We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
C. S. Lewis
Bugzy emailed me with the following suggestion for a topic on "progress." He wrote:
"Are we progressing..... towards what?
What about the freedoms before technology? When used to talk to folk face to face. Or even telephone them.
Life is lived through a hand held screen for many. Counting likes, could be a random like generator. Would that work equally well?
Social skills reduced to some new lol text message.
Folks dragging themselves to work in some cubicle to generate revenue for some unknowable entity with person status, selling something that nobody would even think of buying 100 years ago. To take the pay check to pay the bank the interest on the money created via your own signature to pay for your house which no one lives in all day as everyone is in their cubicle, to come home to their cubicle condo (holding cell) and plug in - sleep and rinse and repeat. And all the time God looks on and shakes his head at the sheer stupidity of it all.
Maybe we are just meant to have fun and experience awe of everything?
Is progress always good?"
This is a great question. I think it would be easy to just respond and say "Oooh, things are so awful now!" but I'm going to attempt to look at both sides of things. Maybe there's a silver lining somewhere.
I am a Generation Xer, probably the last generation to grow up without a constant barrage of electronic media in our faces. I remember the massive cultural shift that took place between the 80s and 90s. The 90s was the decade that things really started going downhill culturally. That was the decade of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. The explosion of cable and the Internet gave us more choices - but instead of choosing quality programming, Americans turned to trash.
Originally, the "A&E" network was about "Arts & Entertainment.* The History Channel actually had shows about history, instead of ancient aliens. (Don't get me wrong, I might find ancient aliens interesting, but not on the History Channel!) Heck, HBO used to be the more "family" oriented movie channel - it was Showtime that focused on the R-rated stuff. Now HBO produces television shows that might as well give up any pretense of plot and go full on porn.
Little did I know, when I tuned into the first reality show, "The Real World" on MTV, to watch my peers, that we would be bringing in a massive tidal wave of television stupidity that has now culminated in the once great Discovery Channel pandering with their Blue Lagoon island series, "Naked and Alone" - except, the "naked" consists of the flabby butts of dehydrated city dwellers. Nothing too sexy about that! Too bad they don't have young Brooke Shields to send there nude - instead they have pale, tattooed hipsters.
I seriously do miss the sense of innocence that permeated the 80s. Our culture has gotten downright mean and decadent since then. Heck, I checked out an episode of an 80s nostalgia show called "The Goldbergs" (yes, I'll admit I was sucked in by their Star Wars promo), and it totally got the 80s wrong. The kids in the show were talking in these ridiculous snarky voices with the perpetual snappy comebacks. The adults were generally mean and selfish. The teenage daughter was embarrassed to be seen in line waiting for Return of the Jedi.
I'm sorry, but this is not how the 80s was at all. Heck, we kids got excited over that schlocky show The Greatest American Hero! Every new blockbuster movie that came out in the 80s, from Indiana Jones, to Star Wars, to Back to the Future, was not met with tired cynicism or snark, but excitement. (OK, so maybe some of the Star Trek movies were seen as being too geeky for the average teen. But that was partly due to Star Trek III just being plain bad.)
I feel bad for today's teenagers, who are raised in such a culture of sewage masquerading as sophistication, that they cannot experience any wonder or excitement anymore. And then we can't figure out why they are turning to drugs in droves.
Certainly, I think a good portion of our culture has degraded to the point of stupidity, and I hope we start seeing some trends to reverse the idiocy. It is possible.
One of the perpetual memes that people don't actually stop to think through or question is this idea that culture inevitably marches "forward" towards some (false) utopian ideal, or that once a culture starts going in one direction, it will inevitably continue on that course.
Sorry, folks, but that is not backed up by history whatsoever. Wasn't the Roman Empire permissive to the point of an emperor marrying his horse? Weren't orgies the order of the day? What happened? The Roman Empire collapsed under the weight of its own decadence, and Western culture became more serious and conservative as a result.
Communist China has done its damnedest to silence and destroy Christianity, and what is the result? The fastest growing population of Christians in the world is in China.
Speaking of Christianity, I encourage you to read some of the great C.S. Lewis's writings on the subject of "progress." (Check out the following articles: "A Cancer in the Universe," "C.S. Lewis on Threats to Freedom in Modern Society," and "CS Lewis and Progress.") This is not meant to proselytize. Yet, even back when Lewis was alive (during his peak years in the 1940s), the inevitable march of "progress" was a big rallying cry. Lewis took great exception to the idea that just because something was "modern" that meant it was better. He felt that a lot of wisdom from the past was being overwritten simply because it was "old" and not because any rational thought went into it.
He also warned of the dangers of science being put on too much of a pedestal:
"Again, the new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim of knowledge. . . . This means they must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists. . . . Now I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about science. But government involves questions about the good of man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man's opinion no added value. . . . On just the same ground I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in. In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. They 'cash in'. It has been magic, it has been Christianity. Now it will certainly be science."
Lewis was very prescient, I believe, as we see "science" and "progress" being used to justify all sorts of tyrannies today, from NSA spying to drones flying over our cities. Without a solid base of morality behind government, Lewis might argue, such scientific "progress" will lead to our downfall.
Lest we only look at the negatives of all our new technology, I do believe the Internet has had tremendous positive effects. The one huge thing the Internet has done - in the midst of all this media consolidation - is give average people more of a voice. It is the Gutenberg Press of the 21st Century.
The little guy and gal can now start a blog and generate an audience that rivals that of mainstream news audiences. This breaks the monopoly on truth of the old school media. And what a blessing this is!
If it were not for the Internet, I might still be a sheeple and voting straight ticket without really researching candidates. I might not be aware of what's really going on. OK, maybe I might be a little more cozy in my ignorance, but I was never the type of personality that preferred comfort to truth.
While we do need to be vigilant against attempts at censoring the Internet, there are many signs that the elite is starting to run scared. (And of course, this is why they are trying to damper Internet freedom.)
For a good example of this, read Tina Brown's pathetic, whiny article blaming Matt Drudge and Monica Lewinsky for ruining the media. She also speciously tries to blame Drudge for the loss of privacy - what a joke coming from a woman who made her name being a gossip tabloid queen.
Politico (which I am not a fan of) actually did an excellent piece on the rise and fall of Tina Brown. There were a couple of things I got from that piece - 1) Tina Brown truly is a talent-less hack who just happened to be at the right place at the right time when she was younger and b) big money still has the ability to fund failing mainstream news sources way past their expiration date.
The media, which clearly has taken a major role in the degradation of our culture, may possibly be the vehicle through which we might be able to salvage things. But that takes citizen media supported by the grassroots.
Otherwise, we are most certainly headed down the path of imperial Rome - our decadence will lead to a massive collapse and the withdrawal of the American and Western hegemonies - and a new Dark Ages will be born.
But at least, if that happens, people will be too busy trying to feed and clothe themselves to be wrapped up in stupidity. I guess that will be one blessing of a potential collapse - no more "reality" shows. We'll be too busy living it.