The Tyranny of Could

Something that has always fascinated and saddened me is the amount of time that people spend fearfully anticipating and speculating about what may happen tomorrow, next week, or next year. They are not living forward; they are living past the edge in a vapor kingdom of anxiety. Such people must have wicked mood swings. What awaits you but disappointment if you spend so much time wanting life to be a certain way, or expecting something when life has other plans? I’ve learned to not put too many constraints upon the future, for I know that I do not know what will happen. That is why such prognostication games (and all of their stress) simply don’t interest me. I do wonder, however, what would become of people if instead they spent their time losing that last fifteen pounds, programming, mountain biking, learning how to think, or any number of enriching activities.

Modern life is filled with these prognostications, with the technology press and the political press especially cluttered. What value is there in wondering what big company A or B will do next? If you wait, they will tell you; no action is required. It does not enrich my life to read another speculative piece about who will run, what video card is coming, or when space travel will be affordable (this time for real). Rumor sites are the worst, as if people by design hungered for wall-to-wall guesswork and crystal-ball musings of people who know no more about the future than you or I. These pieces have no informational content; yet, like something informative, they take up room in my mind, and I have a semblance of thinking in dwelling on it, but I have gained nothing of value. “Tell me when it happens,” is my retort. News is new events, not new guesses.

The total effect of a diet of speculation is breath-bated immobilization. Those who live trying to discern the future are motionless in the present, for their eyes are always on tomorrow, never on the moment, never on the now. The future will come; being right about guessing it benefits none of us save but a few whose occupation rewards them for it. Also, no-one tracks the track records of the prognosticators. No-one confronts the journalists who predict who will run and who will not when their predictions are in error; no-one reminds the scientists who predicted robot butlers by 2012 that they were incorrect; there is no web-based scoresheet to remind everyone that Joseph A. Briggs has failed in ten out of ten of his predictions; and all of this future hype is prediction. Prediction used to be the office of prophets, and in our modern age, we are surrounded by those who claim to see the future and do not. What else to call them but liars? However, we are the ones worse off if we imitate them, frittering away today in unending speculation about the future.


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