The above quote is attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. I don’t think it’s true. For one thing, I don’t think it is necessarily the most dangerous phrase — others are more dangerous. For instance, “because we’ve always done it this way, let’s try something else” would be more dangerous when applied to walking into dark unknown places without listening for the dry sucking zombie respirations. Sometimes the way we’ve always done things is the best way to do it.
That’s the way it is with sayings; they aren’t universally true, but they communicate a truth.
Hopper’s saying resonates particularly with Westerners because we love change. We tend to equate change with progress. We believe that new ways are better than old ways.
We believe time is structured by progress.
Interestingly, the ancients actually assumed the opposite.
Book five of The Iliad follows Diomedes’ busy day on the plains before the city of Troy. In one episode, Diomedes has just killed boastful Pandarus with a spear throw that severs the braggart’s tongue. Aeneas attempts to recover Pandarus’ body, but has to face Diomedes who “picked up a stone, a massive rock which no two men now alive could lift. He threw it all by himself with ease.” The Greeks thought that the great men of old were better than the men alive in their time, and not only in terms of physical strength.
The modern story, however, believes that our times are better than previous times. The increase of knowledge in the area of science and the conversion of knowledge to power through technology certainly can give the impression that civilization is advancing.
Check out this Radio Shack flyer from twenty-five years ago. The author of the accompanying article points out that the function of almost every item from the coolest page in the newspaper in 1990 is now on the phone in my pocket. If that ain’t progress, I don’t know what is.
It is progress, but only in two categories. Progress in scientific knowledge and technological power is not the same as cultural or moral development. In these we’ve not progressed at all; human beings remain the same. The problem is that our scientific knowledge and technological power do not make us better, they only increase the effects of what we do–whether that be good or evil.
Human cultural and moral progress is a myth.
People tend to confuse the words, ‘new’ and ‘improved.’
The nugget of truth in this saying, uttered by Agent Colson, in the pilot episode of Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D., is that time is not structured by progress. C. S. Lewis agrees:
“The idea of the world slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generalization from experience. ”
— (“The World’s Last Night”)
The zombies apocalypse suggest to us that this faith in progress might be misplaced.
For one thing, in the zombie apocalypse, most of our technology is useless. Once the gas and the canned beans run out we’re stuck back in the stone age. This idea that progress is inevitable is a myth and the zombies force us to face this truth.
The zombie itself further debunks the progress myth. We’ve gotten this idea that humanity is always progressing. Evolution tells us so. But every zombie movie shows us that the next evolutionary step for humanity is the zombie–I’d say that’s a bit of a backwards step.
It appears that we are progressing technologically and to some extent politically, but we are going no where morally. Under the pressure of the zombie infestations, humans become more of a threat to each other than are the zombies.
We are certainly progressing technologically, and we are moving steadily toward a more free, open, liberal or tolerant society. But make no mistake, humanity is making no progress culturally, politically or morally. Nor will we–ever.