Is Progress a Scam?

For our consumer economy to function we need to constantly destroy old products. There always has to be an obsolete and a new and improved.

Now in some ways this is beneficial: cars, for example, are much safer and more efficient than they were just a few years ago thanks to the constant drive to offer the new and improved. In other ways it is not beneficial: everyone complains how new appliances seem designed to break down after a year or two to keep you buying more and more, when back in the day they could be expected to last ten years.

If it feels like a scam, it probably is.

I’ve been thinking about this because at the end of the month I am going to replace my once-fancy-but-already-outdated smartphone and replace it with a cheap cell phone. I don’t really need the smartphone. I was just as happy with my life before I owned it as after. I enjoy some of the apps, but they are not worth ninety dollars a month to me. It is a little rebellion against a consumer culture in which everything is made to be destroyed.

It feels like we are creating a moral culture that is a mirror image of the consumer culture. Customs are made to be destroyed. What was evil yesterday is good today, and vice versa. Children today are shocked – shocked! – to learn that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both against gay marriage back in the Dark Age of 2009. Whether gay marriage is a good or bad idea is almost irrelevant when considering the enormity of the fact that accepted public morals not only change so fast, but that society forgets that it even had other morals five or six years ago. Cultural continuity has not only broken down from generation to generation, but one half-decade to the next.

Could this process of destroying and replacing morality be a kind of scam too? There are people who benefit from it; the self-appointed vanguard of social change needs to always be finding previously unknown forms of oppression to keep themselves relevant and feeling superior. They end up creating a kind of competition among themselves, to see who is more virtuous and passionate about the latest cause. What they gain is power to bully others into their private vision of morality.

Keep that in mind: public morality no longer exists. All we have left are private forms of morality in competition with one another.

 

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