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The Reason American Progress Has Stalled


Vern Edwards

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The end of smallpox offers a usefully complete story, in which humanity triumphed unequivocally over a natural adversary. It's a saga that offers lessons about progressūĎĀčeach of which pertains to America today.

The most fundamental is that implementation, not mere invention, determines the pace of progressūĎĀča lesson the U.S. has failed to heed for the past several generations.

 

See "The Eureka Theory of History Is Wrong," by Derek Thompson, in The Atlantic, January/February 2023.

It's not just innovation; it's the implementation that ultimately counts. The author highlights Operation Warp Speed. He also highlights the importance of culture to successful implementation of innovations.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Excellent read, @Vern Edwards. Thank you for sharing. 

I read an article not long ago - and I'm struggling to remember where I read it -  that offered some clues as to growing distrust in institutions. Initially, I thought it was social media alone, but the article offered a more telling explanation: the explosion of choices to find information. We have more choices than ever before. Back in the 50s and 60s, there were only 3 channels. Each city/town/state had one or two newspapers. There were libraries, too, of course. But those were the choices for almost everyone. As a result, there was far more common ground. We, as Americans, generally watched the same shows, same newscasts, and read the same papers. 

But once cable TV offered dozens, then hundreds, of channels, we could choose where to get information. Then came the internet. By the late-90s/early-00s, we had so many more choices for information. And because we're all human, we gravitated to what fit our growlingly-nuanced views. 

Those nuances, unfortunately, put us in boxes. As a result, we've come to distrust anything outside of those boxes. And that mindset is wholly evident by the discourse on social media. We're no longer a passing resemblance of a cohesive society; we're a group of a thousand different tribes. We don't seem to look at the world outwardly as much as we used to; we look inwardly first. And because it's never been easier to find like-minded people via social media, the internet, or TV, those tribes lead to more entrenched thinking, and more self-validation (for better or worse, but in this case, much worse). We only trust those within our tribes.

Institutions? They're often cast as the villain within those tribes. They've become anathema to many of those tribes, if not all of them. The common mantra: You're either with us, or against us. And the echo chamber continues to clatter. 

The sad thing is that humanity has never had more access to information than right now. It should have led to more of the progress that Thompson wrote about. Instead, it's only served to fracture us as we continue to pick and choose what we consume, always rebuking anything that doesn't fit neatly into our growingly-narrow mindsets.

I found this sentence telling:

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 Nearly 90 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that the pandemic has made the country more divided.

Talk about an implementation failure of the highest order. The pandemic was a universal event. It should have united us. Those responsible for that implementation, unfortunately, sought political points first and foremost. After all, it was an election year. 

Truth be told, they could hardly be blamed. We live in a culture that is all too eager to cast as many villains as possible before it anoints a single hero. 

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