The real problem with capital-P progress arguments is that they’re less a matter of serious philosophy and more about over-indulgence in a trumped up, empirically suspect notion of winning that most of the time is non-falsifiable, due to ad-hoc conditions. That’s a little complicated.
What I mean is that progressives often first stipulate that Progress has won completely and totally, and then for every counterexample brought to bear in response, they’ll find some method to sweep it under the table. “We’re just not advanced enough, yet,” “They just haven’t been educated enough, yet,” “They’re defective,” “They’re mentally ill,” “They’re evil,” “Nobody really holds those values,” “Okay, if anyone holds those values, they’re in the extreme minority, and no one cares about them,” Okay, fine, but that subject area self-selects for kooks, anyway,” “Okay, fine, but we all know who runs that university,” etc. etc. etc. I’ve heard it all, and it’s terribly boring.
Self-indulgent progressives with superiority complexes usually make two arguments: (1) liberalism is triumphant, and (2) liberalism is responsible for everything good and decent we’ve thus far accomplished.
Let’s take a look at the first plank. The support usually brought to bear is some sort of historical theory by which the populace gradually evolves to a more enlightened stage, where enlightened is defined as a further step towards liberalism. It’s easy to point out metrics over the last 400 years that would confirm this thesis—the burgeoning development of feminism, equal rights, Cthulu swimming left, the abolition of slavery, extension of the franchise, etc.
One of the problems here is that it’s just as easy to say that we’ve sadly and regrettably been moving backwards for 400 years since the Enlightenment in terms of ideology, and the good outcomes we’re seeing (economic progress and declining mortality rates, say) are due to a multitude of discrete, layover elements that have survived from pre-enlightenment times, or more simply, liberals are just misidentifying what causes what, that is, “the red pill of democracy” that Moldbug wrote about, which is a post that provides fertile grounds for future research.
This is unpleasant to even consider, but also hard to deny. Claiming triumph on the whole isn’t very interesting, even if true—it’s in the ‘why’ and the breakdown of the distribution where things get interesting. What happened is that over the last 400 years, liberal values achieved memetic supremacy because these liberal values were framed as the hoops-to-jump-through in order to attain status within a society. Liberalism is internally robust enough to permit mutations, so as to perpetuate itself.
This is a wonderful way to engender societal values change, since elites traditionally own, control, and dole out resources and status, so playing the long game means memetic hijacking on the elite level, at which points those values filter down through top institutions. In order to drink from the fountain, you have to dance the dance of elite values. Outward behaviors of the lower (but especially middle) classes change to come into alignment. Without full awareness, without steadfast mental resistance, outward behaviors slowly morph into internal beliefs, usually within a generation or two, if not within the immediate generation. Trickle-down economics, trickle-down values, trickle-down progressivism.
This link between outward behaviors as modifying internal beliefs is also present in hipsterism: first you do it ironically, but then you actually start to grow fond of it, and then you’re a die-hard fan. Hate fucks turn into real fucks.
In the same way that Mormonism is a pre-requisite in Utah, so progressivism is for Brahmin-dominated regions. You swear fealty to the values of the elite class to become part of the elite class–this is principally why you see east Indian immigrants (notably Brahmin-Brahmins) ingratiating themselves to the dominant political culture. If in India your particular ethnic group was among the higher classes, for a multitude of reasons, every bone in your body would shove you towards adopting the values in new country X which were consonant with maintaining the class status with which you are accustomed to.
So what does this mean? Well, in part it suggests that if being a capital-P Progressive is required to attain status in a society, then the drawbridge to elite ingroups only lowers when sufficient progressivism is detected. Now, this can either be Genuine Progress or merely Signaled Progress. Triumph? Yes, liberalism has triumphed in totally dominating the public sphere and status positions on society, but progressives take this to be ipso facto proof that liberal values have been inculcated.
History is replete with examples contrasting genuine inculcation with the signaling view. Take the classic case of Poland in mid-to-late 19th century Europe. Czar Alexander II of Russia intended to stamp out all remaining traces of Polish nationalism that would constitute a threat to Russian rule, namely deviant culture, language, and history. Polish textbooks were hidden in desks and brought out only when inspections were passed—a difficult matter, for the imposed Russian education was designed to be exhaustive and time-consuming in order to crowd out any and all opportunities for illegal and parallel education in Polish history. Marie Curie was the star pupil in her class and was called upon often when Russian inspectors routinely dropped by, as she was able to attain a mastery of Russian and Polish education simultaneously. The strategy: Signal Russianism to avoid conflict, believe and live Polish. Quietly.
Essentially, it makes perfect sense to signal liberalism and to pass the Ideological Turing Test. It’s a matter of survivability in the university and beyond. Liberal insiders are wont to say this phenomenon doesn’t exist—it’s a figment of imagination. Paranoid delusions of undergraduate and graduate students. But the very fact that every non-mainstream group reports heavy-handed conditioning being applied in the form of pain/pleasure dynamics means that it’s highly unlikely all these groups are experiencing collective delusions of persecution. Graduate school is even worse, as the stakes are significantly higher. Membership to the academic class is of a different order than a four-year generalist degree. Academic pain/pleasure conditioning is worth a book on its own—so are academic status games/social dynamics.
So academic molding is a small-scale version of military conditioning, although of course the military rendition is physical and mental, while in academia, it’s entirely mental. If you do not conform, you are punished—and, the absolute nightmare of academics across the world comes about: not being taken seriously.
Progressive pressure in academia is precisely why successful academics outside the liberal narrative have to be top-notch in research and aptitude. If people are only as good as they have to be, then following that principle, liberals operating comfortably in the cocoon of liberalism are permitted a pass through the gates, whereas every single assumption and argument of the outsider is questioned and scrutinized–see: the Mark Regnerus case as a prime example of liberalism raining down fury on an outsider. He escaped, but not without having to go through the fire. On the other hand, we have the contrast of Judge Amanda Wright Allen, who recently struck down Virginia’s marriage law as unconstitutional. In her decision, she wrote that the phrase “all men are created equal” is found in the Constitution. She won an appointment to the federal judiciary.
Arrangements similar to these differ by degree, rather than kind. It can become worse, or it can become less onerous. So what’s the psychology of a Brahmin in response to the signaling theory? Astonishment. Bafflement at the idea that not everyone has bought into progressivism. “Well, it’s a wild proposal, but I suppose some people are just irrational, etc.” This is why New Englanders find themselves astonished that the folks from Duck Dynasty still even exist, or why Clive Bundy exists. They’re unable to extricate themselves from Brahmin thede-dynamics, and so project the values of the Ivy Leagues on the south, and other regions.
But even then they mitigate it. Everyone is signalling, so why think the signalling is fake? Fatal conceit. “Our values are dominant, yes, but they’re so good, so wonderful, how could people not believe them?”
Let’s breakdown some societal metrics. Graph up the decline of legally permitted slavery from the 1600s to 2014. You’ll see a marked and substantial decline. This is no surprise, no surprise at all. The initial, lazy analysis is to claim that progress is finally here, finally achieved, but is that really the case? That is, we might just want to poke a little further and query: if laws are mostly indicative of generally accepted norms within a society, why is it the case that slavery is still a fully acceptable practice in many societies, societies that have declared slavery to officially be illegal?
This begs an explanation. Signalling is overused, but signalling it is. The problem with using laws as a metric for the triumph of Progress is just that it proves memetic supremacy and surface-level deference to liberalism, which means that states latch onto it as a form of signalling.
The greatest affront to liberalism, the affront that would provoke much weeping and gnashing of teeth would be the following thought experiment: suppose we constructed a near exhaustive set of liberal legal policies (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not a bad start, at all) and surveyed the countries which formally subscribe to them.
How liberal would the world look like if revealed, rather than stipulated values, were enshrined in law?
Mull over that for a bit. Stipulated values are important. To legalize slavery, which would certainly be keeping consonant with dominant values in certain places, would be to attract the wrath of Progressivism. To legalize slavery would be to attract war. To legalize slavery would be to suffer trade sanctions. So state officials make slavery illegal, bow to the idol of Progressivism, and solemnly look the other way as actual and revealed values maintain their undercurrent status.
Formalizing generally accepted practices and norms in law would result in a world that suddenly looks frightening, and very illiberal. Democracy is increasing, but are all who call themselves democracies–democracies?
The world is a Potemkin village of Progress, of Liberalism. Villagers simply signal Liberalism to avoid the wrath of the Gods of Progress and quietly live their lives in accordance with thousand-year-old traditions.
The fact that folks in social psychology, for instance, are utterly baffled at why virtually all of them identify as progressives is a good indication that they’re unable to extract themselves from the thicket of thede-dynamics to examine similar trends across culture and history. “But we’re different.” That’s precisely what every dominant culture argues. That’s the conceit of power. That’s what power does. Power implies value-rightness and value-trueness, because, as they think, how else would we have been able to gain power and prestige in the first place, unless our values were both right and true?
Dominant cultures have a set of argumentation strategies in order to ensure dominance. The first is to project generally accepted dominant values onto the past and implicate them as the true and final reasons for everything good and decent in the world. Superimposition is just not solid empirical practice to put it mildly. But that’s not really the point, is it?
Everything that is is good because Progress, except for this and that and the other, but, well, if those things exist at all, then we’re just not advanced yet and we should submit ourselves to the inevitability of history.
Liberalism is not the end of history. It’s undeniable that we’ve advanced in terms of material goods, but what’s not undeniable is whether or not liberalism is the cause. Like every religion, Christianity and Islam included, liberalism desires to claim that the golden age of civilization is due to its undying and unending influence.