Thursday 24 July 2008

Back to the Future

Another thing about the progressive view of history is that the future constantly falsifies it by moving in the 'wrong' direction, insisting on behaving more like the past. It was announced today that there are more craft navigating our inland waterways than there were at the height of the industrial revolution - yet if there was one sure thing a few decades back it was that canals would fall into terminal disuse. Similarly, in a future where we'd all be whizzing round with our personal jet packs and being waited on by robots, railways would be reduced to a mere skeleton of the network of old - but no, they have been relentlessly expanding, are now carrying record numbers of passengers (and, for many, offering a faster and pleasanter way to escape England than aviation). Meanwhile, in response to rising fuel prices, fishermen are hoisting sail and steering back to the future - and cool rock stars line up to sing sea shanties (John Phillips got there first, 40 years ago, with the weird and desperate shanty Captain, on his Wolf King of LA album, a forgotten masterpiece). Heave ho, me hearties!


  1. The return of captain Pugwash is imminent, stand by your bilges.
    In good old Victorian times and through to the nineteen sixties Northumberland was well served with railways, along came Beeching, short termist extraordinaire, bye bye Too-Toos, hello traffic chaos, what was he a doctor of, chaos?

  2. Not knowing what will happen is what makes life both fascinating and terrifying. It's the essence of the space/time problem in quantum mechanics. Once solved, and we can predict what will happen if we choose this path or that....Well. Will our lives be better or worse? Will we feel we have the control we so desperately lack now?

    I also believe the unpredictability of our unscrolling history is why "free will" v. "predetermination" is such an important concept in many religions. And randomness is just so hard to stomach, as it is akin to meaninglessness. No wonder so many people can't bear Richard Dawkins.

  3. Yo ho ho, indeed. One can easily imagine the Daily Mail floating the idea that press gangs be allowed to operate near benefits offices, in order to deter "teenage thugs", "scroungers", etc.

    A year later, the Daily Mail brazenly announces a new scandal when it emerges that the press gangs are entirely made up of illegal immigrants supplied to the Home Office by dodgy security firms. The gangs have successfully pressed a few hoodies, all now below decks on HMS The Dave's Whelp. But under pressure of meeting "objective performance criteria" they've also nabbed several thousand perfectly normal householders, a few surgeons, a distinguished judge and several now ex-bishops who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Very heave ho. It wasn't better then.

    Otherwise I'm with Susan and her very neat observation. Now is all we have.

  4. You're seeing the future there, Mark. Uncanny.

  5. While I agree that the traditional progressive view was such (and the results largely unforseen), I believe that those who claim the mantle of "progressive thought" today could give the Luddite movement of the early nineteenth century a serious run for their money.

  6. Susan, not knowing what will happen, very apt for this evening, our beautiful B&O television bought in 1991 died peacefully during a rerun of Eric Newbys A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, now who would have predicted that?
    Nothing lasts today, need a mortgage to buy a new one.