‘Progressives’, it seems to me, are people who think they can see the future, and know the shape of things to come. They regard themselves as far-sighted. And they all seem to be agreed that the future will be some sort of planned, managed, socialist state. And that it will be “smoke-free”. And that it will be powered by sunshine and wind.
The rest of us are stunted, knuckle-dragging throwbacks, and all too often those worst sort of unenlightened retards: tobacco smokers.
The spherical surface of the Earth seems to be populated by tall, far-sighted progressives – who can see what’s coming over the horizon, just like look-outs posted in the crow’s nest at the top of a ship’s mast – while the short, stunted crewmen on the deck below can barely see over the next wave, never mind the distant horizon.
I have to count myself among the tobacco-smoking retards, I’m afraid. I’ve never had compelling vision of the future. I’ve never been working towards some future utopia. Nor even been trying to avoid some future, global-boiling dystopia.
It is our peculiar misfortune that we are unable to see the future. But that doesn’t stop us trying to predict it. My orbital simulation model of the solar system is a predictive model, based upon our knowledge of the elliptical orbits of the planets around the Sun. I can use it to foresee eclipses and planetary conjunctions. But if we can predict with great accuracy the future positions of the planets, we have no idea when or where the next Chelyabinsk will happen, as some asteroid impacts the surface of the Earth with the power of thousands of atomic bombs – because we don’t know where most of the asteroids are. We only know where some of them are. And we usually only find out when they have just sailed close by us. One of the odd things about the solar system is that what was once seen as the very expression of perfect clockwork predictability is gradually turning into something almost completely unpredictable, as the numbers of bodies in it have multiplied.
The political world is no different. We’re all trying to predict the future there too. Will Marine Le Pen become the next French President? Will the European Union survive its current crisis? Will newly-elected President Donald Trump be toppled, impeached, or assassinated? Last year, Britons were widely expected to vote to remain in the European Union, and there was shock and disbelief when they voted to leave. Also last year, Americans were widely expected to vote Hillary Clinton into office as the next President of the United States, and there was equal (or perhaps even greater) shock and disbelief when they instead voted for Donald Trump. Neither of these things was predicted. Neither was expected. And for many people the mismatch between what was predicted, and what actually happened, resulted in a sort of collective nervous breakdown. It wasn’t supposed to be like this!
It’s not as if I am myself immune from this sort of upset. I did not predict the UK smoking ban of 1 July 2007. I couldn’t even believe it was going to happen even when it was actually happening. The mismatch between this grim new reality and my idea of what congenial English pubs were like, and would always be like, was unbearable – and remains unbearable.
It’s like losing a girlfriend. Yesterday she was on your arm beside you, and today she’s stepping out with some other guy. Why him? Whatever can she possibly see in somebody like him? And you want her back. But eventually, after a while, somehow or other, it ceases to matter any more.
The ‘progressives’, with their carefully constructed fantasy future utopias, are always going to end up being disappointed and heartbroken, when the future doesn’t pan out the way they thought it would, expected it would, knew it would. And when that happens, they are likely to learn that they’re not actually as smart and knowledgeable and insightful as they thought they were. And that they can’t see any further than those dumbass morons down there on the deck below.
But if none of us can predict the future, and we’re always seeing our expectations dashed, are we very much better at remembering the past? If the look-out in the crow’s nest can’t see very far over the horizon ahead, then he can’t really see much further over the horizon behind. Did the ship dock last week in Tangier, or was it Guadalupe? The ship’s log is said to record its movements, but what if you can’t read the handwriting in it, or understand its French or Latin or Greek? There are whole tracts of human history – anything more than about 5,000 years ago, for example – that we know next to nothing about. Its history has been lost, and its monuments are indecipherable.
Perhaps all we have is Right Now, and maybe a week or two ahead, and a week or two behind. And sometimes maybe just a minute or two ahead, and a minute or two behind. And both past and future have the character of dreams that are continually being shattered.