What is the Garden of Forking Paths?
In 1941, the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges wrote a short story called The Garden of Forking Paths. It’s a metaphor for the idea that our possible futures are made by our present decisions, which, in turn, were made by the choices of the past, forking infinitely. It’s a perfect metaphor for an extremely complex world facing enormous challenges, in which our present decisions will determine our possible futures, but to understand how we’ve ended up here, we also need to understand our history. Smart thinking is more important now than ever.
And yet, most of the intellectual discourse is tied to news cycles, the scandal of the day, the latest outrage on social media, and headline grabbing behavior. 24 hours later, it’s gone, out of sight and out of mind, replaced by the next shiny object to chase. That diverts us away from examining deeper, more complex problems.
I want to provide a newsletter that does two things. First, I want to help us understand how to navigate the garden of forking paths we find ourselves in, to better understand challenges we face and the possible futures we want. Second, I want to write about why we should marvel at the beauty of that garden. I’m a curious social scientist who loves to read about the mysteries of the world, not just in politics, but in evolutionary biology, history, neuroscience, anthropology, philosophy, and beyond. I love how maddeningly weird and endlessly fascinating our world is, and I will be bringing you some amazing peculiarities of the world through the newsletter, in ways that rarely get covered.
Who Am I?
First things first: the standard bio.
I grew up in Minnesota, earned my DPhil at Oxford, and I’m now a professor of global politics at University College London. I write for The Atlantic, created the award-winning Power Corrupts podcast, and am a frequent guest on national television and radio.
I’ve conducted field research across the globe, interviewing despots, CEOs, torture victims, dissidents, cult leaders, criminals, and everyday power abusers. I’ve also advised major politicians and organizations including NATO, the European Union, and many others.
I’ve written four books, including The Despot’s Apprentice (which was the first book to warn about Trump’s authoritarianism), How to Rig an Election, and my latest, Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us.
But there’s a human side too. I’m a history nerd, a political junkie, but am also extremely interested in science. I’m also obsessed with my dog, Zorro, who is a very cute two year-old Border Collie. I live in southern England, and I spend part of each week volunteering as a Cathedral tour guide (I told you I was a history nerd).
I’m going to post 1 to 2 times per week, and about half of the content will be free, with the rest only available to paid subscribers. The monthly fee is $5, with an annual membership at $50. If you want to support my work, you can also consider becoming a Founding Member, for $100 a year. I hope you’ll join me.