I have a relationship with Walt Disney dating back to the New York World’s Fair in 1964. I was in the third grade, and my class made a field trip to the Fair, where I first saw the wonders of Disney’s animatronics. The Carousel of Progress was a rotating theater audio-animatronic stage show attraction created as the prime feature for the General Electric (GE) Pavilion. Upon the close of the Fair, the show was relocated to Disneyland until it was subsequently installed and reopened in Tomorrowland of the Magic Kingdom (Walt Disney World) in 1975. It continues to this day as the oldest and longest-running attraction of either park that garnered Walt’s “hands-on” collaboration. But what I loved most was the message of the accompanying song written by the Sherman Brothers, who wrote and produced many classics for Disney.
Carousel of Progress Lyrics
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day.
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, and tomorrow is just a dream away.
Man has a dream, and that’s the start.
He follows his dream with mind and heart.
And when it becomes a reality, its a dream come true for you and me.
So there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day.
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, just a dream away.
I was born to a German immigrant meat-cutter and grew up in Brooklyn and Long Island, New York. Subsequently, I spent the balance of my at-home years growing up in my mother’s small- town in rural Louisiana, where my high school graduating class numbered 36. For a multitude of reasons, I have always believed in a better tomorrow, probably fueled by a combination of fantasy, immigrant hustle, and dogged stubbornness (and probably other less pleasant descriptors). Upon reading Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, I immediately thought of the Carousel of Progress, and the inspiration of it’s visual and lyrical presentation.
Steven Arthur Pinker (born September 18, 1954) is a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist and the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of eight books for general audiences, including The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011), where he makes the case that violence in human societies has, in general, steadily declined with time. Our subject text for this week, Enlightenment Now (2018), continues his optimistic thesis of The Better Angels of Our Nature by using social science data from various sources to argue for a general improvement of the human condition over recent history.
According to Alison Gopnik, the strength of Enlightenment Now is that it expresses liberal Enlightenment values with masses of data and compelling arguments (i.e., Pinker is a very entertaining speaker in his TED talks.) However, the weakness of the book is that it doesn’t seriously consider the contextual human values for a given localized group. Gopnik contends if the case for progress is going to be convincing, it will have to speak to a wider spectrum of listeners and incorporate a more inclusive conception of flourishing.
While Pinker is honest about significant exceptions to his extracted pattern (e.g., inequality, suicide, and climate change), he doesn’t think they undermine his argument. Gopnik contends if things are so much better, why do so many people feel so much worse? The deeper reason that ordinary, well-meaning people feel that something has gone wrong, is because Pinker’s graphs are explicitly about the welfare of humanity as a whole. Gopnik continues that while Pinker’s empirical approach supports the Enlightenment emphasis on the autonomous, rational individual, it can also lead to alienation and isolation, which makes tribalist mythology all the more appealing. That is, tribalism (and its accompanying ills) can be seductive when people feel that their local connections are under threat.
Pinker expounds upon the need for us to focus upon or “savor” the empirically substantiated accomplishments of the Enlightenment. Rather than being led along by media-driven bleeding headlines, Pinker challenges us to look at the gross metric data. Recognizing that reading the metrics from the good or bad end of the scales is equally accurate and valid, Pinker contends that while progress is not utopia, our subsequent derived imperative should be to strive to continue progress rather than curse a disappointing lack of results.
I must say I have been much more inspired by Pinker than many of our other assigned selections for this semester. While I am very sensitive to the fact that progress can often lead to complacency and lethargy, I also am very cognizant of the essential need for the fuel of hope. Yes, I am a white man born during the sociological construct of the Boomer generation. Therefore, many tell me by definition, I am privileged and elite, and have experienced and can more easily perceive progress from my perspective. I am not debating the blessings I have certainly received and do not deserve. My argument would be without a more careful examination, without the realization that progress has occurred from where one started, there will be no resultant hope to fuel the steps needed to walk into one’s future. I opened this post by sharing my childhood delight with Disney’s Carousel of Progress and the message of its accompanying lyrics. My current delight is affirmed by coaching others to see where they have come from and where the Holy Spirit has and is bringing them. Every time we once again remember and remind ourselves of what God has done for us, it fills us with faith and the hope to energize our daily walk of progress.
 Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Disney%27s_Carousel_of_Progress
 Carousel of Progress Theme Song Lyrics, https://www.google.com/search?q=carousel+of+progress+song&oq=Car&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j35i39j0l6.4673j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
 Alison Gopnik, “When Truth and Reason Are No Longer Enough.”, The Atlantic, April 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/steven-pinker-enlightenment-now/554054/
 Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case For Reason, Science, Humanism, And Progress (New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2018) 324-326.