דער מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט
Transliterated as “Der mensch tracht un Guht lacht”; translated as “Man plans and God laughs.” It was one of my father’s favorite Yiddish sayings, and essentially points to the futility of trying to predict the future. Anticipate? Perhaps. Predict? Forget about it. People have used this Yiddish phrase to introduce everything from weather forecasting to guidance on future monetary policy from the Bank of England.
Turning the mirror upside down might help us get around this problem, enabling one to think about the present as if it were the past – a strategy espoused by Chuck Klosterman in his thought-provoking new book. Klosterman is self-effacing on the subject, opening as follows: “I’ve spent most of my life being wrong. Not about everything. Just about most things … At this point my wrongness doesn’t even surprise me. I almost anticipate it.”
Speaking of books, there’s a 41% chance when you obtain a book it will be through Amazon (although Chuck doesn’t mention them by name). That’s wildly successful, threatening to push bricks & mortar into obscurity. In many offices and homes, books on paper have been reduced to art objects as the electronic medium predominates. And while you may think of Amazon principally as a bookseller, books comprise only 7% of the company’s total sales! (A glance at the Amazon boxes of all sizes and shapes occupying the lobby of our apartment building by noon each day attests to this.)
The key, Klosterman claims, is formulating the right questions about the present to challenge our certitude about the future. Remove the book’s jacket cover and you’ll note that the big question mark is inverted, a symbolism reminding us to view and pose these questions from different angles.
Here is a bite size version of Klosterman from CBS This Morning:
And a heftier dose of Klosterman from his book reading and Q & A at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C.: