Time is an illusion.
― Albert Einstein
Time is relentless. As an opponent it is unbeatable and can only be temporarily held at bay. We all lose to it, with death being the inevitable outcome. Science uses the second law of Thermodynamics as the lord of time. It establishes a direction defined by the creation of greater disorder. In many ways the second law stands apart from other physical laws in its fundamental nature. It describes the basic character of change, but not its details.
But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
— Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington
Change is constant and must be responded to. The challenge of the continual flow of
events provides the key distinguishing character of response. On the one hand conservatives resist the flow and attempt to retain the shape of the World. Liberals and progressives work to shape the change to so that the World changes for the better. Where the conservative sees the best future in the past, the progressive sees the best future as being a new beginning.
Change isn’t made by asking permission. Change is made by asking forgiveness, later.
― Seth Godin
These tendencies are seen in differing taste for the arts. Take music where oldies are the staple of conservatives who don’t warm to the newer ideas. The old standards of their childhood and teen years make for a calming influence and sentimental listening. The progressive ear looks for new combinations rather than the familiar. Invention and improvisation are greeted warmly as a new challenge to one’s tastes. For example rap is viewed as not being music of any sort by the conservative ear, and greeted as stunningly original by the liberal ear. On the one hand the past is viewed as a template for the future, and on the other changes are seen as the opportunity for improvement. This tension is at the core of humanity’s struggle for mastery over time.
Our time is marked by certain emblematic moments such as 9/11, Nixon’s resignation or the fall of the Berlin Wall. Each of these moments clearly defines a transition from everything before it, to everything after it. Some of these moments are simply climaxes to events preceding them. The horror of 9/11 started with the rise of Islam 1400 years ago, continuing with the Crusades, European colonialism, the oil crisis of the 70’s, American support for the Shah and his fall with rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan, the American invasion of Iraq and the constancy of Arab tension over Israel. Our response has assured that the war will continue and has only enflamed more terrorism. Rather than short-circuit the cycle of violence we have amplified it, and assured its continuation for another generation. We have learned nothing from the history leading up to the event of September 11, 2001.
Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.
― Jiddu Krishnamurti
These developments highlight some of the key differences with conservative and liberal responses to crisis. The conservative response usually takes little note of history, and applies power as the strategy. Power usually suits the powerful being arguably simple and usually effective. Liberals and progressives on the other hand are eager to take a different path, try something new and different, but often encounter paralysis from the analysis of the past. The different approach is often a failure, but when it succeeds the results are transformative. Power’s success only reinforces the power applying it. Ultimately when power encounters the right challenge, it fails and upsets the balance. In the end the power is reset and eventually the balance will be restored with a new structure at the helm.
Societies in decline have no use for visionaries.
― Anaïs Nin
In science, the same holds conventional theories and approaches work almost all the time, but when they are overturned it is monumental. Even there conservative approaches are the workhorse and the obvious choice. Every so often they are exposed by something progressive and new that produces results the old approaches could not. This is the sort of thing that Kuhn wrote about with revolutions in science. As with other human endeavors the liberal and progressive wing leads science’s advance. The day-in, day-out work of science is left to the conservative side of things.
“Normal science” means research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice.
— Thomas Kuhn
So we are left with a balance to achieve. How do we handle the inevitability of change from the remorseless march of time? Are we interested in the conservative approach leading to uninspired productivity? Or progressive breakthroughs that push us forward, but most often end in failure?
All the effort in the world won’t matter if you’re not inspired.
― Chuck Palahniuk