There Is no Alternative
Standstill Is Regression and Progress
One way or another, a standstill is a bad sign because only what’s supposed to be moving forward can come to a standstill after all. But since there is no longer any goal aside from progress, progress is all we’ve got. So, whatever changes may come, everything will always remain the same. The wheel of history rolls on unchecked, over everything in its path towards a better — unattainable — future.
But this old saying actually goes all the way back to Speculum sapientiæ, a collection of 14th-century fables by the Italian-Dominican monk Bon Johannes da Messina. As it says, “Si steteris, retrocedis” — which translates roughly to, “You snooze, you lose,” in modern English — when fighting to secure a spot in the land of heavenly bliss, at the will of the top neoliberal executive in a dog-eat-dog world. One way or another, a standstill is a bad sign because only what’s supposed to be moving forward can come to a standstill after all. Yet another standstill skeptic praises the blessings of progress thusly: “Anyone who disregards consequences resulting from undeniable facts cannot help but remain behind the times. At all times, there have been men who do this, and in the future, there will be too. But they can scarcely impede the wheel of history and never bring it to a standstill.” (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 2)
Those who, by chance, have yet to be steamrolled by the wheel of history — that’s just the way progress works — will have to learn that progress and standstill are normative concepts. There is no need for further proof of their normativity because misanthropes around the world can rest assured that people get the point: Progress is great; standstill is bad.
Progress Is Great; Standstill Is BadThis simplistic dichotomy of progress and standstill, dynamic and static, forwards and backwards, makes no sense: Real progress becomes redundant once a goal has been achieved. But since there is no longer any goal aside from progress, progress is all we’ve got. So, whatever changes may come, everything will always remain the same. The wheel of history rolls on unchecked, over everything in its path towards a better — unattainable — future: “The fact that things just keep going as before is the disaster.” (Walter Benjamin) The widespread suffering caused by this stagnating progress is becoming increasingly blatant: Progress isn’t great at all; it’s just normal. “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.” Those who’ve always been able to enjoy the benefits of their belief in progress savor their guaranteed victories, handing them down in the form calendar-worthy motivational quotes to the losers of history who are condemned to lives of permanent standstill but can at least find solace in the fact that they’re stuck in a rut in the most advanced of all societies. And of course, it may be good — or at least comfortable — to live in the progressive here and now. Then again, people have always felt this way, so it would be hard to find any progress in that respect.
The Process of Progress Is One with StandstillIf progress is to be anything other than a progression in time while rulers tell their subjects how to understand their own history, refusing to choose between standstill and progress won’t suffice. At this juncture, the point is not to reject the faith in progress shared by Nazis, neoliberals, and all the others who’ve “brought so much stagnation to people on the grounds that something’s got to happen” (Karl Kraus). The point is that the choice between these two alternatives is not a choice at all but an expression of an ideology. The idea that there has been “progress” for 100 or 2,000 years or since time immemorial makes the very concept of progress ridiculous. The process of progress is one with stagnation. They are not opposites, but an end to this allegedly progressive history would be the opposite of both progress and standstill. What’s needed is a disruption that would finally turn that history (which, to this day, is merely prehistory, blindly “going on as before”) into a history worthy of the name, one that is shaped rationally by human beings.
All of this may come across as rather broad-brush and pseudo-revolutionary. The thing is, there’s no option that wouldn’t simply be more ideology: that of revolution and the old and ever-aging ideology of progress through standstill.
Admittedly, writing this doesn’t get us anywhere either because it’s really a matter of putting it into practice.