History is a reconstruction of the past.
Things look very different when you look at them backwards in time. We apply the rules of logic to explain the causes and the effects of past events.
We are hardly ever aware of the impact today’s events will have on the future, yet in retrospect, certain events are clearly tagged as mile stones.
We like to observe the past from a rational standpoint but when the event that triggers true change actually take place, it is rarely acknowledged as such by the ‘rational’ bystanders.
History is an ongoing sequence of human behaviour. All the wars, the erratic movements of financial markets and what people vote for in democracies provide us with ample proof that humans are hopelessly irrational, especially when they act together.
Furthermore, the ‘rational’ mind is formatted by past experience so in a way, ‘rationality’ draws from a reconstruction of erratic sequences.
Rationality is highly overrated.
You can probably go crazy if you think too much about all this, and I guess that is precisely why most of us avoid doing so. Analyzing the past is probably not the best way to put your intellect to work.
Let me try to make my point with a few examples.
Imagine you are living in the Victorian era at the end of the 19th century. The British, Austrian and Ottoman Empires rule the world. Do you think it would be easy to convince people that all these empires will soon give way to the United States of America as the world’s dominant power? It is likely that people would probably tell you to have your head examined because, at the time, the USA was mostly a lawless and dangerous place on the frontier.
However, the truly visionary observer should have seen that it was the USA who was best positioned to make much more out of the industrial revolution than the elitist powers of those times because it was a land where opportunity was more equally divided among the ambitious immigrants that formed its society. Simply put, it was a place where enterprenneurs existed in abundance and was established on the premise of a land of opportunity.
Today, just try telling people that two of the future super-powers to reckon with are Nigeria and Turkey, most people will wonder what you have been smoking. Same story as with those in the 1980’s who dared to claim that China and Brazil would become very important in not too distant future. In those days China was mostly seen as a backward thinking communist state while Brazil was simply too corrupt and informal to have a future…
Here’s something a bit more far-fetched:
Back in the 1970’s, when we saw how the crew of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise heavily relied on a communication device that resembles today’s smart phones. We did not stop to think that the mere idea of such a device would completely transform the way we communicated in the future. Instead, our ‘rational’ mind merely entertained it as a gimmick on a TV show. It did, however, inspire some people out there to make it a reality.
By the way, why can we still not be ‘beamed up’? Who is working on that project?
Still in TV land, when the remote control was brought into people’s homes, the only people who truly freaked out were the TV station executives because they realized their life had suddenly become a lot more complicated. Now, if people didn’t like what they saw, they could easily switch to another channel without even having to get up.
Looking back, this may well have been one of the milestones that changed the future of entertainment into the fiercely competitive industry it is today. However, I don’t think anyone tagged it as such a game changing event when it actually happened.
I could go on and on but the crazy thing is that, deep inside, we continue to trick ourselves into using the past as a shelter against the unknown perils of the future.
Don’t be afraid to have wild ideas about what is to come. It always makes sense to analyse them.
But beware because the ‘rational’ people around you will try to prevent you from doing so.
They will supply you with many reasons why it didn’t work in the past.
They will work overtime to defend the status-quo because the future is simply too uncertain and they really want it to look very much like the past….
Here we go again..