A single line from an excellent book, The 5000 Year Leap, has really made me think:
“The physical sciences capitalize on the lessons of the past, but the social sciences seldom do.”
We would never have the great technology tools and toys, the miraculous medicines, or the comfortable lifestyles that we do if we had to start all over again every generation or two to establish the underlying knowledge gained by previous engineers and scientists. It was a relatively few years after the Wright Brothers that commercial jet airlines were commonplace and, shortly after that, man walked on the moon! Each step forward became the foundation for the next.
Seems very logical, right? WHY would we want to move backwards and go through all the trials and troubles, all the research and experimentation to find the answers again if we already know them? It would be crazy to do that! Repeating the same mistakes would waste time, effort, and money… not to mention the benefits gained from whatever good things the results lead to. You seldom see the scientific community behave that way… on the whole, it steadily moves FORWARD.
But, when it comes to human behavior, it seems we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes periodically. A small percentage of those might be classified as disease or addiction, such as drinking or gambling, and are a bit easier to understand. A person can intellectually know that, say, drinking disagrees with them… but cannot control themselves. Such individuals often require assistance to correct their actions, need a support network to help them deal with the problem.
But what about “regular” behavior?
Perhaps it has to do with short memories, or the hubris of the young rejecting ideas of their elders, or simply not thinking about the ultimate implications. For example, it is not uncommon to find people who spend more than they make or drive recklessly or engage is some other dangerous behavior. Unless they’ve been soundly taught and can exercise personal restraint and discipline, the obvious association between immediate excesses and future repercussions is either unknown or ignored. Despite the predictable outcome, it seems they will not listen to reason and, sadly, must learn the lesson on their own. With luck, that will happen without permanent damage being done… but sometimes the lesson is fatal.
This occurs on a collective level, too. Societies once dominant fall into history. Consider the ancient Romans. From virtually nothing, the Roman Empire became a great military and technological people. At its peak, Romans lived a life of luxury surpassing that of other cultures… and it became their downfall. They forgot the precepts of their founding and declined into depravity.
Could the USA be experiencing the same thing?
We have enjoyed a level of freedom and individual success unmatched in the history of mankind. At times, it seems many of us take it for granted. Assume everyone has the same rights. Presume we will always have our freedom… that it will never go away, that it CAN never go away.
These same people apparently think the governing system that conveyed that freedom and established the basis of our success can… and should… be “tinkered” with. That it can be improved. While nothing is perfect, and there is room for improvement in most things… the path to better things is not to repeat the mistakes of the past. It took our Founding Fathers much thought, considerable debate, and several actual attempts to develop the BEST foundation for our country, the Constitution. It did not come easily and certain options were purposely omitted. One of the original goals was to avoid a dominating, centralized government… to put MORE power in the hands of the people rather than put government in control of the people.
Are we making progress or repeating old mistakes?
Today, I fear we are moving in the wrong direction… that people are willingly handing over some of their power to government for some promise of well-being. A promise that is easy to give and virtually impossible to deliver.
Bigger government is NOT the answer to our problems. WE, individually, must look to ourselves for the solutions and assert our power and authority over the government… while we still have it… to guide our nation back to the basics of its greatness.