From the perspective of my life time of 1966 to present, I think the most consequential change on society has been the rise of conservatism. Today many people claim themselves to be conservative while not being clear what they mean. Wikipedia defines conservatism as “a cultural, social, and political philosophy that seeks to promote and to preserve traditional institutions, customs, and values.” How conservatism is practiced varies among societies.

At the risk of over simplifying, I think Americans who claim to be conservatives mean they are for smaller government, translated to mean lower taxes, lower government spending, and less government involvement in their daily lives. Recently I think the label has simplified to just mean, not liberal, or “Trump supporter.” While some want simply to be left alone and have more agency over their lives, many want to return to some time in the past, such as during the 1950s, when they believed life was better.

I believe conservatives and liberals have an unhealthy obsession with the past. Conservatives want to return to the past, liberals want to correct the past and it seems neither understand that the value of history is to learn from the past for the purpose of not repeating mistakes in the future. I think it is ironic that conservatives and liberals are seen as polar opposites while in reality both are obsessed with the past and neither side has a healthy perspective on progress. In short, you can’t really make progress when you are constantly looking in the rear view mirror.

Don’t believe me? Can you think of any area of politics that is not about the past? From the age of our government leaders, to how the U.S. constitution is currently used, to why there are wars, to why we cannot decrease the number of mass shootings, work to improve the climate and become healthier, every one of these are only really viewed from the perspective of the past. If most people agree that we should do something about these things, why can’t we?

The current obsession with polarization means more interest is in the argument rather than progress. I am not sure either side really wants progress because whenever either one has the ability to make progress disagreements within their ranks prevents it from happening. Polarization is focused on getting one’s way and beating the other and lost is any amount progress that in past times was born out of debate between the two points of view.

It’s one thing to have different ideas for how progress is to be made, or even what is progress, and another to not want to progress at all. Right now the United States has no desire for progress, we see this in how everything of significance is being handled in the world. I think how we got here is born out of a belief, more shared than we like to realize, that humanity cannot really improve itself. Too many now think the world cannot be better for future generations so it’s not even worth trying. So long American dream. No wonder why Gen Z is pissed of at all older generations and considers everything they say as b.s., and we are seeing the consequences playing out.

Consequently, why bother with empathy? I don’t need to consider how events affect you, the other, when I know how they affect me. Without empathy there is no way to love my neighbor, nor see my neighbor as a part of myself, I only need to know the world through my own feelings and state of being. In fact, they aren’t neighbors, most are enemies. No need to imagine a better world and the hope that inspires, rather one’s imagination only produces nightmares.

Humanity is driving itself toward extinction, what only seems open to debate is how, destruction incrementally via climate change, or suddenly via nuclear war? It always has taken work and the desire to co-exist with and even love the other with whom we share space with on this planet. What is certain is destruction will happen while we are only looking in the rear view mirror and not through the windshield toward the future. Humanity is so diverse that there will never be agreement on which turns to take along the road, but surely we can agree it is desirable to move forward!