by Terry Plotkin

Most people I know think death is a tragedy. You can see it from the hurt in their faces when they receive the news of somebody’s passing, even if they do not know them personally. Some, usually religious people, believe death is good because their adherence to their faith informs them that Heaven awaits them when their time comes. They believe Heaven is better than Earth and thus the after-life is better than this one.  Yet, they seem just as hesitant as the rest of us to face it, and try to stave it off as long as possible.

Regardless of what we believe or the efforts made, it is coming suddenly like a strike of lightning, or slowly as a blessed relief from lingering pain. However, there is a good reason why we, as a civilization, need death.  If society is going to progress, or at least avoid stagnation and decline, some old ideas and beliefs need to change. A rut gets deeper as water runs through it leading to the same old destination. If civilization is going to advance, it needs its youth to forge a new passage. Often, the beliefs of the older generation are impediments to the progress of the next one. If the older generation were not to die off, then the younger one would be prevented from taking society forward.

An old testament Bible story illustrates the idea. Moses goes up to Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments from God. He is gone for many days, and the newly freed slaves, waiting at the base of the mountain, believe he is dead. They curse the day they left Egypt, as at least there they had food, water, and shelter. Soon after, the former slaves again long for the security of Egypt when they hear that the Promised Land is filled with other people, making settlement difficult. Then the awful decree is made: The Israelites must wander in the desert for 40 years before they can enter the Promised Land. The reason that wandering is required is not for punishment, but so that the generation that was slaves in Egypt can die off before the society can think like a free people.

Racism, blessedly and thankfully, against African Americans is slowly falling away. As the generations pass, the younger ones accept what their elders could not. People who were willing to fight to maintain slavery, gave way to those that thought segregation reasonable and right. (My friend related to me how her grandmother, who grew up during the era of Jim Crow laws in the south, thought segregation was fine and that all had a chance to succeed. She was not really racist more than a product of her times.)  Those days and people have been replaced by those who accept Civil Rights as a settled issue. That set the stage for what happened next, where the youth vote was instrumental in putting the first African American president into power. Now, we are making progress towards gay rights. People under 40, in much higher numbers than people over 60, believe that gay people should have the same rights as heterosexuals, and in so doing are in the process of liberating millions of people from a life of secrecy and fear. The old guard is giving way.

The human race is inching its evolutionary way along. It needs fresh ideas and new faces that have not had to suffer and endure what past generations did in order to brave a new and better path. The old ideas need to die along with the people who harbor them for human progress to be made.  Perhaps, death may not be as cruel as it seems.

One Response to “Progress”

  1. Terry, well said, and very optimistic!

    Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the plight of Barak Obama. I’ve been a strong supporter since I first heard him speak at the democratic convention years ago. Clearly, he won the election because all the young and open-minded could hear that he was committed to progress (as you describe it).

    After reading a couple insider books on the president’s campaign and first year, I came to see the nearly insurmountable battle that he faces every day in his struggle to achieve progress. The “old guard” has been truly vicious, unscruplous, and undermining at every turn.

    And they have succeeded in distorting and obfuscating all the progress he has achieved. It’s truly shocking! In his first year, Obama passed more progressive legislation than any president since FDR – but hardly anyone (even his supporters) know about it – such is the power of his opponents.

    I truly hope there is some strong and inevitable evolutionary process that will dismantle and disintigrate republican backwardness. I hope it’s a magical event where republicans suddenly realize their folly. Maybe they will wake one morning in a daze and say “I was having a nightmare; there was a man trying to help me, but I kept kicking him.”

    I guess I should be more patient and understand that progress can be slow and is measured best in generations. But patience is hard, especially when people are suffering.

    I’ll end with a wickedly snide quote from Sarah Palin who pretended to address Barak Obama, “How’s that hopey changey thing going?”

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