Barack Obama won the presidency based upon the theme of change. We already live in a world of constant change, and we assume too easily that change is good. Politicians, professors, pundits, self-proclaimed champions of the oppressed - those with vested interests in change - repeat the lie that change makes things better. But these cheerleaders of constant change are unhappy people, by and large. Certainly there are some areas of human life in which change is good - who would want to go back to the medicine or dentistry of fifty years ago? – but, surely, if there is one idea which should have been debunked in the last century it would be the idea of beneficent progress. The First World War was dramatic and catastrophic progress. The Bolshevik junta in 1917 was progress in the direct of omnipresent police state and slave labor camps. The Second World War was progress along the road to genocidal madness and global war. Ghastly diseases and debilitating physical conditions are “progressive,” and that means change which is bad.
AIDS, pornography, broken homes, prostitution and increasingly vile violent crimes are changing America by progressively making life worse. Television, what Ray Bradbury once called the Medusa that turns 100 million Americans into stone for six hours each day, is progression toward puerile images supplanting serious reflection. The oceans of frantic, frivolous and foolish news and entertainment stories that drown out all real sentiment and cognition are constructed around our foolish infatuation with change and our pathetic trust in progress.
The overthrow of the Shah of Iran was not benign progress. The degradation of Islamic rage into homicide bombers is not progress. The construction of the largest death camp in the world in North Korea is progress into the Inferno. The expansion of government in America to the point that it increasingly swallows up all other resources is progress toward bankrupty. The very notion of progress as essentially good is false.
Does this mean that the human condition cannot be improved? In once sense, yes: We all are born and we all die. We have precious little control over how we die or when we die, unless we murder ourselves. Our children and parents and spouses will all die. All our work and all of our mortal dreams will die too. More than a lust for change, we ought – in this season of Thanksgiving – to be grateful for what we already possess.
The human condition can be improved. Medical advances which remove pain and increase our mobility are real blessings. The expansion of available honest information is a blessing. The cornucopia of agriculture and the engine of technology make living easier. But even wholesome change may be made bad. Medical advances lead to actresses with endless vanity surgeries to prolong youth in desperation or lead to human cloning. And wealth can hurt as well as help: The poor of America are not hungry but fat; they are not overworked but bored to anger.
The notion of the perfectibility of the human race by material changes or scientific discoveries is an affront to the Blessed Creator of the Universe. If wealth, good looks, brilliance and comfort were all we needed, then He would have given those to us in a nanosecond. What God seeks instead is the perfectibility of our love, our interest in truth, our faith in His existence, our thankfulness for our creation and for his Creation.
Our hypnotic fixation on flux, on change, on action to transform this in the world or that in the world is bound to lead not to the feeding of our real needs but rather to temporary fix of a heroin addict. That is why despots, even despots with some good intentions initially, degrade so quickly into monstrosities: self-made gods. Every monster of the last century which gave birth to an ugly new state – Mussolini, Lenin, Mao, Hitler, Castro – promised above all action, change, progress. As we watch Obama seek to change America, we would do well to remember that change, like biological mutation, is most often hideous and harmful.
What can we change that is always good? We can change only our hearts and souls. We can embrace what Benjamin Franklin called the Powerful Goodness or we can run around in circles, creating work (how much of the work we do today is simply make-work?) and making each other miserable. Embracing that Powerful Goodness requires forgotten virtues: wisdom, trust and faith.
Modernity lacks wisdom and wisdom does not come from flux; wisdom comes from patience and respect for the lessons of the past. Flux demands that whatever theory has the most immediate cachet is truth de jour. Wisdom knows that truth does not change, although over time it may become clearer or more refined. Flux for the sake of flux is a variation of recreational war, that most awful of human activities. Flux, for the sake of flux is destruction of value, which is why Marxist regimes were so enamored with permanent revolution, because the goal of Marxism and other variations of the same disease change society by making new miseries to justify an addiction to the narcotic of power.
What is old is often very good. What is tried is also often true. How much social change in the last forty years has been good change? How many new government programs and policies have done what they were intended to do? We moderns would do well to be more humble towards our ancestors. We have a lot to be humble about.
© 2008 Bruce Walker -- All Rights Reserved