The complexity of progress…

IMG_1460One of my favourite contemporary philosophers is Ronald Wright, who wrote an amazing book called A Short History of Progress (2005).

In this book, Wright challenges the concept of progress by showing that civilisations throughout history have believed that they have progressed from primitive to advanced states only to eventually collapse. He uses some excellent examples but ends by focusing on our contemporary society.

His point is that we are probably the most advanced society ever known in the history of humanity: we send people to the moon, have advanced computer games, and know how to control our environment through irrigation and cloud seeding. Despite this, we do not have the social or political will to solve some of the biggest challenges we are facing: global warming, poverty, starvation, war and conflict. This is the case even if the solutions seem obvious. For example, it would take a fraction of the world’s military expenditure to adequately house and feed the world’s population.

In essence, Wright concludes by asking: ‘How realistically advanced is a society? How much has it progressed if the very things that are going to inevitably lead to its collapse such as global warming and rising sea levels are either ignored or placed in the too hard basket?

Another amazing philosopher is Professor John Gray. In this insightful video, he argues that while we make progress in science and technology, progress does not necessarily occur in the social and political sphere.

For example, he contrasts a technological discovery which changes the way we do things: such as the way brakes are designed for cars. But despite 50 years of campaigning against torture, the United States government under George W. Bush allowed waterboarding to happen.

The question that John Gray asks us is: ‘How is this progress?’

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