There is much about the Tea Party mentality that is similar to anti-progress attitudes of the past, such as the fear that any improvement in the production or distribution of wealth comes at the expense of those who are invested in the status quo, and that the local and immediate interests of those who are inconvenienced or made worse off in the short run should trump the global and long-term interests of the many who would benefit from advancements in the production and distribution of wealth.
Throughout human history, in varying balances, there have been those who cling to a familiar past and those who reach for an improved future. The progress made despite the former has included a shift in balance in favor of the latter. Whereas traditional societies anchored themselves in ossified rituals and beliefs, modern societies have increasingly embraced the possibility of progress. But, as many have noted, modernity is “a candle in the darkness” (Carl Sagan’s phrase to describe science, still today), flickering in the midst of howling hordes of gods and demons, superstitions and arbitrary certainties, that continue to hold us back.
Early in the industrial revolution, British artisans protested mechanized production by destroying the power looms that were displacing them (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite). There are two important things to note about this: 1) Progress does indeed cause dislocations, and, unless we take pains to address it, localized losses amidst generalized gains; and 2) to the extent that these victims of progress, whether their victimization is real or imagined, succeed in obstructing progress, we all lose in the long run, for the improved techniques that were obstructed would have created far greater wealth and opportunity in the long run than the archaic techniques that were preserved.
The Tea Partiers are modern Luddites, taking mallets to social institutional rather than technological innovation. As I discussed in several previous posts (see, e.g., The Politics of Consciousness , Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future, The Evolutionary Ecology of Audio-Visual Entertainment (& the nested & overlapping subsystems of Gaia), The Nature-Mind-Machine Matrix), both technological and social institutional innovation are part of cultural evolution, the reproduction, mutation, and selection according to differential reproductive success of “memes” (i.e., ideas). And as I’ve also discussed in several previous posts (“Political Fundamentalism”, “Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, and Small Government Idolatry), the political fundamentalism of the Tea Party is akin to the religious fundamentalism from which it mutated, and to the Inquisition which is the historical model of such fundamentalism, clinging to archaic orthodoxies that do not stand up to rational scrutiny (see Real Fiscal Conservativism for an economic analysis of this vis-a-vis the Tea Party), and fighting against the heresies of progress.
We are simply embroiled in one of the on-going battles of human history, constantly reincarnated, and constantly obstructing our ability to do better. It is incumbent upon us to open as many eyes as possible to this fact, and leave those who prefer to be champions of avoidable human suffering to become increasingly marginalized and reviled, while those who prefer to be champions of human welfare and true spiritual growth can join all other reasonable people of goodwill in the shared enterprise of forging a progressive path into the future.