I’ve always felt a connection with the story of the fisherman and the magic fish. Each time the fisherman — prompted by his wife –makes a more and more demanding wish, the fish simply says: “Just go home again, she has it already”. And as each wish is granted, the sea grows ever more stormy and turbulent, giving the story an eerie resonance in our era of climate disruption.
In “The Loneliness of Donald Trump”, Solnit’s analysis of the story and its real-life enactment by the person occupying the White House is spot-on. She’s not “nice” or even kind to him, but her understanding is informed by compassion:
I know this story in my soul: I am living it myself as a privileged techie. As is Silicon Valley as a whole — and the story tells us exactly where that will lead us.
I remember when I was a young child discussing this story with the neighborhood kids, like a convocation of tiny Talmudic scholars. We were fascinated by wishing and were trying to assess the limits of its power. As an adult, I have thought of this story often as my partner and I have striven to increase our economic standing, at the cost of giving time to artistic pursuits or developing our circle of friends.
Our justification has always been that soon we’ll be able to do the things we love, whenever the latest goal is reached. And that really seems possible: each goal promises to set us free from demanding jobs or to ensure a worry-free retirement. But the time to live is now — and the time to build community is now, urgently now, as well.
Likewise, I see Silicon Valley believing that each new innovation will set us free and that we are reshaping the world as a gift to humanity. One day this too will come crashing down on us and we will find ourselves once again in the hovel by the sea, wishing we had clean water, predictable weather, and that we knew how to grow vegetables.