Monday, March 8, 2010

Progress Questioned?

By ned * Other ned Posts

Simply put, David Cross makes me laugh. From the envelop pushing skits of Mr. Show to the unwitting innuendo’s and “never nude”-ness of Tobias Funke, Cross has been pushing comedy irreverently forward for almost 20 years. On stage, his leftist charged, cynical, matter-of-fact stand up style even gets a chuckle from this right-of-center optimist.  Off stage, he pushes other comics to not simply appease the masses.   However, I might not fully agree with everything he says for reasons you might not expect.

“It was written thousands of years ago … when people were even dumber than we are today … Go outside and wait for the bars to empty out, watch Fox TV, and realize the Bible was written by people even dumber than these m&@#?+f&%$ers”

Religious commentary aside, statements like this seems like ideas more easily conveyed before 9/11, the rise of the War on Terror and the stock market challenges of the past months. The optimism and economic opportunities of the 90’s reaffirmed our belief in the progress of society. Since the Scientific Revolution, one could say Western Society has clung to the idea of Progress. Today must be better than yesterday or else we are failing as a society.  Underneath Cross's commentary is that assumption.

From my vantage point, our ideas on Progress are being re-evaluated on the whole. Recent socio-political events, economic recessions and environmental challenges call into question the path society is walking.  By reevaluating our current trajectory, it allows us to look on the past from a different perspective.  Several books of the past few years have spoken about the past with a degree of reverence and its people with appreciation that you certainly wouldn’t find in Heart of Darkness colonial times and perhaps not 1995.

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamon takes a geographically deterministic view of how certain ideas and societies have come to dominate others. Implicit throughout the book is the idea that peoples of the past or of a less technological advanced state were not necessarily less bright. The ideas and resources that they had access to were just different. His studies of the remote peoples of Papau New Guinea revealed a society more cognizant of the nuances of nature than he would ever be. He was amazed at the intricacies of their understanding of their environment.

Karen Armstrong’s book the Case for God has a somewhat misleading title in that based on her logic God’s existence can likely never be rationally proved. Throughout the book she makes the argument that many of our current practices of religion have moved away from the role religion has played throughout our society. Her concepts are fairly complex. However, in a nutshell, she argues that religion through practice and ritual helps us to cope with inexplicable. Consequently, reason is inherently challenged when fulfilling the role of religion. Additionally, religion is ill-equipped to handle the investigations better left for reason. She argues that since the Scientific Revolution Western society has been looking to religion to help in the scientific dialogue when before distinct boundaries were made between mythos and logos. In a way, her book claims that our religion should to a degree look back to better fulfill its role for people.

Each of these books approaches past peoples with reverence. One might say that they are indirectly challenging the idea of progress. However, I believe humanity is continuing on a path of growth and improvement. Perhaps it is because I am the eternal optimist. Perhaps though it is because through this present lens we are now able to appreciate and learn from humanity’s past to improve our future. Jared Diamon and Karen Armstrong would presumably agree.

No comments:

Post a Comment