The Power of Parallels - So Much More Than an Idle Pursuit
Recently, a colleague shared a blog post describing his fears concerning a lack of imagination when tackling today’s crises at large. He argued that “imagination has been so thoroughly harnessed to the narrow goals of our capitalist economic system that there is little space left to imagine alternatives.”
If you’re familiar with the thinking of philosopher and political theorist, Frederic Jameson, who describes late capitalism as the ‘pervasive condition of our age’, this type of evaluation is nothing new. In fact, Jameson is famous for saying:
“It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imagination.”
ILLUSTRATION BY SAFDAR AHMED.
It’s true that this insidious, parasite-like system (and yes, I am inferring that we’re the hosts in an oozing, sweaty Cronenberg kind of way) makes it easy - effortless even - to envisage multiple, dystopian futures. For a while, I have suspected that in addition to the adhesive and deafening natures of these interconnected systems, the ability we have to catastrophise with ease could also be linked to our sympathetic nervous systems' automatic physiological response to stressful and frightening events. Afterall, the climate science is terrifying; the lack of political will despite this, beyond enraging. Exposure to stress sets off a series of reactions in the body, ultimately leading to the secretion of the glucocorticoid hormone known as cortisol. At first, “C” helps us to manage the body's stress response, maintaining its stability and adaptation; but what happens to our physiology when we are living in times of multiple crises and therefore living in a constant state of stress? Intrigued by this theory, I read a study published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal which sought to measure the differences in cortisol response to trauma activation in individuals with and without comorbid PTSD and depression. The study unsurprisingly concluded that a prolonged activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) axis can lead to cumulative physical and psychological strain. Conclusion: cortisol is masterful at providing an urgent, panic-fuelled clarity but arguably not so great at nourishing playful, blue-sky thinking.
One of the major reasons why we founded our interdisciplinary collective, The Parallel Effect back in 2019, was that we recognised a need to free up the underutilised and perky spaces of our imaginations. We wanted to dust off the juicy kernels resting in the grooves somewhere between the fatigue, the disappointment, the grief, and anxiety.
I’d just returned to Australia and my close friend and peer, Safdar Ahmed and I were catching up. We chatted at length about our respective projects (both related to human rights abuses) and the state of the world (riddled with human and transhuman abuses). After a while – glassy eyed and strained – we changed the subject, deciding instead to imagine the systemic workings of a reality that was similar to this one – in that it contained some of the players and historic events we’re familiar with – but a world that was proactively building a different future. What began as a light-hearted activity became a game-changer. Speaking personally, I immediately felt my body relax, the stiffening in my shoulders subside. And, you know what they say about the weight of the world and shoulders? Seriously though, it was incredible how liberating it was. That simple act of reframing the scope of possibilities not only made us feel better in that moment and in our bodies, but it opened doors to some innovative solutions and transformative ideas.
And with that, The Parallel Effect was born. It’s a project for thinkers and practitioners of all modes and disciplines to come together unbridled by the constraints of patriarchal capitalism to explore the intrinsic workings of other possibilities. Since the project’s inception, I’ve become more and more invested in the process of imagining and articulating, alternative paradigms, and I am convinced that it’s far from an idle pursuit. I believe that imagining better worlds is a vital and practical endeavour that fuels progress, fosters empathy, and empowers us to continue to act to shape the future.