Indeed, over the past half-century, progress has been so rapid that perhaps with distance we might come to think of it as the Great Era of Moral Progress.
I get what he’s saying: Obama’s ascent to the presidency represents an important event in the civil rights struggle in this country. But am I being willfully difficult if I insist that I don’t count that as any kind of consolidated progress towards a better social arrangement, but rather a brief blip in the long and miserable history of humanity from which we will descend back to our natural barbaric state?
By all means, people, celebrate this day. Feel happy that we live in a relatively more just society than our parents did. But let’s not congratulate ourselves too much. We’re still all a bunch of venal, rutting animals who fight wars of conquest and domination out of hurt pride or fear or ignorance. We may occasionally reason our way out of repressing others, but we have short memories and base instincts. After all, the barbarisms of Auschwitz, the Killing Fields, Srebrenica—all events during Wilkinson’s Great Era of Moral Progress—were perpetrated by people just like us, not some exotic “other” we must struggle to comprehend. We are irredeemable, never beyond our worst potential.
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