The notion of progress is hard to define. I can’t help but revert to Michel Foucault, not defining progress, but the mechanisms of social change: “I think there are a thousand things to be done, to be invented, to be forged, by those who, recognizing the relations of power in which they are implicated, have decided to resist or escape them. . . . I consider this to permit some transformation of things.”
The purpose of progress, of the ‘transformation’ of society is to eradicate the implicit systems of power that unanalyzed continue to oppress the many possibilities of the human consciousness to thrive. To criticize the unnecessary stagnation of thought, or conceptualization of justice where it is found to no longer serve humanity, to only serve the politically powerful, or to repress the dignity of the innocent minority is the job of the progressive Humanist.
The potential of society is not achieved through regression into the blind comfort of tradition. While tradition provides the fodder for progress, it cannot stagnate. Humanism requires a progression towards the establishment of conditions that foster in humanity the potential for deep virtuous fulfillment.
For this reason, I think progress is most essential to any society.
The notion of ‘progress’ in itself, however, requires the constant vigilance and criticism which without would cease to be anything more than a blind momentum in itself.
It’s troubling to me, to see where progress has been fought. I maintain that many old systems of thought have continued to repress explicitly (racism, sexism, homophobia) and implicitly (unanalyzed preconceptions of the formation of those social identities). In such cases, it is often perpetrated not solely, but often worst by the social conservative. The condescension geared towards race and sex is often more implicit in the media and in many cases towards homosexuality, more explicit. Yet for many cases, marginalization is an unconscious mental process.
The earnestness of one towards “the sanctity of marriage” or “tradition” is nothing but an ignorant and unchecked sense of earnestness. Often, it is not even worth that.
Humanism calls for logic, rationality and acknowledgement of evidence, but also empathy. Where we falter is to shut out the potential of change.
The conclusion of the Humanist Manifesto emphasizes:
“We assert that humanism will: (a) affirm life rather than deny it; (b) seek to elicit the possibilities of life, not flee from them; and (c) endeavor to establish the conditions of a satisfactory life for all, not merely for the few. By this positive morale and intention humanism will be guided, and from this perspective and alignment the techniques and efforts of humanism will flow.”
For anyone who can recognize the intrinsic value of life, and the opportunities for us to live wholly and fully, progressive politics is an important step to be made.