Onward to the Future; Or, How To Fly A Horse

A "full disclosure" follows the essay. 

The dystopian is the great passion of our era. Warnings of impending doom ring from the arts to the ivory tower to the legislative hall. Whatever delights each day brings are diminished, indeed obscured, by dissections of the horror that is the future. We’re doomed, every last man, woman, child of us. 

Life sucks. We’re all gonna die. 

Or not. 

Random Photo Collection 2015

Random Photo Collection 2015

I, dear reader, I vote for “not.”

Indeed, I’m baffled by dystopia mania. Yeah, I get that the dystopian soundtrack is fashioned from the relentless beat of climate change: We’ve fucked the planet; now it’s gonna fuck us.

I don’t buy it. Humans have predicted The End ever since humans became human. Our ancestors survived serious hellish crap. For that matter, this planet has survived hellish crap, and so, thus, have its life forms, all of them.

And yet . . . here we all are.

So I don't buy the dystopian thing. My soundtrack says “Onward. If we know that the past is different from the present, then it follows that the future is ours to shape.” Which is precisely what humans have done since day one. 

Still, it’s tough to be a futoptimist these days. Which is why we future-types are constantly poking around in search of like-minded souls. (Because we know we’re out there.) Last year, for example, I was delighted by Scatter, Adapt, and Remember, by Annalee Newitz. She examines our possible futures by taking the long view of a huge picture and by assessing humanity as species rather than as individuals.

And now comes another, equally optimistic, equally species-oriented take on the future: How To Fly A Horse, by Kevin Ashton.

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Ashton aims to debunk the idea that “creativity” is limited to the “genius” among us. Creativity, he argues, is neither genius nor magic. Rather, it’s work, plain and simple. Alleged leaps of “creative genius” are preceded by months and years of work, and represent months and years of accumulated expertise. 

“Creation is not a moment of inspiration but a lifetime of endurance. . . . Creating is more monotony than adventure.” (64). The truly creative focus not on “peak performance” but on the slog of daily, regular work. Slog equals confidence. Slog hones expertise. Slog demands a willingness to think like a beginner. In Ashton’s words: “Confidence is a bridge. Certainty is a barricade.” (113) There lie the true seeds of  “genius.” 

So far, this all sounds like another Gladwellian explanation-by-anecdote. But Ashton takes his analysis a crucial step further. Like Newitz, Ashton celebrates homo creativitus: We humans are not only toolmakers. Rather, we make tools so that we can solve problems that might otherwise destroy us. 

Put another way, to be human is to create. And "creativity” is universal rather than exceptional. And as Ashton notes, because creation is the essence of being human, humanity’s collective creativity will grow, inevitably and infinitely. 

“When population grows, our ability to create grows even faster. There are more people creating, so there are more people with whom to connect. There are more people creating, so there are more tools in the tool chain. There are more people creating, so we have more time, space, health, education, and information for creating.” (240)
Random Photo Collection 2015

Random Photo Collection 2015

Ashton is no fool. He knows this is an unpopular view in these dystopian-mad times. After all, many of our “best minds” have lead the lament of shame: Ah, we human fools. We’ve destroyed everything. We’re not fit to share the planet with “nature.” 

Ashton’s not buying it. He argues for a more loving perspective, one that acknowledges what makes humans human. 

We are each a piece of something connected and complicated, something with such constant presence that it is invisible: the network of love and imagination that is the true fabric of humanity. . . . [W]e are all connected, and we are creative. . . . Necessity is not the mother of invention. You are.” (236, 240.)

Amen. Worth a read in full. 

Full disclosure:

The book's publisher sent me a copy of the book. Here's why/how:

Someone I follow on Twitter posted a link to an essay about Coca-Cola. I read it and was struck by its thoughtful intelligence. So I followed its author, Kevin Ashton. He followed me back. (To date, we've never met in person nor spoken via phone or thethingthat'sdigital.)

Somewhere along the line, he asked about my meat book (I'm not sure why). I offered to send him a copy (because I was thrilled that a smart, thoughtful person wanted to read my book). Then I learned he was writing a book about “creativity,” a topic in which I have a general interest. I pre-ordered a copy. But Kevin also asked his publicist to send me a copy. So I own a copy for which I paid. The other copy is destined for local library’s fundraising book sale. 

On p. 246 of How To Fly A Horse, my name appears in a list of those Kevin thanked. I didn’t know my name was there until Kevin posted a Twitter photo of the page. And I’ve no idea what I did to warrant thanks. (Except maybe he appreciated my take on Gus Swift: Swift’s “genius” lay in seeing an entire system, rather than just the pieces that he could control.)