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The Dark Side of American “Progress”

Updated April 22, 2022
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The Dark Side of American “Progress” essay

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All actions have consequences, and actions for the sake of progress are no exception. America is a strong example of this, in that American “progress” has always been accompanied by inhumane consequences. These inhumane acts towards progress come with consequences of their own, which are arguably not justifiable. America has repeatedly mistreated and forced themselves upon many different groups of people for the sake of the progress of the country. Some of the most heinous and pivotal actions in American history that demonstrate this are the relocation and genocide of the Native Americans beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries, the enslavement of Africans in the 18th and 19th centuries, and modern day injustices. Injustices that America currently faces are often a residual result of the inhumane foundation of the country.

Progress has often been used as a motive for many heinous acts, and as a tool of redefining cultures. Not to say that progress has not led to many positive changes in the world, but often comes at a very steep price. America has relentlessly used progress as a motive for their inhumane actions. These actions have been collectively viewed as a part of a greater plan from God, according to the manifest destiny. The manifest destiny is a doctrine from the 19th century that suggests that the “United States was destined-by God…to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent.” (History 2010). Progress has been an idea since the ancient Greeks, and has been interpreted in several ways across the globe. Progress has been the fuel for westernization and has been said to be the most important idea in Western civilization. (Nesbit, 4) This idea of progress from the Western interpretation, has negatively affected many large groups of people, such as the Native Americans and African slaves.

American progress has affected Native Americans by stripping them of their land and autonomy for the sake of colonization. European settlers came to the indigenous land now known as America, in hopes of starting a new life, filled with promises of riches and religious tolerance. These settlers wanted to make this land a land of progress, free from the stifling practices of their home countries. In order to establish control of the land, they needed to control the indigenous people, which led to the mass genocide and relocation of the Native Americans. Originally the settlers cohabitated with the natives in order to learn about the land, and then seized control by forcefully relocating the Natives west and stealing their territory. The westward expansion became a centralized idea of progress for the European settlers, for they found valuable land, produce, and resources. These resources sparked competition between the different European countries that came to explore the new land, and use it for it’s profit. The Native Americans no longer served a purpose to those that aimed to make a new world out of this profitable land. The colonizers waged war against the natives, and committed despicable acts in order to achieve their desired goal, such as killing the natives that fought for their homeland, introducing European diseases to plague the people, and forcefully relocating the natives to designated “Indian territory” in the west. The Trail of Tears and Indian Removal Act are specific actions that occurred in order to completely seize the new land. America declared themselves independent from England in 1776, and in hopes to establish and expand this new country they had to remove the Indians which led to the Trail of Tears and the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The Indian Removal Act became law in 1830, while Andrew Jackson served as president of the United States. This act served as a “trade” for the native southeastern land and for the western land that would be deemed “Indian territory,” and forced the indigenous people from their homes. (Behnke, 2015) This action stripped the people of their homes, their sacred lands, the lives of the people who rebelled and the culture that resonated amongst their community. This was believed to be justifiable because America was growing with a vision that did not fit the customs or laws that the Natives lived by. Removing the Native Americans made room for the European settlers that unified to call themselves “Americans”. The genocide of Native people and theft of Native land was centrally justified as a sacrifice to the “progress” of this newly developed country that had to be unified in order to prosper. The real cost of America was the cost of the Native people, their culture, their lands and their lives.

Another example of stripping a culture of their identity for the sake of “progress” is the enslavement of Africans in America in the 18th and 19th century. Slavery in America began with slaves being brought over to the new world via the triangular trade system. Slaves were brought to the New World to carry out the vision of America. They were used for cheap or free labor, to tend to the agricultural system of the south, and to build the buildings there were not welcomed to. The slaves were treated as a means of property and were entirely stripped of the identity, culture, humanity and rights. Families were more often than not separated, people were sold to the highest bidder, slaves were tortured and killed for disobedience and the women raped for pleasure. (Marsico, 2010) Slaves built the country that they weren’t allowed to be a part of, until January 1st, 1863. The emancipation proclamation legally freed all the slaves, but unfortunately did not give them a place to go or dissolve the hostile racism that already existed in America. This also did not give the black people equal rights to the white man, thus still excluding them from any type of democracy. Not allowing black people to vote was a tool to preserve power and to keep the centralized vision of progress uncontaminated. White people had a specific idea of progress for the country that did not include black people in an equal capacity.

The Jim Crow laws are an example of preserving the power of progress to those that were in power, and held the majority opinion. These laws were created in order to further control the colored people, while technically not having them as slaves. This shows that progress is not an equal and wholesome idea. Progress is not inherently a positive idea, and can affect people in many ways. The progress of white supremacy and the vision for America was being served for those in power but only oppressing and hurting those not included. Actions that seem positive for one community can permanently alter the culture and experience of another. This is what accounts for the discontinuities of “historical development.” (Giddens, 4) Giddens suggests in The Consequences of Modernity, that the discontinuities in the past have led to particular discontinuities of the modern era.

The modern era is not exempt from the same practice of unspeakable behavior for the sake of “progress”. There is more innovative technology and more globalization than ever before, and this has influenced the idea of progress in the United States. The United States is very driven by profit, as a result of its capitalistic characteristics. The idea of progress is partly rooted in that drive for money. The sacrifices the United States makes in order to fuel this vision includes, outsourcing work to other countries that abuse employees, paying them unfair wages as well as using child labor, and polluting the planet with industrial factories and systems that are currently degrading the planet, as well as still systematically discriminating against minority groups.

Outsourcing is “moving specific tasks to other locations in the world.” (Sernau, 48) This is a practice used by the United States in order to maximize profits, evade labor laws in America and expedite production. (Hanley, 2005) The United States aims to use “First World technology with Third World labor” (Sernau, 49) and by doing so utilizes child labor. This horrible act is only another cost of “progress” for the country, although causing harm to another large group of people. This mistreatment of other people seems to be a theme for progress in the United States.

The planet is constantly being polluted by the factories and industrial systems that have been established to run the country and its demands. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2014, “Americans produced about 258 million tons of solid waste…136 million tons was gathered in landfills.” (Bradford 2018) This danger to the planet is yet another sacrifice those in power are willing to make for the sake of “progress” for America. This only further proves that progress does not come cheap, and that all progress comes with destructive baggage.

Discrimination is yet another tool that has been used since the beginning of history, especially that of American history. Lawmakers and those in power, use discrimination to further a collective agenda that serves the benefit of those in power. In order to ensure that a vision for the future is not contaminating by other ideas is by keeping other groups from having any power to change the vision. There are currently several laws still in effect that blatantly discriminate against people’s ethnicity, religion, race, sexuality, and gender. According to Human Rights Watch, “only 19 states and [D.C] explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.” (HRW 2018) Laws such as these only prove that there are still injustices being performed to preserve a certain vision of “progress” in the United States.

Although progress can and has been a good thing, there is never been an action for the sake of progress that has not had a negative impact on a community. The examples provided have given insight to the many times in American history where violence, injustice, inequality and inhumane acts of hostility have been committed for the vision of progress. This pattern asks the question are injustices inevitable for progress? Are they justified? The evidence found in the examples provided suggests that the answer to that depends on who is in power. The morality of progress is not one of justice or liberty, unlike what America is supposed to founded on. Progress is an expensive cause, and seems to be undefinable. Progress is entirely interpretable and effects communities in different ways with every action. The one thing that remains constant is the group with the most resources and power, are the ones who get to conceptualize and execute the vision of “progress”.

Bibliography

  1. Editors, History.com. “Manifest Destiny.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 5 Apr. 2010, www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/manifest-destiny.
  2. Bradford, Alina. “Pollution Facts & Types of Pollution.” LiveScience, Purch, 27 Feb. 2018, www.livescience.com/22728-pollution-facts.html.
  3. “Labour Demand Effects of International Outsourcing: Evidence from Plant-Level Data.” NeuroImage, Academic Press, 21 Jan. 2005, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1059056004001078.
  4. Marsico, Katie. Slavery In America. Rourke Educational Media, 2010. EBSCOhost, proxygsu- ogl1.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=391931&site=ehost-live
  5. Leverenz, David. Honor Bound : Race and Shame in America, Rutgers University Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/oglethorpe/detail.action?docID=871834.
  6. Behnke, Alison. A Timeline History of the Trail of Tears. Lerner Publications ^TM^, 2015. EBSCOhost, proxygsu-ogl1.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&A N=1051510&site=ehost-live.
  7. “United States: State Laws Threaten LGBT Equality.” Human Rights Watch, 19 Feb. 2018, www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/19/united-states-state-laws-threaten-lgbt-equality.
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