The art of the probable, the possible, and the desirable

The art of the probable, the possible, and the desirable

The art of the probable, the possible, and the desirable


‘The art of the possible’ is a phrase historically associated with realpolitik. It has come to mean ‘achieving what we can (possible), rather than what we want (often impossible)’. But as this piece in the New Statesman points out, it was once used a little more optimistically as a challenge to aged ideas.

For me, science is a much more optimistic ‘art’ of the possible than politics. It explores the boundaries of what the laws of physics permit us to achieve, pushing back those boundaries with knowledge all the time. Inside the envelope defined by science, everything else comes down to choices.

The art of the probable

What, then, is the art of the probable? What shapes those choices inside the bounds set by science?

For the most part, it is money. What is most profitable, or affordable, seems to be the greatest predictor of what will be. Technology drives change, but the direction of that change is largely steered by financial considerations.

There are, of course, other motivations — moral, emotional, environmental. But in our capitalist economy, and (still) reasonably stable democracy, dominated for most of the last thirty years by a particular strain of economics, money tends to drive what’s next.

The art of the desirable

Whether I’m writing or speaking, this reality often causes people consternation. They confuse what I believe will be the case, with what I would like to be the case. They confuse futurism, with politics — the art of the desirable.

You can’t eliminate politics, or personal bias, from your perspective. That’s why I do my best to systematise my analysis. But it will always be, to some extent, subjective.

Arguing for what you would like to see is the job of a politician. I can do that, but it’s not what people pay me for. They pay me to try to be objective about what I think — given all the factors — is possible or likely to happen.

Until the dominant political ideology goes through a major shift, that will largely be a case of understanding how economic factors shape choices within the boundaries defined by science.

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This article is by Tom Cheesewright. This post forms part of the Futurism series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Futurism page.

Tom Cheesewright

Futurist speaker Tom Cheesewright is one of the UK's leading commentators on technology and tomorrow. Tom has worked with a huge range of organisations across a variety of markets, to help them to see a clear vision of tomorrow, share that vision and respond with agility. Tom draws on his experience to create original, compelling talks that are keyed to the experience of the audience but which surprise and shock with unexpected facts and examples.

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