Experience is Meaningless

Everyone knows that “history repeats itself.”

That must explain why we keep making the same mistakes. After all, since we all know that you can’t change history, why even bother?

Unless you’re Newt Gingrich. In that case revisionism seems to work, as long as he remains the victor and in charge of re-writing history.

For example, Newt’s current position, which seemed to make hostess candy Crowley’s eyebrows rise about 5 inches, is that his congressional reprimand for ethics violations occured only because he convinced Republican members to vote for the reprimand so that they could get back to the business of working on a balanced budget.

He credits himself with getting the Congress back to work and selflessly sacrificing his reputation.

After all, is there any politician that wouldn’t put nation before self?

History tells us that the victor writes history until the next victor comes along.

Once you call yourself an “historian,” you get a free pass and can alter immutable laws of time and place and make the details of the past fit nicely into the current version of the past. Again, being ascendant helps.

But we’re also said to be able to learn from history and especially to learn from our mistakes. In fact, “fool me once….” speaks to the expectation that we won’t make the same mistake a second time.

Sometimes, though, the past may lead us down the wrong path.

My guess is that it would be a grave mistake, perhaps literally, were Newt Gingrich to ask Callista to accept an “open marriage.” The fact that she reportedly supported the concept before their marriage probably has little predictive capability in 2012.

Groundhog DayThere’s no greater indicator of our pre-occupation with the concept of changing the past and our mistakes than the fact that the single most aired movie on broadcast television and cable is “Groundhog Day.”

I may have made that statistic up, but right now, I’m the one re-writing history.

Had we really been able to learn from the past there would have been Stephen Tobolowsky film festivals competing with Sundance and Cannes.

So clearly, we are all idiots, but at least Tobolowsky is front and center on Twitter and forms the basis for a more hopeful view of the future.

Not so long ago, only the spoken word was available to document our history and experiences. Life spans were short and there were people whose sole reason for existence was to maintain a culture’s hold onto its past and pass it on to the next generation.

During those days mistakes were often fatal. That’s a strong motivator to not repeat some dead guy’s mis-step.

With advancing life spans, the written word, film and video records and now digitized data available, one would think that we’d be pretty good at observing the past and using the data to accurately predict the future.

To get an idea of how that’s been working out, just go to your local doctor’s office and casually spend some time in the waiting room scanning through some aged issues of TIME magazine and see just how accurate the futurists turned out and how befuddled their tea leaves must have been. Who knew that you could smoke the stuff before reading it?

Interestingly, in the world of technology and start-ups, a past history of failure is far from fatal. There seems to be a real premium when recruiting to find those that have failed on someone else’s dime. The bigger the failure, the better, as it was assumed that the price paid for failure was borne by someone else and that the value of the lessons learned would accrue to the new entity.

Not that I’ve been a political watcher, but it would have been hard to predict for example, that the remaining Republican candidates for the nomination, each of whom tries to portray himself as the only true conservative, have blasted Mitt Romney for being a capitalist.

The attacks against Romney for his years at Bain Capital sounded as if Dennis Kucinich was ghost writing for even Newt Gingrich.

Now, reports that Romney may have been in the 15% tax bracket has the assaults coming anew.

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing Syndrome? Because those couldn’t possibly be Republicans standing at those podia, at least not based on my experience. What really bothers me is that based on my past history of voting for losing candidates in Presidential elections, I’m likely to end up voting for one of those guys and there may be nothing that I can do about it.

Then, there’s also the famous quotation from George Santayana:

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

That supports the concept that we can avoid making the same mistakes the next time around.

Probably the biggest mistake is to believe that history can, in fact, teach us anything.

The stock market is a perfect example of that.

All throughout the day, there will be a seemingly infinite number of charts shown and dissected on air. For each that makes it to whatever the digital equivalent of the air waves is, there must be an infinite number being studied elsewhere in cubicles, meeting rooms and in presentation halls.

So you would be excused for believing that all of the Ph.D’s would have this thing nailed with one algorithm or another.

And yet, how do you explain ignoring the axiom that warns of staying long in equities over a weekend when there’s uncertainbty on the horizon?

I’m sure that the actual saying is much more pithy, I just can’t recall what it is.

In fact, over the past 37 weeks, I like prime numbers, the Dow has gone up triple digits 8 times on a Friday, counter to the axiom.

And the reward for thinking that experinece was meaningless?

Two of those eight times were followed with up days on Monday.

Let’s see, I think that’s less than fifty – fifty.

Well, I for one, didn’t go long into the weekend, but I can’t give allegiance to an axiom for that. It’s that about 60% of my options contracts were exercised. For the first time in long memory, I won’t own any Goldman Sachs shares on Monday. Gone too are the recent JP Morgan Chase shares that were picked up in a rekindling of an old relationship.

Open relationship, I might add, as dalliances with old friend Microsoft came and went just as quickly.

In hindsight, I picked a bad two weeks to do what I’ve been doing for the past four years with religious fervor.

Besides, when has religious fervor lead us down the wrong path? You didn’t see the Israelites worship a Golden Calf a second time, did you?

They learned from their mistakes.

Common sense would tell me that I should learn from my recent mistake and turn on the “greed” compartment of my brain and forego the options premium income for the meteoric capital gains that history ordains.

What would Stephen Tobolowsky Do?Or I could look at the charts that I disdain and be reminded of the cyclic nature of everything that has true worth and inherent value.

Good companies exhibit cyclic share performance.

So which past is the one that will repeat itself?

I look at the band on my right wrist, “WWTD?”

“What would Tobolowsky Do?

The beauty of asking that question is that there are a couple of hundred roles from which you could derive the answer that best fits your working hypothesis.

Sort of like what politicians do on such a regular basis.

Now please, don’t interpret that as drawing a parallel between politicians, especially those that practice revisionism, to the more honorable practitioners of the thespian arts.

I don’t know Stephen Tobolowsky and certainly no Toblowsky’s were harmed in the creation of this blog entry, but his classic Groundhog Day character, Ned Ryerson, didn’t seem to learn from his past experiences.

Yet, despite Santayana’s unspoken thought that not doing so was the way down a dangerous pathway and despite the smugness of those who believe that we can control our future by mastering the past, Ned Ryerson knew better.

He kept right on smiling, despite obstacles he just kept plugging away and always maintained an optimistic air that made him Ned Ryerson. He was immutable.

What a great lesson. What a great character and performance.

Ned Ryerson showed that the past was meaningless, because there was always today to form the basis for a new past and to create a future not shackled by the past.




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