Deep Thoughts #8: This Is Progress?
There can be no doubt that we live in climate of sweeping change..... but is it progress?
You have to really take a long hard look at what "progress" means to answer that question. Is it progress to have big-ass flat screen televisions, impossibly cheap corn based food, high speed internet, air conditioning, stainless steel refrigerators and granite counter-tops - but we each have to work sixty hours a week? Or, instead of progress, are these just sad little treats; a poor exchange for a life of labor?
Take a look at us 12,000 years ago. We lived like those dirty hippies idealized: one with the Earth, unshackled materialism, with butt-loads of leisure time. Indeed, anthropologists call these hunter-gatherers the "Original Aristocracy" because of the amount of leisure time they had.
Fast forward to, say, the Middle Ages. I'm not going to stand here and proclaim that life as a feudal serf was Club-Med. Back breaking labor, living in tiny homes packed with smelly extended family members, and fecal material everywhere - gross. But, even so, there was a lot of positive to this lifestyle....
For one, you knew where you stood from the moment you were born (provided you didn't die in childbirth, which was pretty damn likely). Your great grandfather was a cobbler? Guess what? You're a cobbler and so are your kids. No trillion dollar student debt, no neighbors to envy with their shiny new hybrid car, no Capital One Visa debt haunting your dreams. It's the simple life served up straight. Plus, leisure time up the yin-yang. Take a look at the number of Catholic holidays there were (before that pesky Protestant work ethic took over); combine that with breaks during the day for prayer and "thanksgiving" (i.e. heavy drinking)... and it's a wonder these yeomen were able to tend to those fields at all.
The one big negative is mortality rates. Whether it's 8,000 BC or 1,240 AD, chances were if you cut your leg on a flint knife and it gets infected - just go ahead and say good bye to your wife and kids, because you're a dead man. No antibiotics, no vaccines, no surgery (no surgery that wouldn't do more harm than good, that is), no gas permeable contact lenses, no Tucks medicated cooling pads, etc.
But I say, "so what"? I get it - we live longer. But what is the quality of life in those last remaining years? Sure, the upper echelon that can afford it may have a gay old time in Boca, but for the vast majority of us, getting old sucks. And while medical advances have certainly kept me dropping dead from diphtheria, we're still dropping like flies from heart disease and cancer (and bankrupting our families in the process). In other words, I completely understand that there's been vast medical improvements, but let's not oversell it.
The Industrial Revolution is largely to blame for taking a species and shackling them to a desk or an assembly line, denying them the free time to experience life. To go against this tide you are a "Luddite" or a hippie, a slacker, an enemy of the state, or a dickhead (okay I just added that last one to make a point).
During the seventies, there was a brief feeling in the air to regain our freedom. It's so intangible that it will never get written in a history textbook (at least not correctly). To be precise, the true desire for freedom, to break free from the shackles of materialism, wasn't inherent in the hippie movement. For most hippies, unfortunately, the movement was primarily about doing drugs and having sex without consequence.
The feeling I'm talking about manifested itself in youth just "dropping out" and heading to the woods and disappearing for a while. It manifested itself in long road trips to nowhere (i.e. Me and You and a Dog Named Boo), living day to day. But even so, in trying to give examples, I'm still falling far short. For you can still work, have a family, and be fully inline with the New Freedom and reject what society has termed "progress".
To put it in the modern vernacular - maybe Google Glass is just stupid. Maybe 40 hours devoted to my job is too damn much. Maybe I don't need a garden tub and a walk-in closet. Maybe my kids don't need six hours of homework every night, maybe.... just maybe... having more leisure time doesn't mean I'm a slacker. Maybe it's a way to become more well-read, expand my mind, grow closer to my family, and get rid of this overbearing stress that comes from something we like to call "Progress".
Just a thought.