Is Modern Progressive World a True Blessing or is it a Curse?
The term progress can be defined as the process of civilization development and change for the better. In the modern world we are used to thinking about societies in the Northern part of the world as “developed” and the Southern ones as “locked into inert traditionalism”. The most important question however is whether societies we think are progressive are really feeling better than those that are slacking behind. What do the two of those worlds gain and lose due to the progressive modern development?
The progress of the development and evolution of the western society according to Weber can be depicted as follows: hunter gatherer societies merely hunt food to feed themselves and their family, this then developed into pastoralists who keeps their own live stock resulting in first signs of ownership. Finally, pastoralists develop into agriculturist who realizes the potential in trading goods which evidently leads to cash economy and an early form of capitalism.
Through commitment to progress, contemporary western society has developed in many ways, from the rise of technology to industrialization. However, it is not merely developments alone that cause the change in society it is the social effects that they produce.
Firstly, we need to discuss the things that western society has gained from progress. For example, western society offers us choices and more importantly the ability to free ourselves from social fixity. We are no longer restricted to the class we are born into. In non-western societies there is little or no room for individual progress, where as in the west, there are frameworks in place which provide us all with the opportunity to climb social ladders through education and trade.
These frameworks also provide us with the division of labor, a separation between work and home life. This has gained
Enlightenment philosophers of the late 18th century believed that industrialized western life would lead us to a world in which “the more we have the advance of science, the more we discover about our own history, the more we can control our own future” (Anthony Giddens 1999). This reflects the Marxist theory that we should not merely “interpret the world, the point is to change it”(Marx).
The enlightenment plays a huge role in the progression of modern societies, as it looked towards ‘reason’ instead of religion. We would no longer be imprisoned for not going to church for example, because through this progression we have gained freedom of thought and therefore individuality.
This new freedom is regulated by the rise of nation states and democracy. This has been a positive gain, in the sense that enforces laws that regulate societies. Modern societies have created these political units in which, use of violence is strictly regulated and which, at the same time, are organized for the use of violence against outside groups. (Giddens. A). These laws and regulations aim to prevent us from victimization and protect us from the people who break these boundaries.
Along with above examples of progression, we have gained an awareness of diversity through cultural integration. Western culture is far more diverse as we live along side people who come from different cultures and religions. This has broadened our social norms dramatically. We no longer compare ourselves to our immediate surrounding, we now look across cultures and classes to gain our understanding, hence we are accepting ourselves as “individual human species, rather than part of a collective group or tribe”. (Murray Bookchin 1912)
Our wider understanding has not only allowed us to improve but also to prevent and predict problems that arise in society. For example, through our commitment to progress our understanding of medicine has improved dramatically, we can now cure hundreds of diseases that still pose a serious threat to non-developed countries. This knowledge also allows us to prepare for such problems. For example, lending aid to countries that have become victims of natural disasters or enforcing birth control on over populated societies.
However, throughout this progress we have also lost as well as gained. For example, through the development of travel and communication people have become more independent and fluid. This has lead to the fragmentation of social life and the atomization of community. We are becoming more self-sufficient and look further a field for fulfillment than our surrounding community. Before modernity, people were content for their whole life to exist within the close proximity to the home. For example, families would live, work and socialize within their community. Technology such as e-mail, fax and mobile phones means that we have lost our sense of tangible communication. The irony being, that we created these tools to improve and broaden our communication levels, yet in doing so it we are becoming more and more isolated as we no longer feel the need to meet other human beings face to face.
This leads to the suggestion that we may have lost our sense of traditionalism. Before modernity, tradition implied that of religion and kinship, therefore, has this been lost through our progression? Giddens believes that although we may have lost historical tradition it does not disappear in modernity. Traditional societies are informed by belief in established, timeless orders. Therefore, although we may have lost traditions of the past, we have now created new ones based on our belief in ‘traditional legitimate authority’, which comes from “personal loyalty which results from common upbringing” (Max Weber)
Although our ability to progress and better ourselves is seen as a gain, it can also lead to the loss of gratitude an contentment leading to greed and emptiness. Since the enlightenment the authenticity of religion has been questioned by the rise of science. For example, people in post-modern societies seek forfillment in people, spirituality and religion, something which has been tainted in the western world. Modern society embeds a burning desire of ‘want’ upon us, this results in people becoming consumed by the desire to constantly improve and upgrade their lives. Therefore it leads us to question whether we will ever reach a level of complete for forfilment, or is this just an illusion that has come out of a society obsessed with ambition and material desires? The problem being that we are now looking into to empty materialist things to find meaning. We have lost track of where true happiness lies, the love of partner, the sense of security in a community. Do these materialist things really make us happy or do the merely make us crave the next best thing?
The idea of illusions in society closely relates to Weber’s theory of ‘bureaucracy and the iron cage’. Although movements such as the enlightenment, industrialization and have given ‘freedom’, Weber suggest that they tie us to the “chains” of a “mechanical and inhuman environment”(Weber). He suggests that our freedom is an illusion of to the bureaucratic frameworks that we have created. Hence we are aloud to choose which cage we wish to work in and we can move freely within it, as long as we comply with the restraints. Through this metaphor we can see that there is an obvious contradiction which supports Weber’s theory that we have lost our freedom through the progression of regulation.
All these progresses mask the ‘natural world’ and therefore we begin to forget our place on the planet. We have primarily replaced religion with science. Therefore, we have moved from being under the power of an omniscient being to believing that we are ourselves are the rulers of our world. In doing so, the relationship between nature and humans ceases to be harmonious. Our civilization has become so egotistical that they have began to ‘take from nature because it thinks it owns the place’, rather than “accept from nature because they thought they were being offered a gift”(A.T.Campbell). We can see examples of this in everyday life through deforestation, erosion, pollution and exhaustion of our natural resources.
This idea of an egotistical human race also leads to the problem of “power reductionism”, a concept represented by Joseph Levenson and Samuel Huntington. This occurs when a society imposes its culture on other societies. Thus, globalization and the spread of western society are due to imperialist aggression, rather than natural progression. This can become a problem when the weaker society has to rely on the stronger. A classic example of this is the intrusion of missionaries on the Wayapi tribe. They offered new western technology such as knives, mirrors and machetes in an attempt to help the tribe become more ‘western’. However, these resources eventually run out and the tribes are left with merely a taster of how life could be. Instead of helping minds “the intrusion crippled them” (Campbell. A.T). as they now have the same desire to better themselves yet do not have the resources to do so.
After identifying so called “gains” and “losses it becomes apparent that the main issue in question is not what we have lost, but essentially what problems have arisen from the progress of modernity. Through progress we have gained extensive knowledge about the world we live in and evidently we have lost our niavity and ignorance. With this knowledge we gain a sense of social responsibility, as we are now aware that it is the human race that is causing the destruction of the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, etc we are obliged to take the appropriate action to repair it. This relates to Beck’s theory of ‘the global risk society’, which claims that we are now at a stage of uncertainty. The problem being that through our commitment to progress we have reached a point where we are increasingly finding more ‘uncertainties’. Society is gradually loosing control as it struggles with “new kinds of difficulties which are hard to record” (Giddens.A).
In conclusion, through commitment to progress, western society has gained a great deal of knowledge and understanding that has allowed us to make choices, improve our standard of living and better our understanding our planet and universe. However, progression has reached a point where we are loosing the one thing we aimed to achieve, ‘control’.
Our knowledge and power now exceeds our ability and we are going down the road of self-destruction, as the power we created is becoming more powerful than ourselves. For example, individual developments in technology such as film, photography, e-mail, satellite etc are now developing into one powerful entity that has the ability to violate the boundaries of communication.
Giddens describes this loss of control and new uncertainty as ‘the runaway world’. It appears that through our increased knowledge and understanding of the world, the tools that we have created will in fact be those that eventually destroy us.
Gardner.k and Lewis.D (1996), Anthropology, development and the post-modern challenge, Chipping Norton, Chase Production services.
Bookchin.M (1921), The philosophy of social ecology- essays and dialectical naturalism, London, Black rose books.
Wheeler.M, Ziman.J, A. Boden (1992). The evolusion of cultural entities, London, United States, Oxford University press inc. New York.
Tehranian. M, (1999), Global communication and world politics, United States, Lynne Rienner publishers inc.
Gutkind.P.C.W, (1974), Urban anthropoplogy, Netherlands, Koninklyke Van Gorcum and comp B.V Assen.
Thorns D.C, (1976), The Quest For Community, Great Britain, Alden press, Oxford.
Campbell.A.T (1995), Getting to know WaiWai, London, Routledge.
Ebeltoft. N, (1998). Reflective modernity and modern reflexivity, htt://folk.uio.no/ninie/everywhere-1.html.
Giddens. A (1999), htt://www.Ise.ac.uk/collections/alumniRelations/news/20001006t1521z005
Lee.H.I. (2002), Cultural confrontation and compromise: The response of non-western societies to Western political ideas.