The stories that we tell each other (and ourselves) matter. They frame what we (can) see, and what pictures we make. I remember the moment of ‘oh, wow’, when, thanks to Noam Chomsky’s World Orders, Old and New I figured out that all the individual acts of overthrowing democratically-elected governments (Guatemala 1954, Iran 1953, Chile 1973) were not, as we now say ‘bugs in the system, they’re features.’
So, in spite of the hype over Paris, I’m thinking about what the future will look like. Two smart friends have supplied – a decade apart – excellent ideas. One is about tunnels, the other about glaciers. Both are about path dependency…
From a googlechat in February 2007
[My friend:] I’m working on an ‘golden opportunity’ argument to try to persuade people. ‘Once in an epoch’ sort of thing. The dinosaurs couldn’t choose not to be struck by a giant meteorite. But the opportunity that is busily passing us by right now will still be visible in a few years time – visible, but out of reach. I’m thinking of evoking the idea that we are just about to plunge humanity into a dark tunnel from which there is no return; we’re still in the sunshine now, with amazing views all round, and a whole lot of different paths to choose from. the trouble is powerful momentum is speeding us along a track that leads into the mouth of that dark tunnel. Other pathways zip past on both sides as we gather speed. Once in the tunnel, we will be looking over our shoulders at the light of that opportunity as it swiftly recedes into the distance behind us. then we will have only the darkness, and a single narrow path which we must travel to our final destination.3:58 PM me: OK, you cheerful bastard, you win today’s disasturbation contest but I warn you, I’ll be back. It’s a really powerful image you have there. Another (inferior?) version is of us circling the plughole, able to see it, but also able to swim to safety if we choose a point out of the whirlpool and swim really really hard. There’s an Edgar Allen Poe short story (called The Maelstrom, I think) about an individual in this circumstance.
And today I wrote to someone else
“I am brewing an article on 2015 – the weather, the terror attacks in Paris, the plight of the refugees – as the new normal. We think they are aberrations, but they aren’t, they are merely squalls before the superstorm hits…”
and he replied with
What we’re seeing now are the trickles running down the hill, as the glacier melts. I can’t help thinking they’re scoring tracks in the dusty ground that will determine the path of the later, much greater, flow. For example, of we let the right wing populist set the agenda for this refugee wave, then we’ll be in a worse position to deal with far more people fleeing north Africa.