Mark Lilla has an oped piece in the New York Times this morning called “No One Knows What Is Going To Happen.” His point is that everyone wants to have some certainty, but we can’t predict the future because it is unformed. He makes the essential point that we create the future as we go and thus we are responsible for it.
We live in unprecedented times. The point is, we always live in unprecedented times. In hindsight we can draw parallels between different events or eras, but in truth there are as many differences as there are parallels. We cannot accurately foresee even the short term, and we are even wider of the mark the further we go out. Lilla says: “Human beings want to feel that they are on a power walk into the future, when in fact we are always just tapping our canes on the pavement in the fog.”
We have limited impact or control over the larger influences in our lives, but we still have to do the small things that we can do. And what we do matters. Most importantly, we can do what we can. We can develop ideas about the better world that is possible. We can generate kindness and appreciation for each other. We can become less wasteful. We can identify our deepest values and bring our lives closer to them. We can work at improving our relationships with the people closest to us. And we can vote for politicians who reflect our values.
It is not just that we ourselves do not know what is going to happen. No one knows. Expecting our experts, politicians, business leaders, journalists, or professors to tell us what is going to happen is an exercise in futility. They do not know either. That is why it is so very important to choose wise and principled people to help us create the future that we aspire to. Because it is all improv. We will have to make choices, build systems, and take care of each other based on the emerging realities. And we will be guided by our experience of the past and by what we think is the most important basis for those decisions.
As the poet Bonaro Overstreet put it:
You say the Little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.