There’s this great comic strip of Dutch cartoonist Toon. During five frames a turtle slowly shuffles toward a tree and crashes into it. Each frame shows a point in time. At noon he is happily shuffling forward. At one o’clock he sees the tree. At two o’clock he utters “oh no”. At three he partially retracts his head under his shell. And at four he crashes into the tree… %*@#!!
Once upon a time, in a world not so far, far away, near the end of the bi-yearly gathering of fable and legendary creatures, it were the main tribes of goblins, gnomes, fairies and elves that finally drew up a plan. During an entire fortnight they would enter the sleeping rooms of ‘the humans’ and whisper in their ear “the European economy is seeing light at the end of the tunnel”. Since long they had noticed that ‘the humans’ were sinking into a catatonic monotony of indifferent helplessness, losing faith or at least some basic trust in nature’s workings. Such was a natural event, often caused and solved by fabulous phantasms as part of oral lore since the dawn of time, but this was different, and of epidemic proportions.
After the previous gathering elven spies had been sent around to study dreams that the humans were having. Record them in a sack of small crystals. The investigative reports were quite clear; shadowy echoes originating from modern day news kept bouncing around inside their cranium, their biased negativity dampened and ate up human’s sparkles. Horror, sorrow, worries and existential angst were stopping people from shining. They had forgotten their legacy, betrayed the traditions.
“Ox poo”, had the elders bellowed, “is what the humans have filled their heads with.” The humans had grown scared of a monster called ‘the economy’, a creature, almost certainly a wild animal, that nobody really understood or was able to describe clearly. They used spells involving characters of unknown origin, obscure formulations with numerals and cyphers, multiplicities, fractions and percentages to try taming it, but beyond the obvious self-fulfilling prophecy of the observer effect it seemed like this economy did not want to do what ‘the humans’ wanted it to do. A mere few of their magicians had been able to cut off one of its manifold heads by spending much time staring at large amounts of paper and by trusting their speech to paper, but what this ‘economy’ thing was, nobody really knew… Sometimes it was a machine, like a steam engine, but at other times it was more like a hot air balloon, or a single-celled organism, that would shrink and shrivel if you punctured it. But the strangest thing of all was that you could only talk about it as if talking about something else!
Whatever it may be, obviously this was not good, bad even. During the last gathering the tribal elders had made clear most of them lived inside the collective fantasy of the humans. Their own existence depended on someone believing in them. While the life of humans had been speeding up for quite some generations already, less and less attention was spent on the stuff of legends. Whereas everybody sensible knows that ‘greys’ are simply elves with a cold ‘the humans’ had started projecting their inner space on outer space, babbling on about space aliens, reptilian humanoids and tens of millions had been scaring themselves with a Mayan prophecy that no Mayan had ever made.
This could not go on longer like this, as ‘the humans’ keep on jamming their fantasy, entire worlds were disappearing in a scrambled mess. Elves especially, during the years many had turned green to fit the ‘little green men’ image, but ever since the internet allowed endless reruns of television shows many have lost a finger and the prescribed monkey-like posture makes them look like goblins. And they were disappearing. It was a difficult choice, but they had to do it. All phantasms and apparitions, including archetypes, muses, newbies like Master Yoda, the spirit of the neighbor’s recently deceased cat and even exotic thoughtforms such as emanations, manifestations and egregores, all were to become firm believers in humans. In order to survive themselves they had to believe in people. Believe in the power of people’s actions. That people matter. That people’s actions matter. Even when feeling ashamed of doing so.
Maybe it is due to modern education, but ‘the humans’ seem to have grown unaware of the fact that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market” is invisible because it is their own. Like with the “Hand of God” they are both medium and message. Inventions don’t invent themselves. People need to be inspired to do so, but that can only happen when humans shine. And thus in search for an answer, a temporary transphantasmal task force had looked into social networking, debating the arguable accuracy of “six degrees of separation” and ingrained tribal biases such as the apparent number of social relations someone can maintain. The fortunate answer was that there was no single good answer or even a few good answers.
There were in fact many good answers, but it was impossible to deal these around in time… it would take the address book and logistic acumen of a Santa Claus, and he, unfortunately, did not exist, not even in fantasy land. Sorry, there was a vote and he didn’t make it. Be that as it may, fantasy would not be fantastic if that mere fact would stop them, and not only wise, but cunning as well, the elders mixed these two lights, shook it around a little and came up with a solution. The answer is to not question. Now that was something easy to share. Most talk were random spasms of their thinking gland anyway, resounding opening words of forgotten songs as people had neglected and ignored the language of the birds. And minus those nagging doubts gnawing away at the roots of every sparkling thought ‘the humans’ can do just about everything. Granted, of course, inspired and fueled by phantasms.
According to in-depth studies of the fairies the guardians at many human’s workplace had forgotten the real work. Instead of allowing people to grow onwards to become a master craftsman and do the best they can do, they were forced to occupy a junction in the web of administrative operations while spending their days with drinking coffee, counting coffee beans and the seeming importance of making tabular illustrations appear symmetrical every three moons. Maybe such activities were important a generation earlier, but nowadays with their new calculators it just felt like going through the hollow motions of an obsolete ritual. At work many had cultivated a sense of expertise and importance with some acting as corporate cheerleaders while others filled the air with lots of “wait and see” as if they actually knew what was coming next. ‘New’ and ‘now’ had become so important, the news filled with the newest of new, ‘next’ chasing ‘next’ in a motion blur with no time left to reflect on their own history. And so they forgot the motion of the seasons. Bit by bit people had started to think that what exists now is all that is possible, so they couldn’t even dream about a future that is different from the present, and “wait and see” was what they did.
During the public holidays, another one of those automatisms that humans drone-like subdue themselves to where one’s life is determined by a series of scheduled family meetings tactically placed throughout someone’s yearly working schedule by which an entire continent’s middle management’s decision-related activity gravitates towards the month of March and/or October, ‘the humans’ were to be approached during their sleep and little seeds of hope, faith, trust and basic appreciation sprinkled in their ears. However well intended, these planned breaks of rationed familialism significantly amplified the effects of the joyless mishap of corporate short-termism. Rather than helping others, many tried to fill these small imposed holes in search of a purpose, sincerely hoping for improvement from these overwhelming megaproblems which were always present to cast their shadow. Not knowing how to get their good intentions organized, and not having adequate time and resources, the lack of decisive action made an apparently inevitable double dip even more inevitable. Nothing gets done when nothing is done… they knew that, but what to do?
Evidently there was a top layer in human society but whereas the politician people claimed to be in charge, it was clear that nobody really was. These self-appointed ‘leaders’ had simply escaped the downward drag of peer pressure‘s preference for equality in servitude to inequality in freedom. But they did not bother to organize any kind of goodies for the fear a failure might backfire and blemish their cherished reputation. As had happened with earlier, more utopian ideologies. In an attempt to unite and inspire their people these leaders had traded dreams for nightmares, resorted to undefinable abstract dangers and highlight their unwavering protection against these elusive enemies. Yet, while worse misfortunes strike three times every lifetime, the creeping agony of nameless terror that most likely will never happen had taken human society in an iron grip for the fear of fear itself.
To deal with that, the guardian’s guides, often offspring of daemon-human crossbreeds themselves, searched for answers in large quantities of papers on psychonomy, observational notations about human behavior. They even tried to apply these ideas on ‘the economy’ along with something called ‘game theory’ which, as the fairies sadly reassured, has got nothing to do with play. Educating themself maybe a little too much, they thought these descriptions were also prescriptions, resulting in a collective attributional reformulation, classified under the term “inertia”. Obviously the flow of time had not escaped these astute humans, and as a top obfuscator Kierkegaard had remarked; “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. On a cultural level many seemed to share some issues with grasping unpredictable determinism, often stressing one can never be certain of the future whilst simultaneously advocating the preposterous idea that only humans are capable of giving meaning to an otherwise absurd and meaningless world. All the same they mistook a kindhearted excuse for a reason, “inertia”, although the boiling frog story can hardly be called a gentle illustration of a slow catastrophe. Like with climate change and present-day mass extinction the problem isn’t critical phase transitions… the problem is a lack of trust, simple basic trust.
For the guardians it was clear something was wrong. Repeating what they had learned what used to work they started treating symptoms, like trying to score a goal at a chess tournament. Searching answers in in-house marketing, training administrators in mild forms of hypno-suggestibility and even a new and improved systematic therapeutic methodology for lifelike representative enactment of spirit possessions and exorcisms, but, of course, without the spirits, others explored the opposite side of the spectrum. To avoid getting caught in someone else’s indecision and tribal biases, they tried to mold people into a machine, and gradually tried to make everything fit this machine, six sigma style, make their organization lean, anorexic even. Single-minded pursuit of coinage had narrowed down human visionary skills so much they even forgot to learn from their own inventions. Once their machines could imitate other machines, they had started making these super machines more robust by applying lessons from bio-diversity and translating these to general design principles. Reliability, availability and serviceability as a interdepend trio of features that ensured fault tolerance, isolation, corrective retry actions, recovery mechanisms, redundancy, continued operations, downtime avoidance, disruption reduction, predictive analysis, virtualization, parallelism, simplicity, partitioning, clustering and avoiding single points of failure. Systematic invention and structured problem solving methodologies had been in use for two generations. Some humans had become expert designers and all they could come up with as far as ‘the economy’ goes is a caricature marketplace? Really? Balance scales and a butcher’s knife? And some solemn pity? Is that it? Is that the best they have to offer?
And so it happened. The phantasms had to do what they would otherwise never do. Tell a lie. Not just an apparent lie because of the ambiguous verges of the semantically constructible universe, but one of those “noble lies” that make themselves true. “The European economy is seeing light at the end of the tunnel”. As a result they would all live happily ever after, so this winter’s tale could end with a “To be continued…”