Progress is like a staircase that is always under construction.
The staircase extends into the sky, seemingly ad infinitum, and most who take the journey find their staircase to be considerably high in the air.
The person who walks up the staircase (society) ascends step-by-step.
But as she walks, the steps above her are not always completed.
Sometimes the next 5 steps have been completed.
Sometimes she sees only one or two.
At other times, she may actually be forced to step out into the space where a step has not yet been completed- though it’s likely that by the time of need the step will have been finished.
The point of this analogy is to consider the psychology of the ascender in relation to construction of proximate stairs.
There is an obvious and reasonable concern involved- that one looks ahead and sees a potentially deadly precipice, and is afraid. At times, I think, this fear is legitimate and may require the ascender to slow her pace. But the astute ascender, though necessarily short-sighted, must avoid having a short memory.
If one fears a deadly fall, it is only because she has reached a very high height in her ascent. In such a long journey, she has clearly had ample opportunity to witness how few stairs are constructed in advance of their necessity.
There are members of every society at every time in history who cry loudly about the small number of stairs constructed ahead of the collective ascender. Whether 5 stairs, 2 stairs, or no stairs on the horizon- we have never lacked voices drawing attention to the danger of a fall.
I want to be clear that I think a certain degree of awareness (via shouting) is a good thing. It may actually be the case that this shouting is, at times, responsible for hastened construction of future stairs. However, we must distinguish between an appreciation of danger and the impression of impending doom. Both are appropriate in different situations. But it’s also true that there will always be members of any society who genuinely believe the latter is appropriate (even in situations where it is not).
What’s necessary is to put these competing versions of the future in perspective by looking to the past.
When considering our ascent, what number of future steps was the norm?
What happened when there were 5 steps? What happened when there were no steps?
How many steps were there when we nearly fell?
How many steps were there when we slowed down?
How many steps there when our ascent was at its finest?
Though it appears to be somewhat against our nature to ask such questions, I know of few other way to determine the appropriate future-oriented perspective. Accordingly, I know of few other ways to distinguish the legitimate town criers from the shameful fear mongers. Obtaining this distinction is very important.