Devil's Advocate: Imagine

Robert Joseph suggests that now is not the time to believe that anything is impossible.

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Robert Joseph - with horns
Robert Joseph - with horns

The odds against any individual American being hit by lightning this year are less than a million to one; in fact, they’re 1:1,220,000. According to Erie Insurance, who provided this figure, however, the chances of it happening in their lifetime are 1 in 15,300 – roughly the same as winning a $100 prize in the Kentucky lottery.

Thanks to Bible stories, the prospect of being hit by a thunderbolt is embedded in many of our heads, but what are the chances of a bird killing a golfer by dropping a large fish on their head? Most people, I’d imagine, would quite reasonably be back in the high millions, but in 2020 a woman was concussed by a falling fish at a golf tournament and, the following year, a driver’s webcam captured one hitting the windscreen of his truck. So, it’s far from unthinkable.

On the 11th of March, an entry called Pieminister’s Mooless outscored nearly a thousand others, including many classic pork pies to win the top prize at the British Pie Awards, despite being made with gluten-free flour and filled with jackfruit rather than meat.

This week, Apple TV’s Coda was the first streaming film to win best picture at the Oscars. It beat the favourite, The Power of the Dog, from Netflix which produced its first movie as recently as 2015. Troy Kotsur made history as the first deaf actor to carry off a statuette, while Jane Campion became only the third female director to get the prize. All in the year of course, when TV viewers got to see a live performance of an award-winning actor publically slap a stand up comedian.

When was living in Burgundy in the late 1970s, it was an established fact among everyone I met there that nowhere outside their region could make seriously good Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay. A decade later, I was assured by distinguished Frenchmen that the popularity of New World wine in the UK was a brief infatuation. English wine was pleasant still white stuff made from Germanic grape varieties, not a competitor to Champagne, and no one was seriously thinking of making wine in Poland or Denmark.

As we moved into this century nobody imagined that Bordeaux would lose its near monopolistic grip on wine investment, that rosé would outsell white in French supermarkets, that millions of Americans would drink a wine called Cupcake, that a Josh Cellars 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon aged in Bourbon barrels would get 91 points from the Wine Enthusiast, or that Gérard Bertrand would launch an orange wine from Languedoc at around €140 per bottle.

But then, who would have predicted that the Prisoner, a wine brand with no vines or winery, would sell for $285m, or that a vegan burger manufacturer called Impossible Foods would have just been valued at $7bn. Or that an Eastern European comedian-turned-politician would be seriously likened to Winston Churchill while TV pundits across the planet seriously discuss the likelihood of nuclear war.

In 2022, if you can imagine it, in any sphere, there’s at least a passing chance it could happen. If it’s a business proposition that, at first sight, strikes you as preposterous, take another moment to wonder ‘what if?’

And, if it’s anything else, maybe you should place a bet, or consider taking out insurance.

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