The Myth of Progress

12-03-2023Pastor's LetterFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Like it or not, we are all infected with the “Myth of Progress”. Simply put, the future will always be better than the past and the present is far superior to anything that came before. Admittedly, there is no small amount of hubris in thinking that and a large dose of condescension that makes us condemn yesterday with today’s information. But still the myth persists.

We see its “truth” demonstrated in our technology. Growing up most of us had a phone, that was in our home not one that we carried around in our pocket. Microwave ovens, cable and satellite TV, wash-and-wear clothes, power steering on our cars, GPS, typing on a manual typewriter, then the IBM Selectric with its wonderful erase function and onto a Word-Processor which changed my world except when I forgot to “save” my work. And really, who wants to go back to running your clothes through a handwringer, or ironing everything or waiting more than 30 seconds to get your food hot?

A lot has changed and improved that bolsters the Myth of Progress. But one thing has not changed: human nature. And that is why, despite the attempts of the technocrats, there are still wars between nations, hatreds based on race and religion, crime, domestic abuse and all the other parade of horribles, human inflict on one another. But those who want to perfect the future via progress are finally seeing the problem. For them, the next frontier is transhumanism. Specifically, that we can merge man and the machine and create utopia.

It’s not so farfetched as you might imagine. Consider how much “smart phones” have changed our behavior. We carry them around wherever we go, we handle them like we would an infant, gently caressing them and whenever they emit a sound or vibration, we look at them. For the younger generations, the smart phone, the tablet, or laptop is literally changing their brain structure. As a result, for the young, they react to every social media post, which in turn shapes their opinions and emotions. Even more, they accept the truth of what is being fed to them by the machine uncritically.

Add to that, the increasing attempts to censor media, restrict certain points of view or just outright ban some users as purveyors of “mis” or “dis” information, you can begin to understand why the younger generations are skeptical of freedom of speech. Or look at the lopsided reaction from young people to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They have no understanding of the history and the attempts that have been made to arrive at a peaceful solution to the conflict. Just ask your grandchildren if they ever heard of the Camp David Accords or the Oslo Accords? You’ll probably get a blank stare. And that is by design. The machine and those who control the information it emits are jealously protecting the narrative they wish to feed us.

Now along comes Artificial Intelligence. And it will develop from this point very quickly and change our society even quicker. We are behind the curve in trying to figure out what it all means and how it will affect us and what safeguards we need to put in place. But the horse has left the gate.

It’s anyone’s guess what comes next. Still the immovable pink elephant in the room is human nature. We can use the best technology for the good or not. Human nature is rather stubborn. We can use the best for the worst purposes. We can delude ourselves that the power we are exercising is for the good of others or the nation. Didn’t Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot believe that? In fact, the reason they all ultimately failed was because they failed to factor in human nature and the human desire for freedom.

In the end the only cure for human nature is grace. The grace that turns sinners into saints. The grace that compels one person to sacrifice themself for another. The grace that willingly accepts the limitations of being human, the grace that turns vice into virtue and the grace that perfects virtue. Man does not need to merge with the machine to perfect himself or the world.

Man, only needs to merge with the grace that comes from Christ redemption to become a new creation. Be wary of all other attempts to perfect humanity.


Fr. John B.