You can be too thin, and you can probably be too rich. But can you have too much progress? Our Victorian great grandparents would have said no, but Ronald Wright makes you think. Consider a tribe of Neanderthal hunter gatherers. They take a month to trap a Wooly mammoth. Boring. Then someone invents a map that doubles their monthly Wooly Mammoth haul. Progress. Then some other geeky Neanderthal invents a more efficient Wooly Mammoth tracking device,a compass. Three a Month. More progress.
But imagine at this point Big John Wayne arrives in a Time Machine with satelite tracking and a tommy gun; or more likely you brilliantly work out how to drive a whole herd of 100 wooly mammoths over a cliff; progress? not really, because not only have you no way of turning 90% of the catch into usable food before it goes off, but you have just trashed your whole food supply for the forseeable future. Cue one heck of a party, followed by famine, and possible extinction. Too much progress?
Of course that’s them, not us. We wouldn't be so stupid. Oh no. But all sorts of people have been — the Mayans, the Romans, the Ancient Sumerians, the Easter Islanders. Did the man who cut down the final tree on Easter Island realise he was dong rather a silly thing? Did he know he was sticking the last nail in the coffin of his whole civilisation? Why did he have to do it? Did he have a choice? and, considering the wraths and sorrows of our own binge on the fantasy of limitless progress, consumerism, and attendant environmental degradation, do we have a choice? And if we do, are we willing to exercise it?
I am banged up having my annual reality check at Saint Wandrille, Normandy, until Saturday. This entry has been preposted. The internet is switched firmly off for the week, and I will be delighted to respond to comments, but only at the weekend.