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Female Cyborg

Catalysts of Futures

A palm frond closeup in neon orange.
Apparent order contains complexity

Complete this sentence: "I would rather __________."

A) Enjoy fame and fortune satisfying everyone's desires during my lifetime and be forgotten 70-100 years from now.

B) Struggle to advance a reformational idea and be known as a trailblazer 70-100 years from now.

If glory were to be yours, when do you want it – now or when you won’t see it? What do you believe you are capable of advancing? Do you see opportunity in leftfield movements that propel cultures into new eras?

Futures Striving to Happen: 19th Century France

Most people think of the French Revolution culminating in 1793 with the end of the historical monarchy. But real cultural evolution did not happen overnight. It took decades to determine how that punctuated moment would play out in reality – in France itself and for its place in the world.

That struggle played out very publicly in the emergence of Impressionist art.

Bing created a montage of search results in images.
Search engine montage of all "19th Century French paintings". One artist is glaringly not represented.
A bulleted list of All Friench Painters in Wikipedia. Meissonier should be between Matisse and Mercer.
No Meissonier

Ever heard of Ernest Meissonier? Maybe not. You have to really look for him. And I did. Meissonier is not listed on the Wikipedia page of French painters of any age! 

He’s nowhere in the WikiArt Visual Art Encyclopedia.

So who was Meissonier and why should we care when he’s an apparent non-entity?

Impressionism and all the socio-politics that emerged with it reigns today as a movement that ushered the tide of Modernism in culture, technologies, politics and sociology. But it was resisted by all layers of French society through much of the 19th Century.

Meanwhile, Meissonier was the most famous and by far the wealthiest 19th Century painter in all of France.

For what? you may ask.

Glorious paintings of prior centuries' masculine exploits, and Napoleons I and III with sexualized horses in fierce motion. The grandest, most technically correct and photo-realistic canvases that he could execute. Exaltations of socially hierarchical political power. The very opposite of Impressionism in subject matter, technique, and intended also-wealthy audience.

Napoleon III, Emperor of France, presiding over the florious but failed Battle of Solferino
L'Empereur à la bataille de Solférino at the Musee d'Orsay

So with no judgment at all, which are you? How do you want to live your life?


The Promise of Risk

Risk of catastrophic loss in the attempt to leap toward an improved world can seem overwhelming when conditions are difficult. Even worse, felt oppression and deprivation can engrain learned helplessness over generations. Relying on tradition ("used futures") can codify that helplessness.

On not being a futures catalyst

A Lyft driver proudly declares that he consciously performs extraordinary good deeds to earn presently unimaginable real estate in eternal life. Perhaps like Meissonier’s Grande Maison.

Anyway, this driver seemed to believe that:

a) a splendid reward is the reward that matters, and

b) he is not empowered to achieve a good life on his own, or is not allowed a good life that is not granted by an intentional omnipotent force, and

c) if he stops believing in this promised transaction, he risks being helpless and hopeless

A dazzling reward of some kind can be a motivation for ethical and generous behavior in the here and now. Depends on whether you (and/or your soul, if you have one) expect to be aware of that reward at the time.


catalyst: a condition, event, or person that is the cause of an important change

The Risks of Pushing for Possible Futures

Trying to peacefully live one’s life with your family and community is a form of living. Nothing to jar one’s sense of what life is about. Never having to grapple with personal, social, or external conflicts of any kind. Many have attempted to create and sustain such a dream.

The very definition of entropy - the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. As long as energy is available in the physics sense, challenges (and opportunities) are inevitable.

Some might say that taking risks to overcome friction is a privilege for those with resources to spare. And that can be true.

Map shows evidence of human migrations Asia-North America, showing the genetic markers.
Consider the amount of risk involved in migrating to unknown territories.

But let’s look again at risk.

As we know, resiliency is imperative for populations to survive and to thrive in both slow- and fast-changing environments.

Informed decisions leading to actions that break beyond the norm enable two advantages.

1) Adaptation, which favors survival success in multiple and even unforeseen conditions

2) Exploitation of advantages in ever-evolving ecosystems

Historically, the people who have "nothing to lose", who carry even a vague vision and act accordingly, often make the greatest strides for themselves and future generations. They are catalysts.

This provocation to advocate for futures comes from Richard Branson.

“Brave people don’t live forever, but cautious people don’t live at all.”

A huge, white and chrome jet-like vehicle soars over Earth below.
Virgin Galactic on a final test flight

An abridged version of this piece was published on LinkedIn June 18, 2024


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