So, new year was traditionally a time to reflect on the year that passed and look forward to the opportunities of another year. Would it be too pessimistic of me to suggest that it has become a time to pat ourselves on the back for surviving another year, and to take a deep breath to prepare for whatever weird-ass alien shit gets thrown at us in the year ahead?

Late-stage capitalism and the descent into a social media crazed, AI-appropriated, climate catastrophe really does seem to have exacerbated the uncertainties that were always with us.

Hot on the heels of the catastrophic fires of 2019-20, the interregnum of pandemic, followed by record-smashing floods, we have predictions (from the BOM) of a season of larger, more intense more south-reaching cyclones followed by a return to El Nino conditions probably resulting in a return to wildfires.

Well, what better for government to do than ramp up the anti-protest laws and start jailing young people who take actions highlighting the climate emergency. I mean we wouldn’t want anyone inconvenienced now would we?

Whilst we see police raiding climate activist camps as though they are actually posing some kind of realistic threat to the fabric of society we have gun-toting, god-bothering, conspiracy-drivelling cop killers rampaging on the fringes of the Chinchilla gasfields.


Let’s have a talk about uncertainty. It’s something that the vast majority of humans find a very uncomfortable subject.

Having physical bodies that evolved during the unusually stable planetary conditions of the Holocene (the goldilocks zone that human survival and existing biodiversity depends upon) we are right to be concerned about uncertainty, particularly climate and ecological uncertainty. But strangely our responses to the fact of uncertainty seem to be mostly maladaptive.

Individually and collectively we display a very strong psychological trait of having a morbid attachment to certainty, so deep that it amounts to a dangerous addiction. Like most addictions, it’s a neurotic strategy, which means that that it drives us to adopt practices (and beliefs) that are designed to avoid it, that actually make it worse.

Where do we seek certainty? Well its almost everywhere you look. Religion is an obvious one, one big sky daddy who has a plan for us. Very comforting. But we are more sophisticated in our addiction than that. We also seek certainty in fanatical political beliefs (fascism, patriotism, Marxism). We may seek certainty in simplistic dichotomies or in magical thinking, such as market economics for example, or in any number of opiating belief systems such as new age spiritual bypasses that affirm the ascendancy of the good, including even seemingly benign ideas like that everything happens for a reason.

Don’t get me wrong things do happen for a reason, it’s called the past and it has led to this point but that doesn’t mean there’s a plan, it’s more like a path-dependent lurch into the ever-present unpredictability that is called the future.

If we can’t quite believe in the benign nature of everything we could always opt for conspiracy theories and find certainty in believing that everything is instead part of an incredibly well-orchestrated malign scheme controlled by a small group of people with a plan. It may be uncomfortable but it still serves the primary need for certainty.

For the less severely affected we may just seek certainty in wealth, property, health practices, psychology, spirituality or maths. Ok, have I covered nearly all of us, hopefully.

What if the universe is incredibly large, continually unfolding, unpredictable and worse still ambivalent? What if everything within and beyond our bodies is uncertain, emerging, and constantly changing?

That would mean that trying to achieve certainty would be a very exhausting endeavour fraught with constant frustration.

It would also mean that the future is full of potential and capable of being influenced by our actions in small and at times surprisingly large ways. It would mean that what we do actually does matter. If we could overcome the panic of uncertainty we may be able to find the mystery and the empowerment implicit in the realisation that the future remains perpetually unformed and emergent (but yes path-dependent).

It’s a personal journey as well as a collective one, and for all of our resistance to it, it’s a journey into the unknown that humans have been engaged in throughout our very short evolution.

If uncertainty is a constant, then it may be that rather than grasping for certainty in an uncertain universe, we should instead focus on building up our uncertainty muscles.

This doesn’t mean letting go of what we already know works, our scientists and experts in many fields have done a good job so far of chronicling a lot of knowledge about our world and the way it works. But interestingly that useful scientific endeavour has not been driven by an addiction to certainty, it has been driven by curiosity, open questioning, preparedness to challenge assumptions and the humility to allow emerging evidence and empiricism to change our minds.

Instead of retreating from the universe of uncertainty by clinging to truisms, tropes and simplifications, our best response has always been curious learning.

It is interesting even to speculate, how much of the craziness that humans manifest in the world is actually caused by our maladaptive pursuit of certainties. The wars over religion, ideology, culture , the echo chambers in social media on the left and right sniping at each other, how much of this could be dismantled with a courageous curiosity.

The world isn’t going to stop being uncertain, but we could individually and collectively set ourselves the task of rising to it rather than retreating from it. Instead of being right, we could be curious and enquiring.

This new year, instead of resolutions, we could all decide to dismantle something that we have made ourselves certain about.

I wonder what 2023 has in stall for us and I wonder how we could best respond for our individual collective and ecological well being?


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