Hope for the New Year: The Past Does Not Predict the Future

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.

Susan Rosenthal is a socialist, retired physician, union member, and the author of Sick and Sicker: Essays on Class, Health and Health Care (2010), and Power and Powerlessness (2006). She recently launched ReMarx Publishing. She can be reached through her web site or by email: susan@susanrosenthal.com. Read other articles by Susan.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Deadbeat said on December 26th, 2007 at 10:26am #

    Before “the left” can start to “imagine” it needs to face certain realities. It has been the denial of certain realities that has keeps the left divided and disrupted and weaken the possibility of enhancing solidarity. Without solidarity no amount of “imagination” will change anything.

    I’ve read “Power and Powerlessness” and it is an excellent book but it barely scratch the service of the issue that had divided the left and kep it weak and demoralized. While Ms. Rosenthal addresses racism as a tool of “divide and rule” she limits racism to only “white” racism and doesn’t address another virulent form and its influence upon U.S. society. To acknowledge this reality requires requires courage more so than “imagination”.

  2. Donald Hawkins said on December 26th, 2007 at 11:53am #

    When we all start to see the big picture imagination is the key to our survive. All you have to do is watch people talk on TV these day’s in many many way’s just pure nonsense compared to the problems we face. Is it just arrogance some or is it that they think Joe public is just stupid some. Somehow the bar needs to be raised and raised high. 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. That was very good the way Susan put that. Unless we can stop the nonsense and use imagination I don’t think it will work out well. Before the last IPCC report came out the main man from the US this administration because he wanted the language changed on the report sound familiar brought up this question. “Now if the ice sheets melt doesn’t that mean that sometime in the future they will come back”. I am almost sure when he said that the people at the table with there mouths half open there heads cocked to one side just looked at this man in pure amazement and said to themselves, ” what, did he really say that”. That’s what I am talking about nonsense. There was a word he wanted changed in the report, “irreversible”. It’s still not to late somehow there must be away to face these problems

  3. Deadbeat said on December 26th, 2007 at 2:34pm #

    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 todayUnless we can stop the nonsense and use imagination I don’t think it will work out well.

    Imagination manifest ideas. There are tons of ideas. Some ideas are useful some are not. However organizing the masses has to be around reality. There is not only a denial of reality going on there is a distraction from reality going on as well.

    Again if you want people to become interested in climate change you need to become sensitive to people everyday problems. Most people will not place climate change high on their agenda if they are trying to survive day to day and face constant oppression. Climate change to the masses is not going to become a priority — that’s reality.

    The other reality is that the left is extremely weak and fractured. The question is what will make the left a coherent force? It is not via “imagination”. It will only happened when there is solidarity and to achieve solidarity the left has to being with dealing with real yield a mass movement. Climate change is NOT an immediate issue facing the masses of people . Power and oppression are the immediate issues and the left has not honestly dealt with these issues.

  4. Atexan said on December 26th, 2007 at 3:20pm #

    People keep mentioning “the left”. There is no “left” in this country anymore. The phony left blindly support Isreal and consequently
    the left is nothing but closeted neo_con.

  5. Donald Hawkins said on December 26th, 2007 at 4:15pm #

    More on the Drought, this time in North Carolina,which in a lot of places is in more imminent peril than the Atlanta metro area. Some places are looking at roughly one month to go until the “no water” part hits. The Governor there has called for a lot more conservation. An editorial, while praising some of the proclamations, wonders why it was not taken a month earlier and notes that tiered pricing models for water bills to encourage conservation are still two months away, and the computer billing systems have to be upgraded just to do this. One of the harder hit major water users will be hospitals, making this a fasdt rising critical health issue. As part of emergency measures, exisitng rock quarries are to be tapped into as second tier water reservoirs.

  6. Deadbeat said on December 26th, 2007 at 5:54pm #

    And you can bet that the allocation of water will not occur with fairness, justice, and need in mind. “Conservation” is a meaningless word if fairness, justice, and need means conservation for the rubes but not for the rich and corporations. Therefore, power and oppression are the immediate issues and the left had not honestly dealt with these issue.

  7. Deadbeat said on December 26th, 2007 at 7:36pm #

    People keep mentioning “the left”. There is no “left” in this country anymore. The phony left blindly support Israel and consequently
    the left is nothing but closeted neo_con.

    Atexan, your point is well taken and why I am critical when I see such lame “abstract” articles. In this case “imagination” is a meaningless abstract phrase that isn’t concrete or real to the masses.

    However the plethora of “ideas” associated with the left still exist but there is no solidarity. That solidarity has been retarded and disrupted by the “phony left”. Therefore the only way to rebuild the “left” is by confronting the “phony left” that has misdirected the public.

    Without solidarity the reality of making progressive change in the U.S. will be impossible and reveals the idiocy behind these “abstract” articles because they fail to examine and analyze how real change is occurring outside the boarders of the U.S. in places like Ecuador and Venezuela.

    Progressive change is happening but not in the United States primarily due to the betrayal and dishonesty of the “phony left”.

  8. Deadbeat said on December 26th, 2007 at 7:44pm #

    One other point is that Ms. Rothenthal article has a blame-the-victim tone but implying that “we lack imagination”. NO I say. What is lacking is radical ANALYSIS. The assertions and conjecture of how the phony left is designed to disrupt, misdirect, and misinform people. A case in point is Naomi Klein new book which absurdly shift the blame of the War On Iraq from Zionist onto Milton Freedman’s neoliberalism.

    Poor analysis lead to wasted action and wasted energy that demoralizes the misled masses.

  9. Susan Rosenthal said on December 27th, 2007 at 6:15am #

    This article counters the pessimistic view that nothing can change, therefore, we need not change what we are doing.
    Oddly, no one has addressed this central point.
    Deadbeat, if you have something useful to contribute, please do so.
    Complaining that others are not saying what you want them to say is less than useful.
    And your insistence that the only way to rebuild the left is to attack left writers is seriously twisted.
    To clarify: nowhere does this article elevate imagination to strategy.
    On the contrary, it concludes with a call to ACTION.
    Anyone who wants to know what that means can read POWER and Powerlessness (available at http://www.powerandpowerlessness.com ).

  10. Eric Patton said on December 27th, 2007 at 4:31pm #

    Deadbeat wrote:
    > What is lacking is radical ANALYSIS

    Michael Albert has written entire books full of radical analysis. Have you not read any of them?

  11. hp said on January 1st, 2008 at 6:27pm #

    Here’s analysis: The lefties who aren’t brainwashed Zogs and Zogettes are good time Charlie plastic banana rock and rollers.

    How do you counter the pessimistic view that the more things change, the more they remain the same?
    And examples please. Not pipe dream crappola.

  12. Susan Rosenthal said on January 4th, 2008 at 6:48am #

    Pessimism offers no way forward.
    It is not a strategy, it is anti-strategy.
    The power of pessimism lies in its ability to block the efforts of those those who believe that real change is possible.
    Some things don’t change — pessimism will always be a drag on the struggle for a better world.