Progress, by definition as a noun, refers to the movement towards either a specific goal or simply the movement in a particular direction. There are a few characteristics to progress:
First; that progress implies towards, rather than away.
Second; that progress is necessarily imbued with the idea that any movement entailed in progress is for the benefit of the mover and not to any disadvantage. Words used in defining progress include: advancement, improvement, development, and growth.
Third; that any new quality achieved through progress is considered to be superior to the previous quality.
Progress, by definition as a verb, refers more towards the idea of the movement of an object or condition without the adjudication, at the same moment, of any subjective value of good or bad.
The definition of the term progressive is shaped by its suffix: -ive; meaning to indicate a tendency for something or being of something. To be progressive would therefore refer to a condition or state of mind that promotes or advocates progress. In simple language, progressive refers to a person who believes progress to be a good state of mind. In that sense, one would believe that all people are progressive to some form, and to some degree. Any assessment taken by an individual of their progressive nature might well be based upon the form and degree of progress being assessed. We have done that and it is illuminated to us through what we refer to as morals and ethics.
Now, the concept of being progressive necessitates or creates an experimental condition, or the advancement towards a new quality that, more often than not, has not been experienced previously. Advancements in the sciences and related technologies – in foundational knowledge – tend to drive the engine of progress and define it in terms of the advancement into new and inexperienced qualities of existence. Why inexperienced though?
The simplest answer is that no one can fully predict what lies ahead when there are unaccounted variables in the participants and components of any progress or change. It certainly appears that the earth is round, but until you sail far enough west and find yourself back at port, you just don’t know for sure. And social progress will always have unaccounted for variables. Educated, informed minds can predict based upon good and thorough data, but modern society has clearly demonstrated that where it wants to go with its social structure is a most difficult and failure-ridden adventure; much like a roller-coaster with sections of the track missing. We just hope that we can leap the gaps smoothly and land on the ensuing, narrow rails with the grace of a gazelle.
Being progressive stems from the very concept of being progressive; the perpetuating response to current norms as being substandard and subject to imperfections. In a relatively static society, it is simpler to identify societal weaknesses, and to compare those weaknesses or inequities with moral absolutes. And our American society has done quite well in that endeavor over the past 100 years plus; identifying racism and Jim Crow practices, women’s rights issues and voting legislation, progressive educational reform, environmental legislation, welfare, health insurance, etc. However, in a society, multi-tasking innumerable, progressive advancements in societal structure at the same time, it is becoming increasing harder to predict successful outcomes.
One problem with being progressive today is that all of the good ones have been taken, identified, and remedied with the best information possible. And so, what is the inclined progressive to do, other than define more inequities that require their solutions? One has to justify the pay, the position, and the time, and so the progressives get busy; real busy. How busy? There is a legal challenge in the State of New York that centers on whether chimpanzees should be classified as “persons”, and thus receive all of the rights of any human being. That’s busy. It is becoming increasing harder to vision the American future. I’d call it virgin territory, but I suspect our progeny will look a little more like the offspring from those chimpanzees, than that of Jesus Christ.
Now, I started to write this post merely as a short view on the word “progressive” and its problems, and as usual, I get waylaid somewhere at the beginning; soon realizing that this was merely a pointer towards a larger issue. I see that, and so let me come in through the side door; actually a few side doors.
A side door:
West Point academy commenced admitting women in 1976, after a vociferous debate in America that pitted traditionalist against progressive and conservative against liberal. I remember these days well. I was a liberal, progressive thinker who enjoyed his sex, drugs, and rock & roll literally. I was young and immortal. But for some reason, I found the whole notion of admitting women into West Point quite confusing.
I’d have to admit that I am a skeptic when it comes to the idea of women fighting in any conflict where the potential of hand-to-hand combat may be a certainty. I’m not alone in this belief. The Marine Corp can verify the superiority of the male combatant over the female combatant any time one cares to check.
But more than that, I confess that I see women as something the male is to protect and honor as the fundamental life force of humanity. Men are expendable, whereas women should never be. I understand this perception of mine may well be fatal in our modern society, so call me obsolete, however, I might note that the word “fatal” may be better applied to the results of our American society embracing this “equal at all costs” attitude that the female could, should, and must do whatever men do. Women are in more danger in America now than they have ever been at any time in American history.
My argument for not admitting women into West Point has nothing to do with sexism. It has to do with the idea of human dignity; for those before us as much as for those today and in the future. It has to do with the idea that current society should always hold in highest respect the generations that came before them; those generations that provided us with the stable democracy we find safety and expression in, the marvelous sciences and technologies that have improved our lives, and the limitless opportunities to seek out our own futures. The idea that tradition is to be honored and respected, and maintained as a right to those who seeks its particulars, is one I hold dear. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea of an all-male or an all-female or a coed military academy. The first one came by design; let the second one, and subsequent ones, come that way also, but not to the exclusion of the first.
My argument is that an institution that has served a society well should be left to its own path, and if there is a need for some other variation of such an institution, then let it create itself, earn its standing, and reap its rewards. If women want to attend a military academy, then good. I do believe there are many roles for women, just as there are for men, in the military, and at many levels of authority. I just don’t believe they should be in situations that are physically disadvantageous to them.
With West Point becoming coed, those who seek an all-male institution have been denied that opportunity of attending the best of the best. While the right for a woman to attend a coed academy has been found, the right of a man to attend an all-male academy, West Point, has been lost.
I saw what was about to happen to West Point as a neglect to this ideological assertion, a disrespect to those before us, and a snub to the dignity to all men and women; whether alive, dead, or to be born in the future. I knew what was coming. I knew this was but the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and it did come; institution and tradition cast upon the fire heap of progressive, political commonsense. When my own, all-male prep school, The Hill, went coed, I resigned to this force – this power – and moved on with other thoughts and things.
Progressives would call this a victory, and I understand why. I call this a collapse of the moral consciousness of society, and the dissolution of human dignity as something available to all. It now belongs to the one percent.
I know, this is an odd sounding argument I am beginning to take, but give me a little time here. There is a nut somewhere in this pile of text worth considering as a decent, intellectual and spiritual meal.
Another side door:
I had a conversation with a fellow literacy volunteer at a local charitable-educational organization recently. Helene is in her mid-seventies, and was remarking how much she, now at her advanced age, appreciates certain subjects like geography and history, whereas when she was much younger, she could care less about such things. Helene was rightfully and regretfully projecting the same neglect on the younger generations that she comes in contact with; they just do not seem to appreciate what is in the “here and now” and where they came from as much as what is coming in their near future. Her words held my attention as I was in the middle of formulating this discourse on the progressive mindset, and I rumbled a bit about in the concepts on that neglect. It seemed obvious that:
First, young people are anxious to move into their lives; they naturally look forward into the inexperience of life, and thus deem it normal.
Second, younger people have a progressive disconnect from the foundations of their assumptions, and therefore find little value in those foundations. I can point to two examples of how differently Americans think than those of other nations:
While attending this small volunteer get-together, and talking to Helene, I also conversed with Tara, a dedicated worker at this organization. She related a story given to her by an experienced ESL (English second language) teacher. The teacher was instructing Yemeni men in English. The teacher, in time, gained their confidence enough to be able to instruct their wives also, and finally some of the children. One Yemeni teenager asked a simple question. He noted that he understood that birds can fly. What he did not understand is why birds do not fly to the sun. The youth, while being educated in some things, obviously missed other information well worth knowing.
And in my own experience that morning, my instructions with my student from Guatemala entailed the concepts of telling time in English. I thought that would be my only problem; the translation of telling time from Spanish to English. Instead, I found that she had no concept of recognizing time with any basis of knowledge. She did not know that there were sixty minutes in an hour, and when asked how many hours are in a day, her answer was eight. It was obvious that I was about to teach something more akin to foundational physics than recitation of time from a make-believe clock whose hands I set manually, and then ask the question, “What time is it?”
And third, if you are taught to be progressive, there is little incentive to reference back to anything not useful to your primary tasks in life going forward. Hence ignorance becomes an accepted standard that no one would ever anticipate.
Helene, having lived a long life with a set of experiences that demonstrate to her a methodology of life, has good reason to consider history as not only friendly to her present existence, but essential to her future cause. But for the progressive, the focus is always where something should be, rather than where it is or was, and with the argument that something is better off after it is changed, any value that thing might have had must be demoted so as to justify the change.
Another side door:
This debasement of the past leads to the neglect of the future. This is why we are now facing issues like euthanasia. While the headlines brushstroke tragic examples of younger, vital people facing painful futures due to debilitating and agonizing health issues, the truth of the matter is that it is the older people, leading lives at a quality level younger people would rather not consider, who will be walked to the crematorium in ever increasing numbers with the acceptance of euthanasia. Like Windows XP, the older generation is obsolete; not so much for their lack of knowledge and experience, but because of their diminishing returns in a progressive-based society.
And I could say the same thing about abortion. Our concern is rapidly becoming nothing more than how we will perceive ourselves in the future; how we want to be, and not necessarily who we are at the moment. A woman is pregnant now; this is the truth of her existence. She became pregnant in her past, but she sees herself differently in the future, and so she considers herself justified to abort her own child into a furnace at a hospital, as human fuel, or a city dump. I would consider this very progressive thinking.
One more side door:
I saw recently in the news that Six Flags Great Adventure, an amusement park in New Jersey, has decided to cut down a forest of 18,000 trees so it can erect a “solar farm”. I rest my case.
The myopic vision of the progressive mind all starts with a self-centered view of human dignity. A self-centered view becomes possible and desirable when a society has the ability to release its citizens from their natural obligations as a societal animal; the family, the community, the state, and the nation are such obligations I have in mind. What makes this possible is a preference to those sciences and technologies that incline towards the self and decline from the community. As a society centralizes services for the individual, there is a natural expectancy and result that obligations of the individual to the community decline in like measure. And as technology develops products that enhance communication and provision through interactions other than person-to-person contact – or anonymous encounters – it can be expected that someone might consider their UPS delivery person a better family member than their own brother, sister, father or mother; he or she arrives on schedule and always bears gifts. What more does one need?
Human dignity is not about how you think about yourself, or how you serve yourself. Human dignity is about what you think about other people, and how you serve other people. In part, this situation can be attributed to the confusion between an idea and a person. The best way to illustrate this is with a current legal situation in Northern Ireland.
A bakery recently declined to provide a cake whose decoration entailed a statement in support of same-sex marriage. The shop owners had no knowledge of the potential client’s sexual orientation. They were intending no discrimination against a person. For them, they were discriminating in regards to an idea (same-sex marriage). Now discrimination is an act committed by every person, perhaps every second of their lives. It’s called choice, feelings, desires, preferences, etc. Without discrimination we would walk out into traffic or eat the poisoned fruit. Without discrimination there would be no family, no community, no state, and no nation. Discrimination is the key that winds the clock of a democracy like America, and the acceptance of this assertion is found in the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution.
However, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland believes there is good reason to discriminate against ideas on the basis that ideas should be subservient to persons; that persons trump ideas.
The Commission’s argument is that the purpose of the community is for the preservation and rights of the individual, and not that the individual owes anything to the idea of the community. You see, a community, a state, and a nation is an idea, not a person. If anyone, or any body, can discriminate ideas in a manner that suppresses their espousal, then that person or body possesses the power to deem acceptable or otherwise any idea, and by extension and unintended, any person. This form of thinking will invariable lead to the dissolution of government within a society because it disguises individual obligation as a lack of freedom.
The confusion lies in the misinterpretation of what is happening. Yes, we all hope, in vain, that no person would be prevented from the opportunity to fulfill their destiny according to their abilities and efforts, and not according to pre-conceived and ill-conceived notions of who someone is by their mere appearance and good intentions. Yet today, this Commission is attempting to do just that, in the name of freedom and equality, by the assertion that discriminating against a person trumps the right of a community to its foundational ideas. The progressive view is myopic in the sense that it insists upon dismantling the very bridge they stand on as they advance towards the release of one or all from their individual obligations to the society they live in. The progressive believes there is no bridge.
There is developing an assumptive value that the commitment to personal desires outweighs personal obligations to the interest of the community, and when this becomes an assumption – that the individual is greater than the whole – then what will invariably set in is a lack of understanding of that whole and a negligence to it. The whole of anything is based more upon its past than either its present or its future, and thus is of little interest to the progressive. However, there would be nothing without its past. To portion a cherry pie, there first must be wheat fields, sugar cane plantations, dairy farms, orchards, and generations of individuals dedicated to the community and its hope for that cherry pie. To ignore the past is to ultimately lose our portion.
It is by the freedom of ideas that we best protect the dignity of a person. And it all starts with the community as an idea; an idea conceived by individuals working in concert and compromise to obtain security, provision, and procreation for its individuals. In order for the idea of the community to thrive and provide for the individual, the individual must relinquish its own self-centered desires and practices to the selfless desires and practices that better the community.
Now, a professor commenting on this legal hearing regarding the bakery in Northern Ireland, stated that the bakery should be found guilty because if an idea could trump a person – a conscience clause – then there would only be a continuous stream of legal challenges. I might contend that those ideas that provide for the foundational structure of a society in which – through the society – the individual thrives, then continuous legal challenges are well worth the cause. The professor’s comment is sending a message that says that morals and ethics worth having should only be those that need not face repeated assault by corrupted thinking; hence do not consider one’s conscience but rather only one’s presence. He actually believes that anything worth having requires no effort. This is a legitimate attack on the idea that there is a difference between what is perceived as good and what is perceived as evil, and when that gains ground in any society; nihilism ensues and society crumbles.
As a side note, I have always regretted the mobility of American citizens. While it has provided for personal gain and self-centered desires, it has decimated the family, the community, the state, and the nation. We see the inevitable result of mobility played out every day in the newspapers, the internet, and on television. Young adults lose the guidance of their parents, children lose the closeness of their grandparents, and parents end in nursing homes rather than with their children at a time when family achieves its recurring apex; the end of life of one of its members. Thus enters euthanasia as a means to two ends: the economic dissolution of costs for senior care facilities and the resultant financial inheritance by those who would employ euthanasia to its economic ends, and the elimination of one more individual obligation: to fully demonstrate real love for one’s parents and for one another. While one defends their right to seek their own path in life, they also, therefore, defend their right to neglect their obligations; the obligations borne upon them when life was granted them by others. But why consider that of any value? Life is out there and never here.
God Bless – Reese