HISTORY AND PROGRESS
Joining Chicago Boyz
has already paid intellectual dividends. John Jay
has a formidible post "Whatever Hits the Fan is Never Evenly Distributed
" that, in part, responds to my commentary on cyclical vs. linear views of history
. Here is an excerpt:"Trajectories matter. Real world systems are dynamic, not static. Especially human societies. But in the timescale we can measure with our fleeting consciousness and hazy grasp of both history and the present, many times we are measuring the health of our society at time intervals that are too short to determine our own trajectory, especially considering that I would model societies more as a hot-air balloon tossed by the wind, rather than as a bullet swiftly passing through the air. Humans tend to project the present situation forward indefinitely, rendering useless even our current rudimentary ability to determine how the winds of history can blow societies temporarily off course, pointing, for a moment, in a different direction from the vector of long-term progress. David Foster is fond of pointing out that humans have a much easier time discerning and predicting patterns that vary in space, rather than ones that vary in time. And he’s right. The person well-versed in history can overcome this somewhat by studying the past, but only somewhat, because history is a set of experiments in which too many variables have been fixed, so that general theory of human progress is difficult if not impossible to formulate. But at least a good historian understands that taking a single snapshot of today does not do much to help map the path to the future"Read the rest here
While this was a section of a much larger post, the point about our innate sense of temporal distortion is very telling. In the absence of very precise and exacting analytical thinking, the error of "presentism
"is apt to reign supreme. Not only do we not see the correct angle of the trajectory, we might be oblivious of the operative variables.