The idea of progress is a flimsy concept. Nothing in the universe comes for free. So when some system or entity “progresses” in comes at the expense of energy somewhere. It’s not necessarily a wholly destructive expense but it is an expense nonetheless. The way in which we commonly talk about society, civilization and the human race is in terms of progress. We’re progressing from a barbaric or unenlightened state to a state if self reliance and control and technologically enhanced awareness. But this progress is mostly an illusion. It comes at a great expense to other species,the planet and even ourselves.
Some conflicting reports:
http://humanprogress.org/ (there’s progress!)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_progress (there’s progress!)
http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/30/human-progress-not-inevitable-uneven-and (there is a thing called progress but we’re not always on it!)
http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S445.htm (there’s progress!)
http://www.alternet.org/environment/myth-human-progress (progress is an illusion!)
http://www.vice.com/read/john-gray-interview-atheism (there is no progress!)
(Another way to think about this is that everything is competing to exist against other things that also are fighting to exist. The better we compete the more we extract from the ecosystems.)
Certainly we’ve increased our life expectancy on the whole and reduced violence and physical suffering in the human race. We have invented computers, figured out space flight, eradicated some diseases, taught billions to read and write. All progress right?
To what end? Where is all this progress going? How is this progress measured? Does a longer life mean a better life? Does a less violent life lead somewhere differently than a more violent one?
Perhaps even more challenging is figuring out whether we have a choice in the matter. Are we even biologically, physically capable of not trying to progress in these dimensions and exert our competitive advantages upon or environment? If we had some definition of how best to live in some philosophic sense and it differed materially with the progressive ways we’ve chased could we actually change? Could we choose less technology and a culture more in balance with the environment? And no there’s no “hippie” justification needed for this thinking. The question is is there a way of life that is more sustainable and less extracting from the world than the way we currently live? Or is our survival inexorably tied to dominating everything we can?
To make this very clear consider the species that have become extinct at the hands of humankind’s hunting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_extinct_animals
Our “progress” has led in many cases directly to their complete decline. Who are we to say whether our progress is worth it – Was worth their demise?
I’m directly asking everyone what is the point of our focus on progress. Certainly in America we are all put on a course to progress through life. Our goal is clear to get through high school, go through college, and begin to produce. One production should lead to ever more important positions in this progressive society with ever increasing economic output. We measure all facets of our culture against GDP and endowments and ROI. We do not recognize that growth in these aspects must be paid for in other respects.
So the question remains. What is progress? and what’s it worth to you?