Bad Good Old Days & Good Bad Old Days

We touch on a few biases on this blog.

Bob Seawright actively busted his hindsight bias (I knew it all along).

Nate Silver almost teed off on the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy (drawing the bullseye after you shoot).

The survivor bias midwifed my book, 28 Lessons from Start-ups that Failed (dead men tell no tales).

Another biases needed it’s own page, the Rosy Retrospection bias, our tendency to shade the past in a more favorable light.

This isn’t always bad. In my podcast with Aaron Watson, I pointed out that bias awareness is more important that rejection. Sometimes our currents of bias are helpful. Our energy then, should focus on ensuring  they move us in the direction we want to go.

We can bust Rosy Retrospection with objective observations of the past.

In One Summer, Bill Bryson writes that the 1920’s roared in a variety of ways:

“Citizens were imprisoned for criticizing the Red Cross at their own dinner tables… a clergyman in Vermont was given a fifteen year jail term for handing out half a dozen pacifist leaflets. In Indiana, a jury took just two minutes to acquit a man who had shot an immigrant for speaking ill of America…a filmmaker was imprisoned for showing the British in a bad light in a movie about the American War of Independence…a black youth who fell asleep on a raft on Lake Michigan and drifted onto a white beach was stoned to death by a white crowd.”

The worst deflation in American history occurred in 1920, GNP fell 5%. The 1920’s weren’t always golden.

More modern examples abound. Charlie Munger said:

“I personally think that the world is better for having Wal-Mart. I mean you can idealize small town life. But I’ve spent a fair amount of time in small towns. And let me tell you you shouldn’t get too idealistic about all those businesses he destroyed.”

Wal-Mart didn’t displace just Mayberry, but trimmed away a lot of fat as well.

Even times we consider idyllic now, were bemoaned in favor of a more distant past. David McCullough writes about bicycles in 1900:

“Voices were raised in protest. Bicycles were proclaimed morally hazardous. Until now children and youth were unable to stray very far from home on foot. Now, one magazine warned, fifteen minutes could put them miles away. Because of bicycles, it was said, young people were not spending the time they should with books, and more seriously that suburban and country tours on bicycles were “not infrequently accompanied by seductions.”

Now parents would love to have their kids get outside and ride their bike.

We don’t even need to go that far. “The 1990s have a good image,” wrote Peter Thiel is Zero to One “but many of those years were not as cheerful as our nostalgia holds.”

The old days were good and bad. If you start thinking they were always one, be careful.

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