We live in the now. That makes it difficult for us to learn.

Summary: Can we cope with the challenges of the 21st century? If not, why? These are among the questions most worth asking, although lost in the tide of factoids and daily trivia that fill the news. Here are some examples that suggest one of our core problems: we live in the now and so find it difficult to remember and learn from experience.

It's always Now on this watch

Five years ago 24 conservatives — economists, investment advisers, academics, and others — write an open letter to Chairman Bernanke warning that ” The planned asset purchases {QE2} risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed’s objective of promoting employment.” Time has proven their analysis almost totally wrong. A post by Brad DeLong (Prof economics, Berkeley) asks and answers an important question about this episode…

Justin Wolfers asked if any of the signers to this took their much-deserved reputational hit for signing it, or whether any of them have provided any sort of apologia.

The answer is “No: reporters somehow quote them, but do not ask them why they got it so wrong in late 2010. Reporters do not ask them how they have revised their visions of the Cosmic All as a result of getting it wrong. Reporters remain eager to take their quotes down and publish them as if they were the informed views of experts.”

And the other real shame — besides the journalistic one of pretending that this embarrassment never happened and continuing to burnish the reputation and media presence of the signers — is that, to my knowledge at least, not a single one of the signatories has gone back and explained {why they were wrong}. Marking their beliefs about the world to market is just not something that any of these people ever do.

This is a serious problem affecting America’s ability to see and understand the world (aka our Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action loop). As DeLong, Paul Krugman, and others have noted, conservative economists have predicted rising inflation (even hyperinflation) and a falling US dollar repeatedly during the past six years (e.g, Obama making the US into Zimbabwe) — yet the same people still remain experts to journalists — considered gurus by conservatives.

Fourteen years ago the US invaded and occupied Afghanistan. Twelve years ago the US invaded and occupied Iraq. Both expeditions were expensive failures in terms of their goals and any rational calculation of costs and benefits. Yet the civilian and military architects of these fiascos retain their status as experts, gracing our TV screens with new rounds of probably disastrous advice.

What happened to those stoking hysteria about Ebola in America? Or to those describing the OPM hack as devastating to US national security (89 weeks since the first hack and still no visible effects)?

You can make your own list of such things. It is easy to make a long one.

Blindfolded ignorance

Framing the problem

“Spirituality tells the seeker not to live in the hoary past, not to live in the remote future, but to live in the immediacy of today, in the eternal Now.”
— From Sri Chinmoy’s Everest-Aspiration (1977). Good advice, but we’ve taken it too literally.

As usual in America, each side of the political spectrum clearly sees this problem in their foes, but remains blind to it in themselves. DeLong describes this as a problem of Republicans, but examples are easily found on the Left. For example, Paul Ehrlich has an incredible history of making bold, confident, and quite wrong predictions (some examples). Yet he remains a sage to the Left. The movement of the Peak Oil doomsters (oil production peaked in 2005, civilization falls at 11:00) has collapsed, but Leftist websites still feature some of their stars.

Only the truth is revolutionary

Lessons for us

“Truth is revolutionary.”
— From “The Great Conspiracy”, editorial in a 1912 issue of The Vote: The Organ of the Women’s Freedom League. Orwell said nothing like this.

I’ve long spoken about our failure to learn. However, I now believe the problem is deeper. We do not appear able to easily remember, the step before leaning. We live in the now. Seeing truth requires a grasp of the past (to provide context and experience) which seems beyond what we can or will do.

We watch events in the real world on TV as we do sitcoms and action adventure shows. We want the news packaged in the same format: easy to absorb, matching our worldviews, with clear good and bad characters. The images dance before us, only lightly connected in time — and even less connected to our lives and our actions.

We live in the dreamtime. I suspect that events will eventually waken us.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about ways to reform our politics, and especially these…

  1.  The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy.
  2. Why the 1% is winning, and we are not.
  3. We are alone in the defense of the Republic.
  4. Who can we trust to defend our liberty? Will our culture’s rot spread to the military?
  5. American politics is a fun parade of lies, for which we pay dearly.

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