Monday, 3 November 2008

A Short History of Progress

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After leaving my earlier comment I remembered that much of the substance was a repeat of what I had said earlier - who said we don't go round in circles?

But on the other hand I also churned through my subconscious and recalled that other thing - Natural Law. Those pesky philosophers who posit Natural Law theories have as an underpinning note that we can see these Natural Laws working as they are the minimum required for a society, no matter how rich or poor their resources are, can survive without a few good ideas for behaviour.

Perhaps rather than having a sudden technological advancement which allows a society to fail its about societies which have a killer instinct for themselves... After all just about every society had the axe from an early point but if having an axe meant we'd chop all the trees down nobody would have survived to invent the internet and the blogs that we read and write...

I think its high time we moved away from Dawkins and Hobbes view that in The State of Nature we'd all be at each others' throats.

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