“This may be the most important proposition revealed by history: At the time, no one knew what was coming.”
Well. “Looking back” <or ‘looking backwards’> is a timeless tradition in second guessing and seeking blame as well as even some forward thinking as we try and extrapolate from past learning some speculative future..
All that said; “at that time no one knew what was coming.”
Think about it.
You can be pessimistic <and be proven right … or wrong>.
You can be optimistic <and be proven right … or wrong>.
You can plan incessantly and smartly <and the plans can work perfectly … or go awry>.
You can make it up as you go <and it works perfectly … or all goes wrong>.
In general you are guessing, or, dealing in probabilities rather than certainties.
You can make an educated guess and the odds may be higher or lower based on what you decide to do, but someone is lying if they say “I knew it was going to end up that way.”
They did not know.
They guessed <and possibly guessed well>.
Here is a ponderable factoid.
‘History teaches by analogy, not identity.’
Analogy is not a blueprint of what will be. People tend to mistake a study of history, or a historical moment, for proof of what is to come. They are often sorely proven wrong. And, in fact, those proven right have the benefit of going backwards and connecting dots <even when the connection is tenuous at best> to prove why they were right.
Hmmmm … once again. A reminder. “No one knew what was coming.” <corollary?: sure is easier to know what came>
Regardless <here is the entire thought from Kissinger>.
History teaches by analogy, not identity.
This means that the lessons of history are never automatic, that they can be apprehended only by a standard which admits the significance of a range of experience, that the answers we obtain will never be better than the questions we pose.
No profound conclusions were drawn in the natural sciences before the significance of sensory experience was admitted by what was essentially a moral act.
No significant conclusions are possible … without an awareness of the historical context. For societies exist in time more than in space. At any given moment a state is but a collection of individuals, as positivist scholars have never wearied of pointing out.
But it achieves identity through the consciousness of a common history. This is the only “experience” nations have, their only possibility of learning from themselves.
History is the memory of states. To be sure, states tend to be forgetful.
It is not often that nations learn from the past, even rarer that they draw the correct conclusions from it. For the lessons of historical experience, as of personal experience, are contingent.
They teach the consequences of certain actions, but they cannot force recognition of comparable situations.
Henry Kissinger <Diplomacy>
What a powerful thought.
… teach the consequences of certain actions, but they cannot force recognition of comparable situations.
Once again: cannot force recognition of comparable situations.
I love it. So often we suggest ‘this has happened before’ and … well … yeah … kind of.
Maybe it is just ‘close’.
But close only counts with hand grenades <and horse shoes>.
Ultimately you are, well, simply assessing the echoes of history.
You may listen to the echoes of history, but until they walk in to your life you will not truly recognize who and what they are.
“I have sometimes sat alone here of an evening, listening, until I have made the echoes out to be the echoes of all the footsteps that are coming by and into our lives.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Studying history is just like Dickens says.
You are inevitably sitting alone listening, listening to the echoes of the footsteps of those who have walked before and envisioning, from those echoes, who may be coming into your life.
That is it.
No more. No less.
In the end.
I believe all of us would probably like to have a better sense of how to plan for the future. To better understand the best and proper actions to take to maximize the future in some form or fashion. To be better at assessing probabilities so that cross rods type decisions become more ‘different paths’ rather than ‘crossroads.’
Most of us, trying to do the best we can, most often start by examining the past to assess actions which we believe are a reflection of things affecting the future. In other words, trying to understand consequences for our decisions yet to be made.
The intent is good … and true.
We should never confuse honest good intent with ‘what is right’ or even worse ‘what will be’. i.e., certainty. Intentions are simply that — a reflection of intent. Sometimes intent begets some outcome, sometimes not. And intent doesn’t guarantee a good outcome.
The echoes of footsteps are context. But they are simply echoes.
And as for the future?
And at each point in time … no one knew what was coming.
A sobering Life truth for all to remember. It is a reminder that uncertainty looms ahead of every one of us.