Progress in history?
adam at pmel.com
Thu Feb 1 01:33:55 MST 1996
You're right, as asked it was a little bit of a vague question.
The human population has grown since there were just a few of us in the
plains on Africa. Today with our huge population ( 6 Billion ? ) no one
starves because there isn't enough food produced, whereas previously
with a smaller population people did starve for this reason.
Not only has the population increased, but the average life span has
Also, the general level of culture has risen. Most workers today are
more literate than the average medieval king.
Despite serious crises in society, basic technology has a way of surviving,
even if things like the arts, religion, literature or whatever, don't.
New strains of plants tend to survive. The wheelbarrow, which came into
use in the C13, survived the crises of feudalism etc etc.
I think in this sort of sense there has been progress in human history.
Of course, our increased technical skill means our capacity for barbarism has
increased along with everything else. Also, while I think there has been
progress in human history, "Progress" isn't a force in history. At each
stage in the development of human society, progress has been maintained
by revolutions, by people making history. Had these not succeeded, we would
have had "the common ruin of the contending classes" or barbarism.
Obviously, people on the receiving end of the ruling class in any particular
epoch may not have felt like progress was being made. So the destruction
of the old ways of living in India by the British may not have felt like
progress to the Indians.
This is why I said I also thought that there had been progress in evolution
from the simple to the more complex. This isn't to say there is some law
saying this has to keep happenning, just that it obviously has happenned.
I also think that the development of a species, humans, that can consciously
understand its impact on nature, ie dominate nature, is progress, although
just as we now have increased capacity to do ourselves harm, we also have
increased capacity to destroy nature.
Also, I think there is a similar sort of resilience in this progress as there
is in the way basic culture, but not high culture, survives in human society.
Flying or gliding dinasaurs got wiped out along with the rest of the dinasaurs,
but now we have a plethora of birds, bats, gliding monkeys and limas etc.
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