Beyond Material Worth Declarations
Chef/owner, wd-50, New York
For years, the older chefs said, “Do it this way,” and I said, “Why?” And they said, “Because I said so.” So I cooked the food that way every night, and then I asked again, “Why?” And they said, “Because it’s always been done that way.” I don’t remember what I made—it was in the pan, on the plate, and then it was gone. Food expires. It is consumed, it withers, it disappears. My contribution isn’t just the food I cook, it is the conversation that starts once the plates are cleared. There should be questions and thoughts and ideas. There should be a memory.
You’ve had eggs benedict a hundred times, the one with the English muffin and the Canadian bacon and the poached egg and the hollandaise sauce. But now you’re eating it and the hollandaise is shaped like a cube; it’s been breaded with the crumbs of the English muffin and deep fried. And the egg is a bright tube of yolk with the texture of fudge, and the bacon is a paper-thin chip. Close your eyes, and you’re eating eggs benedict, the one you know. Open them, and you start asking questions (how did he do that?), and thinking (what makes the yolk taste like that?) and planning (maybe I can make a better egg tomorrow). We push the limits in the kitchen—we innovate and experiment—because that is the only way we can learn more about what we cook and eat. I want people to like their meal, but I also want them to say, “It made me think.” That is progress.
Senior Vice President, MTV 360 Development & Production
I'm paid to have ideas that effect positive change, drive social innovation and reinvent the way media works, and figure out how great content and smart commerce drive each other. Am I making any progress? Sure. But there's progress and then there's, well, progress.
It was a Thursday afternoon, and inventor Dean Kamen had just addressed the United Nations on his progress in improving life as we know it. With more than 400 patents and counting, Dean's inventions have changed the way we live—from the first insulin pump to the modern wheelchair to the Segway. His latest genius is a robotic arm for war veterans. Progress? You might say.
Here he was, sitting on the couch in my office, wondering why I wanted to meet with him. I wasn't sure, I admitted. "It's just that you're, like, Dean Kamen." Then I asked, “Are you our generation’s Ben Franklin . . . or are you our Thomas Edison?” Dean sighed like you would when someone’s wasting your time, then asked me why my business—entertainment—has so catastrophically regressed. He wanted to know why I've done so little to use the power of media for positive change.
I asked Dean why, after all he’s accomplished, he still gets up and goes to work every morning. “Because human beings are locked in a never-ending battle between technology and catastrophe,” he said. “And you know which side I’m on.”
Then he went home to his laboratory in Maine. And I noticed the pitch he left on my desk—he wanted me to promote one of his projects on TV.
Abigail E. Disney
Cofounder, President, The Daphne Foundation
The work of an activist is pointed, goal oriented, and yet strangely inhospitable to the idea of progress. One fights—and fights hard—to change a law, an ugly more, an injustice, and in the rare instances where one succeeds in this struggle, the next battle to be waged always immediately appears. Worse than this, the notion of progress has been so sullied by civic shouting—from the Left, Right, and Center—it has been twisted into an oppressive, normative, and stultifying bludgeon that shows little respect for the nuances of human life.
Still, the underlying optimism of the progressive mindset has always informed the work of the people I respect most. I have seen women face down ridicule, beatings, guns, and rape, all to remind us of the simple notion that peace is good and war is madness, and when they make this appeal collectively, as mothers, they often succeed.
While each day has taught me to set aside ideas of “forward” or “upward” as foolish and naive, I still imagine a better place in the distance toward which I strive. And these mothers have reminded me that perhaps that place is a remembered space, not some distant utopia.
I have come to believe that progress toward a peaceful civilization lies in the journey back—back to an earlier moment when even the worst of us were taught to share, admonished not to hate; when we learned that problems are best solved peacefully and life’s richest treasures are human, not material.
Alan M. Kapuler, Ph.D.
President, Peace Seeds, Corvallis, Oregon
Ecosanity: New Discoveries about Life
Dedicated to Howard Zinn, the Peace Movement, Amy Goodman and Democracy Now!, Homo pacificus, the next human species, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Bob Marley, and the Grateful Dead
~22000 single copy genes
Affects 10% of our genes
Out of Africa 6 million years ago as Homo habilis
Kinship Gardening–Conservation of Diversity
Critical Art Ensemble (CAE)
Progress is a principle best left interred in the modernist mausoleum along with ideas such as civilization, utopia, and the avant-garde, to name just a few. While CAE has not been able to escape all the vague universalizing principles of modernism (human rights or social justice, for example), CAE has always done its utmost to distance itself from the applications of the idea of progress. It is one of the most insidious and malicious of all principles. In fact, CAE cannot think of a historical example where progress has not been used as an ideological means to advance the interests of the few at the expense of the many. And while we may appreciate its nod to the significant value of dynamism, we can accept neither its unilinearity nor its apology for final cause. CAE recognizes only the ongoing, ever-changing calculus of advantage and disadvantage expressed through adaptations, conjunctions, and fissures housed in specificity.
Lynn Hershman Leeson
Artist, filmmaker, and Chair of the Film Department at the San Francisco Art Institute
There is an emerging community of artistic and scientific activists who use tactical strategies to hack the Metaverse in a search to overcome human limitations. We have learned to augment our senses using not only contact lenses but also telescopes, robotic prods, nanoprobes, and even cosmic rays. We are creating enhanced cyborian bodies capable of communicating in a language of patterned information to a mind at large and, as Marshall McLuhan predicted, already “wear mankind as skin.” In an era of digital and biological sampling, life—especially artificial intelligence–based life—is self-replicating and autonomous and utilizes sophisticated apparatus to proclaim the erasure of death itself.
The resulting Promethean cutup of remixed unreality burns toward an elusive utopia. The rootless, organic quest perpetually trespasses, even revivifies, an eroding memory of history. Toggling locations of adjustable apertures is an illusory means of finding the locus of tolerance and connectivity necessary to reframe the dynamics of a constantly evolving universe.
In this context, progress becomes a kind of evolutionary suicide, in which trails of a discarded past give hints of a phantom future—an eternal camouflaged longing for what may, in fact, have never originally existed.
Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
Three years ago in the DC Public Schools, only eight percent of our students were proficient in math, and 12 percent were in reading. When we said we could radically change these outcomes, even the people who supported me most said such progress would never happen.
“As long as we have the economic disparity in this country that we do, we’ll always have inequity in education,” they said. “Neighborhoods that have many resources will have great schools, while schools in less resourced communities will not be as good. That’s the way capitalism works.”
I never thought this was true, but I could not quite articulate why until I shared a steak dinner once with Warren Buffett in Omaha.
He said it would be easy to solve today’s problems in urban education.
“Make private schools illegal,” he said, “and assign every child to a public school by random lottery.” Think about this. If suddenly CEOs’ children, diplomats’ children, and Congress members' children were attending schools across DC, I guarantee we would never see a faster moving of resources from one end of the city to the other. I also guarantee we would soon have a system of high-quality schools where every child could get an excellent education.
Progress is absolutely possible─but progress is too mild a word for education. If we build the collective will to put children’s potential before adult priorities, we will reverse generational poverty. Imagine what America would look like then.