The chief question of my adult life has been: What am I going to do today?
How we live our days is ultimately how we live our years. The question of “What am I going to do today?” — asked habitually yet earnestly — eventually amalgamates into the question of “How will I live?”
I am a progressive. The progressive has one core belief: That our social and economic world is largely shaped by human ideas and institutions. The progressive draws a distinction between immutable natural phenomena, such as gravity, and mutable human phenomena, like governments and money.
The progressive’s second belief follows on from this. They believe that our world can be made radically different. If there is a human spirit, it is this anxious restlessness that seeks to exceed our institutions and the ideas of humanity they hold implicit. It’s a soul you can see.
Therefore, the progressive often answers the question of “What am I going to do today?” by standing in an ill-defined future, a murky realm of pure potential, and projecting backwards in to the present. The progressive is divided between the world as it is, and the many ways the world may become.
It is a challenging space to be. It is a liminal space in which people dream of different careers, of international travel, of the insane love promised by films. For some people, progressive futures are relegated to celebrity power holders. Salvation will come through Elon Musk or Oprah. Often, the gateway to a desired future is a yet-to-come revolution or crisis: This is the position of classic Marxists and “accelerationist,” pro-Trump leftists. Another common response is to eviscerate our futures as to reduce them to something compatible with the world as it is.
Either the future is never quite ready for harvest, or else it dies on the vine.
People struggle to live their days as they wish to live their lives.
We need a flickering light beyond a dark mountain, a compass, and some survival skills. A meaningful quest, a knapsack, and fellow adventurers.
Above all else, we need to get started. Today.
The question of “What am I going to do today?” begins small but quickly looms large. It begins as personal but becomes political. At every step of the journey, the future is uncertain.
Beginning to answer the question can be a daunting task. I want to propose a modest approach that anyone can pick up and run with. Here is the process I use to approach the question:
We begin with direct Experience — the genesis of all education lies in the senses. We both experience and notice ourselves experiencing. When we notice ourselves caught up in something deeply satisfying, interesting, or curious, we know we are sniffing at the edges of new possibilities.
This act of noticing what resonates with us informs the next part of the process, Reflection. I distinguish the model above from some other models in arguing that while reflection is personal (our values), it also involves making descriptive claims about the world we live in (our beliefs). As we reflect we move from the personal to the political.
Next, we Plan how we will realise those values. Quit your job, move overseas! Our plan must agree with our personal values, but also our beliefs about how the world works. In technical terms, this is sometimes called a “theory of change.” The best plans draw on history, the liberal arts, and the social sciences.
We should begin Doing almost as soon as we begin planning, as it is only through doing that we dialogue with the world. The question is: “What am I going to do today?”, not tomorrow.
It seems simple and it is. It’s something we understood better as young children, before education became synonymous with schooling. It is an approach that puts our values and dreams in to the world and gets them out of our heads.
This approach has been essential to developing my personal and progressive agenda for 2018.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be going through the stages personally and writing them up here. I’ll start with my Peak Experiences in Tanzania, and how these have informed my Values and Beliefs about the world. Next, I’ll discuss What I won’t do — the ways I think progressives sometimes get derailed in their efforts to make change. Finally, I’ll talk about What I will be doing in 2018.
Thanks for tuning in.