Wednesday, April 28, 2010

History is fractal - IOT the Zulu nation

Melvyn and Shula do not have the best chemistry in during the In Our Time program The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation. I can see why Melvyn was peevish, but it's a bit of a shame. I'm sympathetic to Marks' notion that the emergence of Shaka Zulu was more chance than destiny; a contingent result of swirling change and disruption driven, fundamentally, by the technologies of innovative agriculture and consequent rapid population growth and Malthusian collapse.

That, however, was too much subtlety for 15 minutes of Shaka, for there was a lot of ground to cover in one 48 minute program. Even in this quick overview it's clear the history of the consequent fallings and risings of the Boer, Zulu, and British is immensely complex, full of chance and personality and mostly unknown.

So it is with history. Endless stories, of which we know only a tiny number. There must be many more, perhaps more grand and sad than any we know, lost in deep time.

Lost, but, in a sense, not unknown. History is fractal. The stories we know in detail are similar to those we know in outline are similar to those we know in myth, and are very likely similar to those we don't know at all. If we are wise enough to realize that history is fractal, we can study closely the history we know and learn universal truths. If we are foolish enough to believe our stories are unique, we walk the path of willful ignorance.

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