When I was younger, I believed in History, like everybody else. Then I was educated out of it. Now I believe in it again. Not as a great abstract natural force, but as a product of the human herding instinct. We all, during periods of human existence, play our own part in it, like it or not. It doesn’t matter whether we are pro-History or anti-History, we play our part in its inexorable progress, just as the mythical Canute/Cnut played his.
Until we give up on the idea, we are thrill-seekers and some of us reach positions of influence – perhaps even real power – where our vanity or ego becomes all too aware of its place in History. We feel that we are shaping it. But we are also being shaped. We allow our destiny to become shaped. We are moved along by it but, at the same time, we play our part.
In the same way, those of us who gave up on thrill-seeking early on and are content to earn our crust, play a part. History cannot progress without us. It needs us to staff the offices, man the tills, drive the lorries, deliver the goods, hire the staff, clean the toilets, repair the lifts. It needs us to slide the shells into the breech, fuel the aircraft, operate the drones, analyse the intelligence. Without us, the thrill-seekers cannot feed the furnace of History.
And those of us who stand against it – antagonistic from birth, or burning with moral indignation – are no less the shapers of History. Like tiny fish, whose silver flanks turn first and steer the shoal, our action works towards a greater outcome. Like the wing of the distant butterfly, we cannot be isolated from the world that surrounds us and from its progress.
None of us are wasting time in this great spreading universe. A game-plan, a strategy, a conversation in a shop or words exchanged waiting for a train, a fragment written in the night, all these things work towards the turning of the shoal, the murmuration of the flock, the wandering of the grazing herd. Every moment, every breath we take, is a place in History.