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Progressive is the New Conservative

The words Progressive and Conservative have strong societal and political meanings. They are the two ends of a wide spectrum between proponents of change (progressive) and opponents of change (conservative). These terms emphasize the difference between embracing new methods and craving tradition.

The long-standing argument against traditional conservative ideals is that they set the stage to leave previously marginalized and disenfranchised people behind. As a person with a disability myself, I would often experience traditional methods that would be exclusive to me because I was not able to actively participate. This could be hosting a religious gathering in a place with no ramp and a wheelchair user can’t get in the building. This could be denying a job to a Blind person because you don’t think they can use a computer. Historically, humans cling to traditional methods because they are understood, and adaptation is hard.

However, as technology has progressed over the decades, the tools that we have developed have made adaptation easier. We now see ramps and curb cuts everywhere. We have accessibility tools built into our phones and computers. We have changed our methods to help other people adapt. And in most cases, the adaptations for people with disabilities have turned into conveniences for people without disabilities.

Now we come back to the idea that “Progressive is the New Conservative.” This is different that the concept of Progressive Conservatism, which tends to be a combination of political and policy ideals. Rather, I am arguing that the ideal of progressive adaptation is our current societal tradition… or we are moving in this direction. This is not a political argument but instead an observation of how humans are designed to adapt. We see this idea come to life through our struggles – the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, Prohibition, the Civil Rights movements and our recent pandemic experiences. From all of these events, we can pinpoint and list the actual adaptations that society has fought for, fought against and changes that have come from these struggles.

In general, “society” has decided that it is important that all people are created equal, everyone has the right to participate fully in society, and all people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As a culture, we’ve realized that these goals are impossible without an ability to adapt to change.

The concept of Universal Design, which is one that I’ll probably talk about a lot on this blog, is essential to moving our society and culture toward our mission of “All People” and “Equality”. The concept of Universal Design means that any and all people can access, use, participate in and benefit from any and all aspects of life.

The tech company Apple is one obvious example. Apple has always focused on intuitive and accessible tools that can be used by everyone. They have put this into their mission and purpose. No matter which current product from Apple you choose, you can find accessibility features built into their hardware and software. Moreover, Apple realizes that those features at this point in time are not perfect. When they launch their next iteration of their various operating systems, there will be tweaks to existing features and additions of brand-new features. The “Tradition” at Apple is to adapt, to change to progress. This tradition has yielded wide-spread popularity – Why? – because the wide-spread population can easily use those products without having to struggle through adaptation themselves. Apple has taken that struggle away and made everyone’s life easier. But this had to come from a tradition of adaptation, from the belief that Progressive is the new Conservative.

Where society fights against change and adaptation efforts, we will continue to fall backwards and fail to reach our bigger missions. If we take a conservative approach to active progressivism, we’ll find that perhaps those adaptations are more intentional, well-conceived, thoughtful and meaningful to all people.

Perhaps my thoughts on this subject are idealist or hopelessly optimistic, but change is inevitable, and we will continue to progress as a society. If we realize that we can be a universal society, and plan and prepare for change - and conceive that beyond a single year – then we will eventually understand what real equality with uniqueness actually looks like.

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