One of the most nefarious consequences of the delusion of progress is that it leads to a moral disengagement from the past. Progress erases the evils of previous iterations of Western civilization through a “present-ends-justify-the-prior-evil-means” logic where the present and active foundation of the status quo is entirely ignored. Simple case in point: the genocide of Native Americans was not merely something unfortunate that happened in the past, it was necessary in order for the US to exist in its present form. Perhaps a simpler case in point: black slavery was not just a regrettable period in US history, it was absolutely essential to produce the present circumstances.
And this is not just a theoretical exercise—it’s intimately personal. Rewind history to the year 1610, remove the slave trade, and then let history play forward again, and not only would the United States not emerge in anything comparable to its present form, but neither you nor I would exist. Our personal presence on the planet (regardless of our respective skin tones) is not independent of the entire history of events prior to our birth.
A common refrain of white privilege: “But that was then and this is now, and we shouldn’t dwell on things that we cannot change in the past.”
The logical problem with this refrain is that the past has not gone anywhere. It is still with us this very instant, in all of its brutal ugliness, right now, whether or not we have the stomach to acknowledge it. We are all reaping the concrete benefits of eight millennia of genocide and war and slavery and torture and chronic immiseration of countless millions of humans and beyond countless billions of other beings. We are all standing on a pile of corpses stretching back to the agricultural revolution.
We all were born in sin. But with devout and unwavering faith in progress all of our sins are resolved.