Monday, May 29, 2017
Monday Forum - end of progress?
Its partly that so many institutions or ideas have been discredited or at least tarnished, partly because I find myself tired of arguing. The concept of progress is a case in point.
I grew up in a world where the possibility of progress was central to thinking, Yes, it was a world that had experienced two world wars, a great depression and then the risk of nuclear Armageddon. Yet progress, or at least the idea of progress, seemed so real.
As someone interested in history, I knew institutions and indeed civilisations rose and fell, that the apparent stability that held sometimes for extended periods was in fact ephemeral. I also knew that bad things happened, that barbarism, war, cruelty and prejudice were an integral part of the human condition. I wasn't especially censorious or judgmental about the past, it just was. Of course I had my biases, including some I was not aware of. I certainly had my favourites, but broadly the question of right or wrong passed me by.
In looking at the sweep of history it seemed to me that each conflict, each civilisation to use that word in its broadest sense, left a legacy that continued into later times. Greece and then Rome fell, but their ideas and contributions continued. The Dark Ages as we then called the following period helped lay the basis for the Renaissance which in turn provided a base for subsequent cultural and economic advance including the industrial and agrarian revolutions. The turmoil, constant invasions and wars that marked the history of the British Isles would ultimately result in the emergence of Parliamentary Democracy.
I accept that thsi analysis is fairly superficial and indeed there are issue here that I want to come back to at a later point. For the present, though, I want to pose a simple question: is the concept of progress still relevant? I am still an optimist and would argue that it is, but the case is arguable now in a way that would have seemed inconceivable a few decades ago.