Article

Progress

1. Many people, including religious believers of all stripes, say that progress distorts human nature and alienates ourselves from each other. Do you agree ?
Progress.mp3 2:45

Progress only does two things:

  1. It helps our chances of survival and prosperity–making human life easier to live.
  2. It gives us more choice.

Now, we can use that choice to create unsustainable growth, or we can choose to manage our resources more wisely. Many people can’t handle the increased choice progress provides. They become paralyzed and yearn for an easier time. Or they dive headlong into overconsumption. They see a dizzying array of options as an oppressive force. But most have never lived truly in the simpler era for which they long. They don’t understand that simplicity was necessity. More often than not, simplicity was simply deprivation.

Yes, progress has given us more options for personal privacy, but whose fault is it if we sit at our computers and ignore our social life? Whose fault is it if we sit in front of the TV and let our bodies go to waste? Choice is the only power an individual has. If one allows one’s circumstances to dictate one’s choices, one has no power at all.

Why would anyone want to deprive someone else of the ability to grow as an individual, to learn self-discipline? The only answer I can think of to these questions, is the same anti-human answer expressed in the collectivist and totalitarian movements of the 20th century—where we saw progress stop, and even reverse in some cases.

Progress reduces the need for religion. Religion was most popular when daily life was a vicious struggle. Death was a constant reality, and people needed some escape from the chaos. So they built vast cathedrals that took centuries to complete–not because they had amazing amounts of free time in which to pursue such endeavors–but precisely because the rest of their world was so dark and miserable, that they needed to see that concentrated human effort could at least produce SOME tangible result.

Today we have maximized the power of individual effort, and individual choice. These aggregate on our ever-improving communications infrastructure. Through the open-source movement, we see that individuals working alone, can accumulate vast stores of knowledge–and influence the world as much as governments of the past. Projects like Wikipedia are the cathedrals of the modern world.

In short, anyone who condemns progress, who condemns human ingenuity, and who condemns human choice is in fact a hater of humanity. Who could possibly argue that tomorrow should be the same (or worse) as today? It could be stated that progress is the force of evolution itself. And we deny that force, at our peril.

Progress has been best summed up through the wise words of Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for the legendary band Rush:

Cut to the Chase - Rush, Counterparts - 1994

It is the fire that lights itself
But it burns with a restless flame
The arrow on a moving target
The archer must be sure of his aim

It is the engine that drives itself
But it chooses the uphill climb
A bearing on magnetic north
Growing farther away all the time

Can’t stop moving
Can’t stop moving
Can’t stop…

You may be right
It’s all a waste of time
I guess that’s just a chance I’m prepared to take
A danger I’m prepared to face
Cut to the chase

It is the rocket that ignites itself
And launches its way to the stars
A driver on a busy freeway
Racing the oblivious cars

It’s the motor of the western world
Spinning off to every extreme
Pure as a lover’s desire
Evil as a murderer’s dream

Young enough not to care too much
About the way things used to be
I’m young enough to remember the future
The past has no claim on me

I’m old enough not to care too much
About what you think of me
But I’m young enough to remember the future
And the way things ought to be

Cut
Cut…

Cut to the chase
You may be right
It’s all a waste of time
I guess that’s just a chance I’m prepared to take
A danger I’m prepared to face
Cut to the chase
What kind of difference can one person make?
Cut to the chase

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