Three bananas about imagination and the future

This week I picked three bananas about the future and how it gets made.

All organizing is science fiction. There’s an idea that has been bouncing around in my head for months now, and that has popped up all over the place since I started thinking about it. The idea is that just envisioning, proposing, or supporting an idea increases its likelihood as a possible future. Imagining something that doesn’t exist and may even seem outlandish in the status quo in some sense brings it a little closer to reality, sometimes a lot closer to reality.

Some of this thinking dates back to this banana from September 2019: “I have been a poor reader of Sci-fi, but it has recently struck me that the longer you live, the more reality warps and morphs before your eyes. And as that happens the more useful Sci-Fi is as a lens through which to think about the elasticity of it all…Fiction and non-fiction aren’t shelved separately in life as they are in a bookstore. Ideas come from and go to everywhere.”

This has taken on a sharpened point for me lately, in thinking about all kinds of change and how it happens. In a conversation with someone online, we were discussing what should be done to address the harms of the Police and related institutions in this country. This person was focused on what set of reforms are likely achievable in terms of policy consensus. I was focused on imagining what an entire future without the systems burdening us today could be. Not what’s possible now, but what’s desired now. I share this not to denigrate the other person’s opinion, but to mark a moment when I realized what I am and why I am.

I find this stuff very hard to articulate cleanly, but let me take a shot. The quote from @tobikyere above, about all organizing being science fiction, nails it for me. So much of what’s happening right now, every argument about direction and degree - “defund” vs. “abolish” vs. “reform” the police - is really a battle to classify and claim and envision futures*. Already in a few short months, any number of events that seemed impossible have happened, from American capitalism completely ceasing for a few weeks to relentless night-after-night activism to managing editors and statues toppling, to previously unimaginable conversations happening inside corporate walls, to arrests of police officers for murder.

@Tobikyere’s Tweet is clever and right on. Other than Covid-19 grinding capitalism to a halt (that really happened!), the other events described in the previous paragraph all happened because enough people imagined them and stated them and in some cases fought like hell to bring them about. The current state of things is just the way things happen to be right now. And it’s not even static; it’s constantly, subtly, changing under our feet. It feels solid and unchangeable but that’s illusory. We’ve already seen it warp. So take any issue, from foundational systemic racism to broken government to our collective disregard for the rich/poor gap to stewardship of the earth, and imagine it differently. Don’t limit yourself to what Congress would likely pass or what the American people would go for based on polling. What should it look like? What could it look like?

*A little more on this in the next banana.

The futures cone. Of course, while all of that is bubbling around in my head, useful bits and pieces just show up in my path. Here’s one.

This was a fascinating piece of graffiti. Some replies and RT’s brought me to what it is - “the futures cone”- which is a way to think about or classify all the futures there are in our imaginations.

I found a good piece from 2017 from its creator, or maybe sharpener and popularizer, a professor named Joseph Voros. His version looks like this:

I am just starting to learn about this thing and its value, so I don’t have much that is terribly profound to say about it just yet. I noted in the article that Science Fiction writers and thinkers, (and radical activists I think), are most interested in the “Preposterous!” futures. And when you think about the slice of the Preposterous! that are Preferable, that might be where some real fertile ground is for good constructive imagining.

Rituals heal. Molly got me this book for my birthday, Good To Go, by Christy Aschwanden. I finished it recently. Near the back was this striking passage.

It’s a recurring theme in the book as well: Very few specific modalities of recovery for elite athletes (or for us regular folks) have shown strong evidence of effectiveness individually. But it appears that choosing a method of recovery and committing time and energy and care to it seems to have lots of benefits for athletes, somewhat irrespective of what that method is. So instead of throwing out all of these tools, supplements, and approaches, Aschwanden suggests finding what you think works for you and sticking with it as long as it feels useful. There’s a tie that I can’t yet articulate well back to the first banana, about the power of imagining desired futures. And the metaphorical bridge to spiritual belief systems and how they work is also interesting to me.

Bonus bananas: There are so many! Because it has been so long. In this thread, one descendent of Francis Scott Key meets another descendent he didn’t know existed, in the replies!

Going along with the idea of Preposterous futures, there’s some suggestion that being faced with the absurd helps you reorient your worldview to changes. I tried and failed to really grasp much of this article from the newsletter Psyche, but I like the idea and wanted to pass it along in case you have more luck with it.

There’s a woman I follow on Twitter, Elisabeth, who has fully befriended a Scrub Jay (which is a bird). There are amazing photos of them hanging out nearly every day. This article(fixed now!) explains how they got to be such good friends.

Those are all the bananas I have for you this week. You can hit “reply” and it will go only to me. Things are weird all over right now and there are voices far more important than mine that you should be paying attention to, but I’ll see if I can get this thing going again. Thank you.