One of my favourite cartoons is a bar chart.
I know. I’m cool, right?
Basically, it’s a bar chart with unlabelled axes, with the bars getting bigger as they move across to the right. The graph is titled ‘It’s getting worse’.
A close friend, aware that this was one of my favourite cartoons and that I was miserable at the time, sent me a more colourful bar chart once. Exactly the same description, only a different title: ‘It’s getting better’.
And the thing is. Both are always true. It just depends on what you’re measuring, and how you read it. It’s outlook as much as reality, because reality is much, much, much to big to put into bar charts.
I can look out my window, and across oceans, and I can see a world that is falling apart into inequality, poverty and unsustainability, or I can see a world that is uniting across distances never before crossed, understanding each other and being aware of each other in a way never before possible.
Does one cancel out the other? Are we only aware of one because of the other?
I don’t know. All I know is, there’s a lot of incomprehensible things going on. And the world is still spinning, and the future is still immense.
Measuring trends kind of strikes me as a little pointless.
If you pick out one thread, and extrapolate it from past behaviour and into the future, you’re still basically just guessing. Stabbing the future in the dark.
It’s fun, and it can be fascinating, but it’s not how the world works.
Entropy is a natural tendency of all ordered structures to fall apart. Life appears to be a natural tendency of all living things to create more order out of chaos.
We tell new stories as our world falls to pieces. We build new worlds out of the ashes of old fires.
Creation, destruction, creation, destruction.
We’ve never made anything new. We’re just rearranging the same stuff into different shapes. In a way, it’s all pointless, but one thing is certain. It’s all still there.
Are we building better shapes than the old ones? It really does depend how you look at it.
I do believe we’re getting our world wrong. We’re building in a direction that is so potentially self destructive that most of my dreams have tidal waves in them. I feel overwhelmed by the state of civilisation, the mess it appears to be piling up around us. The mess we’re piling up. The destruction we are building.
But there’s always change ahead. Things can’t continue forever, that’s transparent and intuitive. The world is trying to teach us that with every single passing moment. Everything we see is an ending, and often a beginning. Newness is born immediately, out of old.
We can’t live worse forever. We can make worlds change, and we’ve got to make our guesses as to what is better and what is worse.
And watch it fall apart.
Illustration by Henry