More on progress

There was a short reading  of Byron’s Ozymandias (“look upon my works ye mighty and despair!”) to highlight the gulf that often exists when one generation (or historical strongman) sets up a “progressive” thing; one that in time becomes a parody of itself when the pitiless future asserts its own priorities and obsessions.

Learned articles were quoted in which the writer asserts that progress can be measurable in that we prefer to see such things as enhanced human rights and improved living standards advanced.  The problems often seem to come in the subjective area of whether those rights are universally valued. One man’s sterling progress is another man’s doleful regression.

We noted that in the last week the USA’s federal government has announced executions for the first time in many years as if that were a good example of human progress. What can get you a civic award in Canada will surely get you arrested in Saudi Arabia? As Keats opined things tend to fall apart and the centre cannot hold. The concept of one step forward and two steps back is still a useful tool of thought!

The sad fact is that humans “don’t know what they don’t know”. In the time between a progressive thing coming into play and its being objectively assessed reality will usually intrude. How do we make God laugh? Tell him our plans.

We reflected on how enthusiastically DDT was first received compared to the devastating assessment in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. China was once lauded for its population control until the social havoc of the one-child policy was revealed. Laudable and "progressive" ideas (like the DPB) so often seem to founder in the execution.Periodic detention was great till it was put in the hands of ex military types.

LA once had the best public transport in the world but eight lane highways appeared to be progressive and are now an acknowledged social curse having obliterated footpaths and created massive pollution worries. Auckland chose cars over trains in the 1950s as that was “progress”. Without the creation of progress would there be no law of unintended consequences?

It was noted that the Roman and Greek eras were huge strides in human progress yet they languished in time even though their recorded insights have often been the useful starting point of modern social planning. After years of concentration on improving governance through quality assurance standards we now have valid worries over climate shifts, antibiotics failures, over-population, homelessness, drugs and suicides, loss of crucial species, social insecurity and rising nuclear threats. The very framework of many world societies is being cheerfully dismantled before our eyes in the name of progress just because it attacks what is. Can we ameliorate it all or does that just make things worse? Maybe what will be will be.  

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