Monday, February 18, 2013

How Far Have we Really Come? The Naivete of Progressive History

The task of "assuming," to recall a popular phrase too crude to repeat here, usually makes all parties out to look rather foolish.  Yet many progressive pundits are quick to assume a particular view of history that, in and of itself, assumes too much.

A progressive view of history, simply put, states that all of human existence is a linear and perpetual move from bad to good.  Over enough time, it is believed that human societies continue to progress from prejudice to acceptance; from ignorance to education; from oppression to freedom.  Its a view most succinctly described by Dr. Martin Luther King, who stated that "the moral arc of the universe, but it bends toward justice."  Its a positive, promising, and wholly optimistic view of humanity and the history we leave behind.  It also happens to be one of the most oversimplified and naive understandings of our historical trajectory, and the human condition that moves it.

To be sure, we have "come a long way," at least in some respects.  From the perspective of science and technology, the last century has borne witness to antibiotic medications, life-saving surgical procedures unthinkable in the 19th century, and a lunar landing.  The problem of prejudice also seems to be subsiding, as  the anglo majority in North American moves ever faster to becoming the minority.  At the same time, the technology we so often worship because of its healing power has also emerged in the form of mass weapons capable of ending our very existence.  Space exploration, as wonderful and exciting as it sounds, has done little to help us clean up our act and stop irreversibly polluting the environment on our own planet.  And while racial tensions have certainly subsided, a significant number who board airplanes these days still look at anyone of middle-eastern decent with one eye closed.

It has gotten better, and it has also gotten worse.

I received an email today that, while also way too simplistic in its understanding of the so-called "good ole' days," illustrates well that not all things have gotten "better."  I did make one change.  The email compares the years 1956 and 2011.  But as I reviewed the scenarios, I realized that the 1956 scenarios were still true when I entered high school as a freshman in 1986.  My, how quickly we can "evolve."  Enjoy!

HIGH SCHOOL:  1986 VS. 2011

Scenario 1: Jack goes quail hunting before school and then pulls into the school parking lot with his shotgun in his truck's gun rack.

1986: Vice Principal comes over to look at Jack's shotgun, then goes to his car and gets his shotgun to show Jack.
2011:  School goes into lockdown.  The FBI is contacted.  Jack is hauled off to prison and never sees his truck or his gun again.  Counselors are called in for traumatized students and teachers.

Scenario 2:  Johnny and Mark get into a fist fight after school.

1986:  Crowd gathers.  Mark wins.  Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.
2011: Police are called and a SWAT team arrives.  Both Johnny and Mark are expelled from school, and summarily charged with assault.

Scenario 3: Jeffery will not sit still in class.  He disrupts other students.

1986: Jeffrey sent to the Principal's office and given a good paddling by the Principal. He then returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
2011: Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. He becomes a zombie. He is then tested for ADD. The school gets extra money from the state because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario 4: Billy breaks a window in his neighbors car and his dad gives him a whipping.

1986: Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college and becomes a successful businessman.
2011: Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. The state psychologist is told by Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has an affair with the psychologist.

Scenario 5: Mark gets a headache and takes aspirin to school.

1986: Mark shares his aspirin with the Principal out on the smoking dock
2011: The police are called and Mark is expelled from school for drug violations. His car is then searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario 6:  Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from the fourth of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle and blows up a red ant bed.

1986: Ants die.
2011: ATF, Homeland Security and the FBI are all called. Johnny is charged with domestic terrorism. The FBI investigates his parents -- and all siblings are removed from their home and all computers are confiscated.
Johnny's dad is placed on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again

Yep, we've come a long way, haven't we?

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