I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Progress. A little over a century ago, the Progressive movement advocated sterilising the “feeble-minded”, against their consent. The forced sterilisation concept started not in a totalitarian dictatorship but in states of the United States, in the exercise of popular, “democratic “ will. The goal was Progress. Weimar Germany, and its Nazi successor regime got the ideas of eugenics from us.
Today we consider eugenics barbaric, unless parents choose to abort a foetus determined to have a genetic condition like Down Syndrome. Then that bit of barbarism is understandable and excusable. Still the utopian/dystopian vision of a managed future continues to compel and repel us.We may change the goals, e.g. controlling the population of poor people that filled the dreams of Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes in the 1920’s to Al Gore’s vision of controlling carbon emissions in the 2020’s.
Paul Ehrlich wrote an influential book around 1970, The Population Bomb, warning of the dangers of human overpopulation. His answer was Zero Population Growth. Family size should be limited to two children, replacing the parents who begat them. Government policy or economic pressures would further compel families to have only one child, in China, for example. Now, demographers warn of demographic (population) collapse, in Japan, Italy, France, and, ironically, China herself. So much for the Population Bomb.
We love to think we are steering the ship of human destiny. The Soviet Russian Communists were eager to control the population and “liberate” women. So they legalised abortion, even inventing the vacuum aspirator, used in the surgical abortion procedure. When Communism collapsed, the succeeding Russian Federation changed the abortion laws to make abortion illegal after the fourteenth week of pregnancy.
Progress, choice, material prosperity and comfort motivate us today. Or so we are told to want material goods, to become wealthier in order to be happy. Of course, the end of human activity postulated as the acquisition of goods is a goal in direct contrast to Judaeo- Christian principles. “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength. And love thy neighbour as thyself.” My paraphrase of the shema from Deuteronomy and repeated by Our Lord in St Matthew still remain the guiding principles of millions today.
The manufacturers of stuff, huge corporations that they are, have an upper hand in the quest for our hearts and dollars. And we must always remember that we humans aspire for both the material and the spiritual simultaneously. It takes money to build beautiful things, whether a cathedral, mosque or temple on the one hand or a bridge or a skyscraper on the other. Because that desire for transcendent values like love, truth and beauty always persists.