All stock promotions include this caution, “Past performance is no indication of future performance.” Today’s hot stocks can be worthless tomorrow, because no one can predict the future. Neither the stock market nor the weather can be predicted with certainty, and none of us can know for sure where we will be next year.
The only constant in life is change. I grew up during the 1960s, a time of great social change. Blacks, women and gays were marching for their rights. Workers were winning higher wages and benefits. America was being defeated in Vietnam. Yugoslavia was intact. Germany was divided. And computers were found only in science labs.
Just a few decades later, the world has changed dramatically, and so have people’s expectations. My parents expected me to have a better life than they had. I do not expect my children to do as well as I have done. I entered adulthood with great hope for the future. My grandchildren wonder if the world will last long enough for them to have children.
Given so much change over such a short period, I am amazed when people insist that change is not possible, that the past does predict the future, for individuals and for society.
Consider these common statements: You can’t change human nature. Once a criminal, always a criminal. We tried socialism/communism, and it didn’t work. You’ll never get people to cooperate, demonstrate, rebel, etc.
Such pessimism serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy that blocks change. When we expect nothing to change, then we do nothing to create change.
Only the ruling elite benefit from this massive failure of the imagination. They can stay in power as long as they convince the rest of us that capitalism is the only possible social system, so that it is futile, even reckless, to want anything else.
Like all ruling classes that came before it, the capitalist class wants to rule forever. The only change they want is more capitalism. They organize society as if there were no past, no future and no consequences. Only today matters — today’s sale, today’s profit. We all know the consequences: environmental devastation, epidemics of preventable disease, endless wars of acquisition, and a juggernaut of greed that tramples human lives across the globe. Their dream is our nightmare.
Dare to Imagine
Fortunately, the past does not predict the future. Civilizations come and go. Empires rise and fall. Capitalism will also give way to new social formations. Another world is possible.
Not all choices are available. We can’t turn back the clock. We can only go forward. And we didn’t choose the conditions into which we were born and in which we must struggle. Nevertheless, we can make choices today that will change the future.
We can choose to believe that we can move beyond capitalism and class divisions. We can choose to believe that the majority have a common interest in pulling together. We can choose to imagine a future that is good, even wonderful!
Knowing our past is essential to changing our future. To discover who we could become, we must know how capitalism has shaped us to be who we are. By appreciating the problems that our ancestors solved in the past, we can gain the confidence to solve our problems today.
Because the future is unknown, we cannot predict if our efforts will succeed. We can be sure that, if we don’t try, we will surely fail. We can choose to act anyway, in hope, instead of surrendering to pessimism, passivity and despair.
The past does not predict the future. The future is ours to shape, by making choices today that will bear fruit tomorrow. Let us dare to dream of a better world — a caring, sharing, truly democratic world. Let us take those actions today that will bring that world one step closer.