In his latest series of TV programmes, Andrew Marr was looking at five Megacities of the world and analysing their impact both on us as individuals and more widely as a collective and historicised humanity.
I was struck by something he said when talking about the London Underground and other emulations of it in other cities, such as Shanghai, where they have installed one at immense speed. He said, about the London Underground that ‘success sucks in many more people until it starts to feel like failure’.
This is true, for both ideas and for people. It is a lovely paradox that makes complete sense that success inevitably breeds failure. Similar to the cliché of one becoming victims of their own success, we are defining success as popularity. This is a scenario where the recipe to success is people, and the recipe to failure is people. Both in terms of numbers and in terms of attitude, people as a collective are themselves the determining factor in the object’s success and then failure.
I was recently doing some work in a garden in which there was a serious manifestation of bindweed throughout. Calystegia sepium grows fast and winds around other plants, hedges, trees, basically anything it can find to choke. While I was trying to locate the roots, and remove the weed I was thinking of this Andrew Marr quote. Well that and trying desperately to get the horrible sound of school assembly ‘classic’ Bind us Together Lord from going round my head.
As I removed the weeds I started to realise there were some really nice and diverse things growing underneath. Some were salvageable, but some were clearly dead. The weeds were just too strong for them. Anywhere there was a bit of space the bindweed would be growing, it would wrap itself around other plants and make more space. Without the other stuff it wouldn’t survive, but with the other stuff it just sucks all the life out of it.
As a collective, can humanity become like the bindweed, wrapping our way around good, life-giving ideas before eventually choking the very things we find so attractive?
We are constantly searching for the next thing to twine around so that we can get closer to the sun, but are we actually stifling the underlying idea and the potential for it to become so much more? Or will we always be the bindweed; will we always need the bindweed to affirm the very existence of the idea? Maybe as humanity we get an intrinsic joy from choking beautiful things, belittling beautiful people and rejecting progressive ideas.