What is Progress?
A New Progress, A New Evolution
Not long ago a friend of mine locked himself into his room to work on a graphic software program that would allow its users to replicate almost any image available to the human eye with an accuracy previously unseen. After months of caffeine-soaked nights glued to his computer monitor, he emerged from his tech lab with big bags under his eyes and a triumphant smile on his face: Buzzing from the screen was a high resolution, 3-D oak tree, replete with pixelated sap, leaves, and acorns. In his excitement he ran into the living room to proclaim the news to his mother, who was wondering what her son had been up to all this time. Her immediate response upon seeing the oak tree flickering through his dusky room was, "Gee, you could've just opened your curtains and looked at the tree in the back yard."
Progress has taken a very prominent place in our collective consciousness. Especially in Western ideology, progress is the holy grail for everything just and honorable. Progress cures disease. Progress sends people to the moon. Progress protects us from nature. Progress saves time. Progress prolongs life.
But just as my friend was so rudely awakened by his mother's innocent observation, we are all today opening our eyes to a crossroads in history. It is time to ask ourselves whether we are chasing our own tails in the endless pursuit of progress and innovation. How important is a heart transplant if the air, water, and food are poisoned with chemicals? Where will birds nest after another marsh is paved over? What good is a mission to the moon while we're still pointing missiles at each other? When do we actually get to enjoy our "saved time" if we're so caught up "saving" it? Why are we so obsessed with living longer lives when we are less and less tuned in to the wisdom of our elders?
The Pitfalls of Linear Thinking
To the Western mind, everything functions within a linear framework, explainable in numbers and tangible results. Accumulate enough information, and you will be considered intelligent. Score a lot of A's in college and you will get a good job. Buy a bigger car and your life will be safer. Take a pill and your headache will go away. Increase your military budget and any threat will be reduced. Anything that gives the appearance of moving forward, of improving the current condition, is welcomed on our straight path to something better.
Thus we run up a freestanding ladder, reinventing the wheel a thousand times, just to find ourselves on the edge of this mountain looking back at a trail strewn with the debris of our unbalanced ecological, emotional, and spiritual budgets. Nuclear weapons, dams, genetically modified seeds -- all in the name of this thing called progress.
So what can we do to free progress from the stranglehold of rational, linear thought? Can we integrate the notion of progress into a more holistic way of understanding ourselves and the world around us? Can we progress in such a way that we don't have to destroy everything and everyone standing in our path?
There aren't simple answers to these questions, but the questions themselves are a form of solution. For in asking them we liberate ourselves from our assumptions about progress. Other paths of thought then open themselves to us, and we begin to discern the key aspects of our awareness that need to be taken into consideration when measuring or defining progress.
For example, in the market economy that we are living in today, pollution and depleted resources are cast aside as externalities. Gas prices do not reflect the physical cost of carcinogens in our bodies or of the fertile farmland paved over by a highway -- not to mention the collective spiritual cost of slowly being swallowed up in a cloud of smog. Truly, how could we imagine that such a one-dimensional system could ever be sustained without considering its true long-term costs?
Do not confuse progress with evolution.
Or take mathematics, the queen of all sciences, the laws upon which our entire technological paradigm is based. Its laws dictate that if there is no solution to a problem, then the problem doesn't exist. Can we really afford to put our trust in such a limited belief system?
Redefining Progress, Redefining Evolution
Life on Planet Earth is certainly more complex than math and blind markets allow, and we have come to a junction in human evolution where we need to freely admit a more diverse and balanced stream of knowledge. We cannot continue to blindly go where no man has gone before; we must instead learn to listen to the wise and refined voices of the past. We have to turn our inner ear to those who inhabited the planet for many cycles well before there ever were patriarchies, empires, and gun powder. We should listen as well to our contemporary poets and sages around the world. True knowledge is a complex ecosystem of ideas that cannot be claimed or owned by any one country, culture, or ideology.
Once we allow in the notion that progress isn't measured by how much information we can download, we'll become better prepared to dig deeper into our collective consciousness and actually process all the information we've accumulated. And it is this process of allowing ourselves to be confused and seemingly "unprogressed" that opens the door for growth and evolution to take place -- not only in our minds, but in our hearts and souls too. Albert Einstein, the poster child of Western rational thought, is a perfect example of how we can actually use our tremendous knowledge of science and technology to enter into a more multidimensional sphere of cosmic truth, if only we stop being so afraid of Not-Knowing.
When we ask ourselves the question, "Is our 21st century free market democracy more progressed than, say, a Native American tribe of hunters and gatherers?" we know that if we keep within the careful parameters of what a free market democracy defines as progress, the answer is yes. Life expectancy, personal mobility, and per capita income have all dramatically increased. But if we free ourselves of the straight jacket of linear thinking, we see that there isn't even a need to measure our achievement, or anyone else's. We can look at non-industrialized cultures not merely as primitive, but as vast sources of untapped knowledge. What if there were information so profound that no computer could ever relay it? Un-digitalized information on, say, how to be content with very little, or on how to embrace death as an integral part of life, or on communicating without language.
On the bridge between different roads to consciousness, the simplistic notion of progress turns into a boundless mosaic of evolution. True forward motion happens when we allow ourselves to be shocked and surprised by thoughts and feelings we didn't even know existed. This is not as complicated as it sounds. It could be a smile for a stranger. It could be the simple act of opening the curtain and enjoying the beauty of an oak tree.
We can use our knowledge of science and technology to enter into a multi-dimensional sphere of truth.
Whatever it may be that helps each soul to evolve individually, we must now take the broader perspective of collective human life on Planet Earth. We can no longer afford to confuse progress with evolution. At this current juncture, today, humanity is invited to take a truly courageous and innovative leap and integrate concepts like slowing down, forgiving, and letting go of our existing ideas of progress. Empowering ourselves with such expanded views is the first, but most important step; for only if we can transform ourselves into multidimensional beings, will nations and systems be able to reflect this broadened range of ideas. Along this soul journey we might even find ways to live in peace with each other. Wouldn't that be progress?
Sven Eberlein is a writer, musician and evolutionary astrologer who's been known to spend precious time watching apples grow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and
comment on this article >
back to top ^