Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What do you mean: progressive?

A short while ago I participated in a television program called “The Future of The Netherlands”. Really my cup of tea, I thought. I didn’t actually participate in the program, but I did log-in to its website, which carried me through a host of questions about possible changes in the outlook of our country, say, twenty years hence.

The questions were of the kind that more typically reflect our present-day concerns, such as personal security, the threat of terrorism, minority issues and so forth, and most of the possible changes which the questions hinted at, in my mind, would make our country nothing less than the worst nightmare. They would take us far beyond ‘1984’, with human beings living as mere puppets on the string of Big Brother watching – and punishing – you. Not for me, I thought. Nor do I really believe that this is the inevitable course of our society.

I completed the questions and clicked ‘send’. I immediately received the program’s (or whatever was behind it) evaluation.

“Conservative” it said.

If ever I felt insulted, this was the moment. Never in my life I have been labeled a conservative, never will I accept it. So I wrote this e-mail to the producers of the TV-program. I suggested they better review this program. “Have you really succumbed to our present-day shallowness”, I asked them. “The government measures suggested in your program are a far cry from progress. They are gruesome, right wing, abhorrent”, or words to this effect. I got a reply, a few days ago, thanking me for my comments and emphasizing that contributions such as mine are a great help. Well, OK.

I do realize that my kind of progress is highly out of fashion these days. Only a few months ago, when I was talking about some current issue (I don’t remember which) to one of my younger colleagues, he said to me: “Ah, yes, but you are of the generation of progress”. He more or less implied: your are of the past.

Sure enough, the attributes of progress as I learned to understand them, have very little to say in our present day. I am a liberal, not a socialist, yet in my mind real progress is a phenomenon at the societal level. It is reflected in every enhancement of our behavior (and our being) as social animals. We should be able – and willing – as a society to control violence and aggression, and help others to enjoy a decent living etc., and never allow any of this to be the sole authority of intelligence officers, let alone militia’s or armies or similar agents. We should control the need for legislation, spying on citizens or invading people’s privacy, and be more societal – less egoistic – in the conduct of our own lives.

Perhaps my outlook on politics stems from the sixties and the seventies – not the eighties and the nineties, when extreme individualism and, more in particular, extreme consumerism took the lead over public cohesion and active political debate. Yet I am convinced that, one way or the other, new terms for progress will emerge. I am convinced that we will not succumb to the nightmare of rigid policing, of consumerist slavery, of utmost materialism. Our real future lies elsewhere. Our progress will be a different dream.

So I hang on to my outlook. I cherish all the improvements in my lifetime. I will fight stupidity. I will stand at the center of a progressive, fee society where common sense prevails and where the energy of freedom is directed to benefit the common good.


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