Counterfactual History. Not alternative facts but the Heart of Decision.

I’ve been hearing historian Dr Niall Ferguson, who is the Millbank Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, amongst many other titles, use the term “counterfactual” more than a few times now, and always wondered what on earth he meant by it. That was answered for me when I listened to this podcast, and I do recommend that you listen to it as well.

Some examples nearer to home might be:

1. What if there had not been a Lee Kuan Yew? Would Singapore still have come into being? Were the demographics, economic conditions and expressions of shared values and beliefs such that a Singapore would have emerged anyway? What was the probability of this happening if there had not been a Lee Kuan Yew?

2. What if Indonesian President Sukarno had been able to realize his dream of establishing a “Maphilindo”, which was the coalescing of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines into a single nation or at least a confederacy? What influenced his decision, and that of the people supporting him? Was it even feasible that “Maphilindo” could have been born, even given the historical precedents of the Sri Vijayan and Majapahit Empires?

3. What if Khublai Khan had actually managed to annex Japan, Korea and perhaps also the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, just to have an idea of the land mass and archipelago involved? Would the world be living under the Great Law of Genghis Khan? Even if the Mongols had learned to conduct naval operations well, was it feasible for such conquests to have occurred? Why did Khublai Khan even try?

The decisions we all make, whether small or great, do not depend on our astuteness in conducting either personal affairs or affairs of state. They depend on our values, which are determined by our beliefs. I say that they depend only on Whom we believe in. There is no such thing as “Unintended Consequences”, a term bandied about by the political and academic elite. We are all very smart people, and we know full well what the consequences of our actions and decisions will be. We choose based on the degree we choose to believe in the Promises and the Word of the Living God or on our own highly fallible reasoning. When we base our decisions on our highly fallible reasoning, it is called a “political decision”, like how Roosevelt basically threw Poland under Stalin’s bus, so to speak, during World War 2.

I read many years ago an exchange between Lucy and Aslan in “Prince Caspian”, one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. It illustrates in a way what counterfactual history is really about – getting into the hearts of decision-makers in order to discern why they decided the way they did. Do have a quick look, and ask yourself “If a counterfactual history of my life were to be written a hundred years from now, what would it say about my life?”

An exchange between Lucy and Aslan

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