...a grey rhino or a black swan? An unprecedented choice.
I think the only thing about the word unprecedented that is true, is its use in everyday language. That word was Dictionary.com’s word of the year (2020), owing to civil unrest, the pandemic, US presidential elections, European politics, and climate events. Its life cycle may not be long, however, as it may soon join words like lethargic, friend, genius, literally, and talk that no longer mean anything at all. (Disaster might be in that list, too, if I keep using it to refer to a shift at work, a family meal, or attempts to make goose jerky). Yet, as it speeds towards retirement, it’s not there yet. For example, Alberta is currently experiencing an “unprecendented” wildfire season.
This is not to debate how unprecedented, unexpected, or unpredictable recent or historical events were or were not, but to suggest a paradigm for living in a complex world, gleaned from a few inspiring thinkers.
“...our world is dominated by the extreme, the unknown, and the very improbable (improbable according our current knowledge)—and all the while we spend our time engaged in small talk, focusing on the known, and the repeated.”
-Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The black swan: Impact of the highly improbable.
If it isn’t unprecedented, we’ll need to find a new word, because of course we haven’t seen the last disaster. There will always be another war, another hurricane, another earthquake, another (dare I say it, with the taste of COVID still lingering) pandemic. And there will always be one worse than the worst we’ve yet experienced.