Friday, November 5, 2010

Collective Progress? Afraid Not.

The short span of lives and the brute fact that it takes decades to reach maturity—longer yet to achieve something like wisdom—suggest the reason why genuine progress eludes us. The signs of effective maturity are wide and comprehensive knowledge, concomitantly an extensive time-horizon looking forward and back, and an empathic view of other people well beyond the first three circles of family, tribe, and nation. The will to express that empathy in action must also be present. It’s a major effort—and much dependent on good luck—to achieve anything approaching that kind of maturity. Narrow, pragmatic knowledge, a short time-horizon, a competitive view of the other (“We must compete with China or else”—the last such good advice), and a willingness to engage in preemptive violence produce the cycles of history, the same-old, same-old. To be sure you have to age a bit to recognize that the newest wonder is the same-old. Meanwhile there is also some good news. This realm is quite wonderfully suited to develop individuals so that they do advance. The hard knocks—in combination with our innate gifts—will yield that result. In general, however, it’s the old Wheel of Karma going round and round. Hearing this infuriates some people; thus they demonstrate my premise; but later they too might learn.

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