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If we see clearly who we are and what we have done, we can recognize human behaviour that persists through many times and cultures. Knowing this can tell us what we are likely to do, where we are likely to go from here….the future of everything we have accomplished since our intelligence evolved will depend on the wisdom of our actions over the next few years. Like all creatures, humans have made their way in the world so far by trial and error; unlike other creatures, we have a presence so colossal that error is a luxury we can no longer effort. The world has grown too small to forgive us any big mistakes.

Ronald Wright
A Short History of Progress


Meaning of Progress

The illusion of progressHuman development is an evolutionary process which has led to the appearance of ‘modern humans’ about 200,000 years ago. Wright points out that we had “no inkling of this process, let alone its consequences until only the last six or seven… generations. We have done it all sleepwalking.”

Our traditional definition of progress is largely based on our accomplishments. We made it up as we went along. Sidney Pollard (historian) in 1968 defined progress as “the assumption that a pattern of change exists in the history of mankind….that consists of irreversible changes in one direction only, and that this direction is towards improvement.” To a large extent, this is true. Progress equals improvement – material things getting better and better. It is measured through the magic of consumerism and technology. 

We use brainpower and knowledge to control our environment. The human drive for new to newer and from good to better is relentless. In today’s world, progress is principally based on physical, material and technological advancements – how much wealth we have acquired and the unstoppable pursuit of new things. We live under the illusion of eternal material progress. We claim as progress what has served us well with little concern about ethical, moral and social responsibilities. 

The positive aspect of progress has given people all over the world, safe, healthy, comfortable, and interesting lives far beyond the imaginations of our ancestors. We are lured forward by wealth, prestige, power, food and sex. This has worked well for the developed world but not so well for the 80 percent of humanity living on less than $10 per day.

Our modern age is a highly evolved advanced civilization, the product of the industrial revolution, the march of science and the victory of capitalism and globalization. We see ourselves as the cleverest man ever to inhabit the planet, far more advanced that our Stone Age predecessors with their Stone Age tools, who also likely saw themselves as far superior to their Neanderthal predecessors.

The Curse of Progress

Progress has a concealed built-in explosive ready to detonate at any time – the traditional shooting yourself in the foot. Repeated success is seductive often masking a hidden trap.

“A seductive trail of successes may end in a trap” says Ronald Wright. There are those who are under the illusion that more technological progress will solve all of the social and environmental problems the world now faces. Like false hope, the illusion of progress is a curse leading us away from the present, away from who and where we are right now and toward some imaginary future state. 

George Orwell had it right, “progress is not an illusion; it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.” Historians and anthropologists have revealed a dismal picture of past civilizations ultimately destroying themselves due to systems breakdowns.

The problem is that now if our civilization goes down, the entire planet will go down with us.

Rolly Montpellier,

Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org.

Rolly is also a registered Climate Leader (Climate Reality Leadership Corps) a blogger, an activist and a Climate Change presenter.

BoomerWarrior is for the socially aware and politically conscious; for the change-makers and thought-provokers; for the light and young at heart; for anyone willing and courageous enough to move forward.

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