31 May 2021

Respect for Our Ancestors

True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice. - St Francis de Sales

In the modern and postmodern age, we may not know what is right and true, but what we all know for sure, is that we must not impede progress. We must relentlessly march forward at any cost and the temptation to look back at what was is the opposite of progress. And by this very loose logic, we are constantly stirred up by so called progressives into disregarding our existing traditions and holding past traditions in contempt. But real progress isn’t just about moving forward, it’s about moving in the right direction. If you’re headed in the wrong direction, the most progressive thing you can do, is turn around and go backwards. So, instead of insisting that what we’re doing now is better than what we used to do because it happens later in a sequence of time, perhaps we should abandon this fallacious rhetoric about progress and start asking ourselves, what is the right direction? What is true? And then do that. It’s this so-called progressive attitude that has ingrained in us this idea that people who merely happen to be walking around in this moment in time, are more advanced than our ancestors because we happened to appear at a later date. When you look at it that way, the strength of that conviction becomes a bit weaker, I hope. But it’s certainly an attitude and a prejudice that we seem to carry – to the point that if someone proposes a solution to an existing problem, if those who oppose the solution can compare it to something from an age past, they can immediately denounce it as going backwards without ever having to defend their belief that it’s wrong. Well, I think it’s worth exploring whether this contempt for our ancestors is justified because we’ve inherited a lot from them that we seem to take for granted – we seem to act like we are the makers of our own fortune, but that doesn’t seem to be very accurate to me. Let’s consider a first fact, which is that to whatever degree you go back in generations, you will discover that our ancestors faced far greater adversity than we do. Some didn’t have cars, some had to build their own homes, some had to grow their own food, some didn’t have electricity and had to do everything by hand, some didn’t have plumbing or education. Some didn’t have anaesthesia so when they had to face a difficult medical procedure, they just had to bite down on something hard. Most didn’t have genetically modified crops or modern irrigation so that if the weather didn’t cooperate, their food supply failed and they had to simply survive with what little they had. They didn’t have natural gas to heat their homes, they didn’t have screens to amuse themselves, they washed their clothes by hand, they went to the bathroom in a shack in the freezing cold, they bathed in cold water, they worked long hours, they fought in wars, and on, and on, and on. The takeaway that we should perceive from all of that adversity is that they had a lot of problems to solve… and they did solve them, which means, we could learn a LOT from them. The fact that we don’t have those problems, isn’t because we solved them, it’s because we take the solutions for granted. And, in spite of all of that adversity, not only did they survive, but they thrived. Going back hundreds of years in Western Civilization, what we find is that with the exception of a few hiccups or disasters, each successive generation was better positioned than the previous one. In spite of all the hardships that they faced, they predominantly left their children better off than they found themselves. Now if anything can be called progress, it’s that. And this was certainly true for the Baby Boomer generation (or my parents’ generation). Their parents left them with a much better position than they found themselves in in spite of the fact that their lives were interrupted by a world war for several years. Baby boomers were the most economically prosperous generation ever.

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