What Kind of Progress?
Peter Thiel’s cover story for the October 3 National Review is worth a read. Essentially, he breaks “progress” into distinct components and argues that the United States is losing steam on the most important. Part of our problem, he argues, is that we’ve culturally begun to behave as if every aspect of society moves forward in some sort of inexorable march:
Today’s aged hippies no longer understand that there is a difference between the election of a black president and the creation of cheap solar energy; in their minds, the movement towards greater civil rights parallels general progress everywhere. Because of these ideological conflations and commitments, the 1960s Progressive Left cannot ask whether things actually might be getting worse. I wonder whether the endless fake cultural wars around identity politics are the main reason we have been able to ignore the tech slowdown for so long.
It’s not only on the Left that one finds this (although it seems most pronounced, there). One often gets the impression during general political/philosophical discussions that the modern zeitgeist includes a strong faith that history and evolution inevitably move toward an Elysium of technological wonders, economic surplus, and unmitigated equality not of opportunity, but of outcome.
So, moving toward a social shift that advocates successfully paint in the colors of advancement — whether same-sex marriage, de facto amnesty for illegal immigrants, the silencing of supposedly intolerant voices, or public funding for abortion via government control of healthcare — comes to be seen as inherently compatible with innovation and liberty. That imperative holds no matter the method of achieving the shift.