Stating the Obvious | Against the Obvious | Progress


The idea of progress is a prevalent myth in contemporary society. Scientific discoveries and technological advancements are frequently used to convince us that, as a race, we are advancing, even if voices from outside these areas would have us think otherwise. If science is a secular religion, then faith in progress is an inevitable fiction amongst the faithful.

Progress implies motion, a moving-forward, and engenders catchwords like ‘new’, ‘latest’, ‘modern’ and ‘original.’ In this sense, progress can often be at odds with the idea of inaction, and its various synonyms (‘reflection’, ‘meditation’, and ‘day-dreaming’). This, of course, needn’t be the case; progress can be achieved through inaction, but our interest lies in the point at which these two ideas become antithetical.

We’ve seen how, in allowing us to examine what we already know, stating the obvious can be of benefit, inasmuch as it allows us to ‘chip away’ at ourselves, or to shed skin. These ideas imply loss as a means of progression, and in this sense run contrary to the idea of progress that feeds the popular imagination, that of progress through discoveries - through gain.

We are led to covet the new and the latest, attitudes that are crystallised in the world of commodities. We live with a constant sense of motion, of moving forward, and this is compounded by the disposability of things; to have the latest model often involves jettisoning the one that is out of fashion, and so we become used to a constant sense of flux, to jumping from one to the next. Philosopher John Gray talks about this idea, “Progress condemns idleness. The work needed to deliver humanity is vast. Indeed it is limitless, since as one plateau of achievement is reached another looms up. Of course this is only a mirage; but the worst of progress is not that it is an illusion. It is that it is endless.”5

In many ways, then, the idea of inaction is foreign to the dominant way of life in our society. In light of this, the concept of stating the obvious, with its implications of deceleration (lion-thought vs. dog-thought), and loss as opposed to gain, can often be denigrated and belittled.