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Friday, July 1, 2022

Progress and Change

CSMS Magazine Staff Writers

In the United States as Hanson reminds you, “Change, newness, and progress are all highly valued.” From changing their personalities with the assistance of self-help gurus, to changing where they live at a faster rate than any people in the people in the world, they do not value the status quo. Nor have they ever. “Early Americans cleared forests, drained swamps, and altered the course of rivers in order to ‘build’ the country. Contemporary Americans have gone to the moon in part to prove they could do so.” The French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, after visiting the United States over a hundred years ago, reached much the same the conclusion when he wrote that the people in the United States “all consider society as a body in a state of improvement, and humanity as a changing scene.”

From the culture’s earliest establishment as a district national entity, there has been a diffuse constellation beliefs and attitudes that may be called the cult of progress. These beliefs and attitude produce a certain mind-set and a wide range of behavior patterns. Various aspects of this orientation are optimism, receptivity to change, emphasis on the future rather than the past or present, faith in an ability to control all phases of life, and confidence in the perceptual ability of the common person. You can observe this strong conviction in change and progress in how Americans view the environment and other people that is evident in phrases such as ‘taming the wilderness,’ ‘winning the West’, and ‘conquering space.’”

A passion for progress fosters not only the acceptance of change but also the conviction, true or false, that changes tend in a definite direction and that the direction is good. Each new generation in the United States want opportunity to be part of that change. So strong is the belief in progress and change that Americans seldom fear taking chances. The writer Henry Miller clearly captured this American spirit when he wrote, “Whatever there be in progress in life comes not through obeying blind urge.” Many older and traditional cultures, which have witnessed civilizations rise and fall and believe in fatalism do not sanctify change, progress, and daring and often have difficulty understanding the way Americans behave. As Althen notes:

This fundamental American belief in progress and a better future contrasts sharply with fatalistic (Americans are likely to use that term with a negative or critical connotation) attitude that characterizes people from many other cultures, notably Latin, Asian, and Arab, where there is a pronounced reverence for the past. In those cultures the future is considered to be in the hands of “fate””God”, or at least the few powerful people or families that dominate the society. The idea that they could somehow shape their own futures seem naïve or even arrogant.

 

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