We once could legitimately feel that we would see the end of intolerance, warfare, poverty, the threat to our environment, et al. No more. What kind of a burden will this place on us psychologically? I don't want to worry you, buddy - but it's scary.

 

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, April 22, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Are Humans Still Progressing? (and if not, are you worried?)

The model under which we all (readers of this post educated in American schools) operate is that humankind has progressed in a straightforward path from prehistory to the present (with times out for the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, the Mongol Hordes, and Hitler) -- inevitable progress has been the prevailing theory for our whole lives (with some speed bumps due to the Vietnam War and 9-11).

This idea fits the models of Enlightenment and its modern derivatives, democracy, tolerance, and evolution. Just look at desgregation and the growing acceptance of gay marriage!

But there are many signs that this is no longer going to be true going forward.

Let's count the ways.

In the United States, we had a special version of this progress model due to the ever-expanding frontier and the (almost) ever-growing wealth of the country. Both political parties base their souls on the idea that America will regain its former glory as a leading economic, military, and political light around the world.

But for several decades, it turns out that we haven't had the goods to continue to expand the pie for everyone who lives here. As a result, Americans are squabbling over how to divide up the pie, rich and middle class and poor, young and old (see Medicare and Social Security), immigrants and first Americans (that latter are everyone whose parents were born here).

Buddy, the non-white majority of struggling young people in coming decades won't sit still to pay for your, my, and our successors' comfortable old ages.

And the squabbling is becoming increasingly ugly, as marked by anti-immigrant sentiment, expressed for instance in deep-set and widening suspicions about a president who spent a part of his youth overseas and who has Muslim roots. If you want to worry -- Jerome Corsi's new book , Where's the Birth Certificate? The Case that Barack Obama is not Eligible to be President is at the top of Amazon's best-sellers a month before it has actually been published.

Buddy, a just-released CBS News/New York Times poll revealed that 45% of Republicans don't believe President Obama was born in the U.S.

All of this is not limited to the United States. You may remember when the creation of the European Union was seen as the culmination of centuries of fighting and warfare among the European powers (before Hitler there was Napoleon and before Napoleon the Hundred Years War). Now there were to be borderless nations using a single currency - peace and harmony will prevail in the oldest of tinderboxes.

It isn't working out that way. Beset by financial crises, first in Greece, then Ireland, now Portugal and Spain, more stable European countries are backtracking rapidly from throwing their lots in with these faltering nations. Once thought of as crackpots, anti-European Union and anti-immigration parties have risen in even the most liberal socialist European countries, including Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, with many others appearing to be soon to follow.

Buddy, "If a fairly significant country like Finland decides to opt out, the whole support mechanism for the euro could unravel. There are anti-European opinions and parties not only in Finland but across Europe," says Fredrik Erixon , the director of the European Center for International Political Economy,

And what about the entire rise of worldwide Islam, which has generally not been a force for greater acceptance, understanding, and intellectual progress. Remember that the most stable(?) regimes in the Middle East, in Iran and Saudi Arabia, are led by Holocaust deniers (Iran) and don't allow women to own property or to drive cars (Saudi Arabia), respectively (we oppose the former and back the latter). Even the countries where we control the governments, Iraq and Afghanistan, would no sooner permit religious equality and freedom for Christians and Jews, or sponsor education of girls, then sprout horns.

Buddy, you know those billions we're spending in Afghanistan? A new report says that hard-fought progress in girls' education in Afghanistan, heralded as one of few successes in the nine years we've been there, is under assault from the government and is rapidly dissipating.

When so many Americans have reacted with anxiety and depression to a world in which we were basically at the top, and we could legitimately hope that we were on the way to solving our remaining problems, I wonder how we and our children will react to the next epoch in American and world history?

Oh, by the way buddy, you know how climate change is causing increasingly erratic weather patterns, flooding our shorelines and inland waterways and deadening our oceans and otherwise killing life forms around the planet? Well, "the climate push was a total flop " and we are "further from solving climate change than we were in 2008."

Happy dreams!*

_______________________

*Or, you can just think -- "What do my stupid problems really matter given all this mayhem?"