Matt Archbold graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in 1995. He is a former journalist who left the newspaper business to raise his five children. He writes for the Creative Minority Report.
I don't think there's a fallacy more dangerous than the widespread belief in some sort of a global spiritual evolution. In fact, I can think of few notions believed by so many less supported by facts.
We see examples of it when certain people accuse political opponents of being on "the wrong side of history" or President Barack Obama's weaponization of Dr. Martin Luther King’s precept that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
At the heart of this is the notion that we are progressing as a species as if "better" was just something that happens by accident; as if improvement was a right. Or progress an inheritance and not a grind. I can't imagine a more damaging theory or a more perfect set up for disappointment and bitterness.
We see this belief manifest itself in the young's utter rejection of all established institutions. They're not against border control because they don't like enforcement but because they no longer believe in the idea of America. Some refuse to even celebrate Thanksgiving because America is evil for what it did to Native Americans.
They consider themselves spiritual but not religious because the Church as an institution was involved in the sex abuse scandal, the Crusades which they misunderstand, or they think Galileo was killed by the Church.
They can't even stand the sight of historical statues which are anathema to them.
And when you boil it down, they see older people as tainted, corrupted, and therefore wrong and they just have to live longer in order to prove how right they always always were. (No wonder they're for euthanasia to speed the process along.)
One of the major pitfalls of this thinking is that real change doesn't necessarily mean progress. Change is often the illusion of progress. The only way to actually progress is by trying, failing, adapting, and trying again. That's called wisdom. But that's not in high demand today.
This is not a new phenomenon. When Thomas Jefferson was 70 years old, he wrote to John Adams, about “the sovereignty of the living generation.” He spoke about the “improvability of the human mind, in science, in ethics, in government, etc." while the "enemies of reform... denied improvement, and advocated steady adherence to the principles, practices, and institutions of our fathers, which they represented as the consummation of wisdom, the acme of excellence, beyond which the human mind could never advance.”
Trotsky predictably was a little more forceful about it, saying:
It is difficult to predict the extent of self-government which the man of the future may reach or the heights to which he may carry his technique...Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.
GK Chesterton came down on the other side of this issue, saying that “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about."
So one can surmise that this issue has been with us for a while. But I believe the current small and arrogant oligarchy has never been quite so arrogant. Many today believe their progress is inevitable. I don't know if it's been exacerbated by participation trophy culture or some consequence of Darwinian philosophy but it's a prominent belief now that incremental societal salvation is occurring whether we like it or not.
At least Jefferson was intent on dismissing only the dead, whereas many young people today ignore the dead and anyone over 40 years of age.
Look at the marriage debate. Marriage has been the bedrock of civilization for millennia. When some sought to change it (with strong support from those under 40 years of age), did they study it or study the societal implications? Nope. Did young people who wildly favored the idea speak to older people and consider their concerns? No. In fact, the very fact that the older generation was less willing to redefine marriage was seen as a reason to plunge ahead. We heard a lot then about the moral arc of the universe and were often accused of being on the wrong side of history.
I actually despise the term "redefining marriage" because that's not what happened. Marriage was a clearly defined institution previously. Now, it is a malleable, amorphous term. They didn't redefine it. Previously marriage was known as the union of one man and one woman. What is it now? Would anyone dare say? Is it just between two people anymore? Three? Four? Who are you to say no? What union of consenting adults wouldn't constitute a marriage? Today, "what is marriage" is an open ended question. It is left to future generations to further expand the term further into meaninglessness.
The voices of wisdom and caution are ignored. Their intentions are questioned. You see, they're still just toppling statues. The very act of knocking down institutions and erasing history is progress to them.
They can mean well but without wisdom they're creating a dangerous society prone to repeating historical mistakes. Is it wise to tear down the basic building block of society? Is it safe for the children? Any discussion of how the marriage debate effected children was scoffed at for being besides the point. What was important were the intentions of those meddling with marriage.
It is common for the older people to have glossy memories of the past and mistrust of the future but much of the youth today are exactly the opposite. They have a deep mistrust and disgust of the past and a view of the future as a shiny utopia.
This false notion that our culture "progresses" with every generation is the notion that the younger generation is always an improvement. This understandably leads to young people completely ignoring the wisdom of elders. It instills in each generation a moral certitude that should scare any sane person. I am right because I am young and have less experience!
This fallacy would be apparent to them just by reading Saint Paul, Aristotle, or Shakespeare. They would see the startling relevance of their human insights. But unfortunately, those works are ignored and/or vilified. Not only are long dead writers are ignored though. Any person who has lived for 40, 50, 60 or 70 years who has amassed some understanding of human nature is typically ignored as well. Why? Because they've committed the crime of existing before.
We've filled young people's heads that the children are the future and they've taken it to heart. Many believe that it's a virtuous act to renounce all that came before the miracle of them. That leaves them nothing to build on. And as we can see from declining birth rates throughout Western civilization, nobody to build it for. We are left with a society without foundation or safeguards, untethered to the hard earned wisdom of previous generations and doomed to repeat mistakes.
They don't even want to be reminded of history. And when they do look upon it, it is with a merciless glare. To them, who is George Washington? A slave owner. My own daughter who attended a Catholic school was taught history by a young woman who had them read a story about Thomas Jefferson's slave daughter but never assigned them to read the Declaration of Independence.
It takes a remarkably naïve and hard person to view another person as just one thing. If there's one thing I can tell you is that people are never one thing. Can't Washington have been a slave owner and the Father of our country who performed remarkable deeds and was one of the only men in history to walk away from power? Can't America itself be guilty of crimes but also worth emulating? Or is everything and everyone just the worst thing they've ever done?
I just read that the comedian Sarah Silverman was asked about her friend Louis CK who was recently accused of sexual misconduct and she asked, “Can you love someone who did bad things?” What a question. Of course you can! If we withheld our love from all imperfect people we would all be very lonely. That is exactly the kind of wisdom that must not be lost.
But really isn't that what all of this is. An attack on wisdom. Just look at television shows now. Years ago, there was literally a show called "Father Knows Best." Tell that to any child today and they'll automatically assume that title is an ironic attack on the patriarchy. Today, in every show the parents are bumbling into chaos and the children must roll their eyes, sigh, and teach them the way of the world.
We live in a youth-soaked culture. A big part of the reason why is because young people have money and aren't wise enough to save it so advertisers and Big Media focus almost exclusively on them. And what sells to young people? Sex. So we become a sex-soaked culture. Porn is big business. Anyone who's watched a music video knows this. Or just about any CW show. And the only way to stand out from the pack is by spiraling further into depravity.
Young people today delight at the victory of the sexual revolution. In fact, they can't even understand why it was ever even an issue. But ask the millions of single mothers if culturally cavalier attitudes towards sex has helped. Let's ask the children of divorce if things are better than the oh so bourgeois culture of the past. Or how about the growing number of children born to single parents? Or the millions of aborted children. Witness the way we casually treat each other sexually. Young people today scream about a college campus rape epidemic but don't see it as the diseased consequence of the sexual revolution.
Are we progressing? Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years. Still getting better? Children diagnosed with Down Syndrome in utero are aborted about 90 percent of the time. Better? Old people are starved to death for the crime of not being useful? Better? Progress?
I think if anything we've only gotten better at hurting each other while feeling better about ourselves. Too often, we judge only our intentions, not the damage they cause. Look at the defenders of communism, a system that has invariably ended in violence, poverty and despair. But that means nothing to its proponents. Nothing. Why? Because they say it hasn't been tried by THEM. And this generation is better than all previous generations so reality will bend to their will.
So are we progressing or are we simply better at focusing myopically on our intentions while ignoring the real world casualties of our good intentions?
You see, the intention of the program is the highest good. So the program actually fulfills its goal of making us feel like we care. So if it's causing misery in the actual world, it's the world which must change to adapt the program and not the ideology because the real end goal has already been achieved. Communism seems like a wonderful plan but it is not fit for humans. But communists don't change communism. They seek to change humanity and rid themselves of those human pieces who don't fit.
Christianity asks people to change. Government makes them.
When we fully get the society we deserve, we'll need the Church more than ever.