Interesting times

It was supposedly a Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." We do.

Curse? Yes, if what you, like most people everywhere, most want is predictability, to have some idea of what's going to happen and what will be the consequences of whatever action you take, "interesting times" are a curse.

Unsettled times are unsettling. And times that are as unsettled as ours, with the globe warming and the sea rising over isles and the rims of continents,  the climate producing heat waves in Moscow and hurricanes of unprecedented intensity, fish disappearing from the oceans, farmlands turning to desert, gigantic engineering projects turning valleys into seas, whole industries collapsing and economies crashing, while communications technology changes so fast that we can only wonder as it whizzes by, are enough to induce panic. Especially in those people most affected by one or several of these unsettlements.

So of course people are killing each other in the Sudan (and many other places), pirating ships in the Gulf of Aden, fleeing starvation or confusion or violence or ethnic or religious persecution or all those together, in short, resorting to any available method, including violence, to acquire or recover resources. It makes things interesting, all right.

And that, I think, is what drives so many people, in so many different societies and social conditions, to the extreme right. When everything else is falling apart or moving so rapidly it throws us off balance, we have to have some psychological stability. Something unchanging. God, for instance. Or the eternal superiority of our race. Some absolute truth to cling to. Sarkozy is re-inventing some absolutist idea of France (without Gypsies), religious nuts are burning one another's holy books or symbols and blowing up institutions, governments are punishing anyone who questions the government's truth, and so on.  We've seen this before, when the huge changes in chemistry, communications, manufacturing and everything else, upsetting class relations and population patterns coming ever faster toward the end of the 19th century made many people see the desirable solution in fascism and its kindred. After two world wars and and two atom bombs, daily life in some parts of the world became at least more predictable. The Cold War, awful as it was, was at least an understandable system. But then everything got moving again, ever faster, and here we are. The Soviet Union disappeared, the Internet appeared, and so on.

Of course a minority of us go in the other direction, to the left, recognizing that everything is changing and trying to prepare not only ourselves but all humanity to take advantage of the good things and avoid the worst of all the possible outcomes. This means the opposite of clinging to any absolute truth, denying that such a thing even exists or is knowable to us, the only absolute being a value, the value of our lives—all our lives, all of humanity.  And it requires us to be probing and watching to anticipate, if only by a microsecond, the next big change and position ourselves to duck or use it. And hoping to stay agile enough to recover if we misjudge and get slammed by something.

The rapid shifts in publishing are just one mix of currents in the maelstrom. None of us can say how things will turn out in, say, 50 years. What people will be reading, or how, or even if. But right now, trying to stay agile and to ride what seem the strongest currents, I'm hitching my novel to p.o.d. (print on demand) and plan also to take it to e-publishing on several platforms. Launch in mid October.

1 comment:

Dirk van Nouhuys said...

Good post. A lot in a little.