myth of progress

Social progress, which is closely tied to the notion of modernity, has been a core belief of the so-called Western world since, possibly, the French Revolution. It is not without merit, but simplistic assertions that modern Western political systems are the best can obscure the central role played by technology.

The ancient myth of progress

Similar notions of the march of civilisation against ignorance no doubt upheld the Roman Empire, but did not ultimately help it to prevail against the far stronger forces controlling history.  While many a man has tried to define or advance what was seen as social progress, the values of whatever modernity he believed in, the fact remains that the only real authority sufficient to define any type of social progress is history itself.

If you look at history, almost all attitudes, value systems, beliefs and ideologies are transitory. They are not becoming more humane or less humane as we stride into the future, but are merely becoming different or else regressing, as is inevitable, to forms that have already been witnessed over and over again. Almost all the brutality, conquest, insanity and recklessness of the ancient world is still practiced in the modern world on a daily basis. From such an observation, we may say we have found “human nature” and proclaim that we can never change humanity.

Myth of progress versus reality of technological change

The only thing that has consistently built up, or progressed, throughout history is the body of knowledge actually available to human beings, and the technological know-how to accomplish ever greater things. It is a myth that the knowledge of the Romans was lost at the end of their Empire. Much was indeed lost, and the Roman value system and state was destroyed. But it did not take very long before new inventions were being revealed that even the Romans had not developed. The stirrup, for example. Consider that for all the advanced qualities of the Roman Empire, their armed forces would not have been much of a match for the Normans, who essentially emerged from the so-called Dark Ages, so it is a myth to say the fall of Rome was a setback for civilisation. The Romans would have been pitifully incapable of defeating Medieval castles, which shows how much more advanced the so-called barbarians became, and in quite a short time-frame. Rome itself had become stagnant, conceited, dependent on slavery, producing no inventions at all over several centuries. It was high time that it be sacked, and so sacking it was in actual fact an accomplishment for the historical canon. That’s how it should be perceived.

It is true that there is a sort of “human nature”, but it isn’t some formula that all people are allegedly following. By such a term we can only hope to describe the totality of how people and cultures seem to interact. There are some behaviours that have never been shed, since the earliest of human ancestors first learned how to beat one another with a stick. All sorts of people, whether feral or civilised, seem to resort to the same behaviour.

The only “social progress” that happens is technological and knowledge-based. The latter can be essentially anchored in faith structures, myths and literature that serve as a kind of collective reforming mechanism of humanity, but the latter can also inevitably fail or become corrupted.

The myth of progress hides the need to change the species

One philosophy that can be reached, if we accept technology as the sole medium of genuine social progress, is transhumanism. Rather than trying to develop new doomed cultural fabrics, cities, organisations, constitutions, and all sorts of other play in order to reform humanity’s character, a more permanent solution may be to simply surgically correct the human animal in order to make him reform.

Barbarity, recklessness, ignorance, and all the vices that lead to cruelty, overpopulation and collapse, could be done away with by editing humanity’s genetic code if necessary. And, science permit us, using brain-machine-interfaces to expand the intellect and eradicate very undesirable and antisocial behaviour. Such fundamental change, rather than creating yet more laws, books, CCTV cameras, and riot police, would be true social progress. It would not simply be forgotten or doomed to decay, because it would have leveled up humankind on every possible scale at which we can study ourselves.

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