Learn how to recognize the enemies of progress. You can’t fight what you don’t see.
Who or what is the enemy of progress? Why are our goals always just out of reach? If these questions resonate, you are not alone. So, find out what you can do about it.
Our Real Enemies
Achievement, excellence, and perfection would seem to be objective standards of progress. So the issue becomes the standard that determines an achievement? What is excellent or perfect? When you see how our culture spins them to manipulate and exploit, you understand how they can sell us everything from soap to ideology. So, let’s look at these goals from the perspective of those who use them. Releasing ourselves from the burdens that give us will free your mind.
First, our culture bombards us with stories about achievement, excellence, and perfection. For that reason, more people should be very successful. But that is not reality. The culture says to us that excellence is something anyone can achieve. We see professional athletes and successful business leaders actively promote this as a reality. They tell us all it takes hard work. The message is excellence and perfection are the only real goals.
Doing your best just isn’t good enough unless it puts you on top. Anything short of becoming number one is a failure. The enemies of progress are forces that harm people and the environment.
What about money as a standard of achievement? It’s the golden idol of materialism. But does hoarding monetary resources make you successful or just “narcissistic?”
There seems to be a disconnect between the message of the goal and what happens. The majority of people want to believe that they can or will be number one at something. However, statistics tell us that most people will be in the middle of the bell curve. Most people are “average.” However, being average in a culture based on the exceptional 2% standard is unrealistic. Let’s look more closely at how they use the message to manipulate us.
What is Hindering Our Progress?
If you think our culture sends mixed messages, you would be right. Those who place profit over people and the planet are our real enemies. These enemies hide behind the following masks:
- Personal Enemies
- Corporate Culture
- Popular Culture
Personal Enemies of Progress
One of the best ways to imprison people is to appeal to their innate desire for comfort. Make them feel comfortable. Then, either threaten to take it away or make them believe someone else wants to take it away. Pretending something else is the enemy enables you to capitalize on their fear.
“Comfort is the enemy of progress.” — P.T. Barnum (1)
We also have personal enemies closer to home. Our self-talk can be one of our greatest enemies. You can’t get away from it, but you can repair it. To do this, you’ll need to remove the harmful programming and replace it with positive scripts. It’s not easy, but well worth the effort.
Corporate Culture and Excellence
In most companies, a good performance rating is someone with average performance; it doesn’t warrant a promotion. Instead, it is a justification for paying less. So, the goal is an excellent rating. However, superior performance is difficult to achieve because people make mistakes. So, although it is possible, it’s not realistic. Hindering our progress is a strategy that pushes people to sacrifice their health.
More often than not, performance ratings have more to do with your physical attractiveness. We overlook the mistakes of people we find attractive. It’s an aspect of human nature. Studies in workplace psychology show that beautiful people have a clear edge at work despite all the talk about fair metrics. But, then, as the company’s overall performance raises, so does the performance standard. In other words, an excellent rating last year is only average this year because average performance has risen. How can this not be one of our real enemies?
“To pursue a goal which is by definition unattainable is to condemn oneself to a state of perpetual unhappiness.” ― Emile Durkheim (2)
Very few achieve excellence. Excellence and perfection are temporary states. However, companies use them as carrots to drive performance. It keeps people working hard to achieve the goal; it’s good for company productivity and the bottom line. After all, that’s how to maximize your human resources. However, it’s not good for the employee’s long-term health and wellness. This strategy is helpful for corporate performance.
It’s important to realize that the policies in place are there to protect the company. For instance, policies like non-compete clauses and intellectual property rights are apparent safeguards. The main reason for discrimination and sexual harassment policies is to protect its interests. They protect the company against lawsuits from its employees. They do nothing to change the behavior of those who commit these acts. If someone violates these policies, the company terminates them, and then they go to another company with better knowledge of concealing these activities.
Perhaps one of the greatest enemies hindering our progress is greed. The goals of excellence and perfection have a short-term effect. People think the objective must be reachable. In the long run, unrealistic goals are not motivators. They are the source of stress, which is a health concern. Yet, most companies’ strategy is to raise the bar for performance constantly.
Scientific Discovery and Perfection
Scientific discovery is the driving force of our modern world. Science is an agent of change, creating technology to provide solutions. Yet, some claim that science and especially mathematics are the only trustworthy measures. And, this may be true, but this is different from our subject.
Science and math are processes. We are talking about human endeavor, a person’s efforts, and labor to attain a goal. Human excellence is about achieving a standard or goal, whereas science is about finding solutions.
Some people use Thomas Edison’s light bulb as an example of excellence. However, he did not invent the light bulb. It was the improvement in previous versions that made a more marketable version. Therefore, it is the product of continuous improvement. Edison was an enemy of progress by actively suppressing the competition.
However, it does demonstrate the application of the scientific process. It represents the process of continuous improvement, which is progress. Science is not one of our real enemies.
Religion and Perfection
Western Organized religion has the most significant influence on the world’s cultural narrative. It’s because they have had a lot of time and experience coercing their way into the fabric of society. The three religions that dominate this narrative are the Semitic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (3).
Together these prominent three religions boast more than 3 billion members (4). They protect their customer base through techniques of continual indoctrination and force if necessary. They begin programming children at an early age, and this continues through all stages of life. Their tactics involve destroying archeological and historical references that conflict with its mythology. They even attack one another, fighting to prove the supremacy of their interpretation of mythology.
Western organized religion benefits by promoting its “own brand” of perfection. It uses the fear of the unknown as the key. In Western culture, it promotes the ultimate intangible product, the afterlife.
Here’s how it works. First, find or create a problem and then provide the solution. One of the more lucrative issues is our existential fear of death, and the antidote is the afterlife. But obtaining and retaining your place in the afterlife is conditional. There are rewards in the afterlife if you become a follower; it is heaven. If you don’t follow their religion, then the result is eternal torment in Hell.
“Eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God’s infinite love.” ― Bill Hicks
This concept isn’t new. The mystery religions of ancient Egypt, Babylon, Persia, and Assyria created the afterlife scam. The Abrahamic faiths simply adopted and rebranded these tools. You find perfection by becoming a believer. However, you also need to pay your way. To remain in good standing requires some monetary indulgence to ensure your place in the afterlife. In this worldview, you achieve perfection by becoming a follower. Follow the correct God and obey your leaders.
“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is really fear.” — Mahatma Gandhi (5)
In reality, these cultural narratives have a basis in fear and greed. These never lead to progress. The period we know as “the dark ages” is an example of what happens when religion has full reign to create laws based on religious pedigree. Organized religion is by far the greatest enemy of progress. It has the power to overcome common sense and scientific evidence. Western organized religion is the originator of group hypnosis or groupthink manipulation tactics.
Popular Culture and Perfectionism
The quest for excellence is a constant message in popular culture. The pursuit of excellence takes on many forms. You see it in organized sports at all levels. Baseball and football are where star athletes show off their talents paid for by advertising. Boxing and martial arts are socially acceptable forms of entertainment. These are just examples of how the quest for excellence pays monetary dividends in a cultural narrative driven by greed. It all goes back to Greek and Roman cultures. The Olympic Games and combatants in the Roman coliseums are attractions. And, these social attractions distract us from paying attention.
“The coveted perfect life is a created standard which is purposely unattainable.” ― Bryant McGill (6)
Excellence is all that counts. Being first and winning is all that matters. Those who cannot excel are unworthy. These games exploit human fascination with human conflict thus, cementing their superstitions in the cultural narrative. Corporations benefit from celebrating the few who sacrifice to excel. These are examples of what you might become if you buy their products and ideas.
As we mentioned before, the goal moves higher as more people come closer to the objective. And, so the standard for excellence becomes more challenging to achieve. So, our popular culture is an enemy of progress. The higher the performance standard, the less it becomes attainable. As a result, an unrealistic goal becomes a barrier for most people. Thus, the culture driven by excellence is hindering our progress.
Personality and Perfection
All personality types are prone to the effects of the cultural narrative. For example, let’s look at Enneagram types one and three, the reformer and the achiever. By the name of these types, you can see why they find the irresistible goals of order and achievement. As a result, you’ll find many personality types in leadership positions in both business and religion. And, you don’t become a leader by questioning the cultural narrative. Instead, you must learn how to promote their messages without questioning the underlying motives. Otherwise, this becomes an enemy of progress.
The more you expose yourself to the programming, the more invested you become in the ideas it sells. It speaks to the power of propaganda. It also demonstrates how groupthink manipulation can exploit the thinking of anyone. It has nothing to do with intelligence.
Propaganda works by molding thinking and values. And it triggers underlying obsessive-compulsive personality disorders (OCPD). It is when someone develops excessive concerns for excellence and perfectionism. It shows up as a relentless work ethic that dominates their lives. But, of course, there are people at the top of their fields who do not fit the OCPD profile. Not surprisingly, this disorder is an asset in the workplace (7). Workaholics climb the corporate ladder using any tactics they can muster. Thus, it is an enemy of progress for the individual’s health and wellbeing.
So, it isn’t our personality that is the issue. It’s how the culture exploits it. Our personality is only an enemy of our progress if we don’t understand it. However, we can learn to understand these mechanisms. We can resolve this with proactive inner work through tools like the Enneagram Personality Profile. More about this tool later when we talk about solutions.
The Cost of Perfection and Excellence
It doesn’t matter which category of performance you choose. If you look at the superstars in almost any field, you’ll see achieving excellence is a life-consuming effort. So, it’s probably appropriate to classify it as an obsession. And, this doesn’t lead to satisfaction. The costs of being an overachiever are steep.
First, by working longer and harder, your physical health and wellness will suffer. Overachievers often suffer from depression because perfection is hard to sustain. Stress in the modern world is why life expectancy is declining in the USA (8). Second, the families of overachievers always pay the price of absence. In the end, it’s the advertisers and corporations that are the true benefactors. In the end, your achievements add to the bottom line and justify raising the performance bar for everyone.
Overcoming the Enemies of Progress
Can you relate to any of the categories above? Can you see how unrealistic goals are an enemy of progress? Are unrealistic goals a problem built into the cultural narrative? Are our efforts to reach unattainable goals benefiting someone else? If so, what do we do about it?
Above all, it is essential to identify the sources of cultural programming. Conduct a task and time survey. Make a list of the time you spend and what sources. Putting it in writing will help you see the level of exposure.
Here’s an example of identifying these sources. Let’s say you work for a corporation. In most cases, companies have policies that govern specific guidelines of behavior. People need to monitor their behavior and conform to these standards. It’s like acting in a play all day, and this is the essence of behavior modification. So, working 50 or 60 a week is corporate behavior modification. The enemy of progress hides in this programming.
Then, if you watch TV for 3 hours a night, that’s around 80 hours of cultural programming. It’s not uncommon for people to spend upwards of 150 hours a week in front of passive entertainment. It becomes invisible because you are exposing yourself continually. As such, it becomes a habit. You don’t see the programming that is going on.
Here is a list of the primary sources of cultural programming:
- Corporate and school environments
- Western Organized Religion and the God concept
- TV programming, especially news and religious programming Religion requiring weekly meetings
- Cultural events, especially those which promote organized violence
- Relationships that reinforce the cultural narrative
- Social Media
2) Remove and Minimize
Moreover, it’s essential to cut out or minimize your exposure to cultural programming that you’ve identified. We know this is not easy to accomplish. It means making conscious choices and changing habitual patterns. Unhealthy habits are an enemy of our progress. Changing patterns is hard work. Taking a two-week vacation once a year will not overcome the programming. Removing the source is best but not always practical. So, minimize your exposure as much as you can. Minimizing your exposure is critical. It provides time and space for you to do positive things.
One of the most challenging things to do to eliminate or reduce is unhealthy relationships. Sometimes, the closest to you are reinforcing harmful stereotypes and ideas. Also, sometimes these relationships directly affect key work contacts. Unfortunately, there is no easy to do this.
Social media is a new source of groupthink manipulation programming. Beware of what you consume and how much. Social media is very addicting and time-consuming. It’s a good practice to reduce your social media use even if you think it is positive. You don’t want to miss your actual life. Social media has some side effects. It is linked to psychological issues like loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression, narcissism, and decreased social skills. 60% of people using social media report it has an adverse impact on self-esteem. 50% report they have been victims of harmful social comments and criticism.
Engage in the active reprogramming of your thoughts and habits. It is serious “inner work.” The cultural narrative in Western society is a thread of bias and prejudice that touches almost every aspect of life.
By all means, please include the study of logical reasoning. There is also a suite of companion tools we highly recommend, spotting logical fallacies and truth-seekers axioms. Using these tools will help you determine fact from fiction. The Enneagram Personality Profile is a tool that gives us insight into personality and instinct. Using this tool will help you understand how your basic thought patterns and desires are default settings. And you can move beyond these limitations.
4) Plant Seeds
Do what you can in your sphere of influence. Be a change agent. In other words, expose negative biases and prejudices when possible. Speaking up always involves some personal risk. So, be mindful of your situation.
Be careful. People protect the enemy of progress with the use of violence. Speak up when and where people can accept your words. It is essential to realize that extremists will protect their belief systems from violence. So, you’ll need to learn to guard your words and actions. Be vigilant, but not violent. Plant seeds of truth and be pro facts, not just anti-religious. They may not accept them. And, you may not see them blossom. However, they often take root and sprout later on. More and more are questioning the cultural narrative. What you believe matters. Your beliefs have consequences.
The enemies of progress are experts at using our instincts against us. They exploit and manipulate for profit. As a result, we need to know about their tactics, what we need to do. Learn to spot and protect yourself from cultural programming as much as possible. The enemy of progress is everywhere. But we do not need to become victims of their propaganda.
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(1) P.T. Barnum, goodreads.com
(2) Emile Durkheim, britannica.com
(3) Abrahamic Religions, Wikipedia
(4) List of World’s Religions by Population, Wikipedia
(5) Mahatma Gandhi, goodreads.com
(6) Bryant McGill, bryantmcgill.com
(7) Studies in workplace psychology, psychologytoday.com/us/blog/games-primates-the-truth-about-why-beautiful-people-are-more-successful
(8) Life expectancy in the US, data.cdc.gov/NCHS/NCHS-Death-rates-and-life-expectancy-at-birth
(9) Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia