Quantum states of Society

I had a nightmare about a breakdown in society last night, and I woke knowing that that this fear has been there all along.  

I am not scared of what might happen, but of what is happening- and what happens when perspectives of the past are shifted, and we see what has happened, in new light.

Our brains seek narratives – with an well understood focus on the background stories and happy endings (for us). Yet, the lesson from quantum theories in science is that we sit on a more delicate balance between possible futures and presents.

It has always been thus. Perhaps it’s just middle-age, but for the first time in my cushioned life; much of which I have protected by the post-war consensus and techno-capitalism of Western privilege, I am afraid.

In our time, we see diplomacy distorted by demagogues, in America and Korea; idols and leaders unmasked as sexual predators; economic wellbeing rocked by plebiscites, and radicalism and religion prosper.

Racism, misogyny, and hate of all shades seeps through the open doors of our liberal society.   

Yet, the really shocking thing is that we are shocked by these realities. We knew. We knew and know that these horrors are there. We have always been aware of the parallel truths. It is the voluntary blindness of adulthood.  And, while hope is forgivable, not protecting each other is not.

To pick on the current issue of the day; Spacey, Cosby, MPs and other easy to turn on public figures are being forced into the light for Weinsteining. Yet, we still cannot face the abuse of grooming of more ‘likable’ figures, such as John Peel and Bill Wyman.

It’s hard not to note that this movement is currently mostly focussing on those bad people who are also not attractive, straight, or normatively needed.  I hope I am wrong, but my guess is that there will be a cull of those who were easy to pick out for being bad, powerful and gay, Jewish, black, or in some way disruptive. I know it will be hard if/when(!) my heroes get re-positioned by some ‘discovery’ – but, perhaps we need to wonder where this is going and where this will lead.

I am nervous of the unpicking of these threads, not because it isn’t right to call out sexual predators and abusers, but because it shows how immediate the risk is that we could jump to an alternate timeline – one with more danger for my children. One where difference is not safe in a liberal world – but where it is exposed in a sea of big data, amoral AI  and surveillance.

My Grandparents watched their worlds descend into moral and actual wastelands. As a Jewish kid growing up in middle class privilege, I heard the stories of our family histories in detached confusion. How could the world have been so twisted?

My Dad was taken from India during the fracture of Partition; as my Grandfather, a servant to the Raj and from the Jewish Bene Israel community, realised that India was no longer the civil multi-faith society it had been for them. My Mum’s family are from the European diaspora of Jews fleeing direct and historical persecution, in the cultured continent of Goethe and Spinoza. These immigrant families met in the East End of London, in a mixing of cultures that seemed to offer healing to the horrors of their past. I am a product of this hope.

This hope is baked into me. I believe, and have wanted to believe, in the good in human nature. I have made choices based on faith in the transformative nature of education and liberal values, aligning myself to movements – signing petitions and joining hashtag trends.  I don’t regret these choices – but I do wonder at my own naivete in thinking that I could negate the existence of the opposing forces.

Maybe the stench of hate is still too fresh from my nightmare, but today I needed to write about the lessons from our pasts. Not from history, because there is no one historical truth – but to learn from the quantum states of society that we can see on the edges of our vision.

The lessons that my grandparent’s generation taught me might  relevant:

  1. Always be ready leave – keep passports upto date and small but valuable items ready. No home is worth saving without those you love in it, in a community you can trust.
  2. Love your neighbour – but love your values more. Don’t assimilate for approval.
  3. Call out the shadows – they are always there. Keep a light on the dark corners.
  4. Revolutions and Wars are always waiting – they are closer than you think.

Last night, I had a nightmare.  Today, my eyes are wide open. I hope they will rest easy tonight.

This entry was posted in thinking out loud. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Quantum states of Society

  1. Sally Duff says:

    Hi, Eylan,
    I had a couple of thoughts in reading your thoughts.

    You say when discussing the sexual abuse uproar, “we still cannot face the abuse of grooming of more ‘likable’ figures”. Is there really a more “likeable” figure that Bill Cosby? He was admired by almost everyone until his downfall.

    While “Racism, misogyny, and hate of all shades seeps through the open doors of our liberal society”. the accusation of those feelings seems to be growing at an even faster rate than the actual misdeeds. It has become so easy to throw those labels at anyone we disagree with and have them be believed. If it were possible, it would be interesting to know the percentage of the people labeled as such that are actually guilty as charged. I truly believe there is still a great deal of love and acceptance that exists. I am almost 80 now and I believe there has been a decline in most of these negative social responses that is not seen because or the volume (quantity and decibel) of protest.

    I think that the decade of 2010-2019 will be known as the Decade of the Offended. Most of the noise around us seems to be about what offends someone. The ability to let others think differently without feeling hostility, anger, and offense seems to have been sorely diminished. Name calling has become a normal reaction.

    Thank you for your thoughts!


    • Eylan says:

      HI SALLY!!! Wow – firstly, so sorry for not seeing this thoughtful comment sooner and thank you so much for responding.
      I think you are right to point to the imbalance between signal and noise in these debates.
      I am proud to know someone like you who has challenged stereotypes all her life and, as one of the first female computer programmers / engineers has an acute sense of the degree of change in society.

      My concerns are not about the majority of good people we live and work with – but of the powerful men (and women) who wish to protect the status quo. I note that for all the power of Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes, there was no equivalent speech by a man at a similar level to her influence in that industry. Perceptions do matter, to change how children and young people feel about how much they can achieve in their lives. You are proof of what is possible through strength of character and intelligence.

      Name calling and hostility have no place in debate, as we have demonstrated.

      Happy New Year and much love to you and your wonderful family!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *