In among all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that has gone on for the past few days, one poster caught my attention: it read “You Stole Our Future From Us.”
It’s not a poster I could ever have written, or held aloft. For me, “the future” is something that is both unknown and unknowable. It’s wide open. Only “the past” is something known and knowable. It’s completely determined, closed shut.
That’s just my ordinary experience of life. I know what happened yesterday. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Absolutely anything might happen tomorrow.
But then, as I’ve written before, I don’t make plans. Or to the extent that I make plans, they’re ones that can be torn up and thrown away at a moment’s notice.
And these days I’m beginning to think that one of the principal characteristics of the political “progressive” left – in fact maybe their defining trait – is that they have very strong ideas of what the future is going to be like. They’re always trying to plan the future. They’re always trying to make the road ahead look as sure and certain as the road behind. They’re always trying to eradicate uncertainty.
And for them our motion from past to future is one of progress to a better world. For them, history is going in a particular direction. It proceeds like a train running along a railway track that extends from the past into the future. And about the only thing you can do on that railway track is to move faster or slower along it.
And because the future is as well known as the past, it’s as fixed and concrete as the past. It’s become an object, a physical thing – and it’s an object that can also be stolen, just like a car or a wallet. And that’s what these two ladies holding up the poster are complaining about: their stolen future in the EU, which was going to all be so wonderful. It had all been planned out so carefully, right down to the windmills!
And that’s really why it’s all been such a tremendous shock to the “progressive” left. The future had been carefully planned, and now the plan had been torn up. In fact their whole world had been turned upside down. They were suddenly adrift in a world where they simply had no idea what was going to happen next.
It was as if they had boarded a bus that was going from Bristol to London along the M4 motorway. They were all clutching tickets that even had the arrival time in Victoria printed on them. But then, suddenly, near Swindon, the bus turned off the motorway, and headed off down first A-roads, then B-roads, and finally narrow country lanes that wound through places with names like Cricklade and Cirencester and Ampney Crucis. Places nobody had ever heard of. Worse still, the bus driver no longer knew where he was, or where he was going.
And I think that there’s a lesson here for the “progressive” left: that their idea that history has a direction, and that the future is foreseeable, is fundamentally mistaken. The world isn’t like that. It’s always open to chance. And even the best laid plans all too often come to nought.
And with luck, some of them will start to look at the world with different eyes, and stop seeing it as something that can be planned in minute detail, and instead see it as a range of possibilities which might be realised one day, or which might not. Others, of course, might decide that they will plan the future more carefully next time, to ensure that there is never any deviation from the plan, and send any “wreckers” to re-education camps.
It’s not just that this has given a tremendous shock to the “progressive” left in Britain, but to the “progressive” left all over Europe and the USA. And now nobody knows what’s going to happen next in Europe. It was all set for “ever closer union” in the EU, but now that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon. In fact, it’s looking like the whole thing might come apart.
And it was probably as big a shock to Hillary Clinton as it was to Barack Obama. But it didn’t come as a shock to Donald Trump. He’d foreseen the possibility. And that’s probably because a businessman like Donald Trump doesn’t make detailed plans, but responds flexibly to events as they unfold, and makes shrewd guesses about what might happen next. In an uncertain world, inflexible and unimaginative state planners like Hillary Clinton are like beached whales or derailed trains. They’re only in their element if everything is proceeding down the track exactly according to plan. But a flexible entrepreneur like Donald Trump, who can respond in real time to unfolding events, and take opportunities when he sees them, is in his element when all the plans have been torn up.
If you’re an American and you think the world is on track to becoming utopia, and you think you just need a driver in the cab to hold down the handle to keep the train moving down the track, then vote for Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t need much skill, and she’s been doing it all her life as a back seat driver. But if you think the world is becoming a dangerous and unpredictable place, and you think you need a president who can respond quickly and flexibly to unexpected events as they unfold, then vote for Donald Trump. He’s very good at it, and he’s been doing it all his life.