“The Narrative Of Progress Is No Longer Sustainable.”


Photo by poptech
Photo by poptech cc

When I read that in the New York Times article, ” A Critical History Asks, What Does It Mean to Be Modern?”(Aug.26), the Counter Currents article “‘Gandhi Was Perfectly Sensible To Call Industrial Civilisation ‘A Nine Days Wonder'” (Sep.23) came to mind.

Has modernity been about allowing the short term to blind us to the long term?:

  • For too long, the world has been focused on short-term growth and development at the expense of our long-term survival as we have depleted our natural resources at historically reckless rates. (Gisele Bundchen)

  • …The whole world is a mess. When people get conceited and try to impose their will on everything, they’re lost. Even if they have a few successes, it’s worse in the long run. (“Harp of Burma”;1946,Takeyama)

Could it be time for the return of traditional wisdom in the way of a reassessment of the values of indigenous peoples? According to another recent New York Times article:

  • …Our culture is built on some fundamental error about what makes people happy and fulfilled…It wouldn’t surprise me if the big change in the coming decades were this: an end to the apotheosis of freedom; more people making the modern equivalent of the Native American leap. (Richard Brooks)

When I read that, the recent deaths of two prominent figures came to mind:

-…World history since 1500 may be thought of as a race between the West’s growing power to molest the rest of the world and the increasingly desperate efforts of other peoples to stave Westerners off,” (William H. McNeill: 1917-2016)

  • Our technological powers increase, but the side effects and potential hazards also escalate. (Alvin Toffler: 1928-2016)

According to James W. Loewen’s recent article “Future Shock and History”(Jul.18), “For young people to grow into competent citizens in a time of change, education must connect their roots in the past with images of desirable futures…the connection between the living past and a livable tomorrow…My point is to use [Toffler’s recent] death…to argue..[that history] textbooks leave…history…buried in the past, without relevance to the present, and with no implications for our future.”

Should we also use the recent death of historian William H. McNeill and his observation of the last half-millenium to consider its “implications for our future”?

Since 1500 in China, technological inventiveness and innovation came to an almost abrupt stop. Could the Chinese at that time have also realized the “side effects and potential hazards” of further technological development?

Mr. Loewen also said that, “Toffler claimed that by the 1960s, Western culture was changing so rapidly that it disoriented us. Historians of course had been using modernization and its discontents to explain everything from the French Revolution and before, to the rise of the KKK during Reconstruction and after.”

Had the increasing acceleration of modernization even before the 1960s not only disoriented traditional societies, but caused even countries that could be considered to have “succesfully” modernized to have felt disoriented or even molested when pressured to leave the security and stability of the past for the uncertain promises of the future?

The novel “Harp of Burma” portrays Japanese prisoners of war in Burma shortly after the end World War II:

  • Our argument tended to boil down to this: it depends on how people choose to live–to try to control nature by their own efforts, or yield to it and merge into a broader, deeper order of being. But which of these attitudes, of these ways of life, is better for the world and for humanity? Which should we choose?…We could never come to a clear decision as to which system was better…So the argument ran.

Considering that modernization can be characterized by almost non-stoppable technological innovation, have we been seduced by its short term benefits to the point where we have almost willingly gone into denial about the possible long term adverse effects through misuse and abuse?:

  • …We have the tools for civilization, but at heart we’re still savages who don’t know how to use them. What did we do with these tools but wage a gigantic war…It’s exactly because we’re in the atomic age that we’ve got to be calmer and more thoughtful. We’d be better off if we put a dangerous thing like [the atomic bomb] in the custody of Burmese monks. (“Harp of Burma”)

Can we continue for much longer to be like moths drawn irresistably to the flame of……………..technological progress before finally destroying ourselves?

Considering that December 7 was the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the U.S. into the global conflict known to Americans as World War II, are present day efforts to develop even more powerful weapons servinge as a catalyst and increasing the possibility for future global conflicts?

In the next five hundred years, will modern knowledge finally begin to allow itself to be restrained by traditional wisdom to create a more livable future by preventing us from giving in to our obsession to see just how far we can go with our high tech tools?:

  • …Temper progress with respect for the past. (1984,Office for Micronesian Status Negotiations)

  • If we let Chinese ethics and famous [Confucian] teachings serve as an original foundation, and let them be supplemented by the methods used by the various nations for the attainment of prosperity and strength, would it not be the best of all procedures? (1860, essayist Feng Guifen)

  • If you persist in trying to attain what is never attained…, if you persist in making effort to obtain what effort cannot get, if you persist in reasoning about what cannot be understood, you will be destroyed by the very thing you seek. To know when to stop, to know when you can get no further by your own action, this is the right beginning! (Zhuangzi,369BC-286BC)

Or have we always resorted to quick fixes?:

  • The curse of me and my nation is that we always think things can be bettered by immediate action of some sort, any sort rather than no sort. (Plato)

C Ikehara is a freelance writer.


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