Progressivism: The Snobbery of Chronology
But the very notion of a “better” assumes a “best,” a standard, a goal. And that standard has to be unchanging, for if the goal line itself changes, it is impossible to make progress toward it. Imagine a runner on first base trying to make progress toward second base while the second baseman is carrying second base with him into the outfield.
The typically modern mind is 1) skeptical of absolute, unchanging standards and 2) in love with the idea of progress. But this is a logical impossibility, a self-contradiction. Without an unchanging standard, there can be no progress, only change. To such people, “progress” means no more than “change,” and therefore “change” means the same as “progress.”
Only a people both jaded and bored by the past and the present, and also skeptical of any “vertical dimension,” any absolute and unchanging standard, could possibly be so moved by the single word “change” that a presidential candidate could win an election by using that single word as his campaign slogan. Why not instead “Rutabagas”?
The opposite of Progressivism is conservatism or traditionalism. A conservative, by definition, is a happy person, one who is happy with what is. It is only for that reason that he wants to conserve it. A progressivist, on the other hand, is by definition an unhappy person, one who is unhappy with what is. It is only for that reason that he wants to change it. A conservative is someone who thinks happiness consists first of all in enjoying the good things we already have. A progressive is one who sees happiness first of all in hoping to enjoy the things we do not yet have. Adam and Eve were conservatives until the Devil made them into progressives. For the Devil himself was the first progressivist. The other angels were happy with God and His will, but the Devil wanted to progress to something better.
In other words, progressivists try to tell truth with a clock instead of an argument. It is as silly as trying to tell time with a syllogism instead of a clock. Or a calendar, which is only a larger, longer clock. For to say that an idea is no longer believable simply because this is the 21st century, not the 13th, is no different from saying that an idea is no longer believable because it is now 11:00 p.m, not 10:00 a.m.
But even silly superstitions have reasons behind them, and these must be discovered, exposed, defined, stated fairly, and then refuted. And there are at least some seemingly cogent reasons that people adopt Progressivism. False conclusions usually are deduced from at least partially true premises; otherwise they would not have the power to deceive us.
How Did We Learn to Think This Way?
One of the causes of chronological snobbery is a reaction to the opposite superstition, which often clouded the judgment of our ancestors: that “new” equals “false” and “true” equals “old.” “New” used to be a word of suspicion and “old” a word of affection. Now, it is exactly the opposite. Modern children use the word “old” as an insult (“You old . . . !”). But the ancients used it as a compliment. Things used to be sold by pretending they were older than they are. (And this market for fake antiques still has some cachet for a small minority.) Now, things are sold by pretending they are newer than they are. “New” sells. This is especially true of ideas.