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Progress

Milwaukee Museum old fashioned displays 

As I mentioned in the previous post, I went to the museum with my sister.  I have changed a lot, but stayed the same in key aspects.  The change I don’t like it the disappearance of the “Trip Through Time.”  You used to start with earth geology and go right through to the modern age.   I recall you could look in on cavemen drawing on the cave walls, see Roman house and a medieval counting house.  When you got through all history until about 1600, when you wandered over to  America and ultimately to the streets of old Milwaukee.  Yes, the impression you got at the Milwaukee Museum was that all human history culminated in Milwaukee of around 1900. 

Old tavern in Streets of Old Milwaukee 

The “Streets of Old Milwaukee” exhibits are still the same.  It is kind of a “Twilight Zone” moment to see the old lady on the rocking chair, an eternal look of bemused befuddlement on her face.   She sat there when I visited with my school class in sixth grade and there is a good chance she will abide on that porch long after I am gone.

The Museum is 125 years old this year and they featured the kind of exhibit you would have seen at that time.   I kind of like the old fashioned display.  The Victorians self-confidently stood astride the world and brought back pieces of their discoveries for others to see.  Their world-view – at least those who stocked useums - included a strong idea of progress and evolution.  They saw things in linear fashion.  Privative man advanced to become modern man.   Backward peoples and cultures were just earlier stages of the European civilization, which stood at the apex of history. 

The whole idea of progress was shaken by the carnage in the trenches of World War I and then virtually destroyed by the various horrors of the 20th Century. The wars and dictatorships corrupted human virtues like courage, duty and honor.  It was a tragedy, but we should not throw out the whole system.   The idea of linear progress has many flaws, but the judgment-free multicultural relativism that has generally replaced it is not a workable outlook in the long run.   A hierarchy of progress does not exist, but the sundry random, planned and pernicious aspects of societies worldwide are not all created equal. 

Some adaptations are better than others and that means that some cultures are better than others for particular situations.   Multiculturalism is dishonest conceptually.  Cultures are constantly changing and adapting.   Presumably, we should all borrow the most appropriate aspects of any culture we encounter and abandon those of our own that are no longer working out.    In a context of cultural contact, you won’t maintain multiple cultures, salad bowl style.  Rather the cultures will mix and merge creating something richer and fuller of options than any of the ingredients.  But the original cultures will atrophy.  They will not and should not be maintained, except in the museum sense, much like the unchanging and un-living old lady endlessly rocking on the porch in the streets of old Milwaukee.


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