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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

The Crystal Ball

Can the future be known; is it possible that there are savants who possess the power of prophecy? Mythological, historical and religious texts are filled with vivid examples of those who could forecast the future with unerring accuracy, and indeed there are even today, those historians, scholars and the occasional pundit who predict an event which later comes to pass.

I subscribe to the opposite view, that we are all born with a Crystal Ball but the instructions for its use have been sadly misplaced.

Some of us have little desire to know with certainty what will come, while others wish for a glimpse—an inside track on the unfolding future. If you adhere to a doctrine of predestination, I suppose that knowing what will be, may be of little value. If we cannot change the future, if its outcome is already ordained than what is the point? But, most of us do not believe our paths are dictated by the fates—rather we believe we are to a greater or lesser degree captains of our own destinies. A little cheat sheet letting us in on what’s in store, though, seems like it might be very handy.

This kind of speculative idea makes for good science fiction and the plot of a few movies and television shows. Most authors have played out the theme far enough to conclude that prophets are seldom appreciated, attempting to alter the course of either the past or the present is a feckless adventure, and we human beings are so perversely unpredictable that over any reasonable interval, predictions will inevitably go awry. I take great comfort in the latter observation.

We are unpredictable—and that in my view may save us from ourselves. Shakespeare said uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, I say that anyone who believes the course of human destiny can be controlled and set forever should spend a little time looking back over events to date. It is they who should be uneasy. While there is much today over which I might wring my hands, I remind myself, more frequently on some days than others, that we have been here before. Well if not precisely here, then somewhere just as fraught with calamity, injustice and danger. And yet…. we are still here.

Please do not mistake my seemingly benign acceptance of the present human condition as either complacency or denial of the dangers we face. Far from it, I find them chilling and do not take them lightly. But I do not believe humanity is fundamentally bad, evil, or unjust. We lose our bearings from time to time. We place into power individuals unfit for the positions they hold, we are persuaded to give voice to our worst fears and prejudices, we are inclined to be selfish, greedy and self-interested and I could go on naming our ills. Yet there is something in us, an essential regard for life, for decency, and an aspiration to do the right thing that has always shone through.

Perhaps you think me naïve or too wedded to history to see that ‘this time is different’. Is it indeed? I suspect that very same thing has been said many times in our past and heaven only knows that there were times at least as threatening to the future of all humanity as there are today. I say again, and yet we are still here. Whether you believe this is due to divine intervention, or our nobler parts the fact remains there is a quality that seems to pull us back from the precipice when we lean out too far.

I am going to go out on a limb and make my own prediction. Things will change—some for the better, some for the worse. We are still painfully young, mere infants in the course of time. We’ll grow, falter, pick ourselves up and go on. Our best course of action is to live in this moment—to cease worrying about either the past or the present. They’ll take care of themselves. Today however, is our responsibility; live it well.

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