Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Future is Like The Past - and vice versa

Writing my previous Blog - its brevity reflecting the unimportance of the subject - I was however reminded of that great achievement of 19th century geology, Charles Lyell's uniformitarian principle that whatever processes we see at work today in carving out our landscapes are the same as those which operated in the past, and vice versa. There was no "catastrophe", no act of creation, which disrupted the inexorable operation of geological processes.

What is true in Nature is, unfortunately, largely true in Culture. Those who expect liberal democracies to emerge from the current "Arab Spring" will surely be disappointed. The most likely sequel to forty years of tyranny is another forty years of tryanny, however dressed up in new garb.

As for the UKs tiresome Labour Party, it is quite clear that the adrenalin flows only when the ferrets find themselves in a sack. The draw of the plot and the briefing against is too strong. After all, there are no political principles to uphold, no vision of the future, no moral outrage.

What is true in political life is also largely true in personal life. If you have been a heavy drinker for ten years, chances are you will be a heavy drinker for the next ten years. Only with the greatest difficulty do human beings change the habits of a lifetime. That is why they are so easy to predict - once you have identified the patterns at work in their lives.

Sometimes, it is true, an external catastrophe will provoke a crisis - your wife leaves you because of your drinking, let's say - and things may change. Sometimes, but I think rarer, some hitherto suppressed internal drive will seize control of the wheel and steer someone into a different direction in life.

But most of the time, Charles Lyell is the man who got it right.

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