In the image that flies over these phrases you see a centaur born inside the imagination of the painter John La Farge. A female centaur, actually. It is very likely that some day we will see those beings galloping and chatting and thinking and kissing in our parks, and on the streets; and it will also be very likely that someone will yawn watching them (the human being has a shocking capacity to routinize prodigies) [See “Human being”]. I also imagine someone yawning, bored, devoured by the prosaic, in a glass house built in a ring of Saturn.
Progress. An almost mechanical mental association leads us to think about “technological” or “scientific” progress. How far can that Baconian magic go? I mean the so-called “Science”. What new essences -in an Aristotelian sense- are we going to be able to create with the matter that is given to us, that constitutes us? [See “Matter”].
Another type of progress: that of human societies (developed/non-developed countries). How can that be measured? Is a senior Google executive more developed than a Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer? Why? What are we going for?
And another: “personal progress”. Where, in which realm, should the human being progress in order to reach his fullness? Is it possible personal progress in a society without progress?
It is assumed that believing in progress means believing that the number of happy people in Humanity can increase -progressively- and also the depth and “quality” of that happiness. But, is happiness so good? Is it the ultimate goal of our existence? Or is there something better, higher, than happiness? Maybe yes: freedom, creativity, admiration, creative suffering, love (even suffering love)…
But, in any case: What is exactly what is supposed to be progressing within human progress (in anticipation that at some point of time we can no longer sustain the universal “human”)? Can we talk about progress within God? Yes. Escoto Erígena, among many other thinkers, figured out – perhaps he felt- the possibility that God would go through a kind of metaphysical odyssey until it reached its own fullness.
Is it possible not to progress? Is there an option to return to models of society and morality as, for example, those that seem to offer the classical texts of Ancient Greece? I refer specifically to the supposed Socrates’ proposals that we find in Plato’s Crito: respect for laws, and the constant effort to improve but never, ever, break them: to configure them at the level of the human being. How high is that level?
I offer now some sketches of my ideas on what seems to be inside the flesh of the logical ballerina “Progress”:
1.- The big question might be whether or not the human being can intervene in the causal chains that, according to the materialists, move everything (societies included). If there is no freedom, the most we can yearn is that these deterministic chains provide moments of increasing happiness for a growing number of people (the basic presupposition of human progress).
2.- Both the parishioners of progressivism (the past was worse and all new -all “modern”- is good in itself) and those who long for restoration, or conservation, of past ideals (as it would be the case Leo Strauss) move, or are moved, towards something. There is an idea that magnetizes their action and their heart. They are lured, dragged, by something. And that something might be described as a poetic construct [See “Poetry” still in Spanish]. Political disputes are poetic disputes. The politician that offers more possibilities of dreaming and materializes those dreams will win those disputes. But always temporarily.
3.- We will progress or not towards something: towards an idea of man and society -of cosmos eventually: an idea previously embodied in our mind by the magic work of some powerful word (human or non-human). It could be said -with Plato- that everything moves triggered by love towards an idea. To progress might mean to reconfigure the real in order to bring it closer to the ideal (to a myth, to a poetic construct in need of matter, of reality).
4.- Progress presupposes time. If, with Kant, and not only with him, we deny the existence of time beyond that which is the human psyche, we are forced to talk about something like progress in the contents of our consciousness: in our own mental secretions, if you want to put it that way. Thus, society, the entire cosmos indeed, would progress within us, because of our inner work. What a prodigious place we are! Or we have… Even if we do not really know what we are…
5.- Progress also presupposes a previous lack; this is: the description and acceptation of a state of pre-fulfillment. Which is the heaven of the Science-dream? (By the way: heaven, like hell, is a place where there is no hope anymore). What heaven is supposed to be achieved with the scientific magic of Francis Bacon, that magic that is said it really works? Suddenly I imagine something like a network of magicians without conditioned matter (natura naturata), creating, being what they want to be in any possible universe. And impossible. Happy, if you want. Or unhappy. Is that an absolutely technological and free society? Is not that what is already happening behind the veil of the phenomenal?
6.- What if no more Progress were possible, if we had already achieve the limits of perfection (Spinoza)? Can any future, any progress, offer us more than what we already feel (and are) in a state of deep meditation? Maybe yes: Art; and love, love towards “the other” (even if that “other” is a Maya spell, an illusion). Love to children, to Nature … to the bodies and hearts of other human beings, and also of other non-human beings. Ultimately, to love Life, and also to love Death: to love Maya and its creators, with all its terrible shadows and dazzling lights. At whatever price, as Nietzsche would say.
7. – Recovering from the metaphilosophical abyss of Mysticism, already with the feet set on the solid land of Maya, one could ask about the type of society, about the idea of social beauty, to which we should aim (the very idea we should plant in the precious garden of the soul of our children). Aristotle thought that the human being is actualized -it reaches its essential fullness- when he philosophizes. So we should create a society of philosophers.
8.- Perhaps we could measure the progress of a society by the brightness of the eyes of its members. I have seen a very special brightness -really sublime- in the eyes of people who practice Philosophy; radical Philosophy: the one that dares to look and think – and even love- the mysterious immensity that we are and that surrounds us. I also see that shine in children. Not in all of them, unfortunately. Embarrassingly. There is no possible progress that does not consider the laughter and illusion of children a priority. The extreme sacredness of children.
(Almost) in summary, I think we have to create a society of philosophers: big, ever expanding minds, and also hearts…. ready to open the (even legal) possibility of self-configuring of the human body -his visible part- and, thus, why not?, becoming a centaur: a centaur-philosopher able to gallop, with its eyes dazzling of Metaphysics, in an infinite meadow.