Progress

11 05 2020

My entire adult life has been a refutation of the liberal idea of progress. (By liberal, I mean the intellectual principles coming out of the Enlightenment.) That’s a bit exaggerated, but I’m running with it. The first real historic milestone in my life was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain: this brought about the unenthusiastic prosperous years of the 1990’s. These were my teenage years, and also the time I was most “politically active”. Having put that aside, I was welcomed into adulthood by 9/11, which took place around the age I would have graduated college (had I not dropped out). That was the first indication that rumors of the the End of History were greatly overblown.

Those alive back then are well aware of how life changed after 9/11. And of course, the next milestone is one I lived rather directly, and that was the Recession of 2008. That was my welcome into the full maturity of family responsibility, and it uprooted my life rather severely. Still, I made it out of it relatively unscathed, and better than many. And finally, it’s COVID 19 that welcomes me into middle age. I was a bit of a Trekkie as a teenager, so I was rather optimistic when envisioning the future. I could not have predicted at 15 that the fate of society would be determined by whether everyone washes their hands to avoid a medieval-style plague.

I think that one has to be an idiot at this point to think that one’s children will have it better than we do now. In some ways, certain things have improved, but those things have collateral effects and can be outright annoying at times (I’m looking at you, Smartphone). Advances are made all the more absurd by the glaring blind spots that modern life has failed to address (like highly contagious viruses). The idea that we will ever cure cancer or travel the stars at light speed seems rather ridiculous at this point. How about we worry about people not dying of mysterious plagues or being unemployed because many worry someone might cough?

That is why opinion (at least on the Internet) seems so divided on what to do at this point. It all comes from a lack of control and existential hurt at a broken promise. Modern society is supposed to be clean. Contagious diseases were a thing of the past. We are supposed to protect the vulnerable. In other words, people feel that they were sold a bill of goods. We’re not supposed to see or think about death, it’s at the very least bad for business. So of course, some people are just going to think, “The heck with it, I can’t live like this, if people die, they die.” While others will rightfully call out this attitude as cruel and unfeasible. Some think that we’ll only be safe when we all start listening to the Experts to whom we are asked to entrust our fate, while others rightly point out that the “experts” may have dropped the ball in the first place and are themselves going on spotty information.  All should admit that we simply don’t have good answers, and the last recourse of the desperate is to call into question the good faith of others.

Perhaps it will all blow over in a year, but that’s what I thought about 9/11 and the 2008 crisis, yet here we are. I am going to go out on a limb and state that neither robots, nor AI, nor “science”, nor political ideology, nor any other gadget is going to fix all of our problems. Life isn’t Star Trek. I’m sure the rest of my middle age will be eventful, but not necessarily pleasant.


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3 responses

2 07 2020
Karl

I think it’s foolish to make it a binary right/wrong debate. That’s what so many trads, conservatives etc seek to do. Ir’s an excuse for laziness and not wanting to read serious historical narratives.

As for the extreme “no” view to enlightenment, liberalism etc do those people really lament having legal protection from government, from religious coercion, having property rights, freedom of speech, the benefits of medical science etc.

29 06 2020
Aethelfrith

Contra Karl, I don’t think that blaming the Trads will bear any fruit. Because if the Trads are wrong, then everything that has occurred since the Revolution is ‘right.’

I don’t “want” Traditionalism to be true; but that’s like saying I don’t “want” to obesity and diabetes as a result of eating three large sized McDonald’s combos per day.

12 05 2020
Karl

I used to buy into the whole Right/Trad Cath critique of the Enlightenment, but now I am far more suspicious. One doesn’t have to be a Pelagian or deluded optimist to appreciate the benefits of technology etc. It’s human nature that’s the constant and “flawed” (although “flawed” implies some perfect model I’m not convinced exists) element.

Plus all those Traditionalists who whine constantly about “everything going wrong after the French Revolution” rarely seem to have read anything about it in my experience. Not to mention their own seemingly untroubled use of all that modernity provides. And maybe deep, deep down when it comes to Cath Trads the Enlightenment is a useful scapegoat for the failure of something that was doomed from the very beginning.

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