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PRINCIPLES FOR LIVING A RATIONAL LIFE: Unless There Is A ‘Turning Point,’ The Past Must Be Our Guide

“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.

— Patrick Henry

When we try to determine what will happen in the future, or evaluate what a given person tells you they plan to do in the future, we should always let the past govern our judgment.  This is because the past is not only our best, but our only guide to the future.  If something has always lead to a given result in the past, then we have absolutely no reason to expect it will end any differently in the future (socialism is the perfect example: no matter what the form, it always collapses within a generation).  The same applies to individuals: if their past shows a pattern of deception and/or broken promises, then we should just assume they will continue that pattern in the future. 

Unfortunately, it is a failure of human nature that we want to believe that things will be different the next time, or that the person making promises will finally keep their word.  The problem with believing things that are contrary to the past is that it is irrational.  None of us would say that a person who claims the sun isn’t coming up tomorrow and starts to plan and act on that assertion is rational.  Why?  Because everything about our past experience says the sun will come up tomorrow.  In fact, that experience is so strong, we would dismiss anyone who says otherwise without a second thought.  So why don’t we do that with other things that have an equally strong pattern?  Or, put another way, why do we dismiss the person who says the sun isn’t coming up tomorrow and ‘crazy,’ yet we think we are ‘sane’ when we think that the next socialist will finally make ‘heaven on earth’ work, or a lying politician will finally keep their word?

The reality is this: if we are to live lives governed by reason and not emotion, then the past must be our guide.  The only exception is if and when we can clearly identify a ‘pivot point’ in history or a person’s life.  For example: 1776 was a pivot point in history.  It marked the point where man just accepted tyranny and actually demonstrated that he can live a free and self-governing life.  Likewise, if a person undergoes a life-changing experience, such as a religious conversion, then we can hold out the possibility that they may change their ways.  But, barring such things, we simply cannot disregard the past.  In fact, where the pattern is consistent enough, we should just assume the past is as sure a predictor of the future as the one that tells us the sun will come up tomorrow.

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