A Little of What History Has Been Teaching Us

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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One thing that 19th and 20th Century conditions in this sometimes drought-stricken North American continent taught us was about fighting fires and wildfires. One needs to put out or block the fire before your neighbor’s house burns, or your own house goes with it. In the 20th Century, the start of World War II taught us the same lesson again, in another context, however imperfectly. For an animal as smart as we humans are reported to be, collectively we are remarkably slow learners.

Another thing that the 20th Century taught us was that there are indeed wrongs and evils in the world which must somehow be changed or overcome – among them totalitarianism, genocide, racism, disease, and destruction of the environment and of common heritage.

One thing the Great Depression taught us was that an economy of peers is way, way more prosperous and productive than an economy of peons. Money concentrated into too few hands can’t do its work, that makes your markets too small and we all lose. Why have we had to learn this painful lesson all over again? And HAVE we?

One thing which history and our own times have consistently taught us, over and over and over and over again, is that no one stock of people is inherently better or worse than others, people are pretty much the same everywhere. Values and circumstances may differ from one subculture to another, from one culture to another, and those do matter. What is it locally, that gives people advantage over each other within a community or within a nation, that largely determines what gets done there, the good and bad which that society commits and professes? Who there gets positively reinforced for what – Hitler or Mother Theresa? Answer that question, then look around us today, look at much of what got us into our present trouble, look at our political campaigning, look at our media.

What have we become? What are we becoming?

One hard-to-swallow lesson which our own times, our present years, have taught us to our shock and sorrow, is that no one people and no one nation can be trusted for long with too much power. That includes my own very much loved country, the object lesson of our time. Put the stakes of concentrated power high enough and our own highest aspirations and most generous natures are betrayed and used against us, in OrwellSpeak and generally. For the survival of humanity, we can’t afford the dance of the superpowers any longer. We have to get things done by some other means than that of clawing our respective ways toward world hegemony.

One thing that the whole sweep of history, economics and sociology have taught us is that in any given situation, advantage tends to drift into the hands of a relative few. The few then, having a stake in preserving the conditions which gave them advantage or which now support them in that advantage, tend to greet change with something less than whole-hearted enthusiasm. Make the situation large enough which thus continues maladaptive, and the accumulated stresses ultimately release in killer socioquakes. As much as possible should be done through small situations, under structures and conditions which encourage appropriate adaptivity.

A fractal look at the world, past and present, shows us over and over again at every level the root of all the ills in the world, and how to correct them! As Lord Acton indicated, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Whenever you have long-term imbalance in human power relationships, that situation tends naturally toward serving the convenience of the advantaged. After awhile, convenience becomes abuse. All the evils of the world can be traced in at least large part to abuse of unbalanced human power relationships.

Compare fields of human endeavor which generally progress and advance, with those which do not. We learn that whether in science or in business, in order to succeed you must have the chance to fail. Biographies of contemporary billionaires and other current successes, show instance after instance of abject failure before the successful breakthrough was made. Which means, that in human society generally, in order to have success, people must have the chance to fail – and that some will, indeed, fail. It’s what happens AFTER that failure that is critical – – –

– – – Failure must not be allowed to be permanent. We need to rapidly recycle our failures into another legitimate chance and try for success. No more of this leaving people mired in circumstantial failure for a hundred generations, until the very protein sequencing of their genes is hunkered down into self-replicating failure mode. In accepting their exploitation, we deprive ourselves and our civilization (and our markets!) of their potential high contributions to our common human adventure.

HOW may we adequately enough and rapidly enough recycle failures – people AND resources – into success? By much the same methods and techniques which are currently designed to enable anyone to perform better, live better, experience better, contribute to and participate far more wholly in what it is to be a human being. For more on this and related issues, see ” Visiting the Future — March 27, 2472″ (Winsights No. 76, June 2004).

These are obviously not the only lessons that one can draw from the multiplex richness of human history and context—but they are some of them.

If any part of this briefing has value or merit in your eye, please feel free to pass it on.

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