The philosophy which has had an enormous impact on my psyche discusses the idea of being against progress.
It’s not so much that the idea of progress can’t exist - it certainly does with technology – rather it’s that progress is impossible when it comes to the human animal. No matter how many times we try, there will always be a status-quo of humanity to which we revert. And whenever we try to progress the human animal, the path is always dripping with blood.
All this “progress” apparently leading us to be more-than-human, of creating new laws of inclusion for our weakest and marginalised, or liberties in politics, or insights into human cognition and philosophy could all be undone in a day or a year. We could each of us dissipate back to our true reality the moment the mask of society slips. Progress with humans is not inevitable and definitely not permanent.
But that doesn’t mean the lights get switched off or Twitter shuts down. I’m not the only person to see this.
Take the current form of the Islamic State for instance. They’re arguably the most “human” of all homo sapiens alive on the planet today. They are superstitious, tribal, brutal, hateful, narcissistic, capricious and hierarchical in the extreme. None of those traits are considered indicative of progress by enlightened people. In fact, those are precisely the traits the Enlightenment sought to expunge from the world.
But a bizarre thing is occurring inside that movement. Any time the Islamic State takes control of a city in Syria or Iraq, it doesn’t touch the cellphone or internet infrastructure. Its operatives feel nothing when they break centuries-old statues and destroy artwork. They do not hesitate to pull down the façade of social cohesion and secular policy. Yet they leave the internet alone. Why is that? If the Islamic State is so anti-Western, why aren’t they getting rid of arguably the most Western invention since the printing press?
Why is it that the Islamic State have a superbly crisp social media presence and - as probably isn’t a surprise - an enormous capability to consume internet pornography? I’d suggest it is because technology truly is agnostic, as some people like to cheekily say about software and hardware.
It doesn’t matter if the user is Christian, Jew, Muslim, Zoroastrian or Atheist - anyone can, and does, use Twitter. What does this mean? I submit that if we think the world will be destroyed should a religion like Islam take control, then we may need to re-evaluate our assumptions. If in the very places where this religion is essentially universal, the internet has not been turned off, then it is not the internet that is the problem – it is we who are the problem.
So far, the only path towards progress we’ve discovered is the one that leads us to better technology. This comes from reason and logic. But that’s never proved enough to help progress the human animal. Every step since the enlightenment in the effort to use rationality to advance the species has been a trial and a struggle. We’ve had to claw our way, not so much towards progress as against the grip of reversion to our animalistic nature. Nothing we’ve discovered has ever worked to free us of our human (animal) nature.
The difference between a white-collar businessman in New York and an Islamic State militant is only their clothing and geographical position. They each congratulate themselves on their choices as if they individually had anything to do with them. That one uses Twitter to broadcast hate while the other broadcasts ideas proves nothing about their own progress.