Our Past Is Our Future

We learn history–it has been said–so we do not repeat our past mistakes. Given our current circumstances, I wonder if this is true. Are we not a species that repeats mistakes frequently? Do we not experience consequences of a particular action, and then take that same course of action again?

I think about all of the times in my life I’ve done the same stupid thing more than once. For example, the other day I again purchased something from Instagram, even though I told myself that I would never buy another piece of crap from Instagram again. I knew better. Even my bank knew better because–and this is embarrassingly true–my bank denied the first transaction. I had to go into my bank account to approve the use of my card and then go back to the scam website to checkout again.

My past mistake was ordering a laptop tray on Instagram. When I received a blanket email about the shipping delays from the manufacturer that included everyone who had ordered the same product, I knew something was wrong. When I received a defective product that I could neither return nor receive refund for, I thought to myself, “Now you know never to buy anything on Instagram. They don’t properly vet their advertisers.”

I learned with the first mistake to read the comments, which reveal quite a bit about the nature of the business associated with the ad. Yet when presented with more ads (this time for clothing), I skipped reading the comments, ignored my bank’s warnings, and purchased more junk. When I went back to read the comments on the ad post, I could have kicked myself a thousand times over. Again–AGAIN? After everything? I do this to myself again?

This human trait goes beyond gullible and enters the realm of ignorance–at its root, meaning to refuse to consider or to ignore. I ignored my past experience–I did not forget it–and ended up repeating my past mistake. Perhaps this time the lesson will stick and I will not heap infinite shame upon my head with another such transgression, but maybe my future self will expect a different result. It’s possible that my future self is already in the process of disappointing me again. Nevertheless, this whole experience coupled with the books I’ve been reading got me to thinking about what’s going on in our nation today.

In terms of recent national mistakes, we’re not really covering new ground as a society. We’re still mired in the self-same muck of our forebears and repeating their same argue-but-do-nothing strategies that never worked before. In fact, if you could draw a line, from our current issues to our past issues, you’d find that line to be unerringly straight. Any person with any degree of motility would be able to connect the dots quite easily.

Take, as recent examples, the Black Lives Matter movement, the issue of police brutality and corruption, and the response to these issues along an incredibly divisive political line. Everything that’s being done now, from the protests to the reactions of the pundits, from the rantings of your neighbor next door to the rantings of the President, have all been done before. It’s almost like we’re following the directions off the back of a Shampoo bottle ad infinitum: Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.

As King Solomon wrote, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Are we doing this because we didn’t learn our history? This seems to be a weak argument for our current plight. We certainly know our past or we have learned something of it. Either way, we can’t claim complete lack of knowledge of it. If I were more superstitious, I might believe we were cursed to always repeat our past mistakes for failing to make right the incredible wrong committed at the beginning–in like a Sci-Fi Horror version of Groundhog Day.

But I’m not. Instead, I think we refuse to consider a better way because we are comforted by the familiar pattern of our mediocrity of do nothing, wait and see. Or worst, our actions and reactions are inextricable from our blood: We are forever tied to the mistakes of our past through our DNA, which indefinitely passes on the gene of wrongdoing, from one generation to the next–maybe a curse after all. I don’t really know.

What I do know is that I don’t foresee any difference in our future from that of our past.