History is what happens while you’re making plans

Yesterday on Twitter, someone posted in a thread that: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” While attributed in this case and quite frequently to Franklin Roosevelt, I’m not surprised to find this morning that the attribution appears spurious. I have not spent all that many years personally engaged in politics, but bumbling seems much more typical than something happening as a result of planned activity.*

That seems to apply to… a lot, actually, as the past year has been demonstrating in big ways.

It isn’t just that no one seems to have a credible theory of the case. Republican elites probably come closest, with their states-and-courts strategy for hollowing out democracy—while abhorrent it’s a strategy and it’s working—but even they seem to have a tiger by the tail. This looks like a disciplined, functioning strategy in comparison with most other political activity, much of which is ritual people just repeat because humans are that way. Calls, postcards, zingers online, letters to the editor; dance the ghost dance, shake the magic gourds, chant the word “bipartisan” again and again and again and again.

Meanwhile some things change, but it has so little to do with the ritual. A random confluence of events catalyzed by a virus seems, right now, to be doing more to raise wages than generations of traditional labor organizing and political lobbying have. Crime seems to surge or decline in response to factors which, if influenced by policy, have very little to do with what most people think of as “crime policies.” Technology has been ready for a massive shift toward working from home for probably a decade, at least, yet if not for a pandemic and lockdown, old models might have persisted unquestioned for who-knows-how-much-longer.

I have been reminded a time or three, just in the past week, that I’m not qualitatively different, either. The human brain is just not really designed for the challenges posed by modern existence (i.e. everything since the beginning of recorded history). It is, perhaps, a bit like trying to type on a flip phone.

Wind up millions or billions of machines like this and what, really, do we expect, other than all kinds of nonsense and confusion? It’s genuinely a wonder that anything complex functions at all.

If there is any pattern or sense to most big things which happen, it seems like real understanding must require a science which we haven’t even begun to develop.

Lacking that, humans mostly do what we have always done, and believe that rituals will influence events whether they do so or not.

Dance the ghost dance, shake the magic gourds, chant, repeat…

* People love to believe in conspiracy and secret knowledge and order which isn’t there, a theme which Eric Sandy addressed thoughtfully earlier this week.

One Thought on “History is what happens while you’re making plans

  1. The Doctor, as played by Paul McGann: “I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.”

Post Navigation