Posted by: keepfishing | May 2, 2008

Progress?: revisited




Dinner was interesting the other night. I was out with a few friends at an Indian restaurant here in Stone Town who were a mix of Canadian and Iranians. Somehow we got talking about the differences between Islamic, Canadian and British cultures. Somewhere along the line the conversation turned to marriage and I commented on how it is financially beneficial for parents to remain unmarried in the UK and how I felt that the biggest driver of social unrest at the moment was the breakdown of the family, and the resultant love, respect and discipline that a child would grow up with. 

Despite having the advantage of being the only person there with experience of British culture and it being a highly subjective topic anyway, my argument was countered and dismissed with the notion that people not having to commit to each other was a good thing and the exhortation, ‘what a progressive culture!’. 

My thoughts on the degeneration of British society and the value of family can be expanded on in another post; what really interested me here was his use of the phrase progressive culture. Indeed, it was to become a favourite comment for the individual as the evening went on.

A discussion about a parent’s right to smack their child resulted in some fierce disagreement (my thoughts pretty much agree with this post), and again the parent (or if the kid is lucky, parents) who just ‘show enough love’ to a child without resorting to smacking were considered to be part of a ‘progressive culture’. Similarly Iranian schools who taught evolution were revolutionary and were a sign of this ‘progressive culture’.

A month or so back, I asked the question, What is Progress?, and received an unprecedented response from all over the place. Answers ranged from the scientific, involving human speciation, to the spiritual and technological. But here, it seemed I got the weakest interpretation the question of all. 

Most of the time, the phrase ‘a changing culture’ would have been more apt, however it seems that ‘progress’ was deemed to have more weight than ‘change’. Either that or the bloke misinterpreted ‘progress’ to mean anything that agreed with his unashamedly liberal worldview. And this was the focal point of my frustration – ‘progress’ needs qualification – it needs to  be shown that something is moving forward. 

There are many problems with this kind of lazy thinking. It lacks objectivity and assumes that as long as the world starts to do things my way, things will be better. It is a mode of thinking that forgoes contextualisation and, granted any power, would start to verge on the dictatortorial (however, the person in question here likes the idea of love too much to go for that kind of authority). Indeed, it seems to me that this kind of thinking is the seed that on a global scale, leads to the imposition of a western form of democracy on a tribal east, communist dictators, Robert Mugabe and other ‘I know best scenarios’.

Progress, by definition, has to go forward, a change or adaption to your way of thinking. If thinking never gets beyond the opinion of the individual, it may not take us anywhere.



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