‘Progress has a price’ quipped a fellow blogger recently. Now, before we proceed to smash the commonly held assumption that ‘Progress’ exists as a universal, objective entity recognizable by all, let us first make clear what one means when referring to such a notion.
Among the many other definitions and meanings associated with the word, there is ‘progress’ as defined by the dominant socio-political ideology of the era. Thanks to capitalism and the ‘free market’, the world is currently categorised into three ‘sub-worlds’; First, Second and Third. When deciding what category nation X belongs to, we must consider the extent of nation X’s industrial development, it is by this factor only that nation X can gauge how large a voice it has when it comes to international matters and how large a say it has on its own, supposedly sovereign, domestic matters. History has taught us thus far that industrially advanced nations tend to interfere with the sovereignty of industrially inferior nations. Many confuse superior economic strength these days with ‘progressive’ or ‘progressed’, and unstable or weak economic performance for ‘regressive’, ‘static’, etc.
So, ‘progress has a price’. If you want Apple Macs and fast cars, you’re gonna have to fight for them. To speak of her torment at witnessing the poverty and degradation of her people will only render Ms. Y open to the accusation that her people are a lazy breed; far too willing to accept the charity of others rather than build and maintain a stable economy. What is more, the imperialist invasion and occupation of her particular society, and the subsequent assimilation of her forefathers into a system of bondage and extortion, whilst bad in the short-term, ought to be seen as good for her as a product of the long-run. The West may well have robbed her culture of its dignity and self-worth, but at least these days she and the overwhelming majority of her peers can work 9 to 5 for the minimum wage and generally enjoy the luxuries of a society now addicted to commodities.
To criticise the way in which his people, government and nation spends and invests its wealth or abuses its relationship as the economically superior nation with economically inferior trading ‘partners’, leaves Mr. Z out in the cold along with the other ungrateful, selfishly-minded heathens. ‘What we have inherited is above all good’ muses another fellow blogger. But, and this is the crux of my argument, who or what decides whether or not the lives we in the West live today are enjoyable and beneficial?
Empire (as a product of immature economic models) is and always has been an economic concern, just as every war fought between nations since the bourgeoisie came to eminence has had economical considerations at its heart. Any fanciful notion that America is dragging the rest of the world with it on a march of progress towards the hallowed lands of Freedom and Democracy is a sham. Evidence to the contrary litters the nation’s history; the Google search bar will point you in the right direction if you know what words to feed it.
Relationships with our fellow citizens are compromised for waged-labor and material things. The mind is overwhelmed with wave after nauseating wave of ‘advertisements’ (mundane, patronizing graffiti) everywhere we turn; they’re in the TV, they flood the internet, they occupy the streets and hack the airwaves. Now, don’t take me for some naïve cretin; I understand the importance of displaying one’s products in a commodity driven society, but this acknowledgement does not come with my gratitude. To be labeled as a hypocrite that ‘enjoys all the benefits’ of this society is more than a mild insult; how many of us can truthfully say that we ‘enjoy’ playing the part of wage-slave and constant consumer in this disposable society? How many of us are comfortable with the idea that a growing number of individuals in the world today have at their command more wealth than the average third world nation? Or that there exists within the world’s most powerful economy many millions of peoples and families still unable to fulfill their basic needs, wants and desires?
In his critique of capitalist society, Karl Marx stresses that the bourgeoisie, whilst indeed the most revolutionary class in the history of humankind (they did destroy the monarch’s divine right to rule and the peasant economy), failed to deliver on three crucial promises to the masses; Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. He argues, of course, that the bourgeoisie are essentially the architects of their own demise, and will witness the working classes rise up against them so that the three buzz words of the French Revolution may begin to take effect upon a society largely disillusioned with the promises of the Free Market economy. Notice, however, that in replacing capitalism with communism, society would not have ‘progressed’ anywhere (or regressed should you be a commi-hater), but would merely have supplanted one non-directional, multi-linear cultural system with another more favored, argues Marx, by the societies’ majority.
‘The March of Progress’ is a concoction of the State and a figment of the citizenry’s imagination. It serves as justification for the sins committed by past and present regimes and offers us nothing in return for believing that such a concept exits. How many US citizens are benefiting from the invasion and occupation of the Middle East? How large a price in flesh and blood ought the West pay to get its dirty hands on some foreign oil assets? Since when has Imperialism benefited the majority rather than the minority of wealthy land owners and business types backing these wars of unjustifiable aggression? These are some questions often answered far to readily and without consideration of the true price paid in the name of ‘progress’, ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’.