Today is a lazy Saturday with not much to do and I found myself pondering. Here’s an interesting question-
Do you look at history as a history of progress or one of regression?
Here’s what I mean: At school, history was always shown as a history of progress. We started out as caveman ended up as civilized human beings living together. We started out with strict classes and slavery and learned from those mistakes. We went from strength and money meaning everything to individual rights being guaranteed for all.
Certainly if looking through purely ease of living and technology we can see progress. Where once we had to work so hard for water, power, and proper sewers, now we take those things for granted. Now I can get to Tokyo in a day of travel . I can work from home with people all around the world. I can interact with friends, even date from my own home. Progress…
But then there is another narrative. At church we often hear about how the signs of the times have produced a wicked generation. That pornography, attack on the family, and sin are approved even encouraged. That in previous eras right was protected and enshrined and Satan has done his best to muddle our modern sensibilities.
Even if you take away the religious element there is still a narrative of regression. For instance, the philosopher Martin Heidegger believed that industrialization had hammered the humanity or ‘being’ out of each of us so that what was once of great value is now just a product. He told a story of a boy who looked at a moon. His mother believes the moon was God or where God lives. The boy responds ‘Its just a big rock’. (I couldn’t find the exact quote so Heidegger scholars be nice. I am certainly not one).
In other words, what was once spiritual, wonderful, magical has now been turned to its bare minerals, its menial existence and usefulness as a product to be sold. Technology has in many ways made us cold and turned people into boxes instead of the individuals we were so reliant on for survival in earlier ages. Regression…
(Heidegger was also sympathetic to the Nazi party so take it for what you will).
I don’t know if its still there but Disneyland used to have a show called ‘A Carousel of Progress’. This ride takes you from one vignette of family life in 1900, to 1920, to 1950s to the millennium. It leads with the song ‘There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow just a dream a way’. Cheesy I know and nice in theory but I think the truth is more muddled. We certainly haven’t made much progress in war, hate, divorce, poverty and despair, etc.
A pessimist could argue such a ride should be called ‘The Carousel of Repeat Offenses’. To use the cliche, ‘history is bound to repeat itself’, and it certainly has. We seem to never learn but that wouldn’t make for a very chipper ride! 🙂
I do appreciate the optimism of Walt Disney’s view. It is a very happy, if possibly inaccurate, way to look at the world.
Anyway, what do you think? How do you look at history- progress or regression? This has been a topic I’ve always wondered about. I remember discussing it with one of my young woman’s leaders and she looked at me like ‘Whoa…I have no idea what to say in response’. I got that a lot back in the day!
Perhaps it depends on what lens you are looking through? For example, I doubt the native American’s would see history as one of progression!
Many people I know look with equal nostalgia at both the simpleness of the past and the ease of living promised in the future. Woody Allen captured much of this type of yearning for the past in his wonderful movie Midnight in Paris. Look at our recent infatuation with the 60’s and its Mad Men culture? Do we not sometimes look at the past and think ‘if only things could be like the good old days?…’.
Progression or Regression?
I suppose the answer is probably somewhere in between but I think most of us have to decide which way we lean towards in our views of life, politics, and history.
Nobody ever reads my thoughtful posts but on the off chance they do- what do you think? I tend to side more on the side with the realists but not so much that I lose hope for a bright future.
PS. I love Disneyland…