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The Idea of Progress

February 19, 2017

I think progress is a very dangerous notion in our era. For many it has come to be the only value they stand by. This idea that we must progress. The danger is when you ask them what they mean by progress few have a clear idea of how it will necessarily benefit us. It is almost just their faith that progress in the long run will be good for us all. Many, from what I can see, take progress to mean, either knowingly, or unknowingly, the spread of our values and way of life to everyone across the world. So, in recent times, progress was supposed to be enforcing democracies in countries that didn’t have them.

What could go wrong? Well, we saw with Iraq, the most stark example, exactly what can go wrong when you replace a stable, if tyrannical leader, with a kind of puppet democracy. The people simply reject it, and the social order begins to disintegrate. This was all done by the west in the name of progress. There are countless examples in history, and currently, of these imperial kinds of enforced progress. A current example would be through globalisation the attempt to enforce uniform values across all nations and cultures. It is like we have gone into reverse as a species. Originally we spread across the world and diversified, culturally, ethnically, religiously and in terms of moral values. And this was all done organically in line with different climates, different land conditions etc. Now we seem to be attempting to remove all this diversity for the sake of a monolithic technocratic culture.

It’s not to say there have not been benefits, but the problem with the dangerous notion of progress, is that you only focus on the benefits and ignore the downsides as if they don’t exist. Yes, we have great and expanding technology, currently we have long lives, and we are obsessed with economic progress, bit by bit each year, we must grow in some way or the economy falls apart. Our whole system relies upon this constant movement of seeming progress.

The problem when you are too attached to this is that you see no other  values that may conflict with this. We assume longer lives and better health is progress, so we over populate the world with people, and with an ageing demographic. We create low birth rates, abortions, short lasting relationships, divorces, kids raised by one parent, or by foster parents. We create a need for young immigrants to do jobs, we create a cultural tension between these new people and those more firmly established in that societies values. You could probably even say terrorism is a direct result of the progress that we in the west are so attached to.

Is this all progress? Or are the people who just focus on our current long lives and our current technological advances blindly attached to progress as a value, and so unwilling to acknowledge the things in our society that go against this value?

I think the latter seems to be quite obviously true, and this is the danger inherent in the notion of progress. We need to be much more aware of current social and political realities. We need to be more capable of mentally adapting to these changes, and not so rigidly attached to only seeing the current benefits of progress. We also need to learn to not orient our whole reality relative to progress. There is nothing wrong with self improvement, sure, and even there is nothing wrong in theory with intellectual and technological and medical advances, but you cannot imagine they have practical consequences that are always beneficial. It’s not a case of becoming luddites, and stopping the march of progress in a destructive and hollow way. The answer is so much simpler and closer to home than that. If, just in your mind, you can be less blindly attached to progress as a positive value, then this will be culturally beneficial for our future society. As what we think in our mind, we pass on to others.

How many people in this world do not even realise the problems inherent in a kind of progress that promotes global cultural uniformity? I would say many people, and its because they have never mentally questioned the value of progress, and have resisted anyone who suggests they question it. Uniformity of value does not make a peaceful civilisation, it makes a society of servitude. It blinds us to the reality around us, and it blinds us to our own thoughts, which we become scared to voice.

The idea of Progress of a society is not good, and it is not bad, it is not wrong, and it is not right. It is a double-edged sword, that we would do well to leave alone and focus on our own spiritual progress through life. The basic flaw of abstract progress of a society, is that it tacitly assumes with these abstract notions, that its moral values (i.e. whatever its decided to currently progress to) are universal and absolute. This creates a fundamental disconnect with the immediate reality around you. As we do not live in an abstract society, we live in a real one, and this real one is not universal or absolute, it has strengths and weaknesses like any other human thing.

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