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I’ve had this thought percolating in my mind for a while and it very much is a nascent idea still, but I’m starting to feel more and more dissatisfied with the concept of progress and the almost blind faith that people have that the West represents progress, and that progress itself, as defined by the western conceptions, is a good idea.

The thought has been bought into sharpness by three things. The first is the decision of the Bhutanese government to slowly expand the television channels that are allowed into the country, moving towards three or four now instead of the current one. The BBC when running this item highlighted that TV seemed to have had a tremendously disruptive effect on Bhutan’s traditional life style by undermining the family structure and cohesiveness. The contented nature of the Bhutanese lifestyle was being seriously undermined by people watching TV when they should have been doing the things that needed doing in the household and time that had previously been spending with each other was now being sacrificed to the idiot box.

The second of these is the chance to watch again the movie The Last Samurai. This exceptional movie, hidden behind the Hollywood dramatisation, evokes the nostalgia of the old way of life prevalent in Japan in the 19th century, which while acknowledging there was a serious brutality and hierarchy in the order of life, it also allowed for a strong and elegant culture to flower that was in its own unique way at the zenith of cultural development in the age and civilisation it was unique to.

The third, a perennial impression of a visit to India, is the rapid westernisation that India is undergoing, drawn in by the phenomenal rise of the middle class and its desire to live the elegant lives that they believe material satisfaction can bring them. At the same time the traditional moral codes of India are vanishing from these lives; whole societies that are based around them are disappearing between one generation and the next as the values espoused by parents do not inculcate themselves in the hearts of a new generation who believe in the western vision of prosperity and society, who desire the same freedom of choices and variety of options, without shouldering the equivalent level of responsibility and obligation that enables the karmic wheel of society to keep turning and to ensure that each generation is well positioned to step out into the great unknown challenges of their time.

I believe that progress can be broken down into two components, moral and technological. They are interdependent and interconnected; the bounds of the moral defined by what is feasible and the bounds of the permitted defined by what is moral. Yet the quest now I feel in western society is to defy the limits of morality; the absence of a common form of morality except lowest denomination tolerance meaning that the simple act of stubborn denial of the moral imperative is enough to ensure that the technological progression remains unhindered, as it does in regard to genetic cloning or stem cell research where scientists are known to have ‘jurisdiction shopped’ in an attempt to get the best deal for themselves. Many US advocates of embryonic stem cell research do in fact use the argument that other jurisdictions permit the work to be done, as if an all out race to the bottom was actually a moral imperative.

Progression then, as it is advocated and imposed in the age of globalisation is actually really the technological imperative (though arguably the Bush Doctrine and its subscribers advocate a moral position on democracy and freedom as intrinsically good commodities). It is a desire to push the technological imperative in society, and use that as a catalyst for moral change, or to just wait long enough for the moral change to occur. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that in a society where you can push the sale of condoms as sexual safety will casually and unintentionally adopt a looser code of sexual conduct as it gets used to the product and begins to understand all the uses to which it can be put. I would generalise this example, and that societies that transition to the western technology orientated model will inevitably move in the direction set by western societies in terms of social development.

I don’t think it takes a bold social visionary to say that the western model of society is preciously close to failure. America’s deep rooted poverty and self centred focus has been a reason for tears in many parts of the world, not a utopian society of the prosperous in any sense. European integrative socialism and high command economies also totter on the edge of collapse, unable to deal with the social challenges forced upon them by civilisational and religious issues of identity, part of the moral imperative that was so causally dismissed during the middle part of the previous century. Disunity and division sprung by false idols of tolerance and multiculturalism, ideals that are actually incompatible with strong decisive and progressive action promote a fractioning of society, broken of into enclaves of class, race and wealth. While I’m no Marxist and I do not see any revolution of the working classes to be the answer, it does trouble me that this lack of moral dynamism is to be the net path that the modernising world seems to be inclined to take.

There you have the clash of ideals that the concept of Progress encapsulates. The moral imperative is a restraining force on the progress of life, it perhaps prevents the many from living in the best possible of all worlds, but it also creates a thriving cream layer that showcases the best of humanity and its abilities, a system undoable without the support of the multitude. The technological progress is a focus on the many at the expense of the whole, severing people into compartments of material and spiritual needs without understanding the feedback loop that is involved in the process and bringing down the bulwarks upon which the moral imperative is based by its egalitarian process.

I cannot shake the conception that this sacrifice has been made too readily and without any clear understanding of what was lost. The moral imperative has been displaced, perhaps lost from many societies, and failing to recognise their loss as a loss, perceiving it instead as liberation, they argue that all societies should pass down the path of the technological imperative so as to create their vision of a utopia based on the satisfaction of material needs as primary criteria. I think too much of the human soul, the human society and the independent essence of civilisations are casually abandoned in such changes, and I find myself cheering the people of Bhutan and their enlightened leadership, who know that such things should only be taken slowly and in the smallest of baby steps.



    • Alscho
    • Posted September 10, 2006 at 10:28 am
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    My mind is more disorganized than yours I think..

    From what I have read, your word ‘progress’ primily surrounds morality and liberty. While you have mentioned technology and globalisation, poverty and political ideologies, I can’t help but think of it with it’s roots on culture clash. Perhaps we can relate this to another western theory “Social Darwinism” as they have used in the past? It’s not as popular these days and sounds very racist but you can’t help but notice fading cultures and heritages. See all the ancient civilisations and nations disappear into history.. While I have to empathsize that I am not a racist, is it not an honest truth with historical proof, that some cultures would inevitably disappear? It’s not a pleasant thought but even the most beneovlent governments (ie Anglo-Saxon Canadian government who in recent years pretty much gave billions to their aborginals and complete self autonomy in certain areas) have their limits? However they educate, preserve, promote the disappearing culture, it would just be a chapter in history.

    Another point is that.. I don’t see Greeks running around in togas or consider homosexual as a part of society norm anymore. Because well, they have been conquered and the new trousers are more convinent and the hetrosexual standards of society.. well it has mostly been accepted for the past centuries. Is that not progress? Or should/could they not have been intervened by their stronger neighbours and let them live their toga lives?

    I don’t think I have really addressed your points, but this is a brief glimpse of my idea of ‘progress’ in a more optimistic light.

    What I saw missing in your topic is the economy. You have mentioned factors of it but this maybe something to think about.

    On this third part I will not really elaborate too much as I think you know very well what I’m talking about already. But I am really on two minds for this subject. Past “foreign” interventions whether passive or aggressive have shown itself both to be benefical AND destructive to the indigenous population, both short run and long run.

    In your opinion what should we do about Myanmar’s military regime?

    Well, apology for the disorganised mind. Hope you can read what I wrote.


    • Dom
    • Posted September 18, 2006 at 3:49 pm
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    I generally agree with what you are saying, but I think your “technological imperative” is not really caused by technology. I am thinking along the lines of “materialism” and “capitalism”. I think it is competition and the insatiable need for material that drives technology, not the other way round.

    • Alscho
    • Posted September 20, 2006 at 10:03 am
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    I think its more, “desperation drives innovation”

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