my political leanings are summed up nicely by postel's law:
Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send. i'm generally liberal in what i accept of others, but conservative in my own actions. this seems to disqualify me from belonging to either the "conservative" or the "progressive" political camps. conservatives are by definition not liberal in what they accept, but neither are progressives, in my experience.
i know a lot of self-labeled "progressive" people, but i'm not one of them. i probably would consider myself progressive, and not think much about it, if i didn't feel such a consistent rejection from progressives when it becomes clear to them that i don't trust democrats any more than republicans (though i do agree with dru that democrats are more efficient), i don't drink coffee (much less smoke pot), i'm not gay, i have no tattoos or piercings, and i didn't take the opportunity to go to graduate school. i don't have a lot more in common with progressives than the inclination to criticize conservative ideology. this allows me to pass as "progressive" sometimes, but inevitably the truth comes out when i start to criticize standard progressive ideology, stating beliefs such as "smoking pot does have harmful effects", "abortion ends something important, if not life itself", and "educated people do bad things just like uneducated people". as i say these things, i am repeatedly kicked out of the "progressive" club. so i call myself "liberal" instead.
but i believe in progress. jonathon delacour wrote a long essay a few weeks ago that i found myself mostly agreeing with until he stated quite plainly:
Progress is an illusion. jonathon is, by american standards, liberal (though rather moderate by australian standards). and that's just the beginning of the long list of what we have in common. so why do i believe in progress while he does not? i'm still not sure.
jonathon's essay focuses on the difference between "constrained" and "unconstrained" visions of human nature - beliefs as to whether or not human immorality is part of human nature. immediately after reading the essay, i thought my belief in progress stemmed from holding an "unconstrained" vision of human nature. but i think immorality is part of human nature, which would suggest i have the "constrained" vision along with jonathon. my constrained vision leads me to an entirely different conclusion than jonathon's regarding progress.
jonathon cited the following passage from cold mountain just before he stated that progress is an illusion:
A song went around from fiddler to fiddler and each one added something and took something away so that in time the song became a different thing from what it had been, barely recognizable in either tune or lyric. But you could not say the song had been improved, for as was true of all human effort, there was never advancement. Everything added meant something lost, and about as often as not the thing lost was preferable to the thing gained, so that over time we?d be lucky if we just broke even. Any thought otherwise was empty pride.
jonathon then wrote:
As I wrote back in March, 2002, that passage floored me, crystallizing beliefs I’d held unconsciously for years:
- Everything has a cost.
- Our gains rarely, if ever, outweigh our losses.
- The past is precious.
- Progress is an illusion.
i agree with the first and third points here. i've already mentioned i disagree with the last, and it seems to me the last is dependent on the second, which i would only change slightly. my beliefs are:
- everything has a cost.
- our gains slightly outweigh our losses.
- the past is precious.
- progress is slow.
to further clarify, i don't agree with the passage jonathon quoted, starting with
But you could not say the song had been improved, for as was true of all human effort, there was never advancement. when i play a song someone else has played, my performance is different, but the original performance is still there, either in recordings or in the minds of those who listened to it. so the difference means something is added, but little or nothing is lost. and this is true of all human effort. all effort creates new experience from which we can all learn, and we do so often enough to create progress.
the immorality in human nature is tempered by memory. when we remember we've made a mistake, we won't make it again. social conformity, an aspect of human nature recently cited well by paul graham, amplifies one person's memory into cultural memory. soldiers come back from wars and recall how horrible war is. when the next war comes along, these memories have pervaded the culture, and things are a little better. despite what many progressives tell me, i believe iraq is not analogous to vietnam - it's a little better. this is one place where i see progress. it's constrained progress, but it's progress.