Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Moral Arc of the Universe

I was sitting in with a student on Aspazia's history of 19th century philosophy class yesterday because an independent study project led us to Hegel and no one does Hegel like she does. During the discussion, when we were trying to set out the merits of the Hegelian position, I offered that there did seem to be something to his notion of history progressing, at least locally, through stages. Students poo-poo'ed the claim arguing that there was no progress to be seen in the world, politcally, morally, or economically.

I suppose I shouldn't have been shocked. It took me back to my days as an adjunct teaching at Towson State University. I was holding office hours in a little cubicle that I shared when I heard a passionate argument going on in the cubicle across the way. After a male African-American student left, the instructor looked at me and shook her head. She said that it amazed her how students today argue that there has been no progress in social justice. Her husband, another member of the English department was African-American and she said that there is no way these kids can have any clue what it was like to be in a mixed marriage in the 50s and 60s.

So why is there the perception that there has been no progress? Is it merely a lack of sense of history not taught in high school? Is it that when their bubble has been burst and they have been exposed to real injustice in the world, the thought is that this is so bad there's no way it could have been worse? Is it like Dick Butkis who used to have to pretend he was being taunted by the opposing team to get himself psyched up to play -- they can't see progress or else it takes away some sense of the urgency needed to pursue social justice?