solnit: history is more like the weather than checkers

preface: see parts 1 and 2 of the thread here and here.

the final point that resonated with me in this particular thread of three from rebecca solnit in her on being interview was the idea quoted below:

“History is like the weather, not like checkers.” — rebecca solnit

(and if i add a little to it, it’s definitely not like chess either, which is what i fantasize about it being like).

i think, if i’m honest, i have more often than not, had a linear view of how history worked. i mean, i definitely have because that’s how the school systems that came out of the industrial age functioned. and maybe there was a little more nuance to it than i learned, but learning everything linearly and in discretely defined “eras” or “ages” definitely put things in the “a then b then c” lane.

but, as solnit shared, so much of history is more happenstance and flukey than planned out from the start. and we can never know ahead of time when a certain discovery will support us to rethink a particular series of events or the entirety of the history that we (think we) know.

so imagining, knowing that history is more like the weather than checkers really helps me let go of all the strategy i think i can have. it helps me lean more easily into ideas of emergence (and the practices of emergent strategy). it helps me see the importance to creating systems that operate based on established principles, create alignment, and then allow self-organization.

learn to work with the weather, not create it.* expect change. expect the unexpected. “hope for the best, plan for the worst, be unsurprised by everything in between.” - vivian baxter

* : this is sort of what’s wrong with geothermal engineering in my mind. also the fact that the whole isn’t just the sum of its parts and we understand so little about how the whole comes to be…

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