Friday, October 14, 2011

Is There an Arc of History?

You remember that famous Martin Luther King quote Obama uses: "The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." Do you really believe that? I do, but I am not sure how many really agree with that lofty statement.

Neither King nor Obama were talking apocalyptically - in other words, they were not pointing to the End Times when believers affirm there will be a Reckoning and Justice will prevail. They were talking about our lived history - long, convoluted, painful, sometimes disastrous, but over the long span of time, according to King and Obama, there is a directional arc, a progressive flowing of events that leads towards increasing Justice.

This view certainly does not exclude the Divine's presence in the world; rather it says this must be present all the time, all along, in ways visible and invisible, and that we do not wait for the possible Final Reckoning to look for the thread of Progress.

"Are things getting better or worse," I sometimes ask folks. "From a broad view, do you think everything will work out, or will things fall apart?" These are essential questions. They shape our stance in the world - are we optimistic or pessimistic? Am I always scrambling to hold together what is trying, inexorably, to collapse? Or can I stand in the river and flow of things and participate, sometimes effortlessly, in what is wanting to emerge?

I am convinced that either case can be made effectively. Observers, even scientists, will always find evidence of what they are looking for, what they believe is there, and what they hope/expect to find. The unattached, objective scientist exists, but it is a much rarer phenomenon than we might want to believe.

So I will state unequivocally: I believe there is an arc to history, that it bends toward Justice, that progress does exist, and that the source of this progress is the evolutionary development of human consciousness that, over very long periods of time, raises our individual and collective awareness and capacity for compassion and connection. I enjoy looking for evidence to support this faith; but the evidence itself is not necessary. As Julian or Norwich said:

"All things will be well. All manner of things will be well."

As Wordsworth wrote:

"There is a dark, mysterious force that reconciles discordant elements, and causes them to work in one society."

I love the quotes. And I revel in the supportive examples I find. And I am not at all opposed to building fairly large philosophical and psychological systems to support my faith. But these are not, at least not any longer, required.

All that said, it is still marvelous when I come across a very convincing bit of evidence. And here is just such an evidentiary piece:  Steven Pinker "Violence Vanquished", which appeared as a Saturday Essay in the Wall Street Journal on September 24. Here is the, to me, startling chart Pinker based his essay on:

I find this most impressive, in fact, astonishing. The world is getting dramatically more peaceful. Wow! More soon.

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