History Isn't Very Instructive

With plenty of disruption across economic and political systems thanks to populism and its totalitarian supporters in the former Soviet Union, people who once thought we had democracy in the bag are feeling lost. More often than not, they will retreat into a fog of "well, if you look across history . . ." and then make relatively feeble comparisons from schoolbook historical glosses to today's predicaments.

These aren't very instructive. We know and have a lot more now than we did even 20 years ago, must less 200 years ago. We know germ theory, have vaccination, air travel, high-speed worldwide communications, satellites, radar, sonar, lidar, and microwave ovens (even, reportedly, some that take pictures as part of a deep state surveillance program). Historical lessons as far as motivations and human foibles may be instructive, but the context is completely different. We don't have polio and small pox. We don't have double-digit infant mortality.

Our problems and challenges are new and different, so our solutions have to be new and different. We are actually more tolerant of one another at a human level than we are politically or economically, studies have shown. Over the past 20 years, we've become more tolerant of interracial relationships, gay marriage, gays in the military, and people with mental or physical handicaps. We're much more chill about how we live our lives individually than we were in 1990.

Yet, we are more judgmental about political views or economic ability. The political intolerance seems to emanate from a media space that drives divisiveness and alienation. The economic Darwinism is more puzzling -- it's as if the feeling of social isolation and alienation has made people more miserly and protective, less generous and considerate, because they feel like they're on thin ice within a society that appears more willing to marginalize its own citizens.

These are new times, with few historical precedents. People are still alive who were born before commercial aviation was commonplace, much less taken for granted. There are people who still remember the polio epidemics. We've changed perhaps too quickly to realize that a new game requires a new playbook. Oddly, what the US electorate advanced is a team reading from a playbook that is truly historical, making them ahistorical -- they are living outside of history as we know it and as it has happened. We need to wake up to what today is, and move forward from here.