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April 16th, 2021
Society adheres to habits in much the same way that individuals do. Once in place, they persist, despite new circumstances that call for new behavior. The logic of the initial behavior or system often becomes outdated with new circumstance. What created a precedent back then does not account for what is happening now.
Acting anew is often greeted with skepticism, especially if on the surface it seems hypocritical when compared to the older logic which gave to the behavior being replaced. But that’s the thing, a new situation calls for a new logic derived from a fresh perspective fit with new variables. We compare today with yesterday without admitting the radical differences that may now be in place. On an individual level this sort of thing makes sense. People don’t change too much and they seem to change less and less as they get older. And people extrapolate their personal logic to the larger topic of society. (Hence the fact that people tend to grow a bit more conservative as they get older.). These personal trends, regardless of the reason they exist grow in a way that increasingly ignores the present in favor of an idea that mimics the past. Somehow we seem to think that the good old days can only be recreated literally and not anew in spirit.
What’s odd about that sort of nostalgic logic is that on average, everyone’s personal past was equipped with far more flexibility and change. The good old days are marked by the very thing that people become more resistant to as they age.
This sort of tendency is reflected in bureaucratic settings. Institutions will often hit long periods of stagnancy that have little to no growth because the people in charge of that setting have aged to the point of merely maintaining the status quo. In many organizations it quite literally requires the retirement of one generation and the promotion of the next in order for some innovative breathing room to inject some life into the institution. That is until the newly promoted leaders themselves age into complacency.
The mistake lies primarily in the idea that ‘we’ve seen this before.’ There is much about the present that will just about always look like the past and we can lull ourselves into a false sense of familiarity, having faith that old solutions will work just fine for a situation that looks pretty much like the old one. But even the slightest nuance can radically shift the reality of circumstance. Entire frameworks of logic can suddenly be as irrelevant as a house of cards in a gale, yet we’re less likely to think so because behaviour, habit and thought have melded into a heuristic reaction. We act as though on autopilot, on the feeble hope that old programming will work in totally novel terrain.