Year's end makes me philosophical. I wonder if history proceeds mainly by organic development, or if it is nudged along mainly by accidents.
I understand that the discovery of America was an accident. Also, they told us in school that Archimedes discovered how to calculate the density of irregular objects by accident, when getting out of the bathtub. "Eureka!" But that would be an example of how some "accidents" are really the eventual and predictable outcomes of lots of previous non-accidental thinking and research.
I heard the defeat of the Spanish Armada was due in some measure to a fortuitous (for England) wind, an "act of God." Still, it may be that other non-accidental long-range trajectories made Spain's waning power just a matter of time. Historians must do a lot of thinking about these things. The best I can tell is that in the details there are a lot of "accidents," but in the long view they fit into trends. Who knows?
It's interesting to me that two major news stories in 2009---the exposure of shenanigans in ACORN and in the climate research community---were served up, not by the staid old ladies of traditional journalism but by freelancers and independent hackers. Watergate, of course, was an accident.
There's also the story of how the Large Hadron Collider, the world's biggest atom smasher, was brought to its knees in early November when a passing bird dropped a bit of baguette on an electrical substation, causing a power cut. Freaky.
The whole thing reminds me of the king of Israel who went to great pains to avoid getting injured in battle---he disguised himself, while Judah's King Jehoshaphat went into the fray in royal clothing. "But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate" (2 Chronicles 18:33). God had wanted him dead (2 Chronicles 18:19), so it wasn't exactly an accident.
There is this:
"Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
And there is also this:
"Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed. . . . He who sits in the heavens laughs" (Psalm 2:1-4).
To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.