an essay from The Lessons of History by the Durants + commentary and critique
“But there is still some part of me that just revolts at any glorification or emphasis of “progress””
We tried that with mixed results when the western world was dominated by modernism ie. progress at any cost.
We got a lot out of it especially 1800 onwards, but we also got some of the most horrific things humanity has done.
To me, progress and personal progress is like driving a car. Proceed fast when it’s safe to, and go slow when you have to. Either way you’ll find yourself at your destination.
I think just from a purely logical stand point, there are two ways to look at "progress". One is synonymous with "change", i.e. any collection of achievements and destruction we humans have ever done, which trivially means we have definitely made progress almost everywhere. The other is in opposition to "regression", but this means for any type of thing on which we evaluate progress, the type must be well-ordered. This kind of progress can be well evaluated in our ability to achieve material goods or lengthen our lifespan or predict physical systems with precision, but humanity as a whole lacks a precise consensus of what a reasonable ordering or "good" should be, because we don't understand ourselves — and it might well be impossible for any positive-sized group of human being individuals to alone understand themselves as a group reasonably well, but we don't know, so we're still going to try. Evaluating overall progress by cultural heritage is a work-around of the actual problem that sounds suspiciously close to using years-of-existence as benchmark.
The thing Jezos said was kinda BS though. Simulating Minecraft in Minecraft is definitely one way to play the game, but still there lacks a good ordering between all self-assigned game objectives to make this particular one the ultimatum.
Speaking of games… personally I don't think "progress" is a secular messianic zeal; it's just one of the many ways, one that feels natural, by which we play the Game — which may not have a win, and maybe, maybe we always lose no matter what we do. I don't know about you, but I'm just here to have fun, part of which is to see how far I can push myself under some very arbitrary definition of distance.
It should be noted that “trousered ape” is a borrowing from (and allusion to) C.S. Lewis’s *Abolition of Man*
Time is both cyclical and linear. This civilisation will fall, as the article suggests. It will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions (although these are more moral than economic, unlike the prognostications of Marx).
But something will be passed on: some learning, some understanding, some awareness of what not to do. No doubt we will remake these same mistakes. But each time we reach a little further, perhaps to Mars, even beyond. The envelope of history expands, and we catch a glimpse of our final destination. We taste just a little of the promise of the future.
It all seems worth it.