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“The faculty of self-improvement is one distinction between man and brute”. But Rousseau followed this with the question: “If man as an individual is capable of self-improvement does it follow that as a society the same will be true?”

One idea of progress could be the improvement in the behaviour of man. But behaviour is measured differently in different cultures and within apparently single cultures. Another idea is that man’s nature will improve, suggesting a future resulting, not from evolution of man as a higher form of animal into an even higher form, but on a progressive development through cultural evolution.

Today, the results of technical innovation and industrial activity on our environment has become much more tangible to many more people. The belief that we can control this activity is still essentially an optimistic idea; i.e. towards a better future. The controlling aspect concerns the nature of government. Freedom of information and the dissemination of better information of the damage we are doing to the environment would create a wider awareness and knowledge, which could enable more people to act morally and intelligently within a wider context (definition) of society and government.

We are all aware that scientific progress has, in the last two centuries, become more and more central to society, (commerce in particular) and today, funding for science research programmes is dependent upon the potential of that research to provide opportunities for economic growth through industrial activity. Internal industrial research funding so often depends upon the rate of patent growth and on a percentage of those patents producing economic success. However, we should not forget that science’s “own” progress is measured by developments in finding “better descriptions” of the world and things in and beyond it.

© IR 1994

The American Environment: Robert Kennedy, 1967

“…and let us be clear at the outset that we will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of technical progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow-Jones average or national achievement by the gross national product.

For the gross national product includes our pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for people who break them. The gross national product includes the destruction of redwoods, and the death of Lake [Erie]. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads, and it even includes research on the improved dissemination of bubonic plague. The gross national product swells with equipment for the police to put down riots in our cities; and though it is not diminished by the damage these riots do, still it goes up as slums are rebuilt on their ashes. It includes Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children.”

Stanley Diamond; ref Art after Philosophy and After: Kosuth

“Just as, in the nineteenth century, the social organization and techniques of modern industrial capitalism emerge as a world force, so the idea of inevitable progress in the name of science becomes a fixed ideology. The revolutions having succeeded and then, quite obviously, having failed in their social promise, it appears as if all the frustrated passion was mobilized behind the idea of a regnant science. Civilisation may be regarded as a system in internal disequilibrium; technology or ideology or social organisation are always out of joint with each other – that is what propels the system along a given track. Our sense of movement, of incompleteness, contributes to the idea of progress.”

Samuel Johnson

“When man began to desire private property then entered violence, and fraud, and theft, and rapine. Soon after, pride and envy broke out in the world and brought with them a new standard of wealth, for man, who till then, thought themselves rich, when they wanted nothing, now rated their demands, not by the calls of nature, but by the plenty of others; and began to consider themselves poor, when they beheld their own possessions exceeded by those of their neighbours.”

Aldous Huxley

“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means of going backwards.”

Meredith Tax

“In most cultures prior to that of industrial capitalism, artists have had a well-defined and clearly understood relation to some part of their society, some group of consumers. In a primitive tribe or collective, art is the expression of the whole tribe – later, some people may be specially good at it, or hereditarily trained to it, and take on the production of artifacts as their work, but they work surrounded by the community, and work for the community’s immediate and obvious benefit.

In other periods of history, the artist has produced for a court, for a personal patron, for a religious sect, or for a political party. It is only with the dominance of the capitalist system that the artist has been put in the position of producing for a market, for strangers far away, whose life styles and beliefs and needs are completely unknown to him, and who will either buy his works or ignore them for reasons that are equally inscrutible and out of his control.”

Benjamin De Casseres

“Progress is nothing but the victory of laughter over dogma”

“Progress is no longer the idea that just because we can means we should”. (Ian Ritchie)

“Science’s “own” progress is measured by developments in finding “better descriptions” of the world and things in and beyond it”. (Ian Ritchie)