most people in the more-remote past believed that history moved in some kind of cycle or followed a path that was determined by higher powers. The idea that humans should and could work consciously to make the world a better place for themselves and for generations to come is by and large one that emerged in the two centuries between Christopher Columbus and Isaac Newton. Of course, just believing that progress could be brought about is not enough—one must bring it about. The modern world began when people resolved to do so.Progress simply does not happen. It does magically appear. One has to work hard for it, especially because there are quite a few who passionately oppose the direction that progress points to. Why would they want to oppose it? Nor is this anything new. Our default, hardwired, condition is to block progress, it seems.
even the greatest optimists underestimated the power of technology’s progress in taming electricity, making cheap steel, flooding the world with abundant high-quality food, and doubling humans’ life expectancy while cutting the hours people spent working by at least half—to name but a very few of modernity’s achievements.I have laughingly commented many times to students that we might now look at the peoples of the past and wonder how they could have thought what they did. But, by the same token, we ought to remember that we too will be laughed at by the peoples (or whatever the mutated species we will be thanks to technology!) of the future.
The belief in progress has always had opponents, many of whom stress the costs of technological advances. In the 17th century, the Jesuit order fought tirelessly against such godless innovations as Copernican astronomy and infinitesimal mathematics. During the Industrial Revolution, many writers, following the lead of Thomas Malthus, were convinced that unrestrained population growth would undo the fruits of economic growth, a belief that still had adherents in the late 1960s, such as Paul Ehrlich. Nowadays, unsubstantiated fears of monstrosities created by genetic engineering (including, God forbid, smarter people, drought-resistant crops, and mosquitoes that don’t transmit malaria) threaten to slow down research and development in crucial areas, including coping with climate change.All those are progress as we think about in terms of science and technology. And then there is progress in terms of how we treat fellow humans. An overwhelming majority among us will not want to go back in time and live in those dark times when most humans were considered less than equal to a privileged few. There is, of course, a hardwired default state within us to maintain that sense of privilege and power, which is what the recent elections also revealed. The president-elect's chief political strategist, who has extensive ties with the darkest elements, said:
The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get fucked over.Until election Tuesday, most of us were rejoicing over the progress made all over the world. People are living longer. Diseases have been wiped out or contained. People are richer than ever. Apparently this progress does not go well with some, who are adamantly opposed to anybody who is not an American (preferably white American) climbing out of poverty and into the middle class.
Tyrants have tried their best to oppose progress. Millions died in the two great wars in the first half of the twentieth century. Dictators and authoritarians try to put up hurdles all over the world. While people will die as a result, progress cannot be denied. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr.:
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.