For an intelligent species, we’re not always terribly bright at reflecting accurately on what is shaping our lives. Considering its popularity as a childhood game, you’d think we’d be better at playing Consequences by now, wouldn’t you? Dan Pink highlighted a quote from George Orwell yesterday which put it neatly:
People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.”
I’d thought something similar watching the BBC’s wonderful The Secret Life of the National Grid, as vintage footage showed a black and white version of a golden couple, clad in the designer swimwear of the day and strolling hand in hand along a beach. They were representing a vintage version of the future, where electricity had automated and sped up so much of the world around us that the age of leisure had arrived and their most pressing problem was how to spend all those sun-kissed hours. Victims of their own tendency to project the future based on the recent past – the ‘current trends indicate’ school of thinking’ – the biggest threats they would face would actually turn out to be a) dismissal for poor workplace attendance, b) hypothermia, and c) ridicule from the fashion police.
Our dreams and longings often have a nasty tendency to produce unintended consequences; on closer inspection – and sharpened by the crystal-clear focus of hindsight – wishful thinking can turn out to have placed far too much emphasis on the wishing and far too little on the thinking. The tendency to crave our own Utopia is understandable – I’d imagine one reason for the widespread popularity of alcohol is the widespread intermittent dislike of reality.