Growth, a tale of smoke and mirrors

share this article

All signs point to humans having become too obsessed with numbers, quantitative parameters of growth. Perhaps it's time to look at ways of achieving true qualitative growth.

Fiction is but a magic trick that reifies a falsehood, that forces you to infuse belief into a figment of imagination, that brings to life the unreal. A parlour trick. Smoke and mirrors...

That is what makes fiction untrustworthy. Because, you can take any random ideas, events or objects that need have no connection or correlation, and weave them into a tale. Like we do in Photospeak on a regular basis. You can play god with ideas. And curious cats that we are, we will lap it up, and ask for more. Fiction can thus be a spurious tool of journalistic misdemeanour, a candy-coated lie.

A story is often just that: a story. It entertains. It might inform. Maybe, if done well, it enriches even. And if you're writing fiction, a reader is entirely free to appropriate it and pretend like it actually happened to them. And that's the really cool thing about fiction. It's up for grabs. It may not be true, but its internal logic makes it attractive to own, a viable investment.

Pick a phrase, any phrase; how about "smoke and mirrors". Let's see if we can take some events that took place last week from around the world, and weave them into a cogent tale around the peg of "smoke and mirrors". If we do it well. It should captivate you and leave you with a message. And that's what probably matters most with fiction: the intention.

^ A sadhu poses for the camera near the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Monday, March 7, 2016. Celebrated by Hindu devotees all over the world, the Mahashivaratri festival is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and holy men mark the occasion by praying, smoking marijuana or smearing their bodies with ashes.

Once upon a time, there was a giant named God. But he was no ordinary giant. He was a giant with a knack for magic, for alchemy. He liked to turn stuff into stuff. One day, as he sat on his mammoth porch, a giant cigar between his lips, he thought to himself, "I want to be able to make something out of nothing. I want to take a wispy, intangible thing... say, smoke... and turn it into something that is fractal, self-recursive, infinite... like mirrors. Hey! There's my summer project."

^ South Korean (blue headbands) and U.S. Marines take positions as amphibious assault vehicles of the South Korean Marine Corps fire smoke bombs during a U.S.-South Korea joint landing operation drill in Pohang, South Korea, on Saturday, March 12.

And as he sat, dwelling on smoke and mirrors, he lit up his Cuban with a BIG BANG, and blew several meditative smoke rings into the air, thick pustules that were already acquiring a viscosity like packed lint....

^ A total solar eclipse seen from the beach of Ternate Island, Indonesia, on March 9.

Soon, the rings had coalesced into bright clusters that hurtled through empty space, speeding away from its neighbours at the speed of light. Some of these clusters became so complexly coagulated that they...

^ This photograph, taken at a depth of 4,290 metres by a remotely-operated underwater vehicle Deep Discoverer, shows an incirrate octopod near Necker Island, or Mokumanamana, on the northwestern end of the Hawaiian Archipelago on March 5.

Image courtesy: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Hohonu Moana 2016

... began sprouting lifeforms, organisms that developed an urge to survive, take care of themselves, and multiply their clan. Some developed gills to move in water. Some grew wings to navigate the skies. Some evolved legs to walk on land.

Others sprouted opposable thumbs to hold guns. And thus the Littlefolk were born.

^ Graffiti is seen on a viewing porthole at Battersea Power Station in London, Britain, on Monday, March 7. Developers are demolishing corroded chimneys of the art deco landmark and will replace them with replicas, as part of the re-development of the area.

The Lilttlefolk were the rulers of their world. But they had a knack — you know, a penchant — for destruction. Soon after they developed opposable thumbs, and got tired of swinging joyfully from tree branch to tree branch, they began manufacturing a weapon of mass destruction. They called it industrial capitalism.

^ Soldiers take pictures as flame and smoke are seen following air bombardments during the Northern Thunder exercises, in Hafr Al-Batin, near Saudi Arabia's border with Iraq, on Thursday, March 10.

The Littlefolk almost took pleasure in their demolition of their habitat. They ravaged its resources for hard cash, slashed its trees for kindling, and sent toxic fumes up into the skies. Slowly it began suffocating them.

^ Rain clouds are seen over the Tiete river in Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 11, 2016.

And slowly and surely, the fumes gathered steam and spread far across the world beneath, like a canopy of blackness.The Littlefolk, meanwhile, were perplexed. What is this dark substance that is enveloping our skies? Quick, we must give it a name, a label to help us feel in control of the phenomena we are subject to. But no one had an answer.

^ A Palestinian looks at the damage to a house, where medical officials said fragments from a missile fired by an Israeli aircraft killed a 10-year-old Palestinian boy, in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday, March 12. The missile was fired hours after militants launched rockets into Israel.

Soon, the world beneath went into a panic, not knowing why the ice seemed to be melting. But a bright young Littlefolksman who had a knack for science figured it out. He realised that in their incessant, insatiable, insane quest for material progress and Gross Domestic Product, the Littlefolk had bored a hole in the very atmosphere of their world. He saw it as surely as the radiation that poured through that hole and heated up the tiny greenhouse he called his home. Oh, of course, no one could really see it happening, though. And that bred skeptics. You know how the climate sometimes changes at such a glacial pace that most people doubt that it is even occurring?

^ Firefighters try douse the flames razing tenements in San Andres Bukid, Manila, on Saturday, March 12.

Though they wouldn't admit it, the Rich Littlefolk — who had made careers out of ravaging resources, slashing trees and sending up toxic fumes — had an idea whence the smoke came. However, they knew the Mangopeople among them would soon know the game was hotting up. After all, where there is smoke, there must be fire. And they said to one another: "Hurry, we must douse it! Or at least, be seen dousing something. Otherwise, the Mangopeople will become suspicious and rise up against us!"

^ Attendants prepare tea inside the Great Hall of the People ahead of the second plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China, on Wednesday, March 9.

So they held summit after summit, where papers and feet were shuffled, pleasantries and pledges were exchanged, and at the end of which newspapers carried optimistic articles about collective responsibility and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.

^ School children take shelter under desks during an earthquake simulation exercise in an annual evacuation drill at an elementary school in Tokyo, on March 11, 2016, to mark the five-year anniversary of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands and set off a nuclear crisis.

But the Rich Littlefolk continued in their ways, burning stuff that needed to be conserved, creating demand for things that shouldn't be demanded. All the while, the Mangopeople continued to cower under the effects of things like mercury poisoning, floods, exploding nuclear plants, loss of biodiversity and other stuff. For every tragedy that occurred as a result, they would blame nature, play up the importance of maintaining their ways and express token condolences and sympathy.

^ Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media after receiving former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson's endorsement at a campaign event in Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday, March 11.

And meanwhile, Shrewd Littlefolk campaigned to govern the Mangopeople and retain control over the resources they so wanted to keep ravaging. They championed any cause that would earn them the democratic vote of the largest segment of the Mangopeople. For this, they dug into the Mangopeople majority's deepest fears — the Others. And thus dividing the Mangopeople, the Shrewd Littlefolk aspired to rule over them.

All the while, there hung a huge cloud of doubt over the heads of these Shrewd Littlefolk. The cloud of doubt was made up of tiny mirrors that could reveal to the Shrewd Littlefolk the true ramifications of their actions, if only they cared to look.

^ Balinese Hindus carry Pratimas, or symbols of God, on the beach during Melasti, a purification ceremony, ahead of the holy day of Nyepi, in Gianyar on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, on Sunday, March 6. Nyepi is a day of silence to celebrate the Balinese new year, reserved for self-reflection, where people are not allowed to use lights, light fires, work, travel or enjoy entertainment.

The thing about mirrors is, you need to use them, look into them once in a while, to understand yourself better. It's called proprioception. Bodily awareness. This awareness orients you and puts your identity and actions into perspective. Every so often, it's important to take time out of the hamster-wheel of greed, productivity and money-spinning, take a step back, and reflect on one's self. Some believed, though, that the Shrewd Littlefolk were so self-involved that they could...

^ Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at an EU-Turkey summit in Brussels on Monday, March 7, as the bloc is looking to Ankara to help it curb the influx of refugees and migrants flowing into Europe.

... look straight into a mirror and see right through it.

Anyway, after having thus divided the Mangopeople and set up their own fancy elite club called "The Nation", the Shrewd Littlefolk proceeded to keep out the Others. Of course, they criticised other Nations for shutting their doors to Other refugees smoked out of their own countries by war. "There is no space for the Others in our tiny country," the Shrewd Littlefolk said. "They will swamp us. Never mind that we have created the very conditions for their fleeing their own country... Erm. Next point of order: The Internet is virgin soil for us all!"

^ Migrants rest near their tents at a makeshift camp on the Greek-Macedonian border, near the village of Idomeni, Greece, on Friday, March 11.

The Mangopeople, though, lived close to the ground, down to earth, where their reflection was true, the picture clear.

^ A man is overcome with emotion at the Madrid train bombing memorial on the 12th anniversary of the attacks at Atocha station in Madrid, Spain, on Friday, March 11, 2016.

However, being closer to the truth makes you more vulnerable. It removes any veneers of deception from around reality, and makes you see things as they really are. And so, it was the Mangopeople who suffered the most.

^ Martin Koenig's team gets tangled up after leaving the start chute at the restart of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Willow, Alaska, on Sunday, March 6. Mushers and dog sled teams from around the world embark on the first leg of Alaska's grueling annual dog race, starting a nearly 1,000-mile (1,609 km) journey through the State's unforgiving wilderness.

They saw how they had been exploited by the Rich and Shrewd Littlefolk. How they had been turned into beasts of burden, a labour force, a sea of consumers hankering blindly after the carrot dangled before them. They saw themselves being exploited by the ones wielding the whip as they drove their sleds. But they could do little about it except bark like feral hounds on social media, out on the streets, on college campuses, wherever they could band together.

^ Ultra-Orthodox Jewish onlookers stand near the car from which Israeli police said two Palestinian assailants carried out a drive-by shooting before being shot dead by police opposite the Notre Dame Center just outside Jerusalem's Old City on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.

All the while, the wheel turned, and the historic conflicts raged on in the divisive world created by the Rich and Shrewd Littlefolk.

^ A woman looks through a tent during a gathering by Houthi loyalists against Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on Wednesday, March 9.

Gradually, thanks to an amazing interconnecting web that made it easier to network together on a virtual platform, the Mangopeople began to peek out of the cocoons they were imprisoned in. But they were wary...

^ A Sphynx cat's eyes burn with intensity during the Catsburg 2016 International cat show in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday, March 6.

... for, their masters were unforgiving, unyielding, and only had menacing glints in their eyes that accused of sedition.

^ Riot police use tear gas to disperse protesting employees and supporters of Zaman, Turkey's premier newspaper, at the courtyard of the newspaper's office in Istanbul, Turkey, on Saturday, March 5.

And the Ruling Littlefolk then sought to coopt and deligitimise the Mangopeople's only weapon of coherent dissent. They targeted Journalistic Littlefolk, took over words and pens, citing a bid to overthrow the legitimate government.

^ A model presents a creation by designer Iris van Herpen as part of her Fall/Winter 2016/2017 women's ready-to-wear collection show in Paris, France, on Tuesday, March 8.

So, left thus bereft of any weapons, the Mangopeople looked to the Artistic Littlefolk for solace. In their art, poetry and music, they immersed themselves. They played with their mirrors, examined them this way and that, inside and out.

^ Synchronized swimming duet Anita Alvarez and Mariya Koroleva pose for a portrait at the U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, on Tuesday, March 8.

And in their spiritual unity and synchronicity of feeling, they saw infinity. They rejoiced and revelled, and built their strength...

^ The shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion maritime search aircraft can be seen on low-level clouds as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean, looking for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on its way to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014, with 239 passengers and crew on board.

And slowly, the light, which was hitherto obscured by the smoky haze left over by the Bad Littlefolk's callousness...

^ An aeroplane flies past the sun as it goes into a partial solar eclipse in Singapore, on Wednesday, March 9.

... began to clear, revealing the universal life-force that drives all Littlefolk, that ties all Littlefolk together, destroying lines of division and control.

^ A migrant, waiting to cross the Greek-Macedonian border, at a makeshift camp near the village of Idomeni, Greece, on March 9.

What it all comes down to is this question. What do all Littlefolk want, really?

A roof over their head that shelters them from the forbidding natural elements...

^ A man catches fish in the polluted waters of river Yamuna in New Delhi, India, March 6, 2016. The Art of Living foundation has met with controversy for seeking to hold a World Culture Festival on its banks, ignoring the harm it may stand to cause to the river bed.

.. a place to catch fish for food...

^ A polar bear cub snuggles up against her mother in their enclosure at Bremerhaven's (Bremen's) Zoo by the Sea, in Germany on Wednesday, March 9.

... a snug feeling of security as we battle the existential dread of being alive...

^ The mountain Buachaille Etive Mor is reflected in water near Ballachulish, Scotland, on March 9.

... and a space to reflect in peace.

(All images courtesy Reuters)

share this article
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor