Works in Progress

Evergreen clematis, shiny with rain, reclaims a plastic patio chair set against a plastic fence.

I think about the concept of progress a lot.

Many of my friends, and much of my wider circle, identify politically as “progressive,” meaning they value the improvement of human life and society, and believe that at least some legislative involvement is necessary to secure it.

I don’t disagree. But I no longer identify as a progressive. Progress, in my culture’s deep heart and history, is much larger than America’s political binary. It’s a value most “conservatives” and “progressives” I know absolutely share. And maybe that could be a good thing: the elusive “common ground.”

Except that ground is dying. Human obsession with progress is poisoning both our minds and the land we stand on, and our politics, no matter how well-meaning, don’t come near to an antidote.

The narrative of progress is so entwined in our hearts and habits and language, we have trouble even seeing it. Maybe it’s a hyperobject.

I have plenty more to say about this, but every time I try, I just type out the shape of a big soapbox and then climb up and start TYPING FROM ATOP IT IN ALL CAPS. Not even I enjoy this.

So instead I’ll refer you to some non-shouty, illustrative work.

Writing in The Southern Review and republished at Longreads, Matt Jones tells a fascinating story about Disney, the Space Race, and the dusky seaside sparrow. The piece is No Heart, No Moon, and its subtitle kicks you in the stomach right away: “How Humanity Eats the Future to Feed the Present.”

In the latest High Desert Journal (where you can also find my essay about love and the Zumwalt Prairie), Marc Beaudin’s poem Progress spans a hundred years of interconnected damage in a few uncompromising lines.

It’s not exactly uplifting literature, but both pieces are, in different ways, beautiful. The questions they ask are essential, and they’re huge — and rendered accessible here.


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