Thoughts on change and progress
To the Editor:
Change is inevitable; progress is not.
I wrote those words nearly 20 years ago in a letter to the editor. It was a time when Western Carolina University was first starting to grow from a local mountain school to a large institution with regional aspirations. The first apartments were starting to sprout on the outskirts of the campus like huge termite mounds, rapacious in their consumption of local supplies and territory. The river was beginning to run brown, a perverse chocolate drink that brought neither sweetness nor quenching satisfaction. The first intimations of traffic, a congestion born of allergy to the common sense that understands that big ideas often leave big footprints that threaten to overwhelm a natural mountain beauty that though rough is nevertheless fragile and irreplaceable.
All those big ideas and big plans that came in the guise of progress but were only harbingers of change accelerated to a level of angry voracity that has reached its apotheosis in a road project that we are told is as inevitable as it is destructive and destined to take us farther down the path of looking like everywhere else.
In an editorial last year the Herald used the tasteless metaphor of war, destroying the village to save it, to characterize this latest big idea masquerading as progress. Tasteless yes, but it did hint at another term of art that captures the American imagination – creative destruction. Coined by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter the term was meant to invoke that the constant churn of economic activity resulted in greater riches – progress. Not mentioned are the casualties though they never are. Instead we sweep away the 55 businesses and the lives invested in them and touched by them with trite truisms like, “You’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelet.”
We live in a time of excess. We confuse rights with license. The very same people who assail trends towards moral relativism deny the existence of objective facts or truth; if it doesn’t support my preferred conclusions or ideology then it’s fake and to those who disagree, well they’ve just been brainwashed. We celebrate coarseness, insult and cruelty and call it plain speaking, forgetting that much of what we deride as being politically correct used to be called good manners. The individualism we were once so proud of is now toxic narcissism, the cornerstone, along with greed, of our national religion, one that continues to confuse progress with change.
The changes we see locally and the broader ones we see in the state and nationally are of a same piece. They are born of a rush to grasp at a more that is less growth than gluttony. And if one day we wake up and find the places we live or even ourselves unrecognizable; if we find ourselves uglier, angrier, colder, more profane and further from those simple self-evident truths we can just write it off as inevitable change and lie to ourselves by calling it progress.
Seconds sentiments in commentary
To the Editor:
Responding to the guest commentary “Feels we’re being manipulated on gun issues,” Nov. 21 Sylva Herald: An excellent article. It contained many valid points. If the Second Amendment were ever abolished, or dismantled, the entire U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights may be soon to follow.