rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno
(I am posting this today at The American Catholic, and I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might also like it.)
The completely unexpected in history has always fascinated me. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his 2007 book The Black Swan, took a look at the impact of events in history for which our prior experiences give us no inkling. Taleb states three requirements for a Black Swan Event:
First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
Unlike Mr. Taleb I think true Black Swan events, based upon the criteria he sets forth, are rather rare in the history of mankind. Normally they fall down on the first element. Taleb, for example, views the fall of the Soviet empire as a Black Swan occurrence. I disagree in that the dissolution of the great colonial empires of the West had been a salient feature of the post World War II world. Totalitarian controls allowed the Soviet Union to delay the process, but once the reins were loosened, and the threat of mass violence was no longer on the table, the dissolution came rapidly.
The Coming of Christ into this world is the greatest example of a Black Swan Event that I can think of, and over the remainder of this Advent we will see how looking at the Incarnation through this mental prism can give us a new appreciation of how unlikely, and startling, the impact of Christ on History has been.
Before we do this, let us take a moment to recall to mind the world into which Christ was born. (more…)