I never could accept “dynamism” as a description of a progressive society, a criterion of social progress or its sine qua non.

I’ve already discussed many of the issues with “progress” itself in my essay Rising in Walls: Surveying the Project of Progress, available in my anthology Rising in Words. You will find many criticisms (such as excessive materialism and technological fixation) are applicable to those who talk up dynamism.

But Gregory Bateson’s assessment of Balinese culture in Bali: The Value System of a Steady State (available in his Steps to an Ecology of Mind) points to a more basic reason why this does not work: dynamic and progressive are not synonymous.

Balinese culture in his examination is non-schismogenic. It is highly stable, and idealizes “balance.” But this is achieved through constant adjustments (like a self-regulating cybernetic system—he compares it to an engine governor or tightrope walker) and NOT through stasis, or lack of dynamism. On the contrary, his portrait of Balinese culture is highly energetic, artistically and economically. This all simply takes place within the rebalancing context of the systems of a culture in which few value overall transformation into something else, compared to resetting after energetic expression. It’s dynamic, vigorous, hardly sclerotic—which seems to be what some using “dynamic” really want to contrast—but hardly “progressive” by any of the usual senses, either.


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