Why History is less about predicting and more about understanding!
It is innately human to look forward to the future. And it is thrilling to imagine drastic changes that could happen in the future: like the futuristic AI World or Outerspace adventures from Sci-Fi movies.
But when it comes to imagining the future of something we have accepted as a “basic part of the world” — like Religion, Money, or even the Nation-State World Structure, the changes seem improbable to us. Unlike the technological changes, the changes in structures of Religion, Money, and Nation-State feel static, for historical changes always seem static.
History and the Flat Earth Analogy
Think of it this way: Just as the earth seems flat from where we stand, purely because our point of horizon is dwarfed by the circumference of the earth, historical changes feel static for the same reason, as our time on earth is dwarfed by the millennia of history.
And this is History could serve as our guide.
History can help us better understand the future by rescaling our entire human story in a single frame. That way, we can see the gradual changes and the occasional bursts, and at least normalize the fact that changes are normal and inevitable.
Living at the Crossroad
If you look around, our world is riffed with countless arguments, changes, what-ifs, and queries.
With the origin of cryptocurrencies that could shape the future of Money, the constant conflicts and coming together that could shape the future of Religion, or the rapid rise of Nationalism that could shape the future of Nation-States, at times, it does feel like we are at the Crossroad of so many things.
Or maybe, we do stand at the Crossroad where the future — and the subsequent history of the future — could take any route, be it the future of Religion, Money or the Nation-States.
Some people think State should be free on religion and some think their State is there only because of Religion, some think Religion now is obsolete and some take Religion as their whole life.
Replace Religion with Money and the arguments would stand the same: “Should the States have something to do with Money?”, “Is Crypto the ultimate savior or just a giant Ponzi scheme?”, and so on.
A billionaire going to Space can trigger a multitude of emotions and reactions among us, and sometimes — ironically and importantly — within us.
Commoners and History Shapers
I think it is because of our vacillating human nature that we always end up living on the crosswords. Take our own individual self for a reference: We start our day with a dream of a no-visa world, strive our day as a normal global citizen, and yet at the slightest provocation or threat to our culture or nation resort back to peak Nationalism.
We want easier immigration policies for countries where we want to go, and yet take umbrage at the idea of the loose immigration policy of our own country, and some of us even dream of our own new Nation-State before sleeping and dreaming again of a no-visa, no Nation-States world.
Maybe it is this motley of our vacillating nature and behavior — and the situations which in themselves are not black and white — that make up the world with crossroads and also ultimately shape history.
History, after all, is created like that. While a simple glance of it could give us the impression that history is shaped purely by a few influential figures, history overall is shaped by us commoners, and our nature, decisions, and actions. It is our daily actions and decisions that accumulate and pile up, take slow turns and directions, and ultimately reach the tipping point.
Of course, in a compressed one-frame picture, the dots give a definite structure and history looks only like the tipping point. But history is changing even today, one day at a time — like it always does.
Ultimately, it is history that shapes us commoners and us commoners that shape history.
Why History is less about predicting the future
Like I had mentioned above, most of us take History as a tool for predicting the future. But it is here I need to highlight that the primary goal of history is not to predict the future. Rather, the primary goal of history is to understand our world.
Just as Science helps us in understanding the how and why of the physical world, like the Origin of the Universe or the Origin of Life, history helps us in understanding the living part of our world, like the Origin of Religion or the Origin of Money.
Think of the “living world” around you: from the country you live to the company you go to work, from the culture you follow to the languages you speak. If you ever wonder how all of these came into being, you have to turn to the history pages to look for their origin.
Just to understand the origin of modern-day Companies, you have to go back to the Dutch Innovation of Stocks, and to understand the Dutch story, you have to understand a few other stories, like the stories about Exploration and the Spices leading to Exploration.
History, in that sense, is the search for the root causes of events that have shaped us. It is a journey from one proximate cause to another, one layer deeper at a time, in a quest of finding the ultimate root cause.
Can we even predict the future?
Since history aids us in knowing the causes of events, it also gives us the impression that we can know the future from the past.
But talking about the future is a very daunting task, as we do not get to enjoy the benefit of hindsight in drawing the narratives which we can do while talking about the past. But again, talking about the future for me is less about trying to be right in predictions, and more about trying to be aware of the possible routes the course of time could take.
History, in that sense, is the journey of time and space to connect the past with the present, in a quest to understand how we reached ‘there’ in the future, even if we do not know the ‘there’ part yet, including the very future of Money, Religion and the Nation-States.