Progress doesn’t have as good a reputation as it used to. There was a time when it seemed evident to most people in the Western world and increasingly in many other parts of the world, perhaps particularly Japan, that progress was a goal worth striving for. But now there seem to be more and more people who question the idea of progress.
Those who spoke so enthusiastically for progress throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early years of the twentieth centuries often did so on the basis of their belief in the power of science and technology to improve the quality of human life. This enthusiasm was often accompanied by an optimism that saw everything getting better and better “every day in every way.”
But beginning way back almost one hundred years ago now, World War I shook the widespread (Western) belief that progress was inevitable and that human reason and science would conquer all the problems of the human race. And even though the idea of progress continued to be a prevalent idea through the past century, increasingly people seem to have grown skeptical about the possibility of progress. And, certainly, it has become quite evident that science can be used in destructive ways as well as in constructive ones.
But, I still believe that progress is possible and that pursuing progress is good and important. This belief is closely related to my affirmation of a linear worldview. We humans can learn from the past in order to improve the future. A quote alluded to in comments made about my previous blog posting comes from George Santayana (1863-1952). In The Life of Reason, Or,The Phases of Human Progress (Vol. 1, 1905), Santayana wrote, “Progress . . . depends on retentiveness. . . . Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In other words, we need to remember the past in order to change the future for the better.
A linear world view does not mean that progress is inevitable, nor does it mean that human history moves ever upward. As another Thinking Friend commented, a wheel can move backward as well as forward. There have been times in human history that the world has seen regression (or retrogression) rather than progress. But, still, progress is possible and striving for positive progress is imperative.
A circular worldview tends to lead those who hold such a view toward passivity, toward acceptance of what is, toward fatalism. Such a worldview also uses the image of a wheel, but the wheel is seen as spinning horizontally (on its side) rather than vertically. Progress is possible only when the “rubber hits the road.”
We humans can, and do, help create the future. Our challenge is to join with all people of good will to work for progress so that at the end of this new year the planet and those who dwell on it, especially those who are suffering the most, will be better off than they are now.