I was recently in a course on multicultural studies and at the culmination of the course all were required to participate in a discussion on a specified topic. There were two groups, and two discussions, on two topics that were very different from one another. However, there was something I noticed about these discussions that was very much the same regardless of the topic: the overarching ideology of the students present was that society is progressive and that is a good thing. When you read that it seems fine, it seems like a logical statement, it seems like we always associate progress with being a boon not a bane in life. But here is where it is wrong: change is not always for the better. In fact, the idea that all change is positive progress is a risible one at best. Change is progress, but which way are we headed?
Just because social policies, practices, ideas, and beliefs change does not mean they are better than the ideas that they replace nor does it make them correct or the best possible outcome. Although something is acceptable within a society or a culture does not by merit of acceptance alone make it right. For example, in some cultures mutilation of the body is completely acceptable and even encouraged, some cultures are completely okay with slavery and servitude, some are not against killing, theft, animal sacrifice, adultery, and so on and so forth. If you look hard enough, you will find a group willing to do anything you personally may deem unacceptable. That is the nature of culture, it is dynamic not fixed.
Evolution is an interesting theory. (I know it doesn’t seem like this applies, but hear me out, I’ll tie it back in.) When an environment changes, which it does whether seasonally or over geologic time, it creates pressure on the life present within it. Over time, this pressure molds said organisms. The one’s that survive the best by sheer virtue of their survivability will pass on their genes to the next generation, while the ones that die early on because of the pressure obviously have extremely low fecundity. If this pressure and molding continues indefinitely, you end up with an organism well suited to the environment in which its predecessors lived and it has been living. But, evolution lags behind, it doesn’t look to the future (it’s non-teleological if you want the big word. . .) evolved adaptations may be well-suited for their current environment, but they are not perfection, and in any other environment may be detrimental rather than beneficial.
Society puts a selecting pressure on those living within the society, and then tells them to adapt or die. But what if that pressure isn’t selecting perfection? With what does the society end up? For example, when my younger siblings were finishing elementary school, it was announced that cursive would no longer be taught. It’s a change, and granted this change may or may not bear much weight on the future of society, but what if it does? (Note: this was definitely not the subject of a discussion, just a random change that illustrates the fact that not all change is positive progress.) Sometimes, we as a human race forget to look forward. . . sometimes we even feign a broad perspective but cut it short at a certain point. We definitely have selective perception, we see what we want to see. If we want the change, we see the good; if we don’t, we see the bad. What would happen if we stood objectively aside and considered the changes society presses us to make? What if we could extrapolate that into the eternities as those changes compound upon each other? Would we end up with a society we’d enjoy or would we find that all the changes produced something barely recognizable as originating with us? If we placed ourselves into that distant future society we helped to create by accepting minor changes over periods of time would we find that we are no longer suited to survive under its selecting pressure? Perhaps we will no longer fit society’s mold. What then?
I will not mention which topics were actually discussed (they probably aren’t what you are thinking, but this message applies to all societal change anyway), but I urge us to consider all changes no matter how seemingly miniscule they may be. Consider them in their entirety, follow those changes with the next logical step into the future and then decide where it will lead us.