15 October 2014

the illogic of progress fetishism

● There’s something fundamentally illogical about the contemporary tendency to fetishise speed of ‘progress’ – and to despise those who want things to move more slowly, or not at all, or to go in a direction their critics would describe as ‘backwards’.
Call the state of society 20 years ago S1, and the current state S2. We can calculate an apparent rate of change by looking at the difference in characteristics between S1 and S2. This gives us both a direction, and a speed, for change over that period.
Extrapolating from that, it is liable to be assumed (somewhat dubiously) that after another 20 years, we shall have a society that will have changed by the same magnitudes, and in the same directions, as the change from S1 to S2. Call this hypothetical future society S*.
Now the way many commentators seem to argue is something like this:
a) S2 is now. The change from S1 has happened. We cannot go back to the time of S1. Therefore, it is pointless to suggest that S1 was preferable in some ways.
b) It’s not only sensible, but also morally superior, to adapt, so that you come out liking (or at least proclaiming you like) S2 better than S1.
c) Since it can seem fairly inevitable that we shall be at S* in 20 years’ time — unless we make special efforts not to be — it is further argued we should take a similarly embracing attitude to the hypothetical future S*.
d) Many then go further by arguing that it’s morally superior to want S* to happen. And that it’s right to despise those dissidents who seek to avoid S*. It’s seen as right not to want even to be made aware of the dissidents’ opinions, and therefore correct to keep them out of the media.
Some go so far as to openly wish for the death of the dissidents (many being from the older generation), in the hope that their viewpoint will be eradicated forever.
Matthew Parris gave a recent illustration of the attitude I am talking about, but it is actually very common. Not long ago, David Cameron asserted that the
“stop the world, I want to get off” approach just doesn’t work.
But this claim is no more meaningful than saying that campaigning for women’s votes, or against apartheid, “just doesn’t work” if too few people are in sympathy.
Most social movements have to start small, and against a backdrop of near-universal disagreement and ridicule.

Oxford Forum should be given funding.