It is the evening of the day
I sit and watch the children play
Doing things I used to do
They think are new
– The Rolling Stones
In response to my maxim “Progress. There is no such thing,” reader Your Favourite Gamma (YFG) leads off a long comment with thoughts and some questions about progress:
You also mean (say your thought on history) that there is no fundamental change. So that means that:
1) Human reality doesn’t get better with the passing of time
2) Human reality doesn’t change, not more than superficially
Yes, time is one-way linear and meaningless change itself is a given. But where irreversible change is either willed or thought to be predetermined by history’s laws toward an idealized destination, it’s called Progress. Progressives, as those who subscribe to this Marxist-derived theory of history and its associated political activism call themselves, see history as a march, its retrograde cycles notwithstanding, toward a goal. From the Left wing perspective, which is the one that has wielded the most influence in the past 160 years, that goal is human equality.
In their long march toward effecting equality, Communists envisioned a classless society of selfless workers in an industrial landscape from William Blake’s nightmares. One century later, Multiculturalists updated the Left wing ideology by moving the domain of struggle from class to race, their stated ideal now being equality across races taken to its ultimate conclusion of blending out all race differences to brown. A monster’s dream of a bulldozed humanity, in both visions.
But Leftists don’t think of themselves as monsters. They profess to lofty aspirations for mankind, centered on the elimination of conflict and selfishness. I’m talking about the idealists here, not the Left’s three-parentheses leadership (we’ll get to the cynical part in a bit). There is a susceptibility in some of us to believe in leftism. Generation after generation sees its true-believers, so that thirst can’t be dismissed outright, even if only because their stirring music — from “L’Internationale” and the USSR national anthem to John Lennon’s ode to lobotomy — comes from and in fact even quenches a certain receptivity toward the revolutionary spirit in many of us, no matter the butchery of leftism.
Yes, my own anti-Left bias colors my prose, and so be it. I have second-hand knowledge of the hell of Communism (my own first-hand experience behind the Iron Curtain in the 1970s was idyllic but by that point revolutionary Bolshevism was just a dead ritual) and we are all living the nightmare of revolutionary Multiculturalism right now. So I stand by my bias.
But in the interest of clear abstraction, let’s take a look at one compelling sketch of the difference between the Progressive (Left wing) and the Traditionalist (Right wing) worldview. Czeslaw Milosz describes the two Weltanschauungs below in “Witness of Poetry,” a collected series of his 1983 Harvard lectures:
After all, this is a century of utopian hope. In its name people have been dying, in its name people have been killing each other — and that hope has taken the form of a revolution whose goal is to replace the ominous power of money with a state monopoly and a planned economy. The vertical orientation, when man turned his eyes toward Heaven, has gradually been replaced in Europe during the last few centuries by a horizontal longing: the always spatial human imagination has replaced “above” with “ahead,” and that “ahead” is claimed by Marxism. The Russian revolution unleashed great energies and great expectations everywhere. There were, however, many disappointments in store.
Note Milosz’s aside: “that ‘ahead’ is claimed by Marxism.” It begs a question: is there a vista of possibilities about an ‘ahead’ that is claimed by a competing, not-Marxist vision? Maybe the Thousand-Year Reich, maybe something else. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
What about some aspects of progress that are self-evidently good and permanent? For example, children no longer work as chimney sweeps. Correlated but certainly not equivalent trade-offs between the 19th and the 21st centuries: instead of being forced into dangerous labor, they are now drugged with pharmaceuticals and electronics, they have small families, no freedom, and no conceptual framework of the universe and their place in it, except for being told that they have no past and no future. And we’re talking about the kids who weren’t contracepted out of existence to begin with.
Some of that progress, such as that which liberated little boys from dying of black-lung disease at the age of twelve is driven by linear advances in technology rather than political, and that gets its own discussion in the latter part of this post.
Back to Milosz’s model of the two axes. Progress, idealism, philosophy, Communism and the aspirations behind it — what are they if not mist inside a dreamer’s mind? For one, the implementation of the exalted visions in its historic iterations consistently reveals itself to have been a means to a cynical end — the Soviet nomenklatura lived like feudal lords and Sidwell Friends doesn’t matriculate 18-year-old Guatemalan rapists.
Based on a conversation I had at some point in my childhood:
ME: Do our leaders believe in Communism?
ME: Does anybody?
ADULT: Nobody who matters
ME: But what about all those red banners at the May Day parade?
ADULT: Think about Communists as gangsters who took over a country and are tricking some people, and forcing those who can’t be fooled, into believing in Communism so that they can keep their power.
So it is with Progressive ideology. Like peeling an onion: under the layers of egalitarian language you find the robber-barons co-opting Leftism as acid to dissolve competing social structures, on down to the most organic social unit, the family. Their goal is one world, one race, one elite. Those oligarchs, in turn, are supported by jealous nobodies who proselytize the egalitarian creed to knock down those they envy, by opportunists who angle for rank under the new order, and finally, by sincere idealists who believe in Progress.
Behind the solemn notes of “Imagine,” it’s banking cartels all the way up. The idealist finds himself deeper than ever in the very “ominous power of money” that the wreckage was supposed to do away with. Or as Zbigniew Herbert wrote about Leftist dictatorships in blank verse, translated here: a wet pit the murderers’ alley the barrack called the palace of justice.
Don’t we learn from history? Apparently not. The lessons of the Holodomor didn’t sour anyone on the proverbial breaking of eggs to make the omelet. The slaughterhouse churns on, the face-pierced great-granddaughter of mid-Western farmers holds up a “Refugees Welcome” placard, thinking that she’s doing something new. There are things that pass from one generation to the next reliably, but wisdom is not one of those things.
And where you don’t learn, you double-down. Where Progress usurps competing transcendent values and the direction of Progress is equality, then it is easier to keep faith in the omelet that you committed yourself to making, than it is to account for the broken eggs. The more elusive the omelet, the more the eggs need breaking.
But there is another reason why we’re fooled to chase the mirage of progress generation after generation, and that reason is our innate thirst for the transcendent. Like Milosz wrote above, there has to be something more than the power of money — material determinism, in other words. This yearning is acute when the great chain of being is cut and you lose sight of the vertical axis to Heavens. With your roots severed and your upward-gazing eyes blinded, you stand alone in the world of dead matter. In Hell, which is what spiritless life is to the European soul.
Faith in Progress is the shipwrecked man drinking sea water of thirst. Our craving for light never leaves us, which is why some call the devotion-like commitment of liberals to Leftism a religion. I disagree with them, having previously explained why in absence of true religion, liberalism is not a religion, but an episodic outbreak of mass hysteria.
So that covers political Progress. In his comment, YFG also calls out technology:
Where progress means change we have to say that there is progress, and not let our dislike of it alter our foresight. When you have a generation of laboratory-made humans of average IQ 140 or 150, all having access to as-yet unthought technology, all rules that still barely apply today are going to wear off. No way, and maybe no right for anyone, to establish if it will be a better world or life; what’s beyond question is much is changing deeply (and I see you hate it).
While the constancy of human nature makes for history as an endless succession of cycles, the advance of technology is linear and therefore by definition progressive, lower case. On face-value Yes, over the long run science and technology builds upon itself. But how does that relate to progress with regards to the human condition?
Here is one way, a snapshot of technology’s interplay with sex as related by commenter Days of Broken Arrows at Le Château:
Way back when in the 1990s, you could walk into any shopping mall and the young girls who worked there would be standing at the entrances of their stores, bored out of their skulls, just waiting for someone to talk to them.
It was pretty easy pickings. Even the most transparent lines would work if they were bored enough. (Few people went to malls on Monday nights, so this was a particularly good night to meet retail girls.)
So, for example, if they worked at a women’s clothing store, you could strike up a convo and possibly number-close with a line as lame as “I’m looking for a shirt for my sister.” I have no sister, but used this line dozens of times.
The bottom line is that something is always better than nothing. And when they had nothing to do, it was pretty easy to be something to them, so long as you were somewhat entertaining.
If I was in my twenties now, I wouldn’t know how to compete against iPhags. I see this now with the girls who work at the gas station near me. They barely pick their heads up from those phones to ring up your order. Maybe this is the reason younger guys have taken to porn and video games.
Are addictive electronics progress, in the most generic meaning of the word? Sure: while history is cyclical, time’s passage and technological innovation are linear. But are those things capital-letter Progress, a permanent human advancement toward a new plateau of being, for good or ill? That depends. Is man’s changed relationship with the world a permanent condition? Before giving that hypothetical question a Yes or a No response, ask: how permanent can any arrangement be, if it short-circuits reproduction? It’s almost as if linear advancements spur Darwinian cycles of self-correcting human adaptations.
As to YFG’s scenario of lab-assisted super-babies, I’m not saying “never” because anything can happen. In this case though, going with historic track-record of lab eugenics, I will venture a guess that crude nature still outperforms numerically. Gene manipulation, knowing what we know now and cautiously projecting this knowledge to an unknown future, strikes me as too boutique to have an impact on humanity in its sheer numbers. After all, we’ve had cheap lab eugenics since the 1970s. Any woman can avail herself of blond 6’2″ medical student’s donated sperm at a clinic, yet single mothers aren’t incubating Übermenschen, as a visit to Walmart confirms.
Or to make that point differently, leave a female to her devices, and eugenics is a toilet-stall fuck at a club. Contrary to the jaded Red Pill truism, women are the true romantics after all. Their gutter love keeps us from reaching escape velocity on post-humanity.
In the past several paragraphs, I laid out my skepticism on the prospects of meaningful technology-driven progress, limiting my argument to reasonably conceivable advances in technology. What lies beyond “reasonably,” I’m leaving alone in this post. With this next metaphor, I want to illustrate how humanity resists “improvement,” including improvement by technological means.
To see mankind in relation to Progress, both political and scientific, picture an animal. It can be a bull or a wolf, a noble lion, or the most noble creature of all, the frog. That animal is a model of mankind, of a race, or a nation — and to compound the metaphor, imagine it as a self-regenerating creature, just as a human groups regenerate by way of potentially endless birth of new babies.
This animal has a sustainable default condition, which is called health. It can be temporarily made a bit more excellent with a scientific diet and training like a young athlete. And then, there is the animal’s actual condition, which will almost invariably be some degree degraded from optimal, given life’s stings. That beast can be injured, fall sick, or be killed — but it cannot in any meaningful or permanent way be improved beyond simple health, nor can conditions that depart too far from the environment of his native habitat sustain the animal at a salutatory equilibrium. The girls with iPhags and the boys on porn — society will either displace them or a new so-called bigger mouse-trap (technologically or as a social adjustment) will enter the picture as an adaptation to the crippling technology.
We generally know what it takes to keep fauna alive and healthy, But since that animal was, from the beginning, a metaphor for the human condition, thoughts turns toward a tangent that requires a separate post: what is best in life?
Does it look like 24×7 minimum latency no lag?
Ted Kaczynski foresaw the dystopian direction of technology but I consider measures to suppress its development futile. Fortunately though, I also see the ill effects of technological progress (as reasonably anticipated, given present knowledge) to be self-correcting. In an age of nuclear-tipped ICBMs, Stockholm is conquered by chartered flights from Somalia. Yet if unimpeded by Swedish policemen, one hundred Swedish men with baseball bats and the will to swing them can retake the capital. Technological progress is an irritant to which man makes adjustments and it’s always back to muscle. For all of its transformative power, technology is still a club wielded by apes.
The natural human condition is face-in-the-dirt, and be it a primitive tribe or a civilization, men overcome their bestial reality through their unceasing daily labor according to each people’s aptitude and temperament. Every human group reaches to elevate life itself above it being a flicker of light among disease and death. To those chastened by the blood-gorged experiments in Utopia or to those who who never fell for it, Progress is false salvation. The New Man is a phantasm and there is no possible Earthly existence bereft of material trifles, conflict, pain.
Clarity on transcendence might come to you with the morning’s breeze whispering about the endless rhythm of seasons. As the decades pass and your body fades and after you did what had to be done, peace will be the sight of one generation after another of the familiar faces of children discovering the games they think are new.
Everything above was materialist commentary and Christianity changes everything. Someone called it “the real transhumanism.” Just a few words about faith: it makes no sense to evaluate a religion opportunistically, as you would with a political affiliation. Why, for example, convert to some war-religion for its short-term release if that religion is not metaphysically true. It is Pyrrhic victory to gain something in this world for the price of your soul in the next.
Christianity is simply either true or it is false, and that objective fact trumps whatever your attitude toward it might be. When you are convinced beyond mere understanding that it is as real as your very consciousness, then you exist outside of the tumult and the noise because none of this ultimately matters. God is the highest reality and you see your time on Earth as a trial in which you are compelled to carry out your worldly responsibilities from which, as it is clear to me, the 14 Words are inseparable.