Cherishing the here and now.
Over a week ago there was a fascinating and very thought-provoking BBC radio broadcast by Mr. John Gray, the political philosopher and author of the book False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism, .
The BBC website then carried a further article by John Gray. But before quoting from that article, I do recommend that you put aside just 14 minutes to listen to that broadcast. If you click here you will be taken to the BBC podcast page for the Point of View series and then scroll down to the item that is headlined: The End, yet again? 26 Dec 2011.
There will see that a simple ‘right click & save target as’ allows you to download the audio file so you can listen at your pleasure.
Indeed, having listened to Point of View over the many years when living in England, I can thoroughly recommend them. Described on the website, “Weekly reflections on topical issues from a range of contributors including historian Lisa Jardine, novelist Sarah Dunant and writer Alain de Botton.”
Here are some extracts from the John Gray article that appeared on the BBC website.
A Point of View: The endless obsession with what might be
If we can stop thinking about what the future might bring and embrace the present for what it is, we would be a lot better off, writes John Gray.
It’s been some time now since history didn’t end. Twenty-odd years ago, when the Berlin Wall was coming down, there were many who believed that there would be no more serious conflicts.
The American writer Francis Fukuyama, who promoted the idea of the end of history in the autumn of 1989, declared that the chief threat in future would be boredom. A new era, different from any before, had arrived.
Of course it hadn’t. The end of the Soviet Union was followed by conflicts and upheavals of the sort that happen when empires fall apart – war in the Caucasus and economic collapse in Russia, for example.
In any realistic perspective the idea that a single event – however large – could mark the end of human conflict was absurd. But those who were seduced by the idea were not thinking in realistic terms.
They were swayed by a myth – a myth of progress in which humanity is converging on a universal set of institutions and values. The process might be slow and faltering and at times go into reverse, but eventually the whole of humankind would live under the same enlightened system of government.
When you’re inside a myth it looks like fact, and for those who were inside the myth of the end of history it seems to have given a kind of peace of mind. Actually history was on the move again. But since it was clearly moving into difficult territory, it was more comfortable to believe that the past no longer mattered.
Then later on in the article, John writes,
The implication is that sudden shifts are relatively rare in history. But consider continental Europe over the past 70 years – until recently a normal human lifetime. Unless they were Swedish or Swiss, an ordinary European man or woman lived during that period under several quite different systems of government.
Nearly all of Europe, some of it democratic, succumbed for a time to Nazism or fascism. Half of Europe moved from Nazism to communism with only a brief interval of democracy. Most of that half, though not Russia, became functioning democracies after the end of the Cold War.
Not only have political forms changed during a normal lifetime, systems of law and banking have come and gone along with national currencies. The entire framework in which life was lived has changed not once, but several times. In any longer historical perspective discontinuities of these kinds are normal.
The article then concludes, thus,
We seem to be approaching one of those periods of discontinuity that have happened so often in the past. It may seem unthinkable that the European banking system could implode, or that a global currency like the euro could dissolve into nothing.
Yet something very much like that was the experience of citizens of the former Soviet Union when it suddenly melted down, and there is nothing to say something similar could not happen again.
For believers in progress it must be a dispiriting prospect. But if you can shake off this secular myth you will see there is no need to despair. The breakdown of a particular set of human arrangements is not after all the end of the world.
Surely we would be better off if we put an end to our obsession with endings. Humans are sturdy creatures built to withstand regular disruption. Conflict never ceases, but neither does human resourcefulness, adaptability or courage.
We tend to look forward to a future state of fulfilment in which all turmoil has ceased. Some such condition of equilibrium was envisioned by the American prophet of the end of history with whom I began.
As Fukuyama admitted, it’s not an altogether appealing vision. But living in fear of the end is as stultifying as living in hope of it. Either way our lives are spent in the shadow of a future that’s bound to be largely imaginary.
Without the faith that the future can be better than the past, many people say they could not go on. But when we look to the future to give meaning to our lives, we lose the meaning we can make for ourselves here and now.
The task that faces us is no different from the one that has always faced human beings – renewing our lives in the face of recurring evils. Happily, the end never comes. Looking to an end-time is a way of failing to cherish the present – the only time that is truly our own.
I have extracted more than perhaps I ought, and there was so much more to read than is presented here. So please go to the BBC website and read it in full; it’s a very powerful essay.
You may also be interested in learning more about John Gray’s pivotal book: False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism
Finally, let me take you back to a piece that I wrote back in September about Transitions. I closed that piece thus,
There is significant evidence, real hard evidence, that the patterns of mankind’s behaviours of the last few decades cannot continue. Simply because mankind will go over the edge of self-extinction. Darwin’s evidence and all that! We have to accept that humans will see the bleedin’ obvious before it is too late. We have to keep the faith that our species homo sapiens is capable of huge and rapid change when that tipping point is reached, so eloquently written by Paul Gilding in his book, The Great Disruption, reviewed by me here. We have to embrace the fact that just because the world and his wife appears to be living in total denial, the seedlings of change, powerful change, are already sprouting, everywhere, all over the world.
So let’s welcome those changes. Let’s nurture those seedlings, encourage them to grow and engulf our society with a new richness, a new fertile landscape.
Let’s embrace the power of now, the beauty of making today much better and letting go of tomorrow.
For today, I am in charge of my life,
Today, I choose my thoughts,
Today, I choose my attitudes,
Today, I choose my actions and behaviours.
With these, I create my life and my destiny.
It’s very difficult to make predictions, especially when they involve the future!