Wednesday, July 19, 2017

random reflections on futility

One of the most comforting thoughts is that everything happens for a reason or as Dr Pangloss used to say in Candide;"all  is for the best". Futility is one of the most frustrating sensations.  For it represents a loss of control. It defies the linear expectations of western thinking. The thought that things do happen in life for no reason at all sounds bizarre even if such an assessment is more realistic than any other explanation.
One of the first  'philosophical' reflections (when I was 12) which eventually triggered a peculiar form of christian atheism in me, was the thought of children who are born to die of hunger, malnutrition or war, days after being born.  At that time I was more concerned by how a loving God could allow that to happen; a very christian question to an unchristian God (whom years later I found exposed in Jose Saramago's Cain).

But as I grew older I became more absorbed by the sheer futility of the predicament of those who are born to die and suffer. That is why I immediately became hooked on politics and on denouncing a global system which generates surplus people, who are born with no prospects at all.   Politics generates rebellion which gives a sense of control over lives rendered futile in a global lottery of injustice.  

The same probably applied to magic, which was also all about taking back control in a world of random misfortune.  While in modern  western societies this random misfortune (at least in matters of health and income) was somewhat minimised through the creation of the welfare state, uncertainity is creeping in back with neo-liberalism and precarious work.  Yet there are also aspects of liquid modernity which trigger a playful sense of individuality. Reconciling risk with security may be the next challenge of politics.  Proposals like basic income schemes go in this direction as they are aimed at making economic insecurity history. 

Moreover futile pursuits are  not necessary a negative thing.  Even good things like for example love and friendships happen randomly most of the time by sheer coincidence even if they can develop in to durable life long relationships. The digital world and social networks have probably increased the random chance of meeting new people in various contexts, resulting in new risks posed by the ease in disconnecting and the ambiguity of virtual signs. The social media also plays a big role in constructing a narrative of the self while also serving as a confessional of sorts, but a rather public one. Authenticity may be one of the casualties of the digitization of the self. But that depends on the ability to create a personal narrative which is rooted in a life history.

In these contexts which are pregnant with so many possibilities gently letting go of the random things which lead to unhappiness and embracing those which lead to happiness may be one of the keys to a good life. Moreover there is also a silver lining in futile things even those that lead nowhere. These too can trigger emotions and imagination.  Pointless can be good, just as useless knowledge. Not everything should point towards a particular direction, purpose or destination. Yet in the absence of strong roots one can easily be blown away.

The other thought which haunted me when I was young was that each of our decisions creates a parallel universe in a multiverse of differently fulfilled possibilities. But the most haunting thought I had is that you can slip from universe, depending on your subjective mood.

There were actually moments when I felt the slip, seeing one outcome changing in to another, following a moment of doubt, hesitation or exhilaration. Probably this may well be another narrative to explain the randomness of events. But it is a playful one, which probably derives from my childhood fascination with the 'planet of the apes' series and with Doctor Who.

Yet what other possible outcome can someone crossing the Mediterranean in the stormy sea on a rickety boat get?  In such a case even the multiverse is probably short of options which may vary between death in the desert, death at sea or a life of marginalisation in some ghetto.  Of course there are inspiring stories of migrants who defied the odds but the multiverse like the God in my pre teen thoughts is not so generous with the world's surplus people. So on such matters one has to believe in human action. Ultimately politics should be all about ensuring that people do not have to choose between misery or death or being swallowed by the sea or bombed out of existence. The futility of a  boat sinking with all the hopes of hundreds of crammed souls to the bottom of the sea, is the sort of futility which should trigger anger and revolt. Ultimately its all about worrying and doing something about the things on which we can do something about (the realm of the possible), and submitting to those which just happen.   Submission in this sense becomes liberation and an act of embracing the whimsical playfulness of life.