Progress Overwhelmed Reason

by Milo Clark

April 12, 2004   


Somewhere back there in time, Dark Ages messed it up with Medieval and Medieval gave way to Renaissance and Renaissance gave way to Modern. Along the way, came The Age of Reason.

In late Modern, Genesis, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic creation story, is revived as "Progress." Reason attempted to counter Progress and lost. Finally, Progress is seen to threaten the very existence of peoples and planet. With Reason overwhelmed and Progress discredited, how can we replace them? What can replace them?

The so-called Modern Age, maybe 500 years old, has been declared moribund if not dead many times. Post-Modern clings to Modern like genes to offspring. Thanks to Thomas Kuhn, new paradigms are declared to be here only to get lost under still newer paradigms. New Ages: Piscean to Aquarian, Quantum to Relative, Chaos to Predetermined, Prions to Bacteria come and go. Each "new" theory works its way to old hat in ever shorter cycles. Old hats then revive themselves in new guises.

Old hats, revived and refurbished, are comfortable, familiar, warm and fuzzy. Recycled. To transcend a shibboleth is not to abandon it. Transcendent moments tend to be momentary and fragmented, too soon forgotten while we slump back into our overall lethargies.

To transform, we drop the past, lose the past, jump into now and future with sharp, clear perspectives. Abandoning an old Era, a decaying Age, for a transformed construct may be frightening and unsettling. Moving the furniture around, buying slip covers, is totally different from a completely new house with site-built furnishings.

Liberal, thoroughly discredited by Conservative propagandists, is being recast, again, as Progressive. Old Progressive was thoroughly usurped by war, depression, war and prosperity (for some) leading yet again to wars. A new generation stumbles into discredited Liberal and clutching air, grasps Progressive. Déjà vu all over again. Old hat in times demanding new.

"Modern" has a progressive ring to it. It sounds better than primal or primitive. With Reason firmly in hand, Modern was edging people beyond God. God was declared dead in the early 1970s only to come back resurgent if not triumphant. Down with Reason!

Emergent humankind was long relegated to hang out in trees, pick nits from companions, chitter and throw rocks. Current versions of progressive humankind hang out in bars, pick stocks, chitter and throw tantrums. The universe was not created for humankind to dominate. Creation does not end with human evolutions.

What is history? A chronicle of human evolutions from tree to barstool? Better that it were. History, what little most know of it, is listings of those on top taught to those down below: shades of Dante's Purgatorio. History, we know, is marked by successions of battles, preparation for battles and then wars to end all wars, which become the beginnings of more wars. In between wars, history is boring. Boredom is not to be tolerated. Turn on the TV, call up MTV, chill.

If all these years of standing still in terms of unprogressive processes mean little ado about less, then what can we do? As Orwell documents with his short novel, Animal Farm, succeeding layers of dominant hierarchies result only in succeeding layers of dominant hierarchies. Red pajamas exchanged for black.

"Re-think" is another excellent word suggesting evolution. If what is presently thought always seems to come out as more of the same in updated fashions, what could a genuine re-think look like? How do we transform ourselves?

Current events, seen by most as unique to this time, examined in terms of history as other than successions of rulers engaging is successions of wars, are seen to be revisions of past events. History may not repeat itself but leaders do.

New names for wars. New weapons of war. Same old excuses for wars. "Our" armies are never aggressive. They only invade, destroy, kill, maim and rape to free people, install democracy, open societies, promote markets, etc. Free of bad kings, despots, tyrants, autocrats and aristocrats, people will invariably find themselves with new bad kings, made-over tyrants, re-designated autocrats and aristocrats. Throw off a Nixon and get a couple of Bushes. Nothing new except window dressing. Ski jump nose or cynical grin, take your choice. Don't much cotton to Kissinger? OK, send in Rumsfeld or Cheney, Perle or Wolfowitz. Need new faces, try Powell or Condi.

Free Enterprise and Free Markets show themselves shortly to be, in fact, regulated enterprise and encumbered markets. Country A or countries A, B, C . . . work to find ways to copy "our" weapon systems and find themselves declared "evil." Country R or countries R, S, T . . . are sold "our" weapon systems and are assisted to develop them. One man's freedom fighters are another's terrorists. Very old think.

Ok, so that is the pattern engraved on history. Maybe. However, there are a couple of things that may have changed as the Modern Era decomposes.

Within societies, cultures, communities over time there have also been struggles of philosophies implemented in the guises of ethics and morality. While some folks are consistently mean to outsiders, others are consistently decent to them. Names such as "pluralism" and "diversity" are considered positive to some and anathema to others. Are pluralism and diversity beneficial ways to order communities, societies, cultures? I say, "Yes," others say "No."

Then, there are degrees of openness which may be considered. Open mindedness and tolerance are also virtues declared positive by some, negative by others. Closed minds and intolerance are badges of honor among some. The Bible, Torah or Koran are God's words no matter how conclusive contrary evidence may be.

Modern elites, present-day holders of titles and power, display their values in what they do. The last run of robber barons at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th had some positive aspects. Oldest Rockefeller was known to come out of his palatial home and throw shiny, new dimes to the assembled unwashed. Carnegie had a passion for libraries. He set up libraries across the country which changed, over time, into our present systems of public libraries.

Their business empires lived by quite different principles and behaviors which have been bequeathed to successors. Owners and managers hated and hate workers. Every extension of benefit or protection was and is fought with all the resources of the business imperialists and their compliant politicians and bureaucrats. Give a little under pressure now and then. But always work to take it back.

Today's robber barons work their knowledge workers much like Carnegie's steelworks did the bohunks imported from Eastern Europe. Bill and Melinda Gates milk tax advantages from dispersing dimes from their billions. Thank them for the open computers in our public libraries. System stays static while distractions are scattered to today's unwashed.

Any hint of "Re-Think" standing out yet? It seems as though most folks confuse what they think they know with what they believe. Maybe, to re-think, I have to look carefully and thoroughly at what I believe. Digging through my shibboleths, I search for ways to recast, to express my beliefs in terms of others. Can I break through to knowledge? Do I know what I know to be other than belief?

If, as an example, I want to discuss use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions and ammunition, I should also be able to see the issue from a Pentagon perspective. From that vantage point, I can see that all the tree-hugging recyclers are pure hypocrites totally willing to expose our troops, totally willing to keep the best weaponry from them, totally ignoring how wonderfully destructive DU weapons are, totally rejecting that DU is excellent recycling. Takes our nuclear waste and disperses it over offshore and distant enemies.

One of the biggest problems facing us is recycling or safely storing nuclear waste. Also, we want to make sure our brave boys and girls in combat zones have the best and most lethal weaponry possible. Depleted uranium recycles nuclear wastes and is the most lethal ammunition yet found. The risks of DU use are much overwhelmed by its advantages and benefits. Besides, any negative effects or residual radiation probably won't show up in deformed babies or cancers for a goodly number of years.

To re-think, then, involves getting beyond the surface issues into core issues. Nuclear waste is relieved by abandoning nuclear power. Sophisticated and most lethal weaponry is unnecessary where wars are beyond conception.

Are we getting anywhere yet?

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Published April 12, 2004
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