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Human Progress Is a Chimera
By Martin LeFevre
Dec 9, 2017, 4:12pm

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The progressive media in the United States is still stuck in 'we're making progress' mode, even though the Trump train keeps rolling over them. Will they ever realize they've helped lay the tracks?

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall cited Steven Pinker, the pollyannaish Harvard professor and fountainhead of denial for intellectuals everywhere, no less than six times in the last six paragraphs of his ludicrously unreflective column, "Liberals Need to Take Their Fingers Out of Their Ears."

Here's one of Edsall's extended quotes of Pinker, after which he expires, "Pinker is optimistic about the future. I hope he is right."

"Progress always must fight headwinds. Human nature doesn't change, and the appeal of regressive impulses is perennial. The forces of liberalism, modernity, cosmopolitanism, the open society, and Enlightenment values always have to push against our innate tribalism, authoritarianism, and thirst for vengeance. We can even recognize these instincts in ourselves, even in Trump's cavalier remarks about the rule of law."

That's bad philosophy, worse cultural commentary, and an abysmally poor prescription for the human crisis.

"We can even recognize these instincts in ourselves." Yes "we," the benefactors of the Enlightenment's ecologically destructive and economically lopsided legacy. The royal "we" in this case is the aristocracy that denies it is an aristocracy. That's how American progressives helped breed Steve Bannon.

When you start from the premise that "human nature doesn't change," you can be sure that the false optimist in question is but a sheep in wolves clothing. Let's be done with obtuse academics, and start thinking for ourselves.

Begin at the beginning. It's probably true that human nature (as ill defined as it is) hasn't changed for as long as people have used the phrase. But that begs the question; it's not a premise chiseled in the broken blocks of the Parthenon.

What is human nature? Pinker tells us from his perch at Harvard: "our innate tribalism, authoritarianism, and thirst for vengeance." Undeniably these are strong tendencies in humans, but why equate them, much less assume they are immutable?

Tribalism is as old as man, and identifying with particular groups served the survival of the species for tens of thousands of years. Only in the 20th century did it become completely dysfunctional. Authoritarianism however, is a modern reaction to self-generated disorder, probably no older than civilization itself.

As to the "thirst for vengeance," it may be the one atavistic constant, individually and collectively. But why take it as unchangeable? The sludges of grudges are lifetimes and centuries old, but they can and must be shoveled out.

No such possibility and responsibility exists for Pinker and his progressive followers. Progress is the upward arc of humankind. Their only concession is that it may not be "linear." The only thing that intellectual and technological Delphic Oracles, in their idolization of external change, accept as fixed is human nature.

Apologists like Pinker refuse to examine human nature. If it is unalterable, as they believe, then logically humankind's psychological and spiritual condition must gradually worsen, rather than gradually improve as they profess.

Paul Krugman is another aggressive proponent of the core belief in progress. Krugman insufferably insists that the problem in America is a combination of "asymmetric polarization" from Republicans, and the mainstream media "bending over backwards to say undeserved nice things about Republicans and take undeserved swipes at Democrats."

In other words, dear friends and countrymen, the problem is not with the American people, it's with those damned Republicans and their MSM enablers. (Krugman, like all elites, refuses to acknowledge that he IS the mainstream media.)

It's true the media's outmoded notion of "balanced" reporting is making things worse, but so is Krugman's obsessive finger pointing. The American body politic as whole gave rise to Trump's authoritarianism. Seeing and sticking with the truth is the real antidote.

Instead, Krugman doubles down in his denial of the deadness at the core of the American politic: "Trying to pretend that the Republican and Democratic are the same isn't just foolish, it's deeply destructive. Indeed, it's one important reason Donald Trump sits in the White House."

No. Without drawing an equivalency, the rot runs a lot deeper than the Republican Party. Democrats aren't a different species of Americans much less humans, and they share responsibility for Trump sitting in the White House. Not because of policies and politics, which Krugman is fixated on, but because Democrats keep denying the rot at the core of America.

Human progress is a chimera; the more we advance technologically the more we regress inwardly. So-called human nature can and must change, beginning and ending within.


Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue.

Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.

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