“It’s strange to think: progress, usually viewed as the crown jewel of democracy-and more often, of capitalism-may be the very thing that causes democratic, capitalistic societies to stagnate and wither.” This is a quote from an opinion column written by Lawrence Uebel (“Education serves as key to progress and democracy,” Oct. 28, 2008). I doubt it received much attention given its philosophical nature, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to commend this writer and proclaim my concurrence with his piece. Wonderfully written and intelligently demonstrative of a deeply-rooted in world changing enigma that we as a race have been struggling to grasp for thousands of years. In his article the nature of intelligence and its relation to societies, specifically democracies, and their hollowing are thrust into the light for all to see. I won’t take the time to restate what was so well stated in that piece, but I do want to build upon it and look at what was revealed from another perspective.
While progress, intelligence, the lack thereof and the withering of society are all easily seen as interconnected, their depth and breadth are seldom realized. For instance, looking back at the quote I opened with, we often think of progress and intellectual advancement as a matter of our democratic and capitalistic traditions. We see our progress as a direct product of our beliefs and our organizations. The truth, however, is not so simple. It is progress itself that allows us to fathom the ideas of democracy and capitalism. Progress and intelligence are what allows us to create nations and countries, cultures and religions, traditions and practices. It is also progress itself that destroys these very things simply because progress-and the aggregation of intelligence and knowledge-are the essence of change within our species. The stagnation and divergence we feel within our culture is not simply because of our democratic processes or a difference in beliefs, but a factor of our changing as a whole.
We, as humans, are only as intelligent as the sum of our fellow beings. Whether or not we specialize in one area, we depend upon the collective knowledge of the entirety of the planet to advance and progress. This is knowledge that has been built for thousands of years and-to this day-continues to grow. This knowledge creates the very foundations of our principles and beliefs. It is this knowledge that fosters our progress and creates our societies. Simultaneously, this sprawl of information shows the weaknesses in our theories of organization and government. This should not be viewed as matter of negative impact. The changing of our nations and organizations is of the utmost importance. It must be remembered that governments and nations are nothing but the dreams of humans acting out according to broken beliefs and incomplete understandings. Progress asks us to continuously assess these systems and improve upon them. The weaknesses we find in these systems signify both our growth of knowledge and the places where we can improve. We must keep changing our systems and cultivating their growth because they, as much as anything else, are subject to the sands of time. Yearning for golden ages that never happened and returning to beliefs that have long since changed serve only to hold back the human race from its true potential, whatever that may be.
This, as philosophical as it sounds, has very deep and practical implications. We may very well face times where we must now assess our actions and systems on a global stage. It is not just the United States that faces a crisis of identity and direction; however, we need not look any further than our own elections to see its impacts and our failures. Regardless of the side we choose, we hear the same message-a request by government to fix the problems we face. We are staring down the cavern of an economic crisis of unknown impact, a culture war of far-reaching proportions and military engagements that require the utmost attention. Our fallacy is in believing the government is an entity separate from us that can solve our problems. There are problems that, in so many ways, have arisen from our inability to accept the inevitable change of things against our mentally bound beliefs. We blame our government, we blame our companies, we blame our journalists, we blame our parties and any other sort of individual or system-forgetting all the while that they are us and we are them. We are the companies and the governments. We are the divisions and the separations we imagine. And, therefore, we are the problems we experience. We are also the change that breaks down the very barriers of beliefs and systems that birth the frictions and problems that plague us.
Uebel was correct. Not just in stating that we need to improve our education, but that it is only part of the solution. The path less traveled is the path that neither opts out nor specializes. It is a path that requires us to continually assess what we do and to grow our own individual knowledge. It is the most difficult path to travel and requires a lifelong pursuit. It is, however, possibly the only way to keep ourselves from world-shattering disaster. It teaches us to grow and to accept that growth-not to fear it because it tramples our old systems. It teaches us the humility to accept the flawed nature of what is old, of what is new, of what we hope to come.
We don’t necessarily need new government or better government. We don’t necessarily need more oversight or better CEOs. We need new generations and new people carrying ideas of progress and the fearlessness to see them to a better world. Some have claimed that our generation has been left a world in tatters and on the brink of a problematic era. If this is so, I express my extreme disappointment in generations past, but my hope in future generations to embrace human progress and the knowledge it brings, not the systems it will create. So my hat off to you Uebel, you may be correct in your writing, but because you and others can come to realize what you have written, there is still hope.