Progress Is Not Enough

A major risk in any effort to advance progress, however defined, is not adequately considering the possible adverse consequences to the people it will affect. The worst mistake that can be made is ignoring the morality of the undertaking, direct evidence that its advocates and activists are not on board with the rest of humanity. Although they like to call themselves “progressive,” their accomplishments more often than not show progress toward less, not more, wellbeing for everyone.

In the early days of our republic, a number of these amoral visionaries, driven by every conceivable hope, obsession, or delusion, were called Transcendentalists. Of these New England Brahmins (as they came to be known), Poe wrote: “When may we hope to make men of sense out of these pundits?”[i] Today we’d call them “liberals” – in quotes because they aren’t.[ii]

Repeating this old mistake, the futurist Alvin Toffler separated morality from progress in his 1970 bestseller Future Shock. Like so many other visionaries disconnected from reality and tinkering with abstractions, he was blind to the fact that there is never any progress without regard for the human cost. With hubris revealing a mind trapped in an ethical vacuum, Toffler equated the good of technology with the good of people. This shallow thinking, typical of the “liberal” mind, made me wish that his mother had brought him out into the sunshine and fresh air more often, as a child.

What remains outside the walls of the “liberal” mind is the knowledge that disregarding the human good in any action to improve things is a bad move for all, not just those unable or unwilling “to get with it.” For futurists and transhumanists this essential consideration is either off their radar or considered inconsequential!

Progressive destructionists pretending to be constructive miss entirely the fact that progress for things is not the same as progress for people. This despite the fact that, regardless of IQ, it should be easy to see that progress without morality is heartless and puts whatever is convenient or lucrative ahead of what is humane. Think, for a moment, of the “progress” achieved with the ability to erase thousands of men, women, boys, girls, and babies from the surface of the earth by dropping a nuclear bomb. That such action can be justified by arguing “its merits” – as if it were a formal debate – kills the respect for human life and frames the evil that divides our country.

The obsession for what is convenient, practical, profitable, with little or no regard for its impact on society puts the lie to “progress.” It must be asked: Is our civilization really “progressing” or is it rushing toward a future that would make people zombies in a senseless world?

Against this descent to an inhuman world, the mainstream churches were once an effective barrier. But they are now in disarray, warped by “liberal” ideology instead of following the transcendent guidance of the Creator, a reversal of their mission and de facto notice of resignation. And what is there to stop the momentum down the slide toward social and political chaos? “The descent to hell is easy,” said Virgil 2000 years ago. His civilization perished on account of weak moral correctives. Is ours next in line? The scenario of Nero fiddling while Rome burned is far less troubling than continents of cyber zombies fiddling while their leaders scramble for positions of power in a world reeling out of control.

It is critical to our development as a civilized society that we see progress not simply as change, not as survival of the fittest, not as advantage to a minority or a majority or an elite, but as significant improvement in the quality of life for all. Improvement in the quality of life means more than a better standard of living. It means also a better standard of being, which is not possible when the value of human life is dismissed. A higher level of being requires more than a higher level of feeling; it also requires a higher level of thinking. Thought along these lines that is worth anything must grow from roots planted in conscience. It is why, for thousands of years, the golden rule has permeated religious traditions throughout the world and been coded into sacred scripture.

This higher level of awareness permits us to periodically step out of the arcade game of daily life and see the importance of who we are and what we are doing. It enables us to realize that we are, after all, our ancestors’ dream, just as surely as our offspring are our dream. We may find it difficult to fully comprehend, but we will see that we are changing the direction of our society, not some mysterious, disembodied force beyond our control, for which social and political scientists and engineers must step in to manage and control.

Unless we reject phony “liberal” progress and resist becoming humanoid robots controlled by amoral masters – a prospect apparently agreeable to transhumanists – human life will drift from sacred to worthless and meaningless, which no “artificial intelligence” will ever correctly deal with. [iii]

The foregoing is not to be taken as a rant against technology. I owe my life to high tech surgical procedures unavailable just decades ago. I appreciate the countless perks of hi-tech digital technology that make life less burdensome and more productive. It allows me to play saxophone with one hand and brass combo with the other on a keyboard, knowing full well that synthesized or sampled audio cannot compare with live audio. Technology that saves lives, mends bodies, gives hope to those afflicted with life-threatening conditions – all this is worthy of praise.

But living in chronic ambivalence toward an evolution of things that easily turns against people is deeply troubling. The surface of this problem gets skimmed in the generally available analyses of the issue. It takes no extensive probing, however, to see the dangers of cloning, the “editing” of DNA, the weaponizing of disease organisms – the list grows with the pace of morally deficient progress.

As a first step in awareness of the extreme danger of amoral progress, let us not ever forget that TV and video screens of every description can be used to brainwash, in a manner that George Orwell warns in 1984. We must grasp and hold firmly the reality that any benefit of progress that is not also a benefit to people as humans could just as easily turn out contented slaves as free, productive, and creative members of society.

If we are to avoid the emergence of a population of subhumans inhabiting a global arcade, then “liberals” and technocrats need to learn and spread the word fast that because something can be done is no reason for doing it. This “anything goes morality,” spinning us into social and political chaos and ultimately making life worse, not better, for everyone, is a madness worth dumping.

In the movie “Pinocchio” (1940), the carpenter Geppetto’s wooden puppet becomes a real boy after many mind-twisting and soul-searching misadventures finally waken a slumbering conscience and make him see the light. This wonderful old tale hints, in its way, of the Biblical Word becoming Flesh, or “clay” becoming the first man and woman, a generative act of divine love. Now how are we to take the current trend – that of people turning to wood?

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[i] Edgar Allan Poe, “The Rationale of Verse” (1846).

[ii] “Liberals” (in quotes) are decidedly illiberal. Authentic liberals keep an open mind.

[iii] Artificial intelligence is a human construct and thereby subject to the blunder known as GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out. And what that doesn’t screw up, Murphy’s Law will.

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