The Dazzling Future

August 22, 2021 - 7 min read

Why do I need such consolations, over which the Damocles’ sword of disappointment hangs incessantly? Only one truth is safe. - Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy

The future has always seemed to me unstably hazy. Sometimes so hazy it was scary to peek into as if you were a kid again seeing a mythical creature under the bed, and at other times so clear and bright that looking at it even out of the corner of your eye can make you blind.


This is evident these days, in the age of uncertainty, as many call it. Uncertainty is sometimes the most frightening thing of all. For some people, it is better to be sure there is no tomorrow than to be shaking in suspense waiting for it. Sometimes, it is better to know that you have no goal, no purpose than to ponder over it for days and nights. It is better to accept everything as it is, to make peace with it, just as long as it is not chaos. Ignorance about the future, as well as fatalism, deprives you of a sense of freedom and leaves you with a sense of helplessness. Either there is no choice or too much choice. Which is worse - I have not been able to decide for myself.

But why are we so afraid of uncertainty? Could that be a question for scientists, psychologists, biologists, anthropologists? To statisticians, perhaps? Or physicists?

Perhaps uncertainty on an instinctive level means a loss of control, comfort and potential danger that we cannot ignore. Perhaps the brain is trying to analyse 14,000,604 options and choose a fortunate one. Perhaps the brain realises that the error between expectation and reality is increasing and, like Windows, produces a blue screen with white letters.

Perhaps scientists have an answer for this, but regardless of the answer, uncertainty is always there, you can't escape it. At some point, a sponge in our head cannot get watery any further and begins to leak out.

But can the balance exist? Maybe it can, maybe it cannot.

I recall the concept of non-decreasing entropy. In mundane terms, this means that our whole life is an endless struggle against chaos. The disorder is proliferating. Entities are layering on top of each other. Living doesn’t get easier. Once the physical urges are overcome, they are replaced by psychological and spiritual ones. Perhaps without the uncertainty in our heads, we would not be who we are and trying to reduce it is our own vendetta against windmills.

I remember my feelings in the first month of the plague. The only certain thing is tomorrow and for the next couple of weeks, or maybe even months, I will only leave my house for groceries or for a park walk. But what will happen in six months? And in a year? How long will it all last? There is no use in speculating.

And this feeling only grows stronger every day. The number of cases is rising. Five people have died. A week later – ten. Another week later – twice as many. And so on, month after month, up to thousands. Is that a lot? Feels like a lot. Statisticians and journalists have a trick – compare "one person in thirty dies" with "three per cent die". Can you visualise thirty people in front of you and imagine one of them dying? Easy. All it takes is to imagine a bus and one heart attack. I know, cynical. What about three per cent? Is that a lot? Or is it not? Three people out of a hundred? To my senses, it feels fewer. But this feeling is situational and subjective.

But, at some point, you get used to this daily media pressure. You make peace with it. Or you just stop reading it.

It gets easier. But how easier? The fear is not the same as before, but the questions remain in place.

What will happen tomorrow? In six months? In a year?

There's no use in speculating.

The pandemic is just an example, vivid and illustrative. The model which has revealed a lot about how we all behave, collectively or individually. But we live in a time when you can find a million things creating or posing uncertainty. When is the next economic crisis out there? It's about time. What about climate change? Scientists published a thousand pages on how fucked up we are?  What about the third world war? What are the odds? A new mad government in a random country? The doomsday clock seems to be running behind. Where is the world government? Reptiloids? New pandemics? Superbacteria born in a blend of chemicals leaked from a pharmaceutical factory in a third world country? The decline of the West? The end of civilisation? 5G chipping?

What will cause havoc next?

The questions are different for everyone. Some are illiterate, insane and nonsensical but some are real problems. I do not want to create political polemics saying what is real and what is not. You know it better than I do. I only want to say that a random person, an average Joe from the middle of nowhere, will not be able to answer them. For him, they are something distant, something that does not touch him at the moment, something unaffectable, and maybe there is no need in affecting it. And to live with it and think about it every day would be unbearable for him. Each of us is sometimes a little bit of that Joe. Some people devote their whole life to preventing or solving these problems. Those who don't understand, sneer or ignore. Those who understand - worry, or fear, but often ignore, too.

"We are deeply concerned about the situation" – this is how we live.

We live in spite of the uncertainty, the escalating anxiety and chaos. We live without knowing what will happen next. But something will.

But this is what makes our time at least interesting, if not unique. I recall someone wrote that their favourite times in human history were those when everything was collapsing because that meant something new was being born. We have to live in uncertainty, in a world that is changing daily in several directions at once, living with a constant sense of the sword of Damocles over us.

Today we possess what sci-fi writers forecasted or warned us about a few decades ago. Yes, it is far from being uniformly distributed. Some of the great discoveries and world-changing inventions are still languishing in laboratories or even at the level of ideas, albeit potentially working. Science does not stand still. I bet the number of scientists now is at its highest in human history. Millions of people are simultaneously working on problems that demand solutions, some of which we have created ourselves, and others that have not even surfaced yet.

Culture, art- now digital and crypto- are changing at an unfathomable speed, instantly spreading across the world, becoming global first, then fragmenting, then merging again, and covering us with a patchwork quilt. New ethics replaces the old. New words and ideas are born every day in the subsoil of forums, occasional conversations, being forged in memes or simply as part of language's and culture’s evolution. Things that used to be romanticised become decried, and those used to be decried become romanticised.

We feel that very ‘future’ is on our doorstep, perhaps somewhere it has already come, or will come in the next five to ten years. But visions of that future are hazy. Hopes for it are high, as well as fears that it will not be as we imagine it. Pessimistic, but things will not be any more certain. The world sophisticates itself. We sophisticate ourselves. Uncertainty and fragility soar, and with them, so does anxiety. And even if we feel helpless in front of it, even if we cannot influence it, it is our duty as people living in this era to capture it.

We don't know what our era is. Not yet. We can hang labels on it, trying to understand it, explain it, predict it. But those labels will change in a couple of years. The labels will fall off and will only remain on the foot in the morgue of history. The way we see our time at the moment will no longer be relevant, the predictions will not come true, and we will create new ones.

People who lived in the Middle Ages or Renaissance did not know they were living in the Middle Ages or Renaissance. Likewise, our descendants in the 21st and 22nd centuries and beyond will come up with some meaningful name for our time. And it is unlikely it will match what journalists, scientists, philosophers and writers have come up with so far.

But our descendants will only be able to do define our era if we are able to express it in Art, to reflect it as it is, as we feel it, by making a snapshot of our joys and worries.

It is our duty to retain its spirit, draw the texture of lived experience, capture the constant oscillation between optimism and pessimism, between anxiety and excitement, between alluring haze and dazzling light.

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