Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Contradictions of "progress"

I feel as if I always return to thinking about what "progress" means. I have written about this concept in many forms, explicitly (here, too) and implicitly, over the past months. It is a notion that has caught on almost everywhere in the world - that we must "progress" from the dark ages of yesterday and today, and seek the future.

Yet this progress is an unsettling one, in many ways. It is unsettling in its current scope, and it is unsettling in its outcomes. The scope of progress is clear when you can have massive institutions and organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund dictating the rules of engagement in a globalised world, with real, tangible consequences for people not in the global North. The outcomes of progress, unfortunately, have led to massive ecological disaster and climate change, and an acceptance of trade-offs in decision-making that puts costs on those people and places that have borne the most. This is in no way denying the gains that have been made for many, but at what cost and to who? I still can't get past the mess we have gotten ourselves into.

And so, I am constantly struck by the inherent contradictions that exist in this culture - we have "freedom", but we are constrained by the rules of a violent capitalism, we have "progress", but we are undermining what it is that allows us that progress. What has been missing from all of this, therefore, is introspection. No one in their right mind would think that we can constantly degrade what it is that sustains us. Leaving money to future generations in no way brings back clean air and water and land, things that people will need regardless of how big their pockets are.

If you were to ask someone what is meaningful to them on a small scale, in general, they would inherently say that well-being of their family, their community, their friends, their surroundings is what they are most concerned about. So then why does the "progress" we subscribe to on a larger scale inherently undermine all of these for others? Why is it that we strive for an increasingly interconnected world, in which we can interact with people of different cultures, but are unaware of the potential impacts of our actions on them are?

1 comment:

  1. "Far from sight, far from heart" says a french phrase.

    Most people don't even acknowledge that poverty and oppression in the Third World AND poor corners of industrial nations ("Fourth world" according to some French charities) are consequences of their acts, they blame it on 'lazyness' and 'bad morals' of their victims.

    As long as we live in an egocentric/individualistic societal frame I don't feel we'll escape such near-sightness.