An Almanac of Madness and Redemption
A roadmap for a way out and co-created hope as we stand on the brink. AKA metaphysics* in motion
<*Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality (Source, Wikipedia)>
When was the last time you held a burning question to your chest? Stoked it with fire from your belly? When were you last fearless, bold, sublime, and elegant in transcending the boundaries of your knowledge, to wake up to the secret that lies therein? That you can bypass your genome using story — and the power of myth — to directly shape your reality? And I don’t mean this in some New Age way. I mean you have the power to completely change the very fabric of the world, and the way we, as humans come together to build it.
Don’t worry if you’re 70,000 years late to the cognitive revolution party. All you need to know is that way back when, a cheeky genetic mutation altered how our ancestors’ brains were wired. Superstar historian, Yuval Noah Harari outlines in his book, Sapiens, that this mutation meant we could now think and communicate in ways we’d never done before, talk about things that don’t exist, and act based upon abstract concepts. Elsewhere, he describes this defining trait of humans as our ability to create and believe fiction.
While other animals communicate to describe reality, warn about threats, or curse about stolen bananas — we use our communication system to create entire new realities. And when we share these fictions, magic happens — like believing in money. George Washington’s face on a piece of paper has no intrinsic value whatsoever, other than the one we believe it to have in our collective imagination.
Why couldn’t we apply this power to other things, now in our time of need? Because as Harari also points out, this new genetically gifted superpower meant humans could now cooperate flexibly in previously unseen numbers. And rapidly innovate their social behaviour.
By social behaviour I mean everything from watching sports together and high-fiving, to conversing about politics, kissing, and how we treat the homeless. Everything from the minutiae to the sweeping gestures of our lives are governed by concepts, narratives and value systems which are man made. And can be re-made — by us.
And, by golly, could we do with some rapid innovation right about now. What’s become accepted as norm is making this little blue world go to shit faster than you can say ‘blueberry pie’. Meanwhile, our leaders and media are destabilising the very validity of the concept of ‘truth’. While our high speed society, and the media keep us in a constant state of fight or flight.
Is it any wonder we’ve forgotten who we really are? Descendants of Prometheus and Pandora. From a long line of ancestors both daring and stupid. Intrepid, and curious. Yet, there is no space for modern day heroics in this place. Living among a clusterfuck of relentless notifications and soundbites, we’re slaves to the provocations of Now. We have lost sight of the past and the future, surviving only on the fumes of stress, and uncertainty. How could we possibly discern the good, the wise, the beautiful that constitutes the nagging happiness we seek?
“If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” Alexander Hamilton
But what does it take to pull off this feat of waking up to your superpower? You’ll be glad to know, all you have to do is dig up that child-like ability to believe. Believe like you did in your imaginary fortress, in the tooth fairy, or your jet fighter piloting abilities. Because the shape of things can only be retooled — for all of us — if, as futurist and National Geographic presenter, Jason Silva, says:
‘We can cohere a singular vision — if we can come together and architect a shared possibility, a shared design, a shared desire. [Then] we can pool our resources. We can bring together our cognitive capacities to imagine, design and create. We can create a consensus between us that becomes greater than the sum of its parts.’
The bumper sticker version of that, is Yoko Ono’s quote: ‘A dream we dream alone, is just a dream. A dream we dream together, is a reality.’ But don’t take my word, or Jason’s, or Yoko’s, or even Yuval’s. Ask the French aristocracy of 1789. You’ll find that when the French population of the time went, overnight, from believing in the divine right of kings, to the sovereignty of the people it caused quite the headache, not to mention, the paradigm shift.
Making fire — and what Pandora left in the box
I have a theory. If Prometheus was around today, he wouldn’t deign to steal fire from the gods. He would make it with his own two hands, for the simple reason that those up top have long forsaken us. They don’t care that our species could go extinct if we don’t rally to address this climate emergency.
While the world burns, they dispute the very notion of truth, hoodwinking us into submission through confusion. Obfuscating the fact that there are certain things one cannot refute, whose consequences we cannot deny. Truth is not ‘Cabernet or Sauvignon’. We don’t get to choose. Plato rightly argued that our ability to decipher truth will affect the nature of the ideal State, morality and the good life (eudaimonia). But, today, there is an added urgency to these questions:
If we don’t know what is true, how will we know what to believe? On what basis can we decide how to steer the ship away from climate-induced calamity — and ensure the survival of our species? Because the moderately optimistic climate scientists say we’ve got 12 years, folks. Tick tock. Or it’s ‘climate change says no.’
Luckily, it is said that after all the ills of the world escaped from Prometheus’ sister in law’s infamous box, Pandora hurriedly closed it, yet something remained within. Did you know, that something was hope?
Was hope one of the ills? Or was it included because it balances out the troublesome stuff, making it the most powerful tool for resilience through hardship, and our most trusted ally today, in this Age of Crisis. As Rebecca Solnit says in her powerful little book, Hope in the Dark:
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future — and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”
So now, now is the time to seize this burning question, and hold it to your bosom: What does it mean to be human today? Guard it, nurture it, ruminate upon it as you read this book. For the longer you sit with it, the further it will take you beyond the boundaries of the known, into the uncharted terrain of the imagination. And the more you invest belief in it, the more it will reshape reality as we know it. Keep it close, in a hopeful embrace of the unknown. Because in this void that opens up through not knowing, we can make space for our imaginations to make fire, and build the new, Pandora’s axe in hand.
Why an almanac of madness and redemption?
So much insanity has become normalised because we’ve been duped into a state of civic impotence. That makes all of us responsible for the state of the world today. And so, this book maps out a vision by which we can all redeem ourselves for our collective sin of apathy, complacency and fear.
It is a magic carpet ride that invites you, the experts, everybody, to reimagine how society operates in the place where western civilisation has gone from cradle to grave: Greece. In this way, we’ll be kindling a flame in the dark, step by step, event by event. By the end of it, the fire we have ignited together, in our imaginations, will be enough to reboot Greece as a beacon of civilisation — at least as a dream we’ve dreamt together… An agreed upon reality that we wish to see come true. It is my hope that with so many pieces of the puzzle already in place, having connected the dots to pepper the sky with constellations of change, the world will rally to fill the gaps. Before we know it, we’ll have made good for the ills of the world with these stories of redemption.
“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality” Jules de Gaultier
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Note to reader: this is the introduction from my forthcoming book by the same name which makes the case, and lays out a (celebratory) plan for humans to re-organise their social and economic norms, ie bring about systems change.