A dear friend of mine Tilak who is an economist of the Free Market persuasion, another friend Karl, an aspiring philosopher and I, recently had an interesting exchange of views on the subject of progress. The background is that the three of us often share information on published material on economics and sociology and in this particular instance, it followed Tilak’s recommendation that the other two read Matt Riddley’s The Rational Optimist. I promptly read it and have passed it on to Karl who is still to start reading it, as he is preoccupied with more urgent matters pertaining to his post retirement life. Another book that formed the backdrop to this discussion is The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Decreased by Steven Pinker which too had been read by Tilak and me.
Karl would like to take the world with him to simple ways rather than progress/growth as we now understand it and comes up with utopian ideas of how to go about achieving that, whereas Tilak and I while differing on some aspects of economics, agree that we have no choice but to use economic tools to remove the appalling poverty wherever it exists.
The hand wringing that I talk about is Karl’s reaction to some of Tilak’s ideas on what needs to be done.
RR: Tilak, it appears to me that a lot of unnecessary hand wringing can be done away with if we can completely destroy the word “Progress” and replace it with “Change”.
TD: How about “change for the better” for the largest number of people in human history?
RR: Now, that would open a can of worms Tilak. “Better” is another word that means different things to different people! I suspect that our friend is trying to live a life without being judgmental about anything. You know, Satori!
TD: Having the luxury to define what “better” means only applies to those who already have achieved decent standards of material welfare, which thankfully is increasingly common! But, it is churlish to not want to recognize the achievements of recent human history. Steven Pinker’s book is a historical tour de force on this subject.
KD: I’ve been dipping into Jiddu Krishnamurti’s conversations. One, with Rahula Walpola, an eminent scholar of the Thervada tradition, held me. In it K sums it all up. He asks – psychologically, is there tomorrow? Meaning, I think, that what he calls a change of heart, what the historical Buddha was silent about, what Christ likened to a camel passing through the eye of a needle, cannot be learnt, developed or progressed towards. Scientific methods yield accumulating material progress. Not in the psychological/spiritual dimension. Psychologically men are still primitive. Technologically, the West has achieved fantastic standards. But what of the psychological standards articulated with such simplicity in the 10 commandments. Their very technology hard wires them to break these commandments. Surely all this is evident?
The discussion then meandered towards other matters and the exchanges continue regularly, stimulating our rapidly ossifying brains.
I find that to use the word “Change” instead of many others like improvement, progress, advance etc, are less controversial for the reason that the others are subjective and can be interpreted to mean different things to different people. The difficulty is in getting those fixed interpretations to “Change”.
Having established my intellectual pretensions till now, let me go a little personal on change. And, once again instead of reinventing the wheel, let me quote Thomas Harris to illustrate what I recently went through. Regular readers of my posts will immediately catch on to what I mean.
“Three things make people want to change. One is that they hurt sufficiently. They have beat their heads against the same wall so long that they decide that they have had enough…… Another thing that makes people want to change is a slow type of despair called ennui, or boredom……A third thing that makes people want to change is the sudden discovery that they can!
A very powerful prayer is built around the phenomenon of change. It is used worldwide in English and many translated versions by support groups like the AA.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
~ Reinhold Niebuhr
To conclude, I hope that my readers will find this as inspiring as I did.
Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where twelve of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Grannymar, who has seen and successfully tackled more changes than I ever will in my life time. The eleven other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Maxi, Maria SF, ocdwriter, Padmum, Paul, Rohit, The Old Fossil and Will. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too!