Friday, November 02, 2007

Myth Busters

At a certain level, I think that the kind of reform we need, whether it involves matters like the environment or political and social patterns of thought, requires the kind of courage to confront not fear but what makes us comfortable and satisfied and all the paradigms that we have inhaled without inspection. Christopher Lasch says it light and right:
How does it happen that serious people continue to believe in progress, in the face of massive evidence that might have been expected to refute the idea of progress once in for all? The attempt to explain this anomaly--the persistence of a belief in progress in a century full of calamities--led me back to the eighteenth century, when the founders of modern liberalism began to argue that human wants, being insatiable, required an indefinite expansion of the productive forces necessary to satisfy them. Insatiable desire, formerly condemned as a source of frustration, unhappiness, and spiritual instability, came to be seen as a powerful stimulus to economic development. Adam Smith argued that ... civilized men and women needed more than savages to make them comfortable, and that a continual redefinition of their standards of comfort and convenience led to improvements in production and a general increase of wealth. There was no foreseeable end to the transformation of luxuries into necessities.
The problem with things like "fixing the environment" and the ridiculous notion (a manufactured commodity to keep us busy and to change the subject) of "religious reform" is that it does not touch (in fact, it deliberately untouches) the subdermal altering of assumptions, like the myth of material progress as a sign of human progress.

Lasch's quote is taken from his preface to: The True and Only Heaven.


Blogger Ozair said...


I just came across this in an article written by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in 1994:

"Nowhere in the Qur’an does Allah tell people to become technically advanced, nor did the Prophet of Allah send his companions from the primitive (by even the then contemporary standards of the Persians and Romans) Arabian peninsula to Persia to learn astronomy or the more sophisticated martial arts of the Romans and Persians (the verse “Prepare for them what you are able to of strength, and stabled horses” as well as Salman’s suggestion to use a trench during the battle of Khandaq do not negate to above statement). This is not to say that Islam tells us not to do these things; they are in fact the natural outcome of healthy civilizations where all types of knowledge are honored. But even a superficial glance at the Qur’an will quickly reveal that the Book is not concerned with building civilization, but with rectifying the stuff of civilization, i.e. men and women,."

11/02/2007 3:12 PM  
Anonymous irving said...

I don't think human progress is a myth, but an essential outcome of having evolved a self aware reasoning mind, along with an insatiable curiosity. This has led to scientific and medical progress, and yes, more creature comforts as an outgrowth of this. Progress, thought a misnomer, is part of the evolutionary path, just as spirituality is. We evolve toward the Godhead as Paul Tillich said, and on the physical realm it means the evolving of science and material innovation.

Ya Haqq!

11/02/2007 4:10 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Irving, I have a hard time making a necessary relationship between physical progress and the spiritual. They really are different and often on divergent paths. But I do say that they are not necessarily apart. But the greatest of generations is not ours, nor tomorrow. They traveled on the back of beasts and ate with their right hands.

11/02/2007 6:11 PM  
Anonymous irving said...

The Sufis say that physical evolution and spiritual evolution are two strands of the same rope. And of course the first followers and companions of the Prophet (pbuh) or any religion, are the most pious and spiritual, and it loses with each generation, but that is the process of all religions, and in each generation, there are some who show the way and rekindle the flame. If progress can be judged by the creativity of the mind and spirit, no matter what is created, computers or space stations, it is a step upward in both senses. The greater the scientist, the more spiritual he or she is. and the greater the awareness of the Unity of Creation, or the Unified Field Theory :)

Ya Haqq!

11/05/2007 8:36 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

I respect you, Irving. But this is not what the Sufis say. Some may say this, but it's not standard fare. Sheer material progress and human spiritual progress are more often than not divergent, especially when the "progress" is ravaging the resources of our word--destroying, in fact, the "signs" of God that reside in the forests, glaciers, bees, and sky, now polluted and darker than ever before. These "problems" are the direct results of "material progress" and the fake "needs" it creates. As for the contention: "The greater the scientist, the more spiritual he or she is," again, not sure how anyone can say that. The priests of atheism often come from the halls of science, like Dawkins and his ilk.

11/05/2007 9:14 PM  
Anonymous irving said...

Ah, you mean the rapacious greed of corporations. That is not what progress is in my mind. And as to scientists, here is one of my favorites:

"A human being is a part of a whole, called by us “universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

- Albert Einstein

Dawkins is not one to my mind

11/07/2007 7:33 PM  

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