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Posts Tagged ‘progress’

Like most things Disney, Tomorrowland is a delicious snack of seeming subsistence. This movie is chock full of “I wanna believe” and “I must be a terrible person if I don’t believe” sentiments and relationships. “We are the future”, “I can make it work”, “Light and hope – the wolf you feed”, “You still have hope”, “Anything is possible” and “We make our destiny” – are just a few of the inspirational tugs. The story itself is cute, watchable and, by in large, moving. And herein lies The Problem.

Human Progress is Not A Thing

Human Progress is Not A Thing

In an ironic twist, if that’s even an American possibility anymore, Tomorrowland, violating its own story premise, espouses overly simplified, imagination-limiting Propaganda. The movie presents the future worth chasing as people standing in amber waves of grain aweing at a technological, automated city of industry and digitization out in the distance. Hard to be irritated by the vision all of us Americans have been sold since the nanosecond we were conceived. The irony of this vision in this movie is that the realization of this future, and the children sold into it, end up creating the technology that brainwashes the world into its own destruction.

The bigger philosophical, ethical issue is that humans by in large cannot imagine a future without humans at the center of it. And in America we can’t sincerely adopt a future without technology and industry made by humans. Americans, and most “developed” societies, mostly do not view non-human growth, creativity, and prosperity on the same level as human efforts. We justify our existence by our ability to continually re-wreak havoc on the world so our human solutions can prevail again! Us humans do have a remarkable ability to solve various issues, especially through technology. But is it remarkable enough to justify our existence, and more pressingly, our proliferation in time and space?

Tomorrowland and the millions of other political, cultural narratives will never be able to ask questions penetrating enough to even hint at a possible justification. These narratives survive and thrive by preying on cognitive bias – asking “is my existence justified?”, “is my worldview accurate?”, “is my limited perception sufficient for external imposition?” isn’t exactly the stuff of mega block buster movies, toy shelf marketing, school room pledges, company missions and political campaigns. And we as consumers and producers of these narratives will not be able to imagine, adopt and create a future worth having nor even a possible future if we can’t ask those questions. The future contemplated by this Dream of the Dreamers is not one that can exist – a perpetual recycle of humans at the center of everything isn’t really a thing has been clearly demonstrated by 13.5 billion years of the universe doing its thing.

Are there popular narratives and dialectics that seem to ask deeper questions – things like “Planet of the Apes” to “The Singularity” movement to posthumanism to mathematics to most philosophy books and departments? On the surface all these things all seem to contemplate non-human centrality but they still all have anthropomorphic aspirations at their core. Anthropomorphism is very hard, if down right impossible, to avoid.

The way forward may be not be forward at all. That is, progress is a very misguided, humanistic concept. Progress is at best a relative, self-serving concept, it is not a physical law or a feature of the universe. It is a misguided concept because it guides at all. The Dream of the Dreamers is always one of Progress, never one of restraint or contemplation or admission or apology or submission.

Inside of me there is a battle. All these questions well up and make me feel like a bad father for not wanting to pass on “wisdom” but only questions. I’m a bad capitalist for questioning the unending creative destructive power of markets. I’m a bad American for questioning The Dream of the Dreamers. I’m a bad creator of technology for anguishing over its ultimate value. I’m a bad person-person for not having an identify or a mission or end goal or a five year plan and question my own centrality to my own existence. I’m a bad artist and writer for lacking happy, hopeful endings and conclusions – never answer a question with a question! I’m a bad revolutionary for not fighting every fight. and I’m definitely a bad philosopher for having no particular philosophy at all. Right?!

The Dream of the Dreamers is potent because it certainly makes for pleasant sleep and a comfortable way to get out of bed and get on with the day’s work. But it is not reality it is marketing against reality. And it is more de-pressing than the struggle with unanswerable questions.

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The idea of progress is a flimsy concept.  Nothing in the universe comes for free.  So when some system or entity “progresses” in comes at the expense of energy somewhere.  It’s not necessarily a wholly destructive expense but it is an expense nonetheless. The way in which we commonly talk about society, civilization and the human race is in terms of progress.  We’re progressing from a barbaric or unenlightened state to a state if self reliance and control and technologically enhanced awareness.  But this progress is mostly an illusion.  It comes at a great expense to other species,the planet and even ourselves.

Some conflicting reports:

http://humanprogress.org/ (there’s progress!)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_progress (there’s progress!)

http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/30/human-progress-not-inevitable-uneven-and (there is a thing called progress but we’re not always on it!)

http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S445.htm (there’s progress!)

http://www.alternet.org/environment/myth-human-progress (progress is an illusion!)

http://www.vice.com/read/john-gray-interview-atheism (there is no progress!)

(Another way to think about this is that everything is competing to exist against other things that also are fighting to exist.  The better we compete the more we extract from the ecosystems.)

Certainly we’ve increased our life expectancy on the whole and reduced violence and physical suffering in the human race. We have invented computers, figured out space flight, eradicated some diseases, taught billions to read and write.  All progress right?

To what end?  Where is all this progress going?  How is this progress measured?  Does a longer life mean a better life? Does a less violent life lead somewhere differently than a more violent one?

Perhaps even more challenging is figuring out whether we have a choice in the matter.  Are we even biologically, physically capable of not trying to progress in these dimensions and exert our competitive advantages upon or environment?  If we had some definition of how best to live in some philosophic sense and it differed materially with the progressive ways we’ve chased could we actually change?  Could we choose less technology and a culture more in balance with the environment?  And no there’s no “hippie” justification needed for this thinking.  The question is is there a way of life that is more sustainable and less extracting from the world than the way we currently live?  Or is our survival inexorably tied to dominating everything we can?

To make this very clear consider the species that have become extinct at the hands of humankind’s hunting.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_extinct_animals
Our “progress” has led in many cases directly to their complete decline.  Who are we to say whether our progress is worth it – Was worth their demise?

I’m directly asking everyone what is the point of our focus on progress.  Certainly in America we are all put on a course to progress through life.  Our goal is clear to get through high school, go through college, and begin to produce.  One production should lead to ever more important positions in this progressive society with ever increasing economic output.  We measure all facets of our culture against GDP and endowments and ROI.  We do not recognize that growth in these aspects must be paid for in other respects.

So the question remains.  What is progress? and what’s it worth to you?

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