The Winter Games continue, and I am pleased to report that Nick Goepper from Lawrenceburg, Indiana (over the state line just west of Cincinnati) won the bronze in the men’s slopestyle freestyle skiing event yesterday. Indeed, three Americans swept the competition, and we saw three American flags flying (well, sort of flying) during the medal ceremony, which has only happened twice before in Winter Olympic history. Kudos to him and to his teammates Joss Christensen (gold) and Gus Kenworthy (silver).
During the Summer Olympics in London, my brother sent me a link to a video that compares every Olympic gold medalist in the 100 meter dash. The featured graphic shows how far the gold medal winner from the year listed would have run by the time that Usain Bolt won the race in A.D. 2012 in 9.63 seconds.
It is a clear example of how an art (or sport) may progress over time as subsequent practitioners build upon the accomplishments of the past. Another example from history is the progress of building techniques during the medieval period. Later Gothic cathedrals during the High Middle Ages incorporated many technical and artistic innovations that builders had developed as they pushed the boundaries of the possible to glorify God—and their hometown. One may also look to high culture music to see such progression—until the mid-twentieth century, when the high brow musical world turned its back on the past with the rest of the West’s art scene to focus on “originality.” For a good summary about this sad revolution in the arts, I recommend an Intercollegiate Review essay that I read six years ago by Webster Young: “Can There Be Great Composers Anymore?”
Modernists seem to believe in progress in an inevitable Hegelian absolute manner, as if it were a constituent force in the world. They are chauvinists of the present, and they are mistaken. Rather, progress may occur within a community, discipline, or civilization with respect to certain things—especially when folks build upon the tried and true knowledge of their predecessors, but such is not inevitable. Men foolishly choose to take inferior paths at times, and disasters occur that force such decisions at other times. Pride, sin, stupidity, plague, war, and the cycle of human vanities ensure that progress is always a struggle against decay, and we are fortunate when we witness progress for as long as we can. The modern Olympic Games provide a bounty of progressive examples over the last 118 years. Let us rejoice in this marvel of our age.