The Myth of Progress

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.
Adam Smith – Scottish propagansist, died 1790. From his book …The Wealth of Nations.

We are all familiar, I trust, with the paradigm of “progress.” In this case I am thinking, in particular, to the concept of economic growth based on mechanization of both capital and labor.

History tells us that the idea surfaced as part of a period known as “The Enlightenment” which started around 1650 and seems to have been an attempt by Western power brokers to enlist the intellectuals of the time to re-frame their propaganda in terms of “pure reason” as opposed to tradition, faith or revelation. This implicitly tells us that tradition, faith and revelation were being tossed out as valid sources of political or economic power – and knowledge.

The first attempt to “rationalize” human conduct, and the power brokers’ new paradigm of “progress” was a concept usually termed by the intellectuals “enlightened self-interest.” This was proposed to be the most obvious motivation of the human being, and the vital force behind the implementation of “new” technologies like steam engines and the division of labor (factories).

Globalization presumes sustained economic growth. Otherwise, the process loses its economic benefits and political support.
Paul Samuelson – American liberal economist, died 2009.

The paradigm of “progress (economic growth)” is being sold to the public on the basis that it will result in personal benefits to them (per the doctrine of enlightened self-interest). But it relies on intense consumerism, constant (but superficial) innovation, and empty propaganda to drive it, and those activities aren’t sustainable.

Say a being, or group of beings, wants a universe to play in. They go about creating one. And then they have it. Or do they? One amongst them somehow convinces most of the others that this universe isn’t good enough. That they shouldn’t be content with it. If this tactic works, everyone gets busy “improving” their playground, instead of playing in it.

Maybe they have convinced themselves that this new activity is “fun.” But if one of them slacks off and tells the others, “Hey I just want to play for a while,” he will be rejected by the others, won’t he? So what do you have now? A playground, or a prison?

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.
Thomas A. Edison

Take a single individual. He wants a house to protect him from the weather. So he builds one. And now he has it. But someone comes along and convinces him that this house is not good enough. The furniture looks old-fashioned. He should really add a porch. He needs to expand his garage. His appliances use too much energy and need to be replaced. He really needs a TV in every room. And then he needs to change them all to flat screens. And then he needs to change all those to high definition. And then he needs to add a stereo sound system. And then he needs to change that into surround sound. And by the way, he now needs a new car that looks cool and gets better mileage because it’s controlled by a computer.

So he takes all his “old” stuff and puts it in his attic, so there is room for his new stuff. Then he expands his attic so it can hold more old stuff. And he puts more old stuff in it, so he can get more new new stuff.

Then one day he is sitting peacefully in his beautiful house watching 5 TVs at the same time, while playing two video games and multitasking for his two jobs using his new fiber optic internet connection when he hears a creak, then a crack, then a crash. And before he knows it, he has been buried alive by the contents of his attic. May he rest in peace.

Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.
H. L. Mencken – American writer and humorist, died 1956.

Progress, or Death?

Is this real progress? Or is this a kind of hectic suicide?

What is missing in this paradigm?

Here is one way to look at what is missing: The concept of completing a cycle of action. Cycles of action.

A cycle of action is defined as: Start, Change, Stop. Lots of little cycles add up to bigger and bigger cycles. This is the “secret” to getting things DONE.

When something is DONE, you can stop doing it and move on to something else! Novel concept?

If you need an environment, build one. Then stop! It’s DONE. Now move on to using that environment for whatever you built it for. Finished doing that? Good! Now you can think up a new game and play that for a while.

Progress may have been all right once, but it went on too long;
Ogden Nash – 1959 (from a poem)

Our current paradigm of “progress” traps us in the “start (create)” portion of the cycle. And we just keep creating stuff. Over and over and over. Creating more and more and more stuff.

What is one of the biggest challenges of modern industrial societies? TRASH!

Why do we throw away the things we make after using them for, like a year or maybe two? Most things we make will last for anything from a few years to several lifetimes if you maintain them. So why are we so bent on throwing things away? Doesn’t it seem a little crazy to you?

What we have is a “civilization” that refuses to acknowledge the completion of cycles of action. It worships at the altar of “start!”

This can only work, with physical objects, if you are just as good at un-creating things as you are at creating things. Oops. They don’t teach that in school!

The greatest enemy of progress is not stagnation, but false progress.
Sydney J. Harris – American journalist, died 1986

True progress

There IS a workable paradigm of progress. But it does not apply to physical growth. It’s not that physical progress is never appropriate. It’s just that it needs to be balanced.

The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.
Lao Tzu

There IS something that beings can “grow” to their hearts’ content: Ability.

You can never have enough ability. You can work on an ability for lifetimes, and still find ways to improve it. For those who want a game that never ends, this is your game. The game of growing ability. In this game lies true progress.

Ability includes the ability to un-create and re-create at will. These are abilities we have lost that need to be regained. These are abilities we need in order to free ourselves from the prison of “progress” in the physical world.

The best road to progress is freedom’s road.
John F. Kennedy

Most quotes courtesy of http://www.brainyquote.com.

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One Response to “The Myth of Progress”

  1. mfabdullah Says:

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