Am I a conservative or a progressive? Both, of course, in different respects—as are we all, I think. No need to dig into those details, for common sense and experience reveal we all have things we cling to and other things we wish to move on from. That old conservative/progressive dilemma is a false dichotomy.
But forced to choose, I’d opt for progressive as my prime perspective because all things evolve, and many things get better, which is how I define progress.
What I’d like to do for the rest of my life is to further progress by recognizing and facilitating what most needs improvement in the world.
In no lifetime prior to mine have change, evolution, and progress been so palpable and precarious, especially in science and technology. Human and planetary evolution is now co-evolution in that we actively partner with the forces and conditions of change, and therefore must evaluate the routes we choose to travel and the ends we aim to reach.
If wisdom is “the realization of that which is of value to ourselves and others” (as philosopher of science Nicholas Maxwell argues), we need to cultivate our wisdom or suffer the catastrophes we’ll otherwise create by foolish uses of our untempered powers. Thus we must now attend concertedly to the values by which we define progress, and we must reach planetary consensus regarding what is best not only for humanity but for all of Earth’s biosphere, for Gaia.
We might begin by looking backward to verify how steeply the rates of change have risen in just the last century, and to note in human attitudes and customs how much has altered in “advanced” societies.
During my lifetime in America I have witnessed profound changes in attitudes toward race, religion, gender, and economic and social status—all of which are much in flux. Change happens, but not glacially any more. Global warming is not only a climatological fact but a sociological metaphor, and we witness great shifts in consciousness and behaviors.
Which shifts should we assist? That’s the challenging question we face. What institutions are melting down and which new ones should emerge?
Let’s think first of the values we want new institutions to embody, values that promote the congenial thriving of life on Earth, that promote peaceful and respectful coexistence: ecological diversity that maximizes cooperative accord and minimizes combative aggression.
Let’s address that first.