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The Hubris of Progress

March on! Move forward! Harder, better, faster, stronger! Crack the whip, double-time! We have deadlines to meet, there’s money to be made, data to be analyzed, truths to be discovered! We must move forward, we must continue moving, and we must move fast…even if we don’t know where we are going. Forward is the only way, higher, deeper! We must continuously progress, or else all will be lost. Our economy will stop growing. Our understanding of the world will falter. We will be thrown back into the Middle Ages!

We must run at full speed even if, like the hamster in its wheel, we are going nowhere fast.

We must fly higher, as close to the Sun as possible, like Icarus, ignoring our father’s warnings.

We must steam through the hazy mist we find ourselves in on this dark night, where only the light of the stars above illuminates the water beneath us in this endless, featureless Sea.

Thus shout the great lot of deaf-ramblers who hear nothing but can’t stop themselves from spewing broken truths and shallow wisdom! Thus bay the blind sheep who only know to follow the smelliest ass in front of them. The smellier the better! Fart on, brother Ass! Whoever exudes the greatest stench is crowned their King!

This lot believes that continuous progress—the unfettered growth of our economies through resource extraction and exploitation, coupled with unbounded scientific and technological advancement—is key to our survival as a species. Alternatively, they believe it is the meaning of life. But there is great hubris in the thought that progress will bring humanity to a brighter future.

What has progress brought us aside from an increase in the scale of suffering we’ve always endured? More people live longer lives, but this creation of “wealth” and “opportunity” has a flipside: equal amounts of poverty and inequity. What is the point of more people living longer lives if the majority of those lives are lived in pain?

Also, why are we making such great haste toward our own destruction? The more we “progress” as a species, the shorter our time on Earth will be. Broken down to its simplest factor, doesn’t progress mean more? More power? More money? More resources? More knowledge? We can barely sustain the current level of resource use demanded by the West’s high quality of life. Where will the rest of the world find the resources to improve their own?

Listen, it is simple: in less than 200 years a small subset of the Earth’s population has, by “conquering” nature and plundering its resources, lit the other end of our entire species’ candle, which was already laughably short in cosmic terms. What will happen when the rest of the world does the same?

There are other ways progress is a Holy Grail made of fool’s gold. I will list two of them here (though there are surely many more) and then end this depressing tirade.

1. You might argue: “Progress doesn’t just mean improving quality of life. Think about all the wonderful scientific discoveries we have made and are still going to make! Think about a future with zero waste and clean fuel! Think about humans on Mars!”

Humans will never colonize Mars, and it is the height of hubris to think we will. With every “good” discovery comes a “bad” one. You ask me to think of clean fuel. I ask you to think of portable nukes.

2. Progress only exists because human beings came along to think it up. The world was doing fine on its own before we came along in search of our phony holy grail. The Milky Way, let alone the universe, doesn’t care about the discoveries we make on Earth. Without humans, there is no progress anyway.




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