Globalization: People, Perspectives, and Progress

By William H. Mott IV | Go to book overview
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4
THE IDEA OF PROGRESS

Within any perspective, the notion of change is implicit in any definition of globalization. Centuries of philosophy and rationality have focused most understandings of change into two broad dynamics. Unpatterned change embraces both stasis or the absence of change and change imposed by exogenous, uncontrollable forces-the gods, nature, destiny, chance, or the occult. Patterned change includes cycles of repetitive changes around static equilibrium; incremental change in some direction; and deliberate, fundamental transformation of a system from past reality to future reality.

The idea of progress captured humanity as it passed into modernity, although ancient thinkers had speculated about incremental change from at least the fourth century B.C. Whereas Aristotle and other classical philosophers thought of progress towards various ideal visions of human perfection, justice, or happiness, modernists identified progress in terms of the human condition. As modernity deepened, historians noted apparently unpredictable points when economic, political, social, and environmental systems seemed to transform themselves to relieve systemic stresses. Although stability and equilibrium seemed to persist for long periods, these transformations seemed to punctuate some undeniable, continuing improvement in the human condition. People developed a deep faith in progress, the conviction that things will surely get better.

Although the word progress carries a host of meanings and implications, few would quibble about its meliorative content. Whatever the past was, the future will be better! People accept the idea of progress as "directional change, that there is a progression, an identifiable sequence of alterations in the characteristics of specific entities."1 Arising from humanityU+027s maturing consciousness of time, the idea of progress is a theory that binds the history of the past to a prophecy of the future. The theory of progress is a strictly modern idea, depending not only on time consciousness but on the prevalence of rationality.

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