(The Art of the Possible, 03 Sep 2013)
Sarang Shah ·
I found myself on a greyhound bus driving through Kansas. I was on a trip across the USA, from Georgia to California, and everything and everyone in my life were far away. Following years of wandering, I was attempting to start over again. After a rough night trying to sleep on metallic benches under the fluorescent lights of a Kansas City, Missouri, bus station, I was awakened that morning in Kansas by a warm sensation across my chest. It was the rays of the rising sun at 6am, reflecting off fields of wheat so gold and endless undulating on either side of me. In that ethereal barely conscious state, I realized that the art of the possible was not about how we could achieve some end goal, but about the pursuit of the humanity within each waking moment of the journey that fills the gap between birth and death.
In my first letter for Distilled Magazine, I talked about the crisis of confidence that was enveloping our world, and how we desperately needed a vision for the future, one that would supplant the ideological vacuum that threatened to destroy us all. I wanted to explore who we are and where we were going, and I guessed that telling this story would require several long uncomfortable struggles with friends, enemies, admirers, critics, and most importantly, ourselves. Such a journey, I surmised, would take us into the intellectual wilderness, where there are no beaten paths to safe salvation. Little did I know that this wilderness was soon to be fate for me and not just some errant prediction.
Since founding Distilled, I have moved from Cambridge to London to Washington to Atlanta and finally, Berkeley. I saw first-hand the corruption that beats at the heart of Washington and London. I have seen the results of brutality and war in the Caucasus and at the edge of Syria. I have struggled with the pain of being surrounded by poverty in the forgotten corners of my own country. I had to wrestle with my own demons, the feeling of powerlessness and foolhardiness that made me simultaneously think I could change the world and that the world was unchangeable. I began repeating to myself the following: This world we lived in – it was not okay. We are not okay. I am not okay.
Like me, you may be afraid and wary of the direction we’re headed in. You may worry about the journey being lonely and rife with isolation. You may worry that everything you hold dear will be lost in the conflagration that is consuming the whole world. You may worry that it is impossible to reconcile principles with actions. I’m worried too. Since we published our first issue, little has truly changed. Sadly, fear and uncertainty have worsened our situation, limiting what we consider possible. Yet, in my times of doubt, isolation, and poverty, I have seen what undercurrents surge beneath the thin skin of human society. I now understand that no civilization or society has ever been overturned all at once. I have seen first hand that the capacity of rebirth, reform, and enlightenment lie within all of us. This revolution within all our hearts is expressed through our capacity and need to give and receive compassion, empathy, and love. It is what leads me to believe that I am you, you are me, and that we are vulnerable and we are flawed, that we shall overcome together.
We don’t need to desperately search for the grand vision for the future we demanded in our first issue; we already have it. Our future lies within every tender embrace, every silent moment of pain and longing, every occasion where unity and love have triumphed over discord and hate, every bout of desperate personal loneliness, and every persistent hope and dream we have yet to give up on. In this modern world, our future lies in reassuring text messages from thousands of miles away, watching the Olympics with a crowd of foreigners rooting for a country you’ve never heard of, arguing over Skype with a dear friend, holding a loved one in times of grief, and confessing your failures and fears realizing that the person on the other line has already forgiven you long before you uttered a word. This future, our future, resides within the quiet daily sobs about the brutal injustice of the world and the cruelty we inflict on each other.
These are the unheralded moments of humanity that defy all the rules and games that have led us to the slowly crumbling world we live in today.
We have been discussing the art of the possible at Distilled ever since we were founded in the Lee Room at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge last year. Since then, we have spread out over continents and cities – constantly moving, constantly growing. From our very first issue, we believed in the power and importance of principles, debate, and story-telling in envisioning our future in a time of chaos. These principles are essential in the dark ages we live in, where the highest echelons of politics, economics, academia, and culture seek to erase humanity from human society. But how do we at Distilled turn principles into action?
To answer this question we, like the rest of global society, wandered into the wilderness – a wilderness in which our journey seemed interminable, where there was no clear path or end in sight. All seemed lost. We felt like our wildly ambitious project was to come to an end.
We have now re-emerged from that lonely wilderness with a profound realization. We realized that the only way for global society to find a path out of our present darkness is for us at Distilled to form a movement based around asserting the beautiful unknowable grandeur of humanity against the relentless mechanization of our public and private affairs. We must learn to understand how to appreciate the full weight of humanity behind social dynamics, and how to organize a global community around this understanding under the relentless pressures of inhumanity. We must learn that rather than sculpting perfection out of the crooked timber of humanity, we must bring all disciplines and walks of life together to embrace these very human flaws and virtues many human systems seek to eradicate. The Art of the Possible is about acknowledging all those tender moments of humanity that occur within and without ourselves every moment of every day. The art of the possible is about embracing the never ceasing human condition. The art of the possible is the art of realizing that this task will be a constant struggle. The art of the possible is about growing to love ourselves, and everything we are capable of.
After an eventful first year for Distilled, I have now seen that everything will be alright. We will find our way out of that vast wilderness that often engulfs us all. We shall save ourselves. Why? Because we have each other. Together, we shall master the art of the possible.
Last week saw the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s celebrated “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington. King, like John Maynard Keynes in our first issue, aptly describes what we hope to accomplish at Distilled: “Through our scientific genius, we have made this world a neighborhood; now through our moral and spiritual development, we must make it a brotherhood. In a sense we must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”