History is not only written by the winners. It’s also rewritten by people with an agenda.
Scholars and experts not only scour past events to highlight their favorite version but also according to their own philosophy of history. The most common are:
- Great Man Theory – Churchill, Lincoln, Caesar, Charlemagne, Stalin. The greats have disproportionate influence over the events, and everything is basically backdrop. These heroes are the causes, and the rest of history is the effect.
- Parametric Determinism – Geopolitics, class struggle, famines, droughts, and migrations are the lead dominoes causing history to play this way, or the other.
These theories pretend like the history is unfolding neatly, and if there is something the western culture cherishes it’s neatly categorized explanations. But I don’t buy it.
The world is chaotic, messy, and unpredictable. Random shit happens, and I’m here to tell you that it’s ok to subscribe to the random shit school of history, also known as the Butterfly Effect. In a sufficiently complicated system, the interactions between events are often random and tangled. The result is neither the intended outcome nor the best one. Moreover, once something catches on, it’s hard to change, even if the situation is clearly suboptimal.
- QWERTY keyboard layout is by far the most popular in the world. It’s also objectively the worst. It was designed to prevent ‘locking’ in the mechanical typewriters, so it makes you move your fingers around the most, which is why your wrists hurt. Colemak and Dvorak on the other hand (pun intended) – were modernized for computers and the English language.
- Tesla had to prove that electric cars are a viable alternative to the combustion engine. But we almost had electric cars since the birth of motorization. Edison thought electric cars are superior technology and Henry Ford was working on prototypes.
- Recommended daily exercise is 10 000 steps because Japanese character for 10 000 looks like a man walking: 万
Almost everything you see around you is not that way because it’s a final evolutionary stage, but because of the complicated and mostly random history behind it. Except for crabs. Crabs are the final evolutionary stage of everything.
The answer? Be Deliberate. You should accept expert opinion, but dig in, and strive to understand it from the first principles. The world is messy and simple causal relationships are rare. Most explanations you hear in the news make up a good story, nothing more.
Some absurd stuff to keep you on your toes
In 2006 the Scottish government set out to rename their fleet of de-icing trucks (gritters), and they asked the most capable crowd for help: they ran a competition in primary schools. The result was glorious, as you can see on the live map. Some of my favourite trucks are named:
- Lord Coldemort
- David Plowie
- For Your Ice Only
- Gritney Spears
- I Want To Break Freeze
- Ice Breaker
- Luke Snowalker
- Sir Grits A Lot
- Yes Sir Ice Can Boogie
Soviets planned to build a fleet of nuclear-powered Zeppelins because what the Hinderburg catastrophe clearly lacked is an atomic bomb.
After Home Offices became the mandatory workplace of no choice in 2020, Fisher-Price decided to also teach the new reality to the young ones:
Roam TODO exploder
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I write about the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, focusing on remote work, online economy, and cognitive load. Every monday.