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Excerpt from Dreams

Who Requires Progress? (p. 174)

From chapter "Progress"

Who requires progress? Unhappy people. What if you are happy with how and who and where and what you are? What if you are content and grateful for what the world gives willingly? Would you be so quick to work very hard to try to force the world to jump through hoops on command? There is a great line by a Danish traveler in what is now South Africa, who said that the Khoikhoi, a group of people this culture has since eradicated, “find it strange that we, the Christians, work, and they say, that we are all mortal, that we gain nothing from our toil, but at the end are thrown underground, so that all we have done is in vain.” Another European, a chaplain on a trade vessel, described the Khoikhoi in a way agreeable to many colonizers (with my comments in footnotes): “Of all people they are the most bestial and sordid. They are the very reverse of human kind . . . so that if there’s any medium between a rational animal and a beast, the Hotantotlays the fairest claim to that species. They are sunk even below idolatry, are destitute of priest and temple, and saving a little show of rejoicing, which is made at the full and new moon. . . . The Hotantots are as squalid in their bodies, as they are mean and degenerate in their understandings. . . . Their native inclination to idleness and a careless life, will scarcely admit of either force or rewards for reclaiming them from that innate lethargick humour. Their common answer to all motives of this kind is, that the fields and woods afford plenty of necessaries for their support, and nature has amply provided for their subsistence, by loading the trees with plenty of almonds . . . and by dispersing up and down many wholesome brooks and pure rivulets to quench their thirst. So that there is no need of work. . . . And thus many of them idly spend the years of a useless restive life.”

Thus, precisely stated, is the imperative for progress and its opposite. Unless you are unhappy with what the world already gives, why work so hard (especially when working so hard also is so very destructive)?

Imagine that you are going to be in a relationship with another person. You have a choice as to which of two people it will be. You can be in a relationship with someone who accepts you more or less as you are, who is grateful to you, who thanks you, who sings to you, who gives you gifts in return for the gifts you give; or you can be with someone who is never satisfied with you, who constantly attempts to change you, to force you to give more and more, who like an addict steals from you, takes from you and from those you love, who disregards your needs, who ignores or insults your intelligence, says you can’t think at all, says all knowledge comes through him, who after all this has the nerve to say he doesn’t trust you, who forces you and those you love to jump through hoops on command. Every time he comes up with a stronger way to constrain you or to force you to jump faster, higher, harder, through ever more precise hoops, he calls this progress.

If you were in a relationship with this latter person, I’m guessing you would grow tired of this person, and you might stop talking to this person. You might do anything you can to get away.

Let’s put all this another way, try to look at it from another perspective. Let’s say that instead of Richard Dawkins saying that “Science boosts its claim to truth by its spectacular ability to make matter and energy jump through hoops on command, and to predict what will happen and when,”Nazis had said, “National Socialism boosts its claim to truth by its spectacular ability to make matter and energy jump through hoops on command, and to predict what will happen and when.” Would we be able to see their claim for what it is? Or what if orangutans claimed that because the Orangutan God made the earth for them, and made them in His image, they could systematically destroy human habitat? Or what if dolphins did this to the world, and to us? We would surely be able to see the lies, wouldn’t we? Pretend aliens came from some distant planet, landed here, and said to everyone (in their own language, which means we wouldn’t be able to understand them), “This planet contains no intelligent life. We know this because none of you have communicated with us. This planet consists of resources for us to use to make bigger and better machines that will make our lives more comfortable. Progress demands we consume this planet’s resources, change its climate, and ultimately destroy all habitat. In the meantime for purely altruistic reasons we will try to strike a balance between our extractive economy and small habitat preserves. But when we need the resources in those preserves, we will take them, too. Nothing can stand in the way of progress.” If these space aliens said this, and began to enact it, surely we would see progress for the lie that it is, for the justification for exploitative, sociopathological behavior.

It’s no different when it is said by members of this culture. It is no different when it is said by members of the cult of scientific, materialist, instrumentalist, mechanistic, managerial progress.