History as a Method of Prediction
Again I loosely refer to the concepts introduced by Carr in his book What Is History?, but intend on using that as merely inspiration for my own thoughts on this topic and not as a recounting of his views. I’ve previously written about how history can be used as a comparative tool and as context to more succinctly understand current events (causation, which, coincidentally, is the chapter I am up to in Carr’s book). I have also written a few pieces predicting what I believe may happen in the near future based on the historical context of the region. There are also moral and factual aspects of these predictions that I believe are important, not because they have any bearing on the prediction itself, but on the person who made it and reason it was made.
Carr puts forward that while there are lessons that can be learned from history, as many historians have done (he used the example of the Bolsheviks learning from the French revolutions of the 1800’s), it is not so useful when trying to predict how current events will run their course. He backs this up by saying that, as every historical event is unique, there is no way to account for everything that may happen that will shape the flow of future events. He also states that the act of predicting can either further ensure or cause avoidance of the events in question; that is, either becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy or false prediction that led elsewhere.
While this is absolutely true (until something occurs, you rely on speculation and likelihood of events), I think there is still merit in using history as a method of prediction for a couple of reasons. The first is that it gives people a greater understanding of both what is happening now and what happened in the past – Carr’s “unending dialogue”. By comparing previous occurrences with modern ones, people are better able to make informed decisions about what path they will pursue. One example that springs to mind is France’s history of revolutions. The yellow vest protests that were carried out against Macron’s government had similar class motives to previous events, and while full-blown revolutionary action was rather unlikely, the government knew it had to concede or face more widespread disorder. Here, a fall in Macron’s reputation was predictable, and while one couldn’t solidly predict how things would turn out, it was obvious that the government, and not the people, would have to adjust their position.
The second reason is more about one’s own personal understanding and experience. Last year I predicted that we may not make it to May for the next election here in Australia and have it called early, but unless there’s a major upset in the coming months I will have been incorrect. Of course, the flurry of action in the final days of Parliament in December and the fact that Parliament will only be sitting a dismal number of days leading to the election this year are a testament to Carr’s notion of “accidental” influences that makes prediction difficult, but it was, in my mind, not a meaningless prediction. I may have been wrong, but I’m certain that what I have learned as a result of that will be more beneficial to me and my understanding as an intellectual exercise than if I were simply right. There are now more possibilities open in the future based on what has transpired and now become history itself.
To turn to the second part of this piece – the moral and factual sides of prediction – I will use my prediction of the potential coup in Venezuela. As I have stated before, the history of the region lends itself quite well to this theory. With something as serious as the overthrow of a government, however, I feel it necessary to explain my thoughts on the prediction itself as the one who made it. In this case, while being correct may be mildly rewarding, I find myself wanting my own prediction to be incorrect. As an observer looking in objectively, the likelihood of a coup is reasonably high, but my own personal convictions viciously oppose such an event taking place.
Although the above paragraph probably goes without saying, I thought that was worth mentioning. The next part I have planned will explore it more, but there’s an interesting discussion to be had about seeing history and prediction from a purely academic and objective (in a general sense, not Carr’s definition of “objective history”) point of view, and from a more personal, moral and subjective point of view. I may not even title that as Pt.4 as it is an offshoot unrelated to Carr’s lectures – I feel I am already being too liberal with titling this piece as a reflection on What Is History? as it has little do with the book other than using it as inspiration for my own line of thought parallel to it. I am only up to lecture 4/6, however, so expect at least a concluding post that will sum up my thoughts on the book as a whole.
Just a quick addition to what’s turned into a mini ‘series’ I suppose, each part will have like a ‘subtitle’ to give context to what each piece is about. Not entirely necessary, but just a little clarity as to what to expect.
Another thing that I have noticed while reading this book – and indeed, many others in the past – is that no matter how extensive your vocabulary is, there will always be new words and phrases that will trip you up. For example, when I read the words ‘cavil’ and ‘opprobrious’ early I just stared blankly at them and had to search for the definition online. If nothing else, reading is a brilliant way to expand your own ‘dictionary’, which in turn will likely increase your ability to communicate with others in both a casual and professional setting. Coincidentally, after having thought that, I found this video that pretty much elaborates on that very idea and even suggests a book to help improve your handle on words.
For those interested, my prediction of a coup in Venezuela was in February of last year, but here is the piece I wrote in October after I started this site: Venezuela is Primed for a Coup