Caitlin Johnstone

It’s Okay to Be Uncertain What’s Happening and Where This Is All Going

(Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash)

In this time of abject uncertainty, we want to know the solution, and what’s in store. For the moment, I believe not knowing is the safest route.


There was a kids’ game show on Nickelodeon in the early nineties called Get the Picture where contestants would be shown an image that is obscured in some way and slowly made more clear. First one to guess the image correctly got the points.

That’s kind of how our whole situation feels right now. No one really knows exactly what’s going on just yet, and those of us who are interested in figuring it out are intensely peering at the screen trying to make out what we’re looking at. We’re all shouting out guesses, but that’s all they are. The picture’s still unclear, and Mike O’Malley hasn’t chimed in with the correct answer.

There’s so much going on right now as this new virus works its way through world populations, and so much is still very uncertain. There are individual issues coming up which we can shake our fists at, like massive bailouts for corporations and governments implementing dangerously authoritarian measures while refusing to adequately provide for their citizenry, but a full picture of what’s happening and where this is all going remains unclear.

There’s this weird dynamic in conspiracy and anti-establishment circles where everyone wants to pretend they know exactly what’s going on, and those who express uncertainty tend to attract less interest and attention than those who claim forcefully and assertively to have a crystal-clear HD perspective of The Big Picture. This dynamic has led to the rise of many professional fringe pundits who don’t actually have much going for them other than the ability to communicate in a confident tone, and it’s created a very confusing information ecosystem during the current pandemic.

And today I’m just writing to say that it is actually okay to simply not know for a bit.

It seems like some of the conflict and stress people are expressing — at least in the circles I move in — stems not only from perfectly valid concerns about the future, but from a general discomfort with not knowing exactly what’s happening. We know from our experience that understanding what’s happening gives us more control over our fate, so not fully understanding can make us feel out of control. It can feel threatening. It can feel like a very stressfully urgent matter that we come up with a cohesive “How It Is” understanding of what exactly is happening.

You don’t need to put that extra layer of stress on yourself. If you’re seeing a mountain of disparate and conflicting information about which you can’t form a single unified narrative right now, that’s okay. That’s what we’re all seeing. Some of us are just more honest with ourselves about this than others.

It is true that we don’t yet fully understand this new virus and can’t predict exactly how destructive it’s going to be. It is also true that people are experiencing a frightening amount of financial pressure. It is also true that authoritarian government policies are very dangerous and might not be rolled back once implemented. You don’t need to come to any hard-and-fast conclusions which unify these disparate truths right now. You can just not know for a while and watch the picture become more clear.


I’ve been saying for months that things are going to get stranger and stranger, just because for a while now that’s been the only consistent pattern I’ve been able to discern in the way things are moving. This time last year we Russiagate skeptics were congratulating ourselves for getting that issue right, but the only reason I and others were able to do that was because things were moving in a predictable fashion, and the establishment was reacting to it in a predictable, patterned way. Now more and more often the only consistent pattern to be seen is the pattern of unpatterning, and all I can say about the future is that it’s going to get a whole lot stranger. Maybe worse, maybe better, I don’t know. But definitely stranger.

Uncertainty can feel scary. Humans tend to be pattern-seeking, predictability-seeking animals, so the disappearance of reliable patterns can feel like our whole world is falling apart. But it’s an illusion. Our society has been insane since before we were born, and our patterned behavior has led our species to the ecocidal, omnicidal, oppressive, and exploitative status quo we now find ourselves in. Unpatterning, in and of itself, is neither threatening nor helpful; it’s just change. What matters is where it all goes.

And we don’t know where it’s going. There are powerful people who believe they’ll be able to capitalize on the changes and shore up more power for themselves in the chaos like they’ve done many times before, but the kingdoms of those powerful people have themselves been built upon patterns and reliability. There is only a certain amount of unpatterning that these empires can withstand.

There is so, so much more to humanity, and to the universe itself, than most of us realize. We are capable of so, so much more than the pattern-based forecasts of our future behavior have predicted. I am uncertain of nearly everything at this point, but of this one fact I have become absolutely convinced: we most definitely have it within us to surprise ourselves on a mass scale. I’ve seen too much to believe otherwise.

So, it’s very possible that things will end up getting better in some as-yet unpredictable way. It’s also very possible that things can get worse. The only bet I personally would avoid putting any chips on is things ever going back to normal, because “normal” is gone for good.

We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.


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