Development in Modern Times Excludes Human Rights

Sean Para, Columnist

Here we all are, at the end of yet another year. 2014 is just around the corner and the semester is coming to a close. Soon we will all be back in our respective homes around the world, among the family and friends we had before we came to this decidedly bizarre and wonderfully eclectic place. I have written about a lot in the past year, and as another new year draws to a close, I find myself wondering: Are we going anywhere?

By “we” I don’t mean myself and my friends, or even Oberlin as a community. Instead I mean it in the most clichéd and abstract way imaginable: Are we as a society, on a global scale, moving towards anything or making system-level improvements? Or, alternatively, are we stuck in a bleak quagmire of violence, greed and oppression? It is hard to say for sure but I’ll add my opinion to the pile.

We live in a culture that esteems progress above all else. The American Dream which espouses wealth and material gain, and modern science is characterized by the constant and unrelenting accruement of knowledge. Every year new technology is developed at a faster and faster pace.

Furthermore, we live in a world that firmly believes that society is benefitting from this advancement.  Is this true? It has not always been so central to our ethos; this is a relatively new part of our collective consciousness.

Before the Age of Enlightenment, these concepts did not exist. People in the Middle Ages saw human existence as a story of constant decline since our expulsion: The only historical events that mattered were God’s creation of the world, the birth and death of Christ and, finally, the Last Judgment. I mention this just to make clear that our idealization of constant progress is actually just an intellectual shift. Things were progressing year to year long before we collectively developed the opinion, and modern times are uniquely marked by this development.

Let us return to the question of progress and moving forward. Do we really judge progress in the right way? Yes, technology becomes ever more complex, governments do much more than they used to and we know much more about the natural world. And yet, evil persists.

This year the international community stood back and watched Syria tear itself apart, to the extent that it will not recover for generations to come. Countless other conflicts have gone on without adequate media attention, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Western Sahara and Israel, where the Palestinian people suffer grave injustice. Domestically, we still have much to change in terms of gender equality, institutional racism, homelessness and poverty. The United States’ economic system has continued to shift more wealth to the rich, generation by generation.

Given all this, it is hard to believe in progress or a better future, when humanity continues to struggle regardless of technological advancements. I am not saying we are not going anywhere, I’m just suggesting that we reappraise the way we think about advancement to give justice and equality priority over material wealth. As we hail 2014, let’s all try to think harder about where our nation is going and how it’s getting there.