Progress Towards What


My great-grandfather was an exceedingly tall, ambling, quiet and gentle man who lived to be either 102 or 105. His age depended on who you asked. Regardless, he was an undisputed centenarian and born during the very last part of the 1800’s. He was a farmer and I am sure every day of his life involved some form of manual labor.

I am fortunate to have known and remembered him. But by the time I came around, his speech stumbled to the point that I could not understand him. But he would take some coins out of his wallet and show them proudly to me while telling long stories about them that I couldn’t understand a word of. I was told later that those coins were acquired during his service in one of the World Wars.

I often think about him in wonder. Because it boggles my mind how the world changed while he watched. What a time to live. He saw the rise of the mass produced automobile, air flight, both world wars, civil rights, women’s suffrage, immunizations, the beginnings of cinema, the building of the interstate highway system, color pictures,  nuclear energy, television, men on the moon…

I know I am missing some huge advances. When you think about it, it is really a wonder he could process it all. I wonder what he thought about it. I wish I had been old enough and mature enough to realize what a treasure he was and asked him – even if I couldn’t completely understand the answer.

Likewise, I recently started following George Takei on Facebook. He has a pretty good sense of humor that takes very little seriously. If you aren’t familiar with him – he is Sulu from the original Star Trek. If that doesn’t help you place him, there may be no help for you.

Mr. Takei, is now in his 70’s. He is a survivor of the Japanese interment camps of WWII. He is also gay. And boy how the world has changed since he entered it. A man born in the 1930’s is now married legally to another man. A man who was sent to a prison camp by his own government just because of his race  is now a respected activist and a pop culture icon. And these things are as significant to me as men on the moon.

I tend to be a fiscal conservative but I am socially very liberal. And I think it is great that this man can now do pretty much whatever he wants to with much less interference from government or society.. And boy does he seem to have a blast doing it. What a spirit! And it has not been broken by the things in our society that have tried to hold him back from his happiness just because of the way he was born. Which is even better.

I only mention folks like my great grandfather and Mr. Takei because of a comment posted in response to my husband’s Facebook status a little while ago.

Status: I have found a correlation in people’s political affiliations and their thoughts on the sustainability of human progress. Someone should write a research paper on that.

Comment: I too have made some similar observations. Einstein said when technology exceeds our humanity, the human race is lost. When I hear people talk about progress I always want to ask; Progress towards what?

Progress towards what? Hmmm. I am sure that back in 1890-whatever (before automobiles, home phones, indoor plumbing in private residences or high school graduation were commonplace and the airplane, television, and computers were even invented), when my great-grandfather was born there was somebody asking the exact same thing. And in 1937 when Mr. Takei entered the world (before WWII, Rosie the Riveter, cell phones, the internet, color television, computers smaller than buildings, and multi-racial water fountains were even a glimmer in our eye ), there was probably someone asking that question too.

Every day we are closer to the reality of our only limitation being ourselves.

Let’s face it, if you want to say that our technology exceedes our humanity, that would have been the case the first time one of our ancient ancestors picked up a rock and brained his buddy with it to steal his food.

I don’t know about you, but I think that the world is a better place than in 1890…whatever or 1937 or even yesterday. I think it is better both culturally and technically.  I can vote. I can own property. Mr. Takei can marry whomever he loves (in some states). We can all flush toilets in our personal residences instead of a shack out back.  We are all free to chose where we sit on the bus and which water fountain we drink out of. We all have access to education that even a century ago was available only to the wealthiest of the wealthy. People no longer regularly die of polio, malaria, mumps, measles, whooping cough, smallpox or – in modern countries – childbirth.

And our technology… My God. Men with no vocal chords can talk. My child is healthy and happy and not dead because of a technology that wasn’t viable until 25 years ago. People with no legs can take steps. Deaf people can be made to hear. People with bad hearts, kidneys, or faces(FACES!) get new ones.  I can  find inspiration  in the humor and optimism of a man very unlike myself that I will probably never meet or even go to college in my living room (seriously…college) using this silly little thing called the world wide web. And may I mention air conditioning. Air conditioning.  How has our technology exceeded our humanity?

We are now more than ever free and equipped to create, imagine, work, and make our own destinies. Our quality of life, even for the poorest of us, is better than it has ever been in history.  And all because of progress.  Every day we are closer to the reality of our only limitation being ourselves. Scary? You betcha. But exhilarating? Hells yeah!

It can always be better. Always. How hopeless and crushing it must be to believe otherwise.

So, progress toward what?

I can’t imagine. And I can’t wait.

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