a quasi-eschatological faith in historical progress
On this topic I have written the following in a forthcoming paper.
Epistemic humility is not seen as a cultural virtue: it is the zeitgeist of the modern age that we exist in a (misperceived) linear trajectory of progress, progress here taken to be coextensive with improvement – morally, socially, technologically, economically and scientifically. Progressivism thus conceived is clearly a “grand narrative” notion which on closer scrutiny is subject to all the weaknesses of such constructions. It is impossible to determine whether a change for the better in one part or aspect of the system is progressive for the system overall since there is no Archimedean point from which progress can be assessed. If one substituted “progress” for the more apt “resolving of incoherencies,” then they might not have fallen foul of this notion. Every change alters some state of affairs, destroying or modifying it – that much one can accept. Robert Musil captures this idea:
“It seems to me,” Ulrich said, “that every progressive step is also a retrogressive step.
Progress exists always in one particular sense. And since our life as a whole has no sense, there is as a whole no progress either.”
Leo Fischel lowered his newspaper. “Do you think it better to be able to cross the Atlantic in six days or to have to spend six weeks on it?”
“I should probably say it’s definitely progress to be able to do both . . .” (Musil, Man Without Qualities).
Granted we live, in some real sense, the best of times (for example, reductions in child mortality, vaccine-preventable diseases, access to safe water and sanitation, malaria prevention and control, prevention and control of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis control and declining poverty). But we also live in the worst of times – Auschwitz-Birkenau, Holodomor, Cambodia and more besides – the dark side to technocracy and bureaucracy.
It’s very disturbing to see how the “progressives” for many years were the ones who strongly promoted democracy as a substantive theory of the good rather than merely as a procedural mechanism, Condorcet-like voting paradoxes aside. But what if even the calls for so-called “deliberative democracy” (assuming this idea is even practically feasible) delivered the same result? Now that the regressives have the result they didn’t want, their default position is akin to the “people’s democracies” of the old Eastern Bloc countries. (I even noticed this disingenuous stance to the result of a free speech debate some months ago). Switch out “The Party” for the snooty and smug intelligentsia (Left and Right) as to knowing the demos’ “real” interests and preferences. And the political establishment across the Western world wonder why things are so fucked up? All the pundits, theorists, fuck-wit celebrities are akin to the surfer or diver who is focused on the waves and not the swells or the sets. “You know when you’ve been Tango’d” (by the orange candidate) — he’s the establishment’s creation — the regressives and their complicitous conservative “cucks”, not to mention “Davos Man”. There is only one sane liberal choice now — Gary Johnson.