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  • Paul D. Wilke

An Age of Bulldozers?




Progress is in part defined by solving old problems. Poverty, violence, disease, inequality, and environmental limitations have throughout our existence hampered our ability to prosper as a species. We pushed disease to the margins but now struggle with overpopulation, which in turn strains the environment. We don't have to worry about starvation anymore, but heart disease and obesity instead.


So the solutions we find to these old problems create new challenges, and so it goes, always, an ongoing dialectic. Whatever problems we overcome generate new ones that have to be resolved. Progress is real - I'd rather be fat than starving - but still very much limited by the defects in our human nature. An urge to self-destructive behavior seems hard-wired in our DNA. Even when we have all we need, we want more, even if more is harmful to ourselves and the world we inhabit.


Perhaps this is why we will never have anything close to utopia. We don't want it, not really. Even in our age of plenty, we prefer to debauch ourselves and then bitch about everything. We can now fly across the continent in a few hours. Yet all we do is complain about how uncomfortable and dehumanizing it is to fly in coach. Really? The ravenous ghosts of the Donner Party would laugh at our pampered bellyaching. And anyway, paradise would be dull as dirt, right?


Don't get me wrong, things are getting better, no doubt, and our lives have improved tremendously over the last couple of centuries. Still, the human equation always threatens to subtract itself through entropy and self-destructiveness.


You see, destroying is easy, orgasmic even. Tearing down can be fun in a rampaging toddler sort of way. But building something up is a slow and fitful process, with the results often taken for granted. Maybe we're entering another Age of Bulldozers, one run by smooth-talking nihilists bent on destruction without any clear idea of what is to come after. The Jacobins were bulldozers. The Bolsheviks, Maoists, and Nazis were too.


Are we heading in that direction?


We could be.


In any case, fight against that seemingly primal urge to tear down, especially if you can't offer any better alternatives (...and trust me, good citizen, you can't...). Don't take this remarkable golden age of ours for granted. The average person today in the West has a quality of life far surpassing that of even the wealthiest aristocrat of the pre-modern world. That is something precious, yet precarious.


Builders and visionaries, not bulldozers and wrecking balls, are what we need now more than ever to safeguard our civilization's remarkable gains and strive for even greater ones.


So where are they, these builders of a better future? Probably somewhere debauching themselves out of making history.


Meanwhile, the bulldozers bulldoze, telling us we need to bring the whole rotten thing down. Be careful what you wish for.


My fear is that some-when long after today, this golden age is already gone, gone, gone, and only the broken shards remain. Then our posterity will lament that we could have, should have, but in the end, didn't.

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