Doing things differently since 1984
Generally, we all like progress. It’s a positive word; optimistic, like everything is continuing to get better. You won’t hear many people say, “I’m anti-progress.” Politically, people differ. “Progressive” can mean “liberal”, which at least in 2009, would exclude 75% of the population.
Personally, I would put myself somewhere between “moderate”, “pseudo-liberal”, and “disillusioned”, but progress? I’m not so sure about it.
I’m not trying to take a stand on gay marriage or abortion or whatever other hot-button political issues are pitting family and friends against each other across the nation today. What I’m trying to put into question is this underlying assumption that pervades so deeply that we don’t even notice it, that we are smarter, wiser, and fairer now than we were 50, 100, 1000, or 5000 years ago.
I was first struck with this idea when studying for my Masters degree in History. Words like “refute” and “reexamine” came up a lot…. They honestly were trying to sell me the idea that today, we can have a clearer and more truthful picture of a past event than we could at any time more, well, in the past. Just think about that a second. Who would you trust most to write an accurate biography of you after you’re gone?:
a) A lifelong friend, who manages to live 10 years longer than you
b) Your great-grandson, 90 years later, using your friend’s biography
c) Your great-great-great grandson, 150 years later, using your friend’s and great-grandson’s biographies
d) An expert in 20th-21st century culture and prolific biography writer, 500 years later, using his own independent research and conclusions
I mean, it just gets worse the farther removed from you it is, right?
But no, we are so full of ourselves these days that we actually think that we know better than all those who have come before us for the past millennia. And it’s not just historical accounts – we think that we’re making “progress” by completely throwing out all the traditions, culture, and ideas of the past however-many years and making up something totally new, as if anything that existed in the past is holding us back.
Do you know what would happen if a billionaire abandoned all his assets, burned his house(s) down, quit his job, tore up all his degrees, and said he wanted to start again from scratch? He’d be considered a nutjob!! But we’re doing this every day – taking the wisdom gained through thousands of years of trial and error, and throwing it out, because we know better.
Here are a few examples:
1) I don’t want to say that women’s equality isn’t great, but you know what? I’m still a wife and a mom, just like countless other women before me. And do you know how well prepared I feel like I was for that, through my 24 years of schooling and Grade-A parenting?? Badly. No wonder divorce rates are skyrocketing and kids are getting brattier by the day. But at least they’re going to college!
2) I don’t want to enter into any big arguments here about the existence of God, but do you know how many atheistic societies there were before the 20th century? Ummm, yeah. Aside from philosophies like Buddhism, good luck finding one. Ohhh, but right – we’re smarter now.
3) Speaking of God – you know how there are more and more kinds of churches all the time, doing less and less, because they’re too busy proving how they know better? I think there’s something wrong with that. I’m not Catholic, but I have to logically admit that they’ve managed to last 2000 years already, and might have something going.
4) Here’s a good one – STUFF. Do you know how many possessions our ancestors would have had at any point in the last few thousand years (with the exception of a few monarchs)? You can even trace it back just 50 years. The answer is, less and less, the further you go back. And what they had, they made. I’m not saying we should all be Amish now, but is society better now, because it has so much stuff? I hope so, because we center our lives around it.
I could go on, but this post is already getting too long. I want to be real clear here – I’m not advocating that we all sell all our possessions and live like Puritans (because that would make me a hypocrite, wouldn’t it?) It is what it is. I just want to attempt to root out this assumption that we all live with that we know better. I’d like us to be able to watch a really old movie, read a really old book, or look at a really old piece of artwork, and consider…. Maybe they knew something that we don’t.