Several of the blogs I follow, I follow because they frequently say things I disagree with, but say them reasonably enough that I dont end up lying awake all night thinking of things to snap back at them. This is a delicate balance; I read things I disagree with because thats what inspires me to write, but lying awake thinking of things to snap back at people on the internet vacuumed up a lot of valuable sleep hours in my 20s. Two of the blogs Im talking about are David Brins Contrary Brin and the one which inspired this post, John Michael Greers Archdruid Report.
Brin and Greer are both further right, politically, than I am, but neither one is so far right as to think that people on welfare just need to grow a work ethic, that being the point at which I stop listening for insights and start listening for gotcha points. Which just goes to prove that theres more than one dimension to politics, because on todays topic they are polar opposites, and Im somewhere in the middle. Today, with Greers recent post The Embarrassments of Chronocentrism as my launch-pad, Im going to be talking about progress.
Yes, chronocentrism is a word Greer coined to make his point. Its modelled on ethnocentrism, which is when someone thinks that every other culture is to be judged by their own. (Usually, in fact, what they think is that there is a Right Way to do things and a whole lot of Wrong Ways, and theyve never thought about it enough to realize that the only thing Right about the Right Way is that its how their own culture happens to do things.) Greer replaces the ethno- element, meaning culture, with chrono-, time, to criticize the attitude that every other period in history is to be judged by our own.
Now I would be tempted to use this word mostly when my generation do the exact same tutting and sighing over Kids These Days that we used to roll our eyes at when we were Kids These Days. Did you know that when some teenager has their head bent over a smart-phone, theyre almost always using it either to gain knowledge or to communicate with another person somewhere? Mind-boggling, I know, but true. The way some people go on about Kids And Their Phones reminds me of nothing so much as William James (I think it was) speculation on what dogs think about their masters reading: what strange compulsion could drive you to stare at bits of paper for hours on end, when you could be doing something worthwhile like playing fetch? But Id better get back on track before this tangent gets any longer.
What Greer takes issue with is the idea that society has some kind of natural drive to get better and better; and, correspondingly, that past societies should be considered inferior because they dont live up to the standards that we have achieved. Which, when you think about it, is a paradox in itself. If society naturally gets better and better, shouldnt we be especially forgiving of the faults of past societies? They couldnt help being bad, could they, since they didnt have the good fortune to be born in our time? We dont blame children for being childish, do we?