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What is Progress?

Is the word useful defining our society any more.  Do we need better measures to measure our “success” by.  The article in the economist  “Onwards and Upwards” challenges the assumed knowledge and everyday thinking of what is the goal of it all.  To most of us progress means to have more and better lives; work more, do more, get more. Very clear in all of our minds. But is it?

“In the rich world the idea of “progress” has become impoverished. Through complacency and bitter experience, the scope of progress has narrowed.  The popular view, is that although technology and GDP advance, morals and society are treading water or, depending on your choice of newspaper, sinking back into decadence and barbarism. “

Unlike the predictions of the past, we work more hours for incrementally less.  The happiness index is no better today than it was decades ago, yet GDP, innovation, and our longevity has risen steadily. If  the wealthier counties are the models for the developing ones, then where are we going?  Do we need to take a step back to asses who we are becoming and what we really want.  Our values and aspirations need to come in line with our responsibilities to the community of people and the earth’s resources.

A comment on the article and profound ideas, I thought worth repeating by  Jer_X, is below.

“The Economist asks “Why is the modern view of progress so impoverished”. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that while the 20th century was human kind’s most productive in an industrial and economic sense it was also our most prolific in terms of warfare and human caused deaths. Science and democracy were supposed to allow humans to do the things they wanted to do, which is indeed the true measure of happiness, but they have both been co-opted by capitalism and consumerism. Humans are not designed to work in an effort to purchase ‘things’, they are designed to work to provide life and comfort. The enlightenment was about escaping from the slavery of religion, an outside controlling force that reduced a human’s ability to act independently. However, capitalism quickly filled that void, and humans became pre-occupied with education as a means to obtain a job as a means to obtain money as a means to obtain ‘things’. Television, radio, and internet have all contributed to this illusion that happiness comes from things. Humans are now enslaved to their jobs in a futile effort to be successful enough to purchase everything they want, and indeed to pay for the things they have already purchased. It is easier for people to be slaves if they do it willingly, but they are still slaves. Serfdom has not disappeared, rather instead of working the farm to pay the master we are working the factory to buy the factories’ output. Only now we think we are doing it willingly, not aware that the people who employ us control the media that tells us to buy, buy, buy, an endless cycle that does nothing to improve our happiness. Indeed capitalism has been as morally unrewarding as the Dark Ages of Christian servitude. Education has been designed to create an unthinking, unquestioning mass of workers with only the skills needed to do the job, and specialization of the last few decades has degraded our educations even more. The only way towards progress is to leave this endless cycle; to work and produce and consume only what we need, and re-focus our energies on becoming wiser and happier and healthier. To have real progress as a society capitalism has to be curtailed and consumerism needs to be demolished. People need to live within their means and have the time and energy left over after working to do what makes them happy and fulfilled.”

Lets purse a new way to define how we live and how and what we strive to be.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. You write, “Indeed capitalism has been as morally unrewarding as the Dark Ages of Christian servitude.”

    Huh? Capitalism is morally unrewarding? Capitalism is the most moral economic and political system the world has known. Individual freedom, the protection of personal property rights and the established rule of law — hallmarks of capitalism — cannot persist under any other form of government. Aristocracy, Theocracy, Socialism and Communism all fail to maintain these key prerequisites of moral fulfillment. (Read Engels, Marx, Croly and Dewey and then try Hayek, Mises and Friedman to plumb the depths of this issue.)

    And what do you mean by “Christian servitude” and why is it too unrewarding? I doubt you intend to come across like this, but it sounds like the rant of leftist PhD candidate lecturing a classroom of college sophmores.

    1. Scott,
      These are not my words. I am a fan of Ayn Rand. The point is dramatic but also needed. If our education system is only designed to create comerse, which in turn creates consumerism, is that the point of living? Or are we here for other reasons. While I agree the arguments are hash. there is a big point to make which we all must take notice of.

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