One of the professional hazards of working in the futures space is that, by definition, many if not most of the themes I’m working on are five, ten, fifty or more years into the future. Without people like me doing the far-future work, that future will never happen. But whilst there’s a lot of often all-too-literal blood, sweat and tears that go into that work, almost no-one is willing to pay for it, since they don’t seem to be able to grasp what it means or what it’s worth until it’s already too late.
Sure, I can get by at times by doing what I can only describe as ‘junk-work’, base-level architecture and the like that almost anyone could do; but it isn’t my real work, it isn’t where I have the most value for any nominal employer or society at large, and it isn’t what I know I should be doing. Yet whenever I do try to do my real work, all I’m likely to be ‘paid’ is mockery, denigration and theft – because that’s pretty much all that our wondrous society has to offer for those who do not wish to be thieves themselves. (More on that in a moment.) Over the years, there’ve been quite a few folks now who’ve made a lot of money from my work; yet I doubt if I’ve seen a single penny of recompense from of any of them. Which hurts – and not just in the pocket, either.
Few people in the ‘normal’ world have any idea of the intensity of the loneliness that dominates life out here on the far fringes of everyday reality. I’ve never been an employee; always self-employed, or contract consultant, always the Outsider in any professional context. And although I do have occasional colleagues for whom some of the ideas that thrash through my head do make some degree of sense, fact is I probably have no direct peers, anywhere in the world; literally nothing in common with most people I would meet on the street, or anywhere else, really. That doesn’t make me ‘better’ than anyone else – far from it, more like; but it does make me more alone. In four decades as a nominal adult, I don’t think I’ve ever had a partner (in any sense of ‘partner’) with whom I could truly share my life and work; not surprisingly, yet never by choice, I’ve lived most of my adult life alone. Most of my childhood too, for that matter. Imagine that in your own life: no partner, no spouse, no children, no company, church, community, no person or place that is ‘home’; no certainty of any kind; nowhere to belong. No doubt you’ve had some edges of that for a day or two, a month or two; try it instead for a lifetime. You’ve no doubt been there from time to time, yet each time known too that for you “this too will pass”; try it instead knowing that that aloneness and isolation will never change. Being the Outsider hurts; it never ceases to hurt. Ever.
True, those of us who have to live this strange life do somehow learn to live with the hurt, sort of. We don’t have much choice about it, to be honest. But no real surprise that severe depression is one of the more frequent occupational hazards here. ‘Severe’ is perhaps an understatement: the only word I know that expresses it is the old Welsh term hiraedd, sometimes weakly translated as ‘homesickness’, but more an unyielding, unrelenting homesickness for a ‘home’ that we know does not exist – “a longing and a grieving for that which is not, has never been and shall never be”. Most of the time I manage to keep that hiraedd somewhat at bay; but right now it’s back with a vengeance. Downer again…
To see why this is so hard, and yet so inevitable, consider just two examples of what, after many years of study, I see as ‘fundamental truths’ that clash with core assumptions that underpin our entire current ‘Westernised’ society, and that put me in direct conflict with the politics of ‘ the right’ and ‘the left’ respectively.
The clash with ‘the right’ is this: there is no way to make a possession-economy sustainable. Our entire economy is based on so-called ‘rights’ of possession: yet whilst it’s true that there are a few ways in which it can be made to seem as if it makes sense with physical objects, it doesn’t actually work in practice, and it does not and cannot make sense for information, for business-relationships, or for just about anything else in the real world. What we might best describe as ‘double-entry life-keeping’ is a downright disaster, often falling into black farce: trying paying back a bequest, for example. And whilst, from a shallow, short-term-only analysis, a possession-model can be made to look more productive than its responsibility-based counterpart, in reality it can only be made to seem ‘sustainable’ by running it as a pyramid-game, a myth of perpetual ‘growth’. It’s been run that way for some five thousand years or so; but the blunt fact is that we ran out of room for growth in the pyramid perhaps fifty to a hundred years ago, and ever since then we’ve been like the cartoon character who’s run further and further off the cliff, way out into mid-air, but hasn’t acknowledged it yet because she doesn’t dare to look down. True, we might be able keep up the delusion of ‘business as usual’ for a fair few years yet – but the longer we refuse to face it, the harder will be the fall. We still have a chance to switch over to a responsibility-based model now, while we still have the option to do it by choice; later, when the choice is forced upon us, it will be way, way too late for most of what we currently deem to be ‘civilisation’. Not made any easier, either, that the cultures that call themselves ‘developed’ are the ones who’ve lost the plot, whereas the cultures they deride as ‘under-developed’ or, worse, ‘primitive’, are the only ones who have a clue. It’s going to be messy, to say the least; but leaving it much longer is going to be messier still. We know this; we all know this; yet anyone who says it out loud gets hit hard with the good ol’ game of “shoot the messenger”. Been there, done that, have the scars to prove it, am now too scared to even try any more. Yet someone has to do so: just wish it wasn’t me…
The clash with ‘the left’ goes deeper still: there are no rights. The whole concept of ‘rights’ is a self-centred delusion: only responsibilities are real. What we think of as ‘rights’ are desirable outcomes that arise from interlocking mutual responsibilities; but the ‘rights’ themselves do not and cannot exist in any independent form, however much we might declare them to be “true and inalienable” and the rest. In far, far too many cases, a supposed ‘right’ is actually an arbitrary assertion – petulant demand, more like – that someone else has responsibilities to us and for us, whilst we ourselves do not. Wherever such so-called ‘rights’ are inherently asymmetric, they in essence assign all responsibility onto those who are deemed to not have those ‘rights’ – one infamous example being the entire ‘women’s rights’ discourse, which no doubt started out with good intentions but is now little more than state-sponsored abuse of men. And to be utterly blunt, the huge body of law that exists to protect a so-called ‘right’ of possession is actually a state-sponsored form of theft, either in the present, the future or the past. Whenever we start from the ‘rights’ discourse, someone loses – which in the long term means that everyone loses. The only safe place to start is from responsibilities, and mutuality of responsibilities – which, given that our core economic model is based on those supposed ‘rights’ of possession, is exactly what our current society is least willing to do. One probable outcome is that the much-valued, much-praised Bill Of Rights that underpins so much of the USA’s way of life is what is ultimately most likely to destroy it as a nation – and, if we’re not careful, the rest of the world as well. Scary indeed.
So to understand my position as ‘the Outsider’, try knowing those two facts to be true – that there are no rights, and that there is no way to make a ‘rights’-based, possession-based economy sustainable. Try knowing the full implications of those two facts; try knowing, in a deep, visceral sense, the urgency of the societal need to face those facts; then try to find any way to stay sane whilst nigh-on everyone around you is pretending, as hard as they can, that those facts are not true…
So yeah, no real surprise that I’m back in downer again.
And there’s a lot more where those two clashes came from: a lot more. That’s what I do, that’s my real work: trying to make sense of enterprise-architecture in every scope and sense of ‘enterprise’, sometimes right down in the details, sometimes necessarily right up to the scale of an entire world, present, past, future. And I live with those deep facts, every day, working flat out trying to find any viable ways to help individuals, groups, companies, entire cultures to gain awareness and understanding and action on this, so as to move from ‘here’ – which is not and cannot be sustainable – to ‘there’ – which just might be, if we make that move in time, and if anyone will listen long enough to move at all.
No doubt the downer will ease off somewhen soon; it usually does. But if you wonder why I seem to slump a bit too much from time to time, and seem a little crazed perhaps more often than you might like, the above might help you to see why that’s so.