Civic Imagination

The Infinite Forking Possibilities of the Future

"The Garden of Forking Paths" by Jorge Luis Borges is a story that delves deep into the themes of the future and the endless possibilities it holds. It has made its way from Argentina, Borges' hometown, to many cultures all around the world, with its beautiful expressive imagery and altering of physical constant. Borges poses an important question revolving around the infinite paths that could diverge from one starting point, a choice, each holding its own set of choices that branch out into even more paths, eventually leading into a plethora of futures, each unique. The story follows the Chinese Professor of English Dr. Yu Tsun, a spy for the German Empire during World War I (situated in the UK). Yu Tsun realizes that he's being pursued for treason by Captain Richard Madden who had killed his handler Viktor Runeberg. However, before his death, he plans to send the information he found about a certain British artillery park to the Germans. Tsun ends up leaving town to visit Dr. Stephen Albert. On the way there he remembers one of his ancestors, Ts'ui Pên, who set off on two impossible missions: to write an intricate novel, and build an extremely thorough and difficult labyrinth. However, according to Tsun, his ancestor had never achieved that mission. All that he left was a few drafts of writing that could never turn into a story due to their confusing sequence that made no sense. Only Tsun was wrong. As told by Dr. Albert, his ancestor actually did finish both his missions, for the labyrinth and novel are one. Ts'ui Pên left, upon his death, a note saying, "I leave to several futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths." But that garden of forking paths is the novel itself, and the forking was that of time. As opposed to normal stories, where a choice ignites a certain chain of events that go by a chronological sequence, Ts'ui Pên's novel displays many parallel outcomes of a choice, all happening at once in contradiction.

The story was recommended by my old English teacher at school. She told me that by monitoring my favourite reading styles, she'd reached the conclusion that the book was one I would love. Ever since, this story has acted as a symbol to my identity, reminding me that every breath I take, every word I speak, and every decision I make all count, and that the simplest things could gradually expand through something known as the butterfly effect until my whole future is changed. In reality, we make choices that lead to the elimination of certain paths in the future, yet open up infinite new ones. This is the game of life, and the story has made me aware that I am playing it, yet also simultaneously creating it. I do not go through intricate sets of pre-designed levels, but rather create the future as I go. The possibilities of what I can achieve once I know that are, literally, infinite. This story is generally broadly known and critically acclaimed, yet it is not very known in my own country (Lebanon), as it hasn't been translated into Arabic, my mother tongue. Moreover, the writer Borges, being Argentine, is not very well known within my country. However, I do my best to share it with others, in order to spread the message that choices and outcomes are literally infinite, and that our choices ignite a certain path that may have a better, or worse, alternative. It is very engaging to the mind when a person realizes that they are the true lords of their lives, and the key to what they want ultimately lies within them.

This story could be used to mobilize people to action in many ways. Social change is very possible once you realize you're in control. In a parallel universe, where the members of society took different choices, they have risen to power. In another, they have fallen. But which universe is the one we will create for ourselves? Even victory can have different forms. Violent change, peaceful protests, wars, or pure luck can all lead to the downfall of the oppressive. Corruption could turn us into the oppressive, ourselves. The spotlight here falls again on the fact that the possibilities are literally endless in every way, yet the only one that matters is the one resulting from the choices we take. Everything, including the simplest of the simplest, can cause a large change. If this idea gets embedded into communities, they will become the prophets of such change. This led to my choice of the city of Byblos. Byblos is a beautiful historical city infused with Roman, Greek, Phoenician, Christian, Muslim, and Arab history. It is one of the cities suggested as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, as the site has been continuously inhabited since 5000 BC. The city had witnessed wars, death, change, revolution, disasters, chaos, peace…

With a city that acted as a home for many, many, civilizations, it brings out the importance of choice, and the role of society. The choices these civilizations took can help us take our own, and perhaps, 6000 years from now, we would still inhabit it with the correct future choices. Better yet, society and people would have the rule, and turn it into the ultimate Earthly paradise. And who knows? Maybe without the prior choices taken by all those civilizations, the city would not be as it is, and the Lebanese would not inhabit it.

Time, Change, Myth, Fiction, Choices, Society, Future

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