2014-09-01

On the Ecology of Progress


Most people are not aware of how delicate of an ecology is involved in the formation of the psychology of progress and discovery. We tend to think that our progress in science and technology is something that comes natural to us, an ineradicable drive that most humans possess. They forget that radical change is an anomaly only a couple of centuries old, and that it is a crescendo of moral and metaphysical assumptions that took thousands of years to put in place.


For the tens of thousands of years before that, progress-- at least as we know it-- did not exist in human societies. Small and simple things changed over the course of centuries, not in the decades or years or months that we are used to now.

It took centuries to assemble the right series of moral and metaphysical ideas: That progress is possible; That change can be good; That the old ways are not always best; That the universe is governed by laws and not chaos or capricious gods; That the universe is rationally consistent and therefore understandable; That the scientific method works; That humans both have the dignity and the ability to probe the mysteries of the universe and then adapt it to our plans; That progress is worth risking and nihilism will not win the day.

These are not automatic assumptions or assured outcomes. These are carefully cultivated, meticulously manicured assumptions about the nature of reality that had to be fought for by thousands of people across thousands of years.

And the reason why I write all of this is as a warning: We can loose what we have gained. Through complacency, through consumerism, through dogmatism, through disaster: This delicate ecology of progress can be halted. It can even be turned backwards into a new dark ages.

We must fight for progress, strive for rationality, and pray for creativity. We must find a new synthesis of spirituality, morality, philosophy, art, and science that will nourish the human soul and tend the garden ecology that is human progress. All of these areas of human culture have worked together before to contribute to human flourishing and create the environment where progress is possible. These areas can and must work together again. And they can.

For the last century, in our rightful drive to specialize and master the various areas of human inquiry, so as to continue the task of progress, we have allowed the disciplines of human learning to get out of touch with one another, and even to despise one another. Like teenage boys trying to assert their dominance and capability, our academic disciplines have been fighting their own "turf wars". Rarely do we allow ourselves to speak across disciplines or seek to assess the human situation holistically.

We need a new holism. A new breadth of vision that unites our disciplines in a common struggle for human progress and flourishing. Granted, we will all come at this task from our own angle. For instance, I will be coming at it from the discipline of spirituality. But we can approach this great task with an attitude of cooperation and mutual enrichment, instead of competition and mutual distrust.
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.