Ridiculus! Dealing with the 21st Century Cultural-Boggart

By Marcus Bussey

In the lead up to Paris 2015’s December climate response talks our world is faced with what we fear most: real change. Global culture is a rich treasure chest of alternatives but we continue to invite the Boggart of false promises to the party. Boggarts are those mischievous characters so beautifully depicted in the Harry Potter series as sprites from the north European Celtic psyche that transform into what we fear the most. In the Potter-verse these are best overcome with a good dose of the ridiculous. Laughter helps us transcend and rethink that which we fear. Thank you once again J. K. Rowling!

In the futures field Jim Dator has argued that for any statement about the future to be useful it must at first appear to be ridiculous. Futures thinking seeks to turn the common place ‘real’ on its head. Our cultures are rich deposits of Boggart material. Let us start with the Western Boggart of dualism. This either-or beast is well known to us. It is the foundation of zero-sum thinking.

Alternatives to the either/or in this case are deemed ridiculous. Socrates sought to find a way through the reductive nature of the zero sum by offering us his ‘method’. With typical Greek sagacity he charted a course between Charybdis and Scylla in search of that third-space where real alternatives might arise.

There is a lovely clarity to this process. It has geometric elegance and is a key tool in the futures pantheon which always seeks to reframe and transform the ordinary into real opportunities. In our own time peace builder and futurist Johan Galtung reframed this tool as a method to transcend the stuck nature of fundamentalisms.

Transcend suggests a path between black and white extremes in which we move from withdrawal, to compromise to transcendence. It offers us hope beyond paralysis and entropy. Yet its clarity deceives us (or we fear so) as it overlooks the human element of attachment to a singular narrative.

So if we think of the two axes as a boomerang we immediately bring a sense of the ridiculous to bear. The boomerang has a tendency to come back and back and back: a bit like that sticky concept karma. No matter how hard we try to throw it away, it returns. Let’s use the boomerang to challenge the Boggart of clarity. The beautiful boomerang takes us beyond Western certitudes into the indigenous territory of myth. It is not linear but arcs through space. Yet it is still predictable.

Here the nemesis boomerang plays with Socrates and Galtung. It helps subvert the elegant without denying the originality and power of the methods it translates to other mythic levels of the cultural stream.

What happens of course if we were to lay four such boomerangs out before us and shout ‘Ridiculus’? The spell to disable the terror conjured by the Boggart in the Harry Potter stories. We might end up chasing the Boggart to another cultural plane again by creating a swastika! Thanks to the Nazis the delightful and ancient swastika has a bit of a bad rap in the West but it tells much deeper stories than the fascisms of fundamentalist thought.

The swastika suggests alternatives to the linear and elegant. It invites process to the party and openness to our Boggart bedevilled thinking. Yet of course it is limited to set cultural contexts, it has its clear centre of gravity and having its own set of shadows and fundamentalisms it too threatens to lock us in, yet again, to the narrative cement of a singular metaphor in which linearity multiplies.

With the Boggart of multiplicity raising its head we shout ‘Ridiculus’ once again! Beyond the dancing swastika lies the increasingly open cultural field of the Buddhist’s Om. Once again cultural gravity pulls us from turbulence to turbulence. The arc and the dot at the top perhaps represent the individual context and the thrown boomerang? The spirals are the winds that blow to invite in the new. Notice how I am caught in the act of narrativity. As we try to escape narrative gravity we relocate to another narrative plane!

The boggart is baffled for a moment until we identify the Golden mean at work in the Om’s delightful balance. Is balance a bad thing? Or is it the quest perhaps that is the key: the search for alternatives, for new imaginative tropes? Perhaps we throw the cultural dice once more and invite Lao-tzu to the table? The yin-yang symbol brings with it balance, alternatives, and yet returns us to the attractive beauty of duality.

So we return full circle — no pun intended — to the problems we face in the coming Paris gathering where issues of climate change and crisis will once again dance upon the world stage and no doubt be reduced to simple sterile and choreographed positioning. What does the Boggart of Paris represent to our time?

In our essentialised world we need a good dose of Boggart chasing. The role of futures thinking in this process is not to be under estimated. It offers us a way beyond the narrative gravity of a singular model yet it appears that narrativity is an inherently human quality. As imaginative Dutch historian Eelco Runia reminds us: “As apples tend to fall, so people tend to narrative.”

Paris may promise failure and that belief is what our Inner-Boggart may hope we succumb to. After all, it is always satisfying to be right in such declarations (thanks Eeyore). This is not an enabling narrative. What the mainstream media fears is the end of crisis. Yet the future beckons and we must answer the call. The challenge for our inner Boggart is to come to terms with real alternatives and give into constructive hope. What else is there for us to do?