Progress and such

The Economist has an excellent brief on the the nature of progress.  Here is an excerpt.

The 20th century was seduced by the idea that humans will advance as part of a collective and that the enlightened few have the right—the duty even—to impose progress on the benighted masses whether they choose it or not. The blood of millions and the fall of the Berlin Wall, 20 years ago this year, showed how much the people beg to differ. Coercion will always have its attractions for those able to do the coercing, but, as a source of enlightened progress, the subjugation of the individual in the interests of the community has lost much of its appeal.


But Ms Neiman thinks that people yearn for a sense of moral purpose. In a world preoccupied with consumerism and petty self-interest, that gives life dignity. People want to determine how the world works, not always to be determined by it. It means that people’s behaviour should be shaped not by who is most powerful, or by who stands to lose and gain, but by what is right despite the costs. Moral sensibility is why people will suffer for their beliefs, and why acts of principled self-sacrifice are so powerful.

I have always been skeptical of Progress, that is when it is capitalized into a proper noun, and turned into a concept. This kind of progress smacks too much of Marx and oversimplifies the human condition. But I would be blind to ignore the material progress in the three centuries, and the enormous benefit it has had on living conditons and quality of life. In the end, I like to think of progress as the happy by-product of folks’ reactions to the world around them. Progress should not be a goal in itself, but instead we should focus on the issues at hand.  If generations from now decide to call that progress or decline, so be it.



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