Progress?

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines progress as
2 : a forward or onward movement (as to an objective or to a goal) : ADVANCE
3 : gradual betterment; especially : the progressive development of mankind

Now, human beings (according to science) have been around for some 100,000 to 200,000 years. In that time we have created farming, domesticated animals, spawned hundreds of languages, manipulated our natural environment and established extensive human communities. All wonderful and great, right? I guess.

What really bothers me about this is that people seem to think that progress is measured by material items. “Man has advanced because he has science. Man has progressed because he has created medicine, luxury SUVs and portable DVD players.” This is a puzzle to me. Why is this progress? To me, all it seems that we have done is made our lives more comfortable. But this is not progress. In fact, it is a digression.

That’s right, we are going backward not forward. All this comfort and control has made us stupid, lazy, weak and sick. To witness look at the developed West: we are dying of cancer, producing fat sick folks, subtly pressuring people into eating disorders, depression, debilitating anxiety, addictions to drugs, sex, gambling, porn, internet and money. For such an advanced society we sure are fucking sick, unhappy and spiritually bankrupt. We live in shrinking world where we can see the plight of fellow human beings at the touch of button, but do we understand those peoples any better? Do we care to understand those peoples at all?

Progress? Look at this article in the UK’s Independent; it contains statistics on the horrible progress we have made in the area of gender equality over the last 100,000 years. Ridiculous. Progress my ass.

I keep thinking of this page of statistics on the door of one Professor I know. It breaks down the world into a population of 100 people so that the numbers are much easier to understand. Shit is scary. The entire population of America is less than 5% of total world population. That means that if the world were reduced to 100 people, the US would be less than 5 people. And yet, those 5 people would produce 25% of all the waste in the world, consume probably 1/3 of all energy sources and control at least 20% of the money supply. Does that sound like advancement to you?

Do you think that this is sustainable? Do you realize that all good things must come to an end and that our domination of the planet is likely to come to a bloody and ugly halt just like all other empires throughout history? Does anyone care anymore or have we really been reduced to just consumers who only care about obtaining that new shiny car and shopping at malls and staring at ourselves in mirrors, trying to craft an image of ourselves through brand name selection?

When was the last time you did something for humanity besides just wake up and do your job?

not enough said. but i gotta go.

2 Responses to “Progress?”

  1. MK Says:

    “What really bothers me about this is that people seem to think that progress is measured by material items. “Man has advanced because he has science. Man has progressed because he has created medicine, luxury SUVs and portable DVD players.” This is a puzzle to me. Why is this progress? To me, all it seems that we have done is made our lives more comfortable. But this is not progress. In fact, it is a digression.”

    My only problem with this polemic is that it ignores the fact that improvements in human productivity have been the basis for the creation and expansion of civilization since the dawn of mankind (in fact I would argue that making life more comfortable–for some, at least– has been the goal of civilization from the very beginning). It was improvements in productivity of food production (agriculture) which made human settlements possible, and allowed humans to focus a ever-larger portion of their effort on activities other than producing and consuming food to survive. Further advances in productivity of both food and goods have without a doubt been at the basis of the general improvement of the quality of life of human existance over the last 6000-odd years, not only allowing for a more comfortable life but being able to support a larger and larger population.

    first, one could plausibly argue that civilization was simply a by-product of man’s improvements in productivity. as man learned to better harness nature and ceased his nomadic lifestyle it was practically inevitable that he would immerse himself in social communities (especially since he now had the ability to support larger populations).

    -Admin

    Wasting the productive effort of mankind on the production and consumption of such products as SUVs and DVD players may be something to lament, but societies with the luxury to do so have always wasted their productive effort in such ways; think of the pyramids of Egypt and Central America and cathedrals of Europe. What bigger waste of human effort than to toil en masse for decades building monuments in order to please some abstract spiritual entity?

    Objectively, though, capitalism strives ceaselessly to produce whatever it is that humans choose to waste their productive effort and income with less and less input of labor. This creates a material basis to satisfy more of society’s needs and wants with less of society’s effort. In the terms of the 100 person village analogy, if in the first settlements 90 people worked in the fields to produce food and only 10 could pursue other activities, and in the feudal era 70 people worked in the fields, 20 in the production of goods, and 10 in government, nowadays its probably closer to 5 people producing food, 50 producing goods, and the rest pursuing “nonproductive” activities such as politics, education, arts, scientific research, or writing blogs about the shortcomings of society.

    What society chooses to spend its productive time producing and its nonproductive time doing is a question which is dependent on, but separate from, the system of production. Progress is being made, perhaps towards perverse ends, but it represents objective progress nonetheless because the production system forms the material foundation upon which society is constructed. In other words, in order to enrich themselves building DVD players so that lazy overweight Americans can watch porn flicks while they piss away their income in the pursuit of sense gratification, capitalists continuously refine the technical and human organization of production, allowing, again, the production of more stuff with less effort. In the end, this allows society, in theory, to define for itself its priorities of to what end this potential is put to use – producing DVD players, producing armaments or producing food and medicine – and to justify this decision however it chooses to do so.

    the production of excess goods which allows some individuals to pursue individual priorities is a justification for capitalism not the impetus behind its creation and worldwide adoption. the capitalist does not “continuously refine the technical and human organization of production, allowing, again, the production of more stuff with less effort” as an altruistic activity, but only as a means of self-gain. does the by-product of leisure justify the ills of the capitalist system and hence represent objective progress?

    -Admin

    Marx predicted that the full automation of production is what would bring about socialism – that when it became possible to satisfy the material desires of society without the deployment of substantial human labor power, mankind would be free to focus on other, higher pursuits than producing and consuming, and these activities would occupy a peripheral position in the human experience. We’ll see about that, but the potential is at least there – and would that not constitute the ultimate form of “progress”?

    the problem with Marx in this sense is this: society has now created a material foundation in which he continually finds “material desires” that require the “deployment of substantial human labor power”. put another way, modern man has learned to utilize some of his leisure time to pursue higher goals, but he has also created a system (of production) whereby new needs and wants are constantly being manufactured (literally and figuratively).

    -Admin

  2. Laura Says:

    Have you ever read the book “Ishmael”? Your point about progress is discussed in a similar sense in this book — the “are we really better off like this?” question. The premise of the book is ridiculous if you try to sum it up but it brings up a lot of the same questions.

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