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by David Snoke
One of the sources of tension in our modern polarization is the fact that progressivism is, almost by definition and certainly in practice, monocultural. Although the term "multicultural" is often used, the world view of modern progressivism entails a single aim, that is, a single culture toward which all other cultures must progress.
This view springs from the roots of progressivism in "modernism," which in the 1800s had a fairly crass form: European culture stands at the top of a Darwinist, evolutionary apex, and all other cultures become more civilized as they progress toward this paradigm. From this we still have terms such as "developing nations." Pure modernism, with its confidence in science and rationality, is nearly dead in philosophy departments, but its legacy is still the foundation of progressivism: the notion of "progress" toward an ideal as humanity becomes smarter and more educated. One may argue that modernism in turn has roots in Christian postmillenialism, a variant of Christianity which believes in the complete redemption of the whole world, in which it is conformed to the ideal culture of God, by human efforts, before Jesus returns in glory. Both postmillennialism and modernism were boosted by the enormous economic success of Europe in the 1700s and 1800s, made possible both by new freedoms in the economy and new technology, which in turn made colonialism possible. This long period of success, following centuries of famine and plague in Europe, led to a general expectation of society moving ever upward.
Modern progressivism, of course, rejects this Eurocentric monocultural vision, but it is still at its core monocultural. It overlays a single template onto every culture in the world to assess the progress of that culture toward a single ideal. This template has the following basic structure:
Many a reader may have followed along to this point and genuinely not be able to imagine any other template. When I've presented this template to various people, quite often I get the response, "But of course, it is true!" In other words, the modern progressive view is so monocultural that it often cannot conceive of any other cultural template besides the one above, other than one which is outright evil.
What other cultural templates could there be? Here I list just a few that have substantial global populations:
The progressive vision recognizes that such world views exist, but it is monocultural in that it does not see these as reasonable choices; they are seen as relics of the past, at best harmless foibles and more likely evil. Christians who believe the Bible may indeed agree with progressives that some forms of these are evil, while also seeing some good in each; Christians also see both good and evil in various aspects of modern progressivism. For the progressive, however, these other world views cannot be taken seriously, because they undermine the main progressive narrative of progress toward a single ideal.
Within the US, the same type of narrowed monocultural vision applies. This can be seen, for example, in the self-description of progressives, who rarely use terms such as "left" or "liberal" for themselves, while they freely use the terms "right" and "conservative" to describe the other side of the political aisle. Of course, one cannot define a right side without having a left side, but to the progressive mind, the left of the aisle is "all correct-thinking people," not one of two optional sides.
Thus, in the progressive mindset, any opposition to their plans to change society has no credibility; it is either reactionary opposition to change just because of disliking change, or it is worse: evil manipulation by people who know that the change would be good, but subvert it for selfish ends. Their view of progress is monolithic: they cannot see that some who oppose them have a different definition of "progress." For example, the pro-life community talks of a positive change toward a "culture of life"; the pro-family movement talks of a positive vision of supporting nuclear families; pro-capitalists talk of economic growth. For the progressive, these are not alternative views of moving forward, to be debated and argued against with educated people, they are retrogressive and illegitimate.
For those who identify as progressive, therefore, a way forward as a peacemaker is to recognize that the progressive vision is one of many cultural options. Rather than seeing all opposition as regressive or evil, the progressive can advance the arguments for specific changes, knowing that some people will simply remain unconvinced. In fact, many people are not offended by all progressive proposals, but resent the inherent cultural superiority they perceive in progressives. Like the Western missionary of yore who failed to see his or her own cultural blinders and just came across as arrogant to local people, the progressive of today comes across as arrogant to many, because progressives implicitly reinterpret all other cultural templates as inferior.
To those talking with progressives, recognize that they are not seeing you as a rational actor, but as falling into one of two categories: either simply reactionary, resisting all change or yearning for a past golden age, or as evil, arguing for ideas you don't actually believe in favor of your real agenda, which is selfish gain for yourself personally (greed and power) or for your group (racism and xenophobia). As with any cultural conflict, it is very hard for anyone to see someone from another culture or subculture as sincerely doubting their own values.
David is a physics professor at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He received his bachelors degree in physics from Cornell University and his PhD in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has worked for The Aerospace Corporation and was a visiting scientist and Fellow at the Max Planck Institute. His experimental and theoretical research has focused on fundamental quantum mechanical processes in semiconductor optics, i.e. phase transitions of electrons and holes. Two main thrusts have been Bose-Einstein condensation of excitons and polaritons. He has also had minor efforts in numerical biology, and has published on the topic of the interaction of science and theology.