How Progress Wins: Recalling the Bedrock Narrative
Optimism is the belief that all problems are solvable.
The proponents of true progress focus not on changing human behavior but on changing human institutions. Perhaps the apotheosis of the Enlightenment, The Declaration of Independence, while written by a slave owner, is grounded in an optimistic and humanist ideology that paved the way to change in future institutions.
The atmosphere of America, fueled by social media and its brilliant and pernicious possibilities, is that of suspicion. In the absence of honest conversation, the almost rampant assumption of motivation has become the cudgel that accompanies the pillory that begets the social dissonance which obfuscates the bedrock narrative.
That narrative, of hope and action in the face of the impossible, is ignored in the din of rage and disappointment that non-stop critical theory, intersectionality, and a focus on the very real but surface differences creates.
I don’t like people.
People mob together and indulge the demons of their worse natures in exercises of group power. A joy in the demise of another. The glee in destroying a life over abstract ideas. The fear of the Other based on nothing more than clickbait headlines and propaganda. The rage over one act found to be abhorrent though remote over another act found to be repellent but removed.
People become bullies with a keystroke. People, like their causes and moral supremacy, are untouchable, unreasoning, and without the pause that both empathy and compassion require.
I don’t like people — and, frankly, perhaps they don’t care much for me — but I love individuals.
I love Robert Mueller. Not because he is doggedly committed to tying Trump to obvious crimes but because he seems to do it dispassionately, with a dedication of a true citizen. I don’t know if he is an ideologue but it seems he is just doing his job, with the constraints placed upon him, as well as any human could do it.
I love Asia Argento. Not because she (allegedly) had sex with a minor just a stone’s throw in time from her strident takedown of her rapist but because, knowing she was guilty (allegedly) of sexual impropriety herself, still put herself and her life in harm’s way to expose a truly heinous human being. There are degrees in these things (even if one keeps screaming there are not) and fucking a seventeen-year old as a grown person is not in the same league as Weinstein.
I love Craig Stevenson. Faced with the onslaught of increasingly negative information on Faceborg, he posts genuinely inspirational quotes on his wall from honestly inspirational figures about love and forgiveness and hope.
I love David Dastmalchian. In support of his friend, James Gunn, he places himself in conflict with Disney during the very beginnings of his Hollywood ascent. He does this in full view, in public and without reservation.
I love Ja’mal Green. Not because I necessarily agree with his every point, with each piece of his plan on his quest to displace our current Chicago mayor but because, at 22-years old, he is participating in democracy by running for higher office in an effort to make things for people better.
Outrage does not inspire. Solutions inspire. Recognition of how far the nation, created by slaveholders who also happened to be brilliant and motivated to reframe the world in a better way, has progressed from a time when slavery was commonplace and genocide of the indigenous tribes was routine, when women were barred from owning property (because how could property own property?) and children were forced to work in horrifyingly dangerous conditions.
The solutions to our problems has never been the accomplishments of people but the clear-headed solutions of individuals. White, black, brown individuals. Male, female individuals. Gay, straight individuals.
I don’t like people but I am inspired by individuals. Whether I know them or not, whether I understand their motivations or no. The proponents of true progress focus not on changing human behavior but on changing human institutions. Institutions are changed by individuals motivated by courage, resolve and the optimism that they can be changed.
The bedrock narrative of the America Experiment is optimism in the face of people. That story is one of individuals.