Thursday, June 24, 2004

Sacrosanct Change

There isan interesting post (as usual) over at Belmont Club on progressiveness. In particular, the first paragraph struck me as interesting. The idea presented is that many people think of social progression as irreversible (at least if one is sane). This idea basically assumes that any hard fought social change has overcome a mountain of natural corruption. In other words, significant changes are leading us to progressively better social laws. While these may not always appear better, eventually once these things become invisible within society, society will be better off.

For instance, sexism may be viewed this way. It is assumed that a society that doesn't discriminate based on sex is better than one that does. Anything that goes against this idea is considered barbaric. The problem with this idea is that things that ask for a reformulation of basic tenets are also struck down. They are usually considered equally barbaric because they could destroy something considered so valuable. What happens is that the difficulty inherit in creating change leads people to an overly zealous appreciation of its inherit worth.

Now many changes may in fact be quite valuable, and quite worthwhile. However, believing that these changes are absolutes is rather naive. Many changes may be better within their context, but not necessarily if another. For example, a move from nationalistic sentiments may be appropriate in many political situations, but it does not mean that lack of nationalism is better than the converse in an absolute sense.

This means, the problem as I see it is that many social changes are taken as being correct in an absolute sense. For example, personal freedom is taken as an absolute value, lack of racism is seen as an absolute value, lack of sexism is seen an an absolute value,...etc. To me the interesting corollary arises when we compare this to religion.

I think many protestant religions end up believing that, over the long run, the changes made will be positive. In effect, they lead closer to absolute truth. Perhaps this is the case. Perhaps what this also does is just make it harder for them to accept any flaws on their initial reasoning. In effect they reject any reformulations of significant ideas in much the same way that social progressives may refject any reformulations of social change.

This presents some interesting problems if we view religion as something that is designed to get one to change as efficiently as possible. One must ask the question, what is more valuable, getting 10%, 20% etc closer to an absolute truth, or being more pliable to change? I really wonder if the value we give to hard fought change is worth the consequence it carries?

As an aside, I believe there are a couple of people who are now wondering if ideas on the big bang have become so sacrosanct that they are leading to the unecessary creation of things like dark matter and dark energy. I think the new scientist had a couple of articles on this if anyone has the link.

1 comment:

Clark Goble said...

I think that's a great point Chris. There is this "myth" of progression that came from the intersection of Judaism and Greek thought. It affected and perhaps even gave use our modern notion of time and gave rise to a lot of useful ways of thinking - so I don't want to criticize it too much. Still just like this notion of progression led to misunderstandings and abuse of Evolution, it still remains. There still is this idea of social evolution where our societies are getting closer and closer to perfection.

I think that a look at evolution shows things get sufficiently good for a given niche. Change the niche and what counts as "ideal" changes. Further evolution doesn't always produce the idea but the "good enough" in many instances. But even here we have some danger since I don't think social organizations really work according to evolution for a variety of reasons.

BTW - regarding dark matter and the big bang. I discussed it in my blog back a few days ago. I provided several links as well. (Its at the bottom of the page)