“How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.”
– Oliver Goldsmith
We live in a technocratic age. There seems to be a handy solution to every problem — from the plots of 30 minute TV sitcoms, to the prescription medicine advertisements that sponsor them. If you didn’t take care of the one body you have in your youth, no problem! Here’s a prescription or the address of a surgeon.
While I am thankful for the inventions and breakthroughs that enable us to live longer and in many cases better lives, I want to take our time together to explain why Progress is a false savior.
In an earlier post, I made the point that innovation should be tempered by natural and moral law — that is, when one is considering what is possible to do, he should ask himself whether it is the right thing to do.
Through much of the 20th century and in this new one, nearly every institution from government to academia to the church promised that a new and better world was just around the corner. Businesses adopted this belief, spending shareholder wealth to promote the ideas that: a) change is inevitable and b) all change is good. In this view, it was always better to do something than to wait and assess the situation.
But is it good?
Certainly it is in the nature of every living thing to grow. Growth is a byproduct of health, so we can argue with some success that if we define change as growth, change is indeed inevitable in a healthy organism. At the same time, I question the notion that all change is good.
Let’s begin with simple logic. Amputation may be necessary to save your life, but the loss of a limb would be a change that was not good. Survival is better than extinction, but a reduction in your physical ability is not better than its continuation.
Progress is a mixed blessing
Technology has made each of us at once more capable and more helpless. We can communicate our thoughts to millions with little more than a smart phone and a network connection. At the same time, we seem less willing — or able? — than ever to do the soul work to live as free people. A recent tweet expressed it this way:
It seems we are awash in theoreticians with lofty ideals, but no practical experience. We pontificate from our anonymized ivory towers so we never have to pick up the check when our theories collapse under their own weight, with predictable damages.
Perhaps a movie would help
I have a love/hate relationship with the Disney movie Wall-E. I love it because of its ultimately pro-human message. I hate it because of its deadly accuracy regarding the spiritual dullness of humanity. Each day it seems we get nearer the realization of the movie’s portrayal of an infantilized population of passive adults who are utterly dependent on their overlords for their sustenance and amusement. It doesn’t matter whether the overlords are corporations, the state or their symbiotic spawn, the effect is the same – an enervated people.
Forgive the digression, but when I was a boy, a 300-pound human being was so rare a sight that you’d pay half a dollar to see him or her at a sideshow at the state fair. Now, you can go to Wal-Mart and see dozens of such specimens for free, navigating the aisles on scooters thoughtfully provided by the store. Clearly something has changed among our fellow citizens, but is anyone arguing that this is good?
What’s a man to do?
I write this blog to encourage you — and me — to become the men we were created to be. This is a call for each of us to become first-rate stewards of our bodies, our minds, our spirits and our culture. Does that sound like too much?
I recommend skepticism toward any untested idea — particularly if it comes from a centralized authority. Anglicanism used to posit that orthodoxy rested on a three-legged stool whose legs were scripture, tradition and reason. When your government, your company or even your church proposes some innovation, it is always prudent to analyze the proposal in light of these three.
Think for yourself. Endorse what is good and reject what doesn’t conform. No one but God has unlimited resources, so adopting an unworkable solution can tie up funds and keep you from other, better projects. This is the concept of opportunity cost.
No beneficial change comes by chance. As iconic football coach Vince Lombardi said, “The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.” We must know our strength and use it to give life. We must find allies and encourage each other. And we must persevere in the face of opposition — from those who would see us emasculated and enslaved, and from those who are afraid to rock the boat themselves.
We have already lost a great deal through lethargy and through our uncritical acceptance of progressive nostrums. Perhaps it is not too late to re-engage. This is not a project any of us can complete in an afternoon. It is the work of a lifetime. Are you up to the task?