“Perfection of means and confusion of ends seems to characterize our age.” –Einstein
People use words like change and progress as though they are intrinsically good. They talking about changing people’s lives, and changing the world. They talk about progress as an end in itself, as if the mere presence of frenetic activity is some guaranteed pathway to a higher society.
But you can’t just have “progress.” Progress is not an end. You can only progress towards something. If you don’t know what you’re moving towards, then you don’t know if your motion is forward, backward, or a large circle of apparent direction but actual futility.
So when people talk about change, I want to ask, “change into what?” When they wax on about progress, I want to shout, “progress towards what?”
Cancer is change. Death is change. Bone dry aquifers and spent oil fields and melting ice caps and runaway greenhouse effects are all potent indicators of both change and progress.
Progress and The Devil’s Doctrine
Capital’s need for endless growth has hijacked science and technology and unleashed on us the devil’s doctrine: that whatever can be done should be done, and they’ve recast it all as a sacrifice to the glory of Progress. This is capital’s Holy War, a permanent jihad against any who would dare oppose the Invisible Hand and all his holy (transnational) angels. And, like all wars, Progress has collateral damages.
- “Yes slavery was bad, but it was a necessary step for industrialization. Besides, people have been killing and enslaving each other for thousands of years.”
- “Yes, 16 hour work days for pennies was cruel, but it gave us cars and railroads.”
- “It’s OK when we take farms from struggling families and put millions out of work. Progress is holy. There can be no other way.”
- “Capitalism may have caused a lot of harm, but it’s the only way we could have made this kind of Progress.”
Think about the ethical implications of these justifications. If greed is the only possible motivator to technological progress, and if the only means of technological progress is the debt peonage of billions and the desecration of the planet, then why are we so in awe of Progress? From which tree came the fruit of this Progress – the tree of life, or the knowledge of evil?
Cast in this light, doesn’t Progress begin to sound a little bit like the One Ring? The ring that no one, not even a humble hobbit of the shire, was able to cast back into the fire once he got his hands on it?
Exploitation Wasn’t OK Back Then, and It’s Not OK Now.
Don’t you see? If you find you’re able to justify it as a necessary evil back then, there’s nothing stopping those nearsighted historians of the future from justifying it as a necessary evil for today. Won’t they just look back and say, “well, it’s a shame about those poor people who died in our experiments, but really, we needed all that, or we wouldn’t have been able to create this nanotech brain-hive and have all this virtual reality porn! You want to go back to the stone-age, when all you could do was watch other people have sex on a 14 inch screen?”
“Success” is Your Moral Duty to The God of Progress
Dreaming big and and setting goals that can be baptized by capital are now woven into the very fabric of our ethics. These things are no longer only a matter of pragmatism; they have acquired a distinctly moral overtone. Last generation’s self-help gurus are this generation’s prophets, come down from Mount Optimus with the God-inspired laws of success.
Someone who fails to obey these is now not only fundamentally undeserving of success, they are a negative person, and thus a law breaker and sinner, actively harming the human race by spreading their “negative energy,” like a stray dog pissing on your flowers.
This has torn us out of the potential for peaceful community and pitted us all against each other, masks in hand and aphorisms on the tips of our tongues, scrambling to prove our worth and buy indulgences to success-heaven–where the streets are paved with derivative assets and the blood of 3rd world peasants.
Is This Really the “Only Way?”
Historically, most of the game-changing scientific innovations and discoveries were made through accident and luck by oddball tinkerers, not pale aristocrats, not slick banksters, not thundering industrialists. Most inventors were more enamored of the mysteries and the undiscovered possibilities than the bottom line potential of an idea. In fact, the record shows that it was often banksters and industrialists who swindled innovators. Perhaps the greatest example is Thomas Edison’s exploitation of Nicola Tesla, a man of incomparably greater genius, who died penniless.
So how can we be sure that some non-profit institution dedicated to the public good with its own system of honors and rewards would fail to foster the inventiveness of tinkerers? How could someone possibly make claims about the roads untaken in History? How can we be so sure that a society constructed from entirely different values–like caring for one another, for our planet, and our children’s future–wouldn’t thrive?