The mutability of intractable

–I can’t be the only one struck by the affinity between those 19th century novels whose plots were driven by coincidence after coincidence all the way to a happy ending and today’s crisis narratives where one mistake after another has led to certain disaster.

–Too often “do-something-now!” is said with the same urgency felt by a 19th century Yankee poet wanting to commemorate another Civil War battle.

–New defense mechanism? We plan so as to avoid realizing we confront not discrete events with causal consequences but contingencies with disproportionate effects about which we little or no causal understanding.

–The obstinate truth remains that the costs to society of confronting limitless disaster scenarios is set by the dangers of ignoring vicious, cratering disasters easier to identify, assess and know.

–The painter Gérard Fromanger pointed out that a blank canvas is also ‘‘black with everything every painter has painted before me’’. If also, as the painter František Kupka felt, “to abstract is to eliminate,” then stripping away the layers of black-on-black is akin to abstracting blankness.

Yet how do many react when confronting the obscured canvasses of policy? Let’s sweep the table clear, make a clean slate, start over again, strip it all clear. Few see these for the dangerous abstractions they are.

–In order to say something new about a difficult policy issue or see it afresh, change the genre within which you think and write about it. The academic article, a short blog, the format of a play, an “I-believe” manifesto–all and more have their own conventions. To take a major “intractable” policy issue you’ve read about in a media report and then focus the dense dark beam of altogether unfamiliar conventions over it, is to see what is left to glimmer there by way of ambiguities.

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