I'm in the middle of reading Iain M Banks' latest Culture novel, Surface Detail. As usual its a wonderful piece of space opera, with action that sprawls across planetary systems, species and real and virtual worlds. There are wheels within wheels, nothing is necessarily as it seems, and the technology is incredible.
Much of the action takes place in what is called the Tsungarial Disk, a ring of supposedly abandoned ancient machines surrounding a gas giant planet. Two of the main characters approach the disk, intent on skullduggery.
Veppers smiled thinly at the alien.... "Why did they build all these? Why so many? What was the point?"
"Insurance, possibly," Bettlescroy said. "Defence. You build the means to build the fleets rather than build the fleets themselves, the means of production being inherently less threatening to one's neighbours than the means of destruction. It still makes people think twice about tangling with you." The little alien paused. "Though it has to be said that those inclined to the fuck-up theory of history maintain that the Disk has no such planned purpose and is essentially the result of something between a minor Monopathic Hegemonising Event and an instance of colossal military over-ordering." It shrugged. "Who is to say?"
I definitely subscribe to the fuck-up theory of history. Given that the Culture is basically Western society writ large (very large) it's not hard to see ourselves in this description. What was the Treaty of Versailles but a huge stuff-up that paved the way for the second World War? What was the dropping of the warheads on Hiroshima and Nagasaki but a stuff-up brought on by US fear of the Russians? What is Al Qaeda but a colossal mistake by the CIA and the Pakistani intelligence service?
It's often said that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. It's also been said that the one thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history. Perhaps we should change that. The one thing we learn from history is this - stop fucking things up!