Authority, superstition, and misapplied technophilia (it’s a real word) rate at least one post each: but that’ll wait until another day. Days.
This time I’ll take a quick look at all three, and then say why I don’t believe in Progress with a capital P — and don’t yearn for the ‘good old days.’
It’s pompous nitwits with delusions of competent authority that set my teeth on edge.
That’s gotten folks killed, like Thomas More and John Fisher, and I’ve talked about that before. (August 14, 2016)
Superstition is a bad idea and we shouldn’t do it. It feels a bit like religion; and can affect worship if someone gets the idea that prayer, for example, depends on ‘going through the motions.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2110–2111)
I’ll grant that some Catholics are superstitious: and incredibly gullible.
The tale that you can boost your property’s value by burying a statue of a particular saint was current in 2007, it popped up again in 2015, and still appears in ‘advice’ forums. It’s supposed to work like a charm: which is also a bad idea. (Catechism, 2117)
I think it’s no more sensible than the ‘science and technology will destroy us all’ attitude that’s been fashionable more recently.
That’s why I don’t ‘believe in’ Progress as the answer to our problems and the source of our hope.
I do, however, think that progress, lower case, happens: on average, given time. Lots of time.
His law code seems a bit harsh in spots. Robbery carried a death penalty, for example. Other parts seem familiar, like monetary penalties for causing injury.
The Code of Ur-Nammu reflected the Sumerian Renaissance two-tier society: lu, free men and women; and arad or geme, male or female slaves. A slave could be freed, a slave and a free person could marry, but slavery is a bad idea. (Catechism, 2414)
Ur-Nammu’s Sumeria wasn’t a perfect society.
But they also helped folks travel and trade with each other.
Rome’s wasn’t a perfect society.
Even more remarkable, I think: it’s becoming unfashionable.
That’s progress. Agonizingly slow progress, but progress nonetheless.
We’ve made some other major changes over the last few centuries. I think that’s a good thing, but some folks don’t.
The Articles of Confederation didn’t work, but the United States Constitution has held up for about 227 years, with only one major internal war. We’re still tweaking it, but I think it’s a good effort.
While digging out from World War II’s rubble — some of it radioactive — many folks decided that enough was enough. Some still act as if they prefer slaughtering each other in wholesale lots as a conflict resolution strategy.
And I’m quite sure that we can do better.
Folks who thought science and technology, and better education, would solve all our problems were overly-optimistic. I’m oversimplifying the Idea of Progress something fearful, and I think they had a point.
The McCormick Reaper, patented in 1837, didn’t end world hunger.
But it was part of a process that arguably started about a dozen centuries back. Around the mid-17th century, rapidly-changing technology and economic systems streamlined growing and distributing food.
Food still isn’t getting to all the folks who need it: but I think it’s a distribution issue.
Ignaz Semmelweis also noticed that fewer women died after childbirth when doctors washed their hands. That was 1847. Quite a few doctors didn’t like the idea of personal hygiene, but many years and unnecessary deaths later they started washing.
I’m not at all sorry to see more women get back into the healing arts, and that’s another topic.2
“Laughing gas” was a moderately popular recreational drug for the upper crust by the early 1800s. Humphry Davy was a nitrous oxide addict, and used it as a hangover cure. Several decades later, doctors started using it as an anesthetic.
Today’s world doesn’t have any perfect societies: mine included, although I like being an American, on the whole. I also like being Catholic: part of an outfit that’s literally catholic, καθολικός, universal, not tied to one era or culture.
More accurately, that’s what we should be doing. Some of us don’t act as if it’s true, but that doesn’t change our ‘to-do’ list.
Building a better world for future generations is a reasonable extension of a few basic ideas: that each of us should love God, love our neighbor, and see everyone as our neighbor.3
If we help others keep what is good and just in our societies, change what is not, and act as if we really believe that loving our neighbors makes sense: I think we can make a difference. We must be patient, though.
Folks can’t be forced to embrace truth: particularly when it means giving up some cherished injustice, or long-established privileges. But I am convinced that truth wins — eventually.
Maybe, if we keep working at it, two millennia from now we’ll have an “international authority with the necessary competence and power” to resolve conflicts without war. (Catechism, 2307–2317; “Gaudium et Spes,” 79 § 4)
And two millennia after that, we’ll still have social ills. Humanity has an enormous backlog of unresolved issues. But like I said: we’re making progress. Slowly.
Posts that aren’t entirely unrelated:
- “Alchemy, Science, Life, and Health”
(October 16, 2016)
- “Bioethics and a Three-Parent Baby”
(October 7, 2016)
- “Amos and Social Justice”
(September 25, 2016)
- “Polio, Zika, and Using Our Brains”
(August 21, 2016)
- “Citizenship and Being Catholic”
(July 24, 2016)
1 Groundwork for the European Union got started the same year, 1945, but the EU’s launch was 1958. I have no idea how long it will last, but think the basic idea is a good one. Certainly better than more-or-less-constant warfare.
2 Happily, we’re recovering (my viewpoint) some measure of wisdom. One of my sisters-in-law is a radiologist; and my wife a self-taught expert on how to find and prepare healthy food, and appropriate use of herbs.
I haven’t researched this, but it seems to me that the wounded hero in old stories would get help from a woman who knew where to find useful plants. The old coot next door might be useful for other reasons.
I don’t know what went so hideously wrong in the millennium since Saint Hildegard of Bingen wrote “Physica” and “Causae et Curae.” She’s credited with starting scientific natural history in Germany. She studied healing uses for various plants, stones, fish, reptiles, and animals.
This is a good idea. (Catechism, 2288)