Embracing the Burdens of Progress


David Yanda ’16 is a Philosophy major and a Biology minor from Oneida, WI.

Without a doubt I am perpetuating some serious social problems: hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, racism, unsustainable food industries, consumerism, tribalism, etc. etc. It’s defeating, tragic and abysmal all at once. The defeating part is that the supposed corresponding guilt is diffused among the multitude of my perpetrating peers, polishing out that squeaky clean conscience for that priceless walking-Scott-free-criminal feeling.

The tragedy is that camaraderie replaces culpability, as not only do we effortlessly shake the guilt right off but we also happen to find ourselves in a guilt group-therapy dance session where attendance is glorified. How can it be bad when everyone is doing it? Nothing better than good ole social bonding to keep us shaking that guilt right off. Why not play some T-Swift to really match the mood while we’re at it?

But the abysmal spear that stabs my heart is the people stepping off the dance floor, who recognize when we ought to feel guilty and make a change in ourselves or our societal systems and are met with scorn and aversion. Just think of any grand social movement: it must have begun with one soul who dared to step away from the status quo to challenge others to change themselves against their propagated grievances. And how do you think her behavior was received? With disdain and derision, as they fervently cling to their positive self-image, unwilling to admit the damage their dance has done.

And now the questions we need to ask ourselves become obvious. What damaging dances do I cling to? Who is telling me to stop, but I lend no ear? Do I recognize when my thinking is foolishly ruled by self-assurance? And if I find myself outside the scope of scorn and aversion, does that mean I’m doing nothing to aid in social progression?

It’s natural to incessantly crave the approval of others. We’re social beings, and nothing’s going to change that, but if you want to call yourself educated, I think we are obligated to recognize that there is a burden of disapproval that must be embraced if we wish to help progress society in any meaningful way. That’s the nature of it.

There are two points to take particular note of here. One is that just because we find ourselves a target of disapproval does not mean we’re right. An advocate for the legalization of murder probably isn’t a social justice warrior; she’s probably depraved. The sins of self-assurance pay preference to neither tradition nor progression. Even if we’ve stopped a dance, we cannot let ourselves get sick with self-righteousness; only time will tell if we’re right or wrong. Embrace the uncertainty.

The second is to recognize the uncertainty on the traditional side. It’s only probable the murder advocate is wrong, but we would be best to suspend damning judgments before hearing her out. The habit of judgment suspension is critical to preserving progress and recognizing our own self-assuring faults, as the backdrop to any judgment is comparison against your own values. We should do everything we can to foster this habit. Without it, we cannot optimize our own self-adjustments, and we curb our chances for positive change.

Our goals in life shouldn’t be to constantly clutch unanimous respect but rather, at most, to attain it after a long period of disapproval and sacrifice. If we truly yearn for a more moral world, then we must embrace the uncertainty that we don’t know whether the cause we’re fighting for (or at least how we are fighting) is just or not, and we must embrace the potential disdain we’ll face from our peers and preceding generations. Besides the hunch that we might be on a moral high ground and a blurred sense that we’re truly doing what’s right, fighting for progression is an unappealing beast. If nothing else, we need to respect those attempting to wrestle it.


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