Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What if?

I hated history in school. Then in adulthood, I read a book titled “What If? America: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been”, edited by Robert Cowley, a historian himself. The study of "counterfactual", which is what this book is all about, answer the 'what if' questions, bringing a sense of the importance of historical incidents (sometimes very small) into the larger history of humanity - making history much more interesting. For instance, Martin Luther was expected to be burnt by the Catholic Church at the Stake for being a heretic. But, by sheer chance, he was not (I think he was hidden by some Duke in Germany). So, it makes it very interesting to imagine the world without Protestantism. It is not a stretch to say that we would not have the United States of America if Martin Luther suffered the expected fate that met almost all people of his persuasion.

And we know very well that the decision as to whether or not Jesus should be crucified could have gone either way with Pontius Pilate labouring so much to save Jesus life. He could have easily resisted the crowd and hang Barabbas. So, what if Pontius Pilate saved Jesus (which he easily could have). No cruxifiction, no cross. I think it is interesting to imagine the world without a Cross, indeed without Easter! Since the suffering of Jesus is the essence of Christianity, and since Christianity is the essence of Western civilisation, one can say that that flip decision by Pontius Pilate to heed the blood thirst of the crowd and hang Jesus changed the course of world history as we know it (including advancing colonialism).

What if Normandy landing failed...(it easily could have...)

I understand that all these extrapolations may seem useless but to think that Tanzania’s course of history was determined by the persistence of the crowd of some rowdy Jews at the Pilate's court is thrilling.

Of course here in Tanzania we can create our own “what ifs”. What if the 1964 Mutiny succeeded? (it easily could have if the mutineers succeeded in capturing Brigadier Douglas and Major Marciandi, the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, Centaur, was not passing by the nearby Gulf of Eden, etc.).

What if….Nyerere lost the debate in the 1958 TANU general meeting that decided not to boycott the 1958 (kura tatu) election (he nearly did, and left the Chair to fully battle for his ideas on the floor).

What if John Okello left Zanzibar before January 1964 (which he nearly did).

What if…..


Anonymous said...

January, I'am a very optimistic person and most of the times I think that everything or most events happen for special reasons. (Isn't this when history and science fails to give us answers for questions like "what If", religion comes in?) I wonder if it's fair to think that way.

By the way, do you discuss politics, societies and events happening around the world or is your blog just about Tanzania?

I'm new to your blog, I enjoy it because apart from loving politics, I think you discuss some very smart and interesting topics. KEEP IT UP BRO!

January Makamba said...


Again, thank you for posting. Yes, religious faith gives us comfort that our creator has a rationale for everything...

And there are those who say that the whole 'what if' exercise is a waste of time...because things have already happened anyway, and what might have been is really not our business. I agree to some extent but as an intellectual exercise, particularly in looking at incidents that shaped our history, it is useful to sometimes engage in it.

Yes, here everything goes...politics, society, and [any and every] thing(s). Thanks for support.

Anonymous said...

'What if' could have, but what if didnt! As Salama said, everything happens for a reason, it is however within human being's nature to question what if, and what could have!We have witnessed the 'what if' struggle Scientifically, Philosophically and organized Religion has not done anything to make the sitation any better. People are entangled with beliefs that we need to prepare for an after-life. how do you prepare for an after-life when you can't even make sense of what is infront of you!What if?

I once heard someone say People fear what they don't understand and hate what they cant conquer. This is why we are still worried about what could have. I think, people need to stop wandering about the past and transform the what if question to a cautious tool as we venture into the future. A change of the what if phenomenon, from the fearful connotation it brings to a new hope. 'What if' as a new question that will take precautionary measures to the current problems while projecting the possibilities of a futuristic yet eco-friendly model that will not only solve some of our deeply infested fears and questions, but also navigate on what solutions would be the best now and in the long run. Computer programming and the astounding innovations in Genetic engineering can attempt answering the What if question. What if can be projected and by statistical analysis, the possibilities can be laid out.

I am confident to say that What if is not a scary thought it once used to be.I am not saying it is not an important question, i am saying that this generation has made tremendous steps towards answer the question.


Anonymous said...

Some quantum physicist propose -with serious studies and papers mind you- that the universe branches off every instant and all possible happennings take place, everything imaginable happens in a different universe.

This is commonly used to answer the "Grandfather Paradox" as posed by the phenomena apparent in the Michael J. Fox movie "Back toThe Future". Fox goes back in time and tries to see if he can prevent his grandfather to meet his grandmother, but the paradox is, if Fox is successful, how will he have been born? The answer as shown in the movie, is that the universe will prevent this from happenning.So the rule of thumb is, if anything can happen, it will happen or has happenned in the past.the only problem is some things, such as you walking through a brick wall, have a quantum probability that is so low that it will take many times the age of the universe to happen.

So don't worry about a world in which Jesus was pardoned, it is somewhere out there, and probably Ganghes Khan colonized the Romans and settled the Americas, Mongolian is the world language and everybody is Buddhist, there was no crusade and Africa is much more developed than Europe.

The inhabitants of the world I just described have a totally different types of challenges, including how to contain their thoughts from becoming visible to others, because they all evolved with some mind reading x ray vision.

Whatever you describe, as long as it does not violate a fundamental law of physics, has happenned somewhere.