Progress

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Cato the Elder
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#1
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The idea of progress is pivotal to understanding our modern world. It informed the doctrines of classical liberalism and communism. It encompassed the belief that the world had arrived at or was inexorably heading towards a better place. The rise of science and technology convinced many that humanity could be transformed for the better. Urbanisation and industrialisation dislocated feudal societies and transformed them into what we see today. Scientific breakthroughs gave us longer lives. Living standards rose. Trade flowed across borders and people became wealthier. It was the golden age of classical liberalism.

Then came two world wars and a mighty backlash against the idea of progress as defined by classical liberals. Fascism came into existence out of the conviction that life between peoples would be characterised, not by peace and prosperity, but by war and struggle. This pessimistic assessment was combined with a revolutionary optimism, a belief that the state could seize control over this new spirit of scientific discovery and innovation, and channel it for its own ends. In response to the decline of spirituality and religion, fascism offered the people a new political religion, a new spiritual culture revolving around culture and race. Fascism was an extreme version of the nationalism that had arisen in the 19th century, shorn of its liberal origins.

The end of WWII saw the defeat of fascism and the mighty rebellion against the forces of progress. Now the world was divided between two mighty representatives of the idea of progress - communism and classical liberalism, and the economic system it championed, capitalism. One preached universal brotherhood of all workers across all nations and races, and the other preached the universal brotherhood of all individuals irrespective of class or gender or, in theory, politics. The tussle between these two systems saw classical liberalism victorious and the forces of globalization unleashed across the planet. It seemed that liberal ideals had triumphed at long last, and would dominate the earth.

But the liberal elite did not count upon the dormant forces of nationalism and their quasi-fascist incarnates, nor did they count upon the utopian delusions inherent in the idea of a single world order being spread through talk alone. The neoconservatives did not have the intellectual or public support or the strength in numbers or talent to see through their projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a neo-Luddite backlash against the idea of progress, coming from both left and right, put the liberal order in mortal peril.

I believe that the idea of progress should be revisited and revised. I believe the classical liberal view of progress to be flawed. Globalisation, for example, despite its obvious benefits, has also paradoxically left us with fewer freedoms in certain respects. The increased ability of potentially undesirable individuals to embed themselves in cross-border flows of people has left individuals in fear for their lives in the face of terrorist threats and has caused governments to crack down on civil liberties in an alarming manner in order to assuage public concerns. It has arguably rendered working-class individuals prisoner to the vacillations of the international market and reduced job security in a manner that is hardly consistent with freedom if one needs to put food on one's table.

Urbanisation has seen large numbers of people leave rural areas and migrate to larger concentrations of people in which individuality, which is supposed to be a key pillar of liberal thought, is lost. If one merely feels that one is a cog in a great, post-industrial machine, one hardly feels alive to the idea of having a distinct identity.

The rise of science and the decline of religion, whilst it might please liberal rationalists, is fraught with dangers. First and foremost, the relatively secular and atheistic West can easily be overwhelmed by groups external to or within it (i.e. Muslims) who are organised and determined to ensure that their own religiously-inspired value system prevails. Since their beliefs are religious in nature, they cannot be defeated with mere rhetoric and logical argumentation. The West has so far failed to develop an alternative religion which can replace Christianity and give Westerners the strength of will to fight for their beliefs as strongly as other groups are willing to fight for theirs. One sees in our modern civilisation a nihilism that makes us neutered and unable to see a life and death struggle when it is staring us in the face. Secondly, science explains many things, but it cannot give us a reason to live. We must find meaning within us. Most will be incapable of doing this, so an alternative religion will prevent those people from falling into nihilism. Thirdly, science can make man too powerful. It now possesses the means by which it may destroy itself with nuclear weapons. This has imbued in humanity a cowardice and an unwillingness to consider violent confrontation lest it self-destruct, and hence marks the loss of heroic warrior virtues. Science, in the hands of "rational" state planners, can be dangerous. The thought of robots replacing human beings is just as frightening. Thirdly, longer lives mean lives lived less well. It is animalistic for us to care only for material comfort and safety. The meaningful life is the strenuous life, fraught with danger and struggle and antagonism.

A faith in progress and science is where classical liberalism and communism, or at least Marxism, converge. It is a convergence that may prove fatal to the destiny of mankind.
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#2
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I'm currently making progress in filling up my GIF bank!!!

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