ISSUE-107

Claim: Knowing about the past cannot help people to make important decisions today.

Reason: We are not able to make connections between current events and past events until we have some distance from both.


Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based.


Modern psychology reveals that human beings heavily rely on past experiences to guide their decisions, which is the part of the human nature. However, even the ever-increasing pace of change of human society, knowing about the past is currently becoming increasingly less helpful.


To begin with, some may argue that the past shapes the present, and as a result, in order to solve issues in the modern society, the past must be consulted. For example, the ongoing bloody conflict in the Middle East has a long and deep historic root involving multiple nations and ethnic and religious groups. Therefore, it is sometimes concluded that without fully knowing the past, efforts trying to make peace in the Middle East shall all be futile. However, this does not prove the helpfulness of knowing about the past. A logical paradox within this type of thinking is that we have known the past very well and yet the issue still persists. If the past is indeed helpful, problems today should already have solutions, the absence of which suggests that only knowing the past is far from sufficient.


Moreover, in many instances the human society as well as human beings ourselves have change so dramatically and rapidly that past experiences are now rendered obsolete. To start with, the advancement in technology has in many aspects fundamentally shifted our ways of life. Instead of traversing foot, today an army of soldiers can be transported via modern aircrafts to essentially any corner of the globe within 24 hours. As a result, past knowledge in the warfare may no longer be helpful. In the foreseeable future, it may be the case that wars are going to be fought by robots instead of human beings, which has never happened in human history. In that case, knowing about the past of wars cannot help generals and admirals to win a fight.


Second, the laws and moral standards have changed over time. At the same time, because human beings are social animals, we have to obey the social norms, which are crystalized into laws and morality. When they change, the examples from the past would be not pertinent to issue at hand today. Examples abound in today’s society. Gay marriage, for instance, used to be a crime that can be punished to death, but today it has become legal in many parts of the world. Another example is the system of slavery, which was considered a norm in the New World. Yet today no one would endorse slavery. As a consequence, the past cannot help us make important decisions today if the laws and ethical standards relevant to our decision have changed. Rather, we need to adapt to the new situation.


Finally, as the society evolves, so do human beings and our ways of thinking. In other words, the ways by which we perceive and evaluate the world are different today from the past. Thus the previous experiences, which carry the values of the people living in the past, could bear totally different meaning today and hence may not be helpful. In China for example, people in the 50s and 60s were much less individualistic than the people in recent decades. The consequence was profound. As people put more emphasis on personal experience and success, the society as a whole has undergone substantial shifts. Therefore, if one would like to make a, say business, decision today in China, the past experiences dating back to the 50s can offer little help because they are literally outdated.


That being said, I do not deny that in some cases where technology, laws, and our ideology have not changed from the past, history can still inform us the consequences of our decisions. However, because the human society and the human mind are going through ever-faster changes, past experience has become less and less helpful in important decision-making today.

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