Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Deception of Progress

The Deception of Progress
Kevin Shrum

A deceptive notion of progress that leads to perfection has been slowly creeping into the human psyche in recent years. This sociological heresy clearly stated is that advances in science, medicine, and technology have deceived us into the false belief that human nature has equally progressed beyond its normal proclivities.

For example, advances in medicine have allowed us to confront disease and sickness in ways that our ancestors could have never imagined. Medical procedures and patient care have progressed to the point that life expectancy continues to be extended and quality of life expectations remain high. Yet, the built-in deception in these advancements is that it is now perceived as abnormal or unthinkable to get sick or to even die.

And what about science? The scientific method, coupled with medical research at times, has not only allowed us to map the human genome, it has allowed us to study the galaxies in ways that would have been unimaginable to Galileo. Scientific advancements have made our lives more comfortable and convenient.

The built-in deception in the scientific method is that it, as a pure method, can explain all things. It has often reached beyond itself from being a pure research method to being an all-consuming epistemological construct that can explain all things. Science is now the new religion. This is a deception. For example, we can study the brain, but the mind still remains a mystery. We can study the body, but often find it difficult to grasp the soul of a person.

Advances in technology can be equally pernicious. I love Facebook, Ping, Google, AOL, and Twitter. I have been and always will be an avid user of technological devices and advances. The ability to generate, share, manage, and process information through globally social networks is absolutely amazing and now necessary for communication, relationships, and the economy. The internet is now the new ‘front porch’ for the world.

But progress in technology does not mean that human nature has progressed. You should have polled my opinion after I was conned out of a good sum of money using one of the more popular ‘buy and sell’ websites. Further, social networks do allow me to have more information about people from across the globe. They’re my ‘friends’, of course. But to have information about someone is not the same as personally knowing someone.

I’m all for progress. But let us not be deceived into thinking that progress in some areas means progress in all areas. Human nature remains the same. Humans are a strange mix of honor and dishonor, nobility and barbarianism, truth and deception. Dinesh D’Souza calls this dilemma “the dignity of fallible human beings.”

As a friend of mine once said, “technology allows us to sin faster and quicker – and to do good faster, as well.” So, for every step of progress we make there will be a Madoff or some other irresponsible CEO or petty criminal to remind us that fallibility and greed can wear a Brooks Brother suit and carry a Blackberry.

Let us not be deceived into thinking that advances in medicine means that we are invincible; that advances in science means that science can answer the most meaningful questions of life; and, that technology makes us ‘friends.’ Let us progress with a greater degree of humility.