. He lives in India, and gives public talks both there and around the world. His many books include The Compassionate Life and The Wisdom of Forgiveness.

Even though his people have been treated horribly, the Dalai Lama still approaches everything in a calm manner. He has a way of attaining an inner peace that allows him to do this. He realizes that the modern way of living has advantages and disadvantages -- one disadvantage is that we don’t have much direct dependence on other people. He says that we can change ourselves and bring a positive atmosphere to those around us. He believes that people of different religions should have close contact -- if we are aware of the value of other religions, then we will respect them.

My first introduction to the Dalai Lama was the extraordinary movie Kundun. I would like to hear him speak one of these days.

From The Essential Dalai Lama:

“Your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.”


Suzette Haden Elgin

Elgin is a linguist and science fiction author. She’s best known for her Native Tongue novels and the nonfiction The Grandmother Principles and The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense. She founded the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and has her own newsletter called Linguistics & Science Fiction.

But I want to tell you about Peacetalk 101, a short novel of 100 pages. The novel is about a regular guy, a guy who’s fed up with his life. In fact, he’s in such despair about how things are going that he decides to end it -- he decides he’s going to kill himself in two weeks. He meets a homeless man on the bus who tells him a story each day, and he experiences a dramatic transformation. In order to experience this transformation, you must read the book for yourself. You can experience a transformation in your own life by thinking about things in a different way.

I was introduced to Elgin’s work through Native Tongue, which we studied in a science fiction course at university. I was lucky enough to acquire her story “Death and Taxes” for this issue.

From Peacetalk 101:

“When you pay attention to what other people say, when you really listen and don’t decide what they’re going to say before they open their mouths, they often surprise you.”


Biruté Galdikas

Galdikas has been studying orangutans in Indonesia since 1971. Her book Reflections of Eden describes her experiences. She discovered that although orangutans are solitary compared to other primates, the females and young males do get together from time to time. She witnessed fighting between males who were competing over a female. She discovered that orangutans can teach each other how to do certain things, for example, use dead trees as weapons or signals. And she witnessed orangutans using gestures that were remarkably similar to human gestures, but were not learned from humans.

Galdikas co-founded Orangutan Foundation International, which promotes the conservation of orangutans and their habitat, and helps create jobs for local people. In addition to studying wild orangutans, she has long been interested in rescuing orangutans who have been captured for food or as pets.

I met Galdikas briefly a few years ago when she obtained an honourary degree at the university where I was studying. I happened to be taking a course in primate behaviour at the time.

From Reflections of Eden:

“If you are studying an animal, or a people, or even a language that is struggling for survival, how can you not interfere? To turn your back on your subject is to turn your back... on what it means to be human. The essence of being human is the capacity for disinterested compassion... Disinterested compassion is helping the helpless, with no expectation of reward.”


Jane Goodall

Goodall has been studying chimpanzees in Tanzania since 1960, and has made many startling discoveries. She discovered that chimpanzees use tools -- the chimpanzees in Gombe all know how to fish for termites. She discovered that chimpanzees hunt, and eat meat. She discovered that chimpanzees can be caring and altruistic, and they can also be violent and even wage war against their neighbouring communities. Her books include In the Shadow of Man, Through a Window, and Reason for Hope.

Goodall started the Jane Goodall Institute to continue field research, save the forests and the animals in them, and help the people who live nearby. The Roots and Shoots program is an environmental group for children, and has tens of thousands of members in almost 100 countries. Goodall spends much of her time these days touring the world, speaking to people about her life and work, about chimpanzees, and about the need to conserve wildlife.

I’ve been aware of Goodall for a long time -- I have an interest in great apes (see my editorial in issue #5). I heard her speak a couple of years ago -- if you get a chance to hear her speak, she’s absolutely inspiring.

From Reason for Hope:

“My reasons for hope are fourfold: (1) the human brain; (2) the resilience of nature; (3) the energy and enthusiasm that is found or can be kindled among young people worldwide; and (4) the indomitable human spirit.”


Thom Hartmann

Hartmann is an author and radio talk show host. At one time a psychotherapist, he came up with a revolutionary way to understand ADHD. He has established schools for children with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as residences for abused children. He has written about democracy, spirituality, and the environment. His books include We The People: A Call to Take Back America and Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights.

Hartmann’s book The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight is about the current state of the world in terms of its environmental problems, how it got this way, and how we can change it. He points out that there are places in the world where we can get a glimpse of the future, like Haiti -- where the forest is gone and people spend most of the day working or searching for firewood or something to eat. He reveals that we’re going to run out of oil within our lifetime, so we must find a way soon to do things differently. Like the Dalai Lama, Hartmann believes that if we transform ourselves we can transform the world.

I picked up The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight in a used bookstore sometime in the last couple of years. It’s one of the few nonfiction books I’ve read cover to cover lately. For a longer description of Hartmann’s ideas, see my editorial in issue #23.

From The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight:

“Most people’s major life regrets are not about the things they’ve done, but about the things they’ve not done, the goals they never reached, the type of lover or friend or parent they wished they’d been but know they failed to be. Yet our culture encourages us to sit in front of a flickering box for dozens (at least) of hours a week, hundreds to thousands of hours a year, and thereby watch, as if from a distance, the time of our lives flow through our hands like dry sand.”


Ralph Nader

Nader is often described as a consumer advocate, and founded the organization Public Citizen as well as many others. These organizations have researched many topics including government corruption, nursing homes, water pollution, corporate executives, whistle blowers, ecosystem destruction, and nuclear weapons. His book Unsafe at Any Speed talked about how dangerous many cars were back in 1965. Since then he’s written, co-written, and edited many other books. Nader has run for US president as a Green Party candidate and as an independent.

Nader has worked to keep consumers safe and informed, and to keep governments and corporations honest. In the 1960s he showed consumers that they could investigate things themselves -- they could be proactive, and they could accomplish great things. In 1970 more than 30 000 students applied for his 200 summer jobs -- his students were known as Nader’s Raiders. He’s quoted on his web site as saying, “You’ve got to keep the pressure on, even if you lose. The essence of the citizen’s movement is persistence.”

I knew that Nader started the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) and I knew that he had run for president. But I didn’t know much else about him until I recently watched the documentary An Unreasonable Man. I can’t imagine a better candidate for president.

From “The Do Not Call Registry” in In The Public Interest (September 26, 2003):

“It is fascinating to watch legislators turn away from their usual corporate grips when they hear the growing thunder of the people.”


Daniel Quinn

Quinn has come to some similar conclusions to Hartmann regarding the nature of the world’s problems and how to solve them. Quinn’s most significant books are Ishmael, The Story of B, My Ishmael, and Beyond Civilization. His novel After Dachau contains a science fictional twist halfway through. His recent book If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways describes his unique way of thinking about things.

Quinn points out that Native peoples had a system that worked for them for hundreds of thousands of years -- tribalism. He’s not suggesting that we go back to hunting and gathering, or anything like that. A tribe is a group of people who work together, as equals, to make a living. Different tribes do things differently, and that’s OK -- everyone doesn’t have to do things the same way. Tribalism is a system that evolved naturally, a system that works for humans. Unlike our system, which obviously isn’t working.

A few years ago I picked a copy of My Ishmael of the shelf in a bookstore because it had a gorilla on the spine. It doesn’t really have anything to do with gorillas per se but when I looked at it more carefully I was still intrigued. His books about Ishmael and Beyond Civilization are some of the most important I’ve ever read. For a longer description of Quinn’s ideas, see my editorial in issue #10.

From If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways:

“During your lifetime, the people of our culture are going to figure out how to live sustainably on this planet -- or they’re not. Either way, it’s certainly going to be extraordinary.”


Joan Slonczewski

Slonczewski is a science fiction author and biology professor. She isn’t a very prolific author -- she’s only published six novels and two stories. Her best-known novel is A Door Into Ocean, and others include Daughter of Elysium and Brain Plague.

A Door Into Ocean describes how a nonviolent society could work, even in the face of a violent society trying to overthrow it. Slonczewski builds an intriguing world, makes you care about the characters, and shows you how such a society could actually function. When the invaders start giving orders, the Sharers refuse to comply -- in fact, in their language there is no way to state a direct command. On her web site, Slonczewski reveals that “all the incidents of this book are based on actual historical events in which nonviolent methods were used.”

I was introduced to Slonzcewski’s work while at university. For the last fifteen years or so, when asked to name my favourite book I have said A Door Into Ocean. During that time I’ve been picking up copies of this novel whenever I see them in used bookstores -- and I give them to my friends. I wrote a fan letter to Slonczewski, which she answered, and I later met her at a science fiction convention. I also created a web site devoted to her science fiction works. We did an interview with Slonczewski in 1998.

From A Door Into Ocean:

“Fear was the cause, and the wage for one who hastened death... Valans might imagine other wages and desires, but in the end, they killed because they feared being killed; they hastened death because they feared it, yet they feared it more, the more they hastened.”


David Suzuki

Suzuki is a geneticist, environmentalist, author, and TV host. He’s written several books, including Inventing the Future, The Sacred Balance, and From Naked Ape to Superspecies (with Holly Dressel). One of his more recent books looks at things from a different point of view -- Good News For a Change (with Dressel).

Suzuki advises us that we cannot deplete or contaminate our natural resources faster than they can be replenished -- otherwise we will be robbing our children of a healthy and productive future. He reports that if everything on the planet were shared equally, all six billion of us could have about the same lifestyle as the West Germans in the 1970s. He is very concerned about genetic engineering -- he points out that we don’t know enough about the consequences to be moving genes from one organism to another. He founded the David Suzuki Foundation, which seeks to find solutions that conserve nature and achieve sustainability within a generation. Its four program areas are: sustainability, climate change and clean energy, oceans and sustainable fishing, and the nature challenge. The latter is a challenge to people to adopt the 10 most effective actions that will help to protect nature.

I have no doubt that I first became aware of Suzuki through his TV show The Nature of Things. I saw Suzuki just a couple of years ago -- it was a question and answer session, and he answered the questions very well.

From From Naked Ape to Superspecies:

“The notion that human beings are so clever that we can use science and technology to escape the restrictions of the natural world is a fantasy that cannot be fulfilled. Yet it underlies much of government’s and industry’s rhetoric and programs.”


Dave Switzer has been a university lecturer, high school teacher, technical writer, and document composition specialist. But he still hasn’t figured out what he wants to be when he grows up. He recently read A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge -- both were imaginative and enthralling. The two best movies he saw on the big screen this summer were Ratatouille and Stardust. Dave has been playing some board games lately -- his favourites are Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride. His web site is www.davidmswitzer.com.


Cover artist Les Edwards is a multi-award winning British artist known for creating pictures with immediate eye-catching impact. He has worked for major UK and US publishers over a 35-year career. His work is seen on books, magazines, advertising, gaming, CD covers and movie posters. He works in oil but also paints in acrylics under his pseudonym, Edward Miller. You can find him on the web at www.lesedwards.com and www.edwardmiller.co.uk.


Last modified: October 17, 2009

Copyright © 2007 David M. Switzer


Crystalline Sphere | Challenging Destiny | Issue #25 | Editorials