Friday, October 26, 2007

Today's Quote: Tigerhawk on Modernity

I admit it, I love modernity. I've never been one to hanker for days of yore when life was simple, teeth were rotten, and lifespans were short. I remember thinking this way at least as far back as junior high school, when I read an essay by Isaac Asimov on the subject. He recounted having encountered somebody who said that he wished he lived in ancient Athens, to whom Asimov replied "Why would you want to be a slave in the Athenian silver mines?", or words to that effect. His point was obvious -- unless you are an aristocrat, there really is no better time and place than modernity.
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Many Westerners, including most modern leftists (as opposed to the original Marxists), do not believe in "progress" in the sense that they believe that the human condition has changed rather than progressed. Worse, they often regard change as a bad thing, usually for reasons that strike me as romantic rather than thoughtful. This leads them to be cavalier about the value of such things as economic growth, the spread of technology, and the modernization of social institutions in the parts of the world that have not yet modernized. That leads them to campaign for social and economic policies that propose to slow down progress. Opposition to the idea of progress unites anti-globalization activists, "hair shirt" environmentalists, and ideological anti-Americans. This thinking explains, for example, why many left-wing environmental activists advocate solutions to climate change that will obviously crush economic growth. They just do not value it.

Yes, modernization is -- as a professor of mine once said -- "the universal social solvent." He meant that it blows apart traditional societies, and in that something is certainly lost. So much more is gained, though, that we should fight tooth and nail to sustain progress rather than put an end to it.

3 comments:

Curtis Gale Weeks said...

This is interesting.

The funniest thing: that many of those on the Left who are opposed to [what some call] progress are, as described here, actually conservatives! Ha!

On the final paragraph quoted here:

My general feeling is that we are currently in a transition period, which may last a very long time, after which we might actually come out as improved by "progress" as is hoped. But the transition period may well be pretty horrible, and there is no guarantee -- only a possibility -- that we'll come out better for it.

phil said...

Hey Curtis,
that many of those on the Left who are opposed to [what some call] progress are, as described here, actually conservatives!

I agree. The original European conservatives were trying to defend the pre-modern order against modernization. Today that role is being played by the left in both its anti-globalization and anti-modern enviromentalist components.

My general feeling is that we are currently in a transition period, which may last a very long time, after which we might actually come out as improved by "progress" as is hoped. But the transition period may well be pretty horrible, and there is no guarantee -- only a possibility -- that we'll come out better for it.

Yes we are definitely in a period of transition and one that I think offers great opportunities although as you said there will be a downside to it as well, as there always is. As we transition from one era to another the old rule sets won't quite fit and we will need to fashion new rule sets. This is why "conservatism" as an effort to preserve some prior era's rule-sets doesn't work. When this kind of transition period occurs the correct response is to return to first principles and then apply them in a manner that is appropriate to the needs of the time, thus innovating new rule setss.

Curtis Gale Weeks said...

When this kind of transition period occurs the correct response is to return to first principles and then apply them in a manner that is appropriate to the needs of the time, thus innovating new rule setss.

I've thoughts something like this before (a post on resiliency/consiliency, actually) although I approached the idea differently. First principles might need to become secondary, tertiary, etc., principles, and new first principles would need to be created -- in order to avoid the sort of ossification that will lead only to fragility and breakage!